10 things you didn’t know about Rina Piccolo’s groove

10 With Tom
10 questions in 10 minutes

Rina Piccolo is a syndicated cartoonist, best known for her daily comic strip “Tina’s Groove,” which revolves around Tina, a waitress at Pepper’s Fine Dining Restaurant. Tina’s Grove started in 2002 and is distributed by King Features Syndicate. She also does lots of other single panel work for magazines and has filled in for other cartoonists. I think the best part is her name – Rina Piccolo – very musical.
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Cartoonist Rina Piccolo

TOM: You do the Tina’s Groove comic strip and I’ve seen single panel gag cartoons, and also sometimes fill in for Hilary Price for Rhymes With Orange and I’ve also seen Six Chix in the past. How do you decide what gags to use for which comic strip or gag cartoon?

RINA: It’s a wonder that no one has ever asked me that because it’s an issue that I encounter often, and it can sometimes be really frustrating. I mean, I have all these outlets for cartoon ideas (well, I no longer do cartoons for Six Chix, so there’s one outlet gone), and it’s often hard to see where best to use them. Sometimes ideas choose for themselves where they want to go. Like, for instance, all restaurant/workaday gags would obviously be used for my strip Tina’s Groove, since it’s about a waitress and her co-worker friends. And if I ever have an idea that’s too racy for the newspaper comics, then I try to shop it around to various magazines that publish cartoons in the style that you see in the New Yorker. On the occasion when I’m filling in for Hilary Price’s Rhymes With Orange comic, I usually have a couple of gags in my drawer that I can’t use for any of my outlets, and what I do is combine these with fresh ones that I sit down to write specifically for the Guest Spot.

TOM: Tina is a waitress, were you ever a waitress, you seem to know so much about the restaurant business?

RINA: Let me admit it right away– I make a terrible waitress, ha ha! However, I have worked in several restaurants in other capacities (kitchen, and counter service). In the last restaurant that I worked in I was the Hostess, and interestingly enough, it was while I was in that job that I had cooked up the idea to do a strip about a waitress, and life in the service industry. Anyway, as I say, I never made it as a server — once, in a small café that I worked in as sandwich-maker/kitchen help, they needed someone to fill in temporarily as a server, and so I served tables — for about 15 minutes. That’s how long it took for the owner to tell me to go back to the kitchen. Ha! Anyway, all this just to say that the reason I know what I know about the restaurant business is because nearly all of my “real” jobs were jobs in which I worked with the public. Anyone who’s worked with the public — and not just the restaurant business– shares the same sorts of experiences. That’s basically what fuels Tina’s Groove.

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KING FEATURES SYNDICATE

Tina’s Groove

TOM: How long did it take for Tina’s Groove to bet syndicated? Did you submit the feature to many syndicates? Did you submit other features? What were those about?

RINA: Like nearly every cartoonist at the time, I submitted stuff to all the major syndicates, with no real success. Then, in 1997 or thereabouts, Jay Kennedy, the comics editor (at the time) of King Features syndicate, had become familiar with my single panel gags from contributions I was making to “The New Breed”– a single panel daily that had a different cartoonist every day of the week. Anyway, he called me — this was back in the days when people actually used to use the phone to call people, ha ha. And the weird thing is, the call came one afternoon when I was putting together a submission to King– I mentioned it to him, and he said, “Put my name on it, and I’ll make sure it gets straight to my office”, or something like that. When I hung up I felt stunned. It really felt like it was written in the stars, or something silly like that. But the feeling of having a wide open door to a syndicate deal was fleeting, because what followed was three or four years of going back and forth with Jay, submitting strip premise ideas and character ideas, with no guarantee of a contract. On about the two or three year, I took one of the characters I’d been working with and made her a waitress. When Jay saw it, he liked it enough to encourage me to move in that direction, and from that was born “Tina” from Tina’s Groove. But I should stress that I had always wanted to do a single panel gag cartoon, and not a comic strip with characters. Apparently the trend at the time made character-driven strips more marketable, and Jay was only interested in seeing comic strips; he encouraged me to go in that direction, so that’s what I created. As for the other characters & strip ideas that I submitted to Jay in those years I can only say that there were several, and I can barely remember a couple of them – one of them was a kid strip that featured a little girl who narrated her views of the world around her, and another was an actress character whose roles in movies became adventures in the strip. Or something like that. My old brain can’t recall most of the crap I wrote at the time!

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KING FEATURES’S SYNDICATE

Tina’s Groove

TOM: How do you work? What is the schedule like?

RINA: I do have a schedule. My schedule is that I work all the time, ha ha! Seriously, I am one of those people who just really enjoys this stuff a lot, and I seem to have an eagerness to constantly create stuff. I pencil and ink Tina’s Groove on Monday, write material on Tuesday, and part of Wednesday, pencil and ink the Sunday cartoon on Wednesday, and then I have Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and part of Sunday to work on other projects– personal or paid work. If I have a free evening I like to goof around in my sketchbook.

TOM: Although cartoonists seem to be alone most of the time, they seem to be a cliquish group. What other cartoonists are you friendly with?

RINA: Yes, the industry is pretty small — at least the world of syndication is — and everybody kind of knows everybody else. Some of us have great friendships that last years and years, and yes, even romances. But like you say, cartoonists spend an awful lot of time alone, and so when we get together, well, it’s what you’d imagine — a lot of catching up, a megadose of shop talk, and some gossip thrown in. I love my cartoonist friends. The ones I hang out with, or keep in touch with, in person, or through Skype, are Sandra Bell Lundy (Between Friends), Paul Gilligan (Pooch Cafe), Cathy Thorne (Everyday People Cartoons), Susan Camilleri Konar (Six Chix), Anne Gibbons (Six Chix) ( in fact you can include all of the Six Chix ladies, as we Skype now and then), Hilary Price (Rhymes With Orange)… oh boy, there are more, but do I have the space here to list everyone? When I lived in NYC I used to hang out with a lot of cartoonists in the NY, NJ, and Connecticut area. I think the reason why cartoonists are “cliquey” is because we relate to one another in a way that others just don’t, or can’t. Cartooning is an uncommon profession. (It’s not like the typical neighborhood comes with a couple of pro cartoonists in it.) Since it’s such a rarity, it’s nice to have a friend that can totally relate to you when you say something about penciling, or inking, or anything like that, without having to explain (which I think would be boring for people who don’t cartoon).

TOM: Digital or pen and ink?

RINA: Both! I use a Cintiq Companion to pencil and ink Tina’s Groove (also used it for last two years of Six Chix, and my guest weeks on Rhymes With Orange). And I use a brush, pen, and ink to draw gag cartoons (magazine gag cartoons, and lately for the book I co-authored, Quirky Quarks: A Cartoon Guide to the Fascinating Realm of Physics.) I also do a lot of sketchbook drawings in a paper sketchbook. Sometimes I draw on my iPad, or Cintiq for animated Gif art, and things like that.

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KING FEATURES’S SYNDICATE

Tina’s Groove

TOM: What was the first thing you would seriously draw? I mean, I would draw Fred Flintstone, I always remember as a young child doing that. Did you draw a character or have a favorite subject at a young age?

RINA: Horses. I’ve always loved horses, and when I was a little girl I used to try to draw them all the time. I still can’t draw a horse. Well, not a good one.

TOM: What famous artist, dead or alive, would you want to paint your portrait?

RINA: Jackson Pollock… Ha, ha, kidding! (Although he’d get my hair right.) … Seriously, good question — I really don’t know. John Singer Sargent would certainly make me look good in brush strokes. No way I’d let Robert Crumb draw me– I think he’s a master, but he’d probably give me a bulbous butt.

TOM: Favorite movie of all time?

RINA: The Wizard Of Oz. That movie does something to me. I’ve watched it numerous times. It never gets old.

TOM: What other comic strips/panels do you enjoy? Past and present.

RINA: I wouldn’t call myself a humongous consumer of comics, weirdly, but I do enjoy a lot of them. In fact, too many to list here—and many are created by people that I know personally. My all time favorites, I can say, are Lynda Barry’s “Ernie Pook’s Comeek”, and anything by Roz Chast (especially her longer-form stuff). I’ve always loved these two because their stuff makes me literally laugh out loud — and I know how difficult it is to have that effect on a reader.

TOM: Thank you, Rina. Enjoyed the chat!

See all my 10 With Tom interviews here.

He’s blue and he’s awkward, and oh yes, he’s a Yeti!

10 With Tom
10 questions in 10 minutes

I’m a big fan of Nick Seluk and his daily comic strip, “The Awkward Yeti.” The comic is often a clever commentary on the struggle between our hearts and our brains – it always hits home and many times provokes a belly laugh. The Yeti has a running dialogue many of his body’s organs. You can read The Awkward Yeti at GoComics.com here.

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Nick Seluk and friends.

TOM: Heart and Brain seem to have their own spin-off from “The Awkward Yeti” how did that come about?

NICK: Brain first joined Lars (the Yeti) to help me get deeper into the anxiety-driven inner dialogue of an introvert, but it wasn’t long before Heart joined as a counterbalance. Heart and Brain found a dynamic that worked well for me and for my audience, and before too long Lars was on the sidelines (although he stars in his own self-titled series online at Webtoons and still makes cameos). I found that through Heart and Brain I could express myself better, and in a way that many people could relate.

TOM: What did you do before you became a full time cartoonist?

NICK: Before going full time as a cartoonist I was a sort of graphic designer / art director type for several years. I worked in corporate America with tons of huge brands, a job I ended up hating enough to want to start my own business instead. I needed to do things my own way, but more than anything needed to escape the constant meaningless small talk.

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Lars, the Awkward Yeti, courtesy GoComics.com


TOM:
At what point did you first realize you were famous?

NICK: There are over six billion people who have never even seen my work, so fame is pretty relative. But, having a line of people waiting, actually WAITING for me write my name on a book is very humbling. I guess you could say I was humbled first at San Diego comic con a couple years ago, when I was signing books with my publisher and they had to close off the line. But other than that, it’s not like people recognize me on the street or anything.

TOM: What bores you?

‘Next Door Neighbors’ comic strip reminds me of ‘70s sitcoms

10 With Tom
10 questions in 10 minutes

The drawing is what first caught my attention when I saw Next Door Neighbors, the comic strip by Pat Sandy published at GoComics. From there, you can’t help but enjoy the writing and the Dewey family. It reminds me so much of All in the Family or Sanford and Son and sitcoms from that era. I had the opportunity to interview Pat.

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Pat Sandy in his studio.

TOM: I notice that the first strips were just a few times a week, what made you start publishing daily (Monday thru Friday)?

PAT: I had a lot of story arc material backing up that on a 3 times a week cadence would have dragged out way too long – so once I got up to 3 times it was a moderate jump to 5. Sometimes I question that decision, though!

TOM: The strips have a 1970s tv sitcom feel to them. Did you realize this? What tv shows are your influences if any?

PAT: Nice – I’ve never heard that before but I love it…I did indeed grow up watching TV in that era though, so something must have rubbed off. I had tons of favorites – Mary Tyler Moore, The Brady Bunch, All In The Family, The Partridge Family, The Odd Couple…what a great era for TV.

TOM: Is “Next Door Neighbors” created digitally? Or do you draw with pen and ink? If digitally, what do you use to create?

PAT: Well, I handle NDN pretty old-school – I rough it up, go to a light table and ink and letter it on bristol board, and scan it into photoshop where I make corrections – no fonts, and no digital drawing. I like tactile. I like having something tangible to hold, but having said that, would I want to try a Cintiq or an iPad Pro? That would be a yes. I’m a bit behind the curve, but I do love having originals.

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Next Door Neighbors, courtesy GoComics

TOM: What’s the last thing you took a picture of?

PAT: An instagram photo of my guitar at a gig with my band, The Rhythm Syndicate. We do blues, swing and soul music and we’ve played all over northeast Ohio for about 18 years.

TOM: Which comic strip, other than your own would you like to crawl into and visit for the day?

PAT: Great question! Probably a toss-up between Peanuts or Doonesbury. I’d like to hang out with Mike, Mark and Zonker, circa 1974…an amazing period for that strip. With Peanuts, there was such a comfort in reading it when i was a kid…I’d love to play on Charlie Brown’s team, although I’d be worse than any of them.

TOM: Something or someone you miss most from childhood?

PAT: Both my parents, really. There were always 1000% encouraging. They would have LOVED Next Door Neighbors. As an aside many of the names used in the strip are family names, including ‘Dewey’, which was my grandfather’s nickname.

TOM: What’s something you always wanted to do as a child but never got to do?

PAT: The Soap Box Derby! My brother did it a couple of times, but I never got around to it, as I’m somewhat mechanically challenged. It was a huge event (still is, really) when I was a kid…the highlight of the summer for kids in my neighborhood.

TOM: Your main character Norm Dewey loves his beer. What is your favorite beer/cocktail?

PAT: A perfect Manhattan. I like beer too, so I’ll have to put in a plug for Cleveland’s beer scene, which is fabulous.

TOM: Norm’s house looks beat up, yet he has a new flat screen tv. Why?

PAT: The Deweys aren’t poor – they’re slobs…well, Norm and the kids are…Jan is simply trying to keep the place in order. Norm has no common sense so naturally, while the lawn needs mowed, the house needs painted, and the couch is falling apart, he’s the kind of guy that goes out and gets a flat screen TV…although, anymore, flat screens aren’t very pricey.

TOM: What car does Norm drive?

PAT: Funny you ask – I finally showed the whole car recently in a strip, and I have absolutely no idea what model I drew – I think it’s a fairly beat up mid-late 90’s/early 00’s something-or-other.

Thanks, Pat! Hope to be enjoying Next Door Neighbors for many years to come!

Wallace the Brave is a little taste of classic comics from the past

10 With Tom
10 questions in 10 minutes

I’m a big fan of Will Henry Wilson’s comic strip, “Wallace The Brave” comic strip which is published at GoComics daily. It’s not only clever, but I love the drawing style. It reminds me a lot of Calvin and Hobbes and Cul de Sac. There’s not usually a gag each day, it’s more of a slice of life. I recently interviewed Will about Wallace the Brave.

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Will Henry Wilson in his liquor store/studio.

TOM: You have two comic strips, Wallace The Brave and Ordinary Bill. Ordinary Bill was simple line drawing and black and white, Wallace is a masterpiece of art and color. How did that come about? The change in look, I mean?

WILL: Ha, “masterpiece”… made me laugh. I created Ordinary Bill when I was in college. It was an incredibly limiting strip and my style and ideas were still developing. Throughout the years I was writing Ordinary Bill I felt it was important to keep the original look, even though my style developed. Eventually I ended Ordinary Bill and thought I’d start a new comic that better represented where I was. That’s where Wallace came from.

TOM: How far ahead do you work before a comic is published?

WILL: Legitimate year, maybe more. I even have two years of unpublished Wallace Sunday strips….slacker.

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Wallace the Brave, courtesy GoComics

TOM: Do you draw digitally or the old fashioned way – pen and ink?

WILL: I’m a 32 year old dinosaur, it’s all pen, paper, ink and watercolor. I do color the comics digitally for the web, though…so yeah I’m hip.

TOM: Wallace is a “little maniac,” your words. Is he based on you?

WILL: I don’t believe I was THAT rambunctious as a kid. My mother may disagree.

TOM: There’s a lot of Cul de Sac and Calvin and Hobbes in your work, do you realize that?

WILL: Absolutely! I crafted Ordinary Bill to resemble the line work of Calvin and Hobbes and my original Submission to syndicates for Wallace the Brave had a heavy Cul de Sac influence. I’ve been drawing Wallace for a couple years and I think I’m just now developing a look that is distinctly me.

TOM: Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall?

WILL: Nothing beats summer in Rhode Island.

TOM: Friends or Seinfeld?

WILL: Honestly, neither. Arrested Development.

TOM: Other than cartooning, what talent would you like to have?

WILL: I’d love to be able to juggle. Not just balls, but chainsaws and torches.

TOM: What living person do you most admire?

WILL: Grandma Betty. You don’t know her, but she rocks.

TOM: What is your motto?

WILL: “Hold my beer”

Thanks, Will!

Betsey Johnson just wants to have fun

10 With Tom
10 questions in 10 minutes

I had the honor of interviewing fashion icon Betsey Johnson. Betsey made a stop at Macys at Boca Town Center in Boca Raton, Florida, to promote the premiere of TLC’s Say Yes to the Prom hosted by Betsey and Monte Durham premiering on April 1. It’s a 90 minutes special, which is a TLC tradition where the network partners with Macy’s to help make prom dreams come true.

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Betsey Johnson, courtesy Twitter

TOM: I just saw a tv show recently about you and your daughter, I can’t remember what it was, I think it was CBS Sunday morning. I’m a man who knows nothing about fashion, and I know you, what’s it like being an American icon?

BETSEY: Great, I guess! I don’t really consider myself that, but I can tell you that to become appreciated for what you do you need to work hard and create a following. The word icon just comes over time, the happiness comes from your fans. I love my fans, they keep me going!

TOM: They said your fashion shows are like a three ring circus but there has to be some part you don’t like. What’s your least favorite part of your own fashion shows?

BETSEY: I have no least favorite part. I used to be afraid of critics in the audience but now I feel they love and support me. The whole process of a fashion show is pure fun to me!

TOM: I know you do a lot of the hand-drawn art yourself at the shows and there are DJ’s. Do you choose the music yourself?

BETSEY: Not backstage, I’m too busy running around getting everything ready to make the playlist. Up front, I work with a very skilled musical talent to create the music for the runway. Backstage it is just fun and free to start the party!

TOM: Your signature move is a cartwheel. When was the last time you did a cartwheel?

BETSEY: Not that long ago, but these days I lean more towards the splits which are easy peasy. Cartwheels make me a little afraid because I never know what I’m cartwheeling on and what will happen on that surface.I do love doing them so I will every now and then.

TOM: What was Andy Warhol like?

BETSEY: Quiet. A man of few words. Sweet, gentle and private.

TOM: What’s the secret to your success?

BETSEY: Lots of hard work, but most of all luck! And being nice to everyone you meet.

TOM: Favorite decade? Why?

BETSEY: By far the 60s! And for so many reasons, The Beatles, The Stones, Dylan, the moon, pantyhose and all the geniuses that were around during that time.

TOM: At what point did you realize you were famous?

BETSEY: Today, actually! At the airport I’ve never had so many fans come up to meet me. I’ve never taken so many selfies! I’m always surprised when I remember I’m a little bit famous.

TOM: What song would be the theme of your life. I think I can guess.

BETSEY: “I did it my way.”

TOM: In my mind, it was “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun!”

TOM: Please tell me about Say Yes to the Prom, is that similar to the tv show Say Yes to the Dress?

BETSEY: Similar, but so much better since it is so wonderfully charitable! It has been such an honor to work with all the kiddos picking out outfits (especially the ones that are super pink, puffy and sparkly) for their big day. It makes me happy making so many kids happy.

TOM: Thank you Betsey, good luck with the show!

Amanda the Great

10 With Tom
10 questions in 10 minutes

I’m a big fan of Amanda El-Dweek’s daily comic strip, “Amanda the Great.” It started appearing on the GoComics website in November, that’s when I first noticed it.

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Amanda El-Dweek

TOM: I noticed all the strips are in black and white, in this age of full color webcomics, why black and white? (which I like, just asking).

AMANDA: Two reasons: I like the look of the black and white contrast (I also use an ink wash for gray tones). The other thing is, coloring is kind of piddly work, and I’m unsure I’d ever get done with the strips if I had to color them!

The comics I read growing up were black and white (newspaper comics), and I always thought they were so singularly beautiful that way.

TOM: Are all the stories/adventures true to life? Did they all happen to you or are some fiction and just there for the enjoyment of readers?

AMANDA: The story is my real life, and the timeline starts about a year before my husband and I were married. (I drew the comics this past year, but they are set in late 2012/early 2013 so far.)

Most of the things I draw did actually happen – sometimes I have to paraphrase things, and sometimes I have to kind of re-format how things happened in order for it to make sense in a three-or-four-panel comic strip format. Some of it is verbatim because if it was something funny, I wrote it down in a notebook, which is fortunate because sometimes I am a poor historian.

But – all of the events are real, and the characters are real. (Except the alter-egos, natch.)

TOM: Is “Amanda the Great” created digitally? Or do you draw with pen and ink?

AMANDA: I create Amanda the Great using smooth Bristol paper, a pencil, ink, brushes, and a Kuretake brush pen for the letters. I use an ink wash for the gray scale. Then I dust off the cat hair and scan them in.

TOM: Who were/are your comic/cartoon influences?

AMANDA: My first comic book was a Garfield book, and I also read a lot of Archie comics – I really tried to emulate these two when I first started drawing (I was pretty young). When I was old enough to pay attention to the newspaper, my favorites were Cathy, Calvin & Hobbes, The Far Side, and Foxtrot. My grandma always had those Peanuts, B.C., and Wizard of Id paperbacks around, which I enjoyed. I think Luann was in a girls’ teen magazine when I was young, which is the first place I had seen it.

All of these different comics kind of shaped how I wanted to do things, and how I wrote comics when I was younger. They still do, to some degree.

I enjoy character development – I always liked how the characters aged in For Better or For Worse.  They experienced things as we do – the circle of life, death of charcters (Farley!), et cetera.

I have read here and there that some cartoonists won’t read other comics because maybe they don’t want the impact on their own stuff, but I don’t know – I think we were all inspired early on by someone’s work.

TOM: Which comic strip, other than your own would you like to crawl into and visit for the day?

AMANDA: I’d love to be in a Cul de Sac or Wallace the Brave comic strip – they have such beautiful backgrounds! My comics lack this feature, usually – haha!  They are so beautifully drawn and colored. I want big curly hair like Viola’s (Cul de Sac) – mine isn’t big enough.

TOM: How far ahead do you work?

AMANDA: I should be further along, but right now I have strips drawn through March, and possibly into April? I need to hustle more!

TOM: Who is the most famous person you have ever met?

AMANDA: If you mean in real life, I met Ron Campbell at an art gallery in Bismarck, North Dakota – he was an animator for the Yellow Submarine movie. I don’t have much opportunity to see famous folks where I live, so that was cool!

TOM: What song would be the theme of your life?

AMANDA: Oh boy, Tom. I’ve thought a lot about it, and I don’t know that I can come up with one. I think my themes sometimes change.

TOM: Biggest fear?

AMANDA: I think it’s a tie between spiders, and everything else.

TOM: Superpower if you had one?

AMANDA: It’s hard to pick just one, isn’t it? I’d like something akin to the Force, but I’d just be tempted to use it Dark Side-style once in a while, so I probably shouldn’t have it.

Thank you Amanda!

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Images courtesy GoComics

Kim, Willie and Andrew

10 With Tom
10 questions in 10 minutes

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Kim Zolciak-Biermann (Photo: BravoTV), Willie Geist (photo: NBC) Andrew Farago (Photo: Amy Osborne)

I’ve been pumping out a bunch of 10 With Tom’s for the Huffington Post, so rather than post them all separately here, I’ll link to the Huff Post instead.

I recently interviewed Andrew Farago, who has one of the coolest careers as the curator of the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco. You can see that interview at the Huffington Post here.

Willie Geist, NBC newsman is one of my favorites. You can see his 10 With Tom here.

And Kim Zolciak-Biermann, who rose to fame in 2008 as one of the Real Housewives of Atlanta can be seen here.