Pillaging through the past

My fascination of ancient Egypt, Rome, Greece and all sorts of archaeology goes way back. I studied it in college as part of Art History. My textbooks, which I still have, are in my living room and I glance at them every once in awhile. Guided tours of ancient Egyptian sites are part of my bucket list.

I do a lot of cartoons based on ancient times, I enjoy doing those.

And now that I think of it, if asked, what I would do if I wasn’t doing what I do now, I might say, “I’d like to be an archaeologist , digging around in Egyptian deserts. But not now, I think.

A MEME THAT POPPED UP THE OTHER DAY.

I was shocked into reality the other day while watching a tv show on Egyptian and Greece archeology. They were digging up ancient Greek tombs and relating them to Egypt at that time and one of the archeologists said something like, “We’re lucky to find this one in tact. The tomb raiders did not find this tomb, but we did through sonar (or radar, he said something like that.” And I was stunned. Why is a modern archeologist, digging up ancient tombs any better than ancient, or even current tomb raiders.

The main difference is that tomb raiders are taking gold and silver and precious items. Archaeologists are taking bodies; actual bodies. Why is this any better?

One lady archeologist, I can’t remember her name, has a life quest to find Cleopatra’s tomb. And do what with it when she finds it? Display her remains to the world? Another has a quest to find Alexander the Great’s and Cleopatra’s ancient Alexandria under present day Alexandria, I guess that’s ok, as they are looking for cities, not entombed bodies.

I can understand digging up and finding ancient cities, but I’m having second thoughts about digging up entombed, embalmed bodies.

So I have to think on it now. Is desecrating an ancient body permissible in the name of science? Is it ok to dig it up, pillage, analyze it and show it off in museums? I’m wondering. I’m sure I will still do ancient Egypt related cartoons, because in my cartoons the people are alive and in their time in their settings.

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Crabgrass

Courtesy GoComics.com

I did my first interview for the new 10 With Tom site. I had the chance to interview Tauhid Bondia who is the cartoonist of one of my favorite comic strips called Crabgrass. I had written about them in 2020 here.

The comic is about two young friends in the 1980s. I felt it relevant now because Crabgrass is starting newspaper syndication on March 28. It will continue to be online as well.

If you would like to read the 10 With Tom interview, it’s here.



10 With Tom


I started a website for my 10 With Tom columns.

Over the years, I had these published in the Huffington Post, my own blog, Medium and other publications. I’ve interviewed, cartoonists and featured cartoons and comics and artists, comic strip creators including Jason Chatfield, Rina Piccolo and Scott Adams, among so many others. . But I’ve also interviewed authors, designers like Betsey Johnson and even Ryan Holt from Naked and Afraid.

I was was planning on doing more interviews for the Huffington Post, but I thought these columns should have a home of their own, rather than be at other websites. They live on forever and are always being seen and read.

Some of these stories have hundreds of thousands of readers, The Stephan Pastis article has over 1 million views! So why not have people read them on my own site, rather than other places? I wouldn’t mind 1 million hits! Huffington Post, Medium, and various newspapers didn’t promote the stories, people found them by doing searches, so why not have readers find the articles on my own site, right?

I now have 10 With Tom here, where you can find some of the past interviews and where I’ll add new ones shortly.

You can subscribe to 10 With Tom, and you’ll only receive 10 With Tom interviews (not this Tomversation blog, that’s a separate subscription), but I’m not sure if all the past stories I added will come up as one big email for your first email that you receive after subscribing. So if that happens, forgive me. You’ll usually just receive one interview after it is published.

It won’t be a daily thing, I’ll publish randomly.

We’re ‘off the leash’ with cartoonist Rupert Fawcett

10 With Tom
10 questions in 10 minutes


One of my favorite comics is “Off the Leash” by London-based cartoonist Rupert Fawcett. I first saw the comic on Facebook, where Rupert has almost 1 million followers. The comic can also be seen on Instagram and on its own website. But Rupert is also known for other comics work including Fred, a single panel comic which, like Off the Leash, has has been published all over from newspapers, to books and greeting cards.

TOM: Regarding “Off the Leash,” You seem to get into the dogs’ heads, do you study them? Tell me about your own pets.

RUPERT: I’ve never consciously studied dogs but I am a watcher by nature, a people watcher and I suppose, a dog watcher too. I’m someone who is never phased by delays at airports or anywhere else as I know I will be happily entertained watching the people around me, although I have to be careful not to get caught staring too intensely at anyone. We currently have a two year old whippet and two Burmese cats.

TOM: How often do you publish Off the Leash? Do you draw up a bunch at one time or post them as they are completed?

RUPERT: I had a very productive three years of producing Off the Leash cartoons at the beginning but as I have other commitments I now only draw new ones sporadically. As soon as I have finished one I post it which is the great thing about social media for a cartoonist, it is so instant, from the drawing board to the worldwide audience in seconds!

TOM: I totally agree with that, I almost feel social media was made for art and cartooning. I noticed you work in black and white, why that and not color?

RUPERT: Black and white line gives enough visual information for a cartoon. Coloring would be time consuming and add nothing to the joke.

TOM: I like the clean look of your black and white work, too. Who are your cartooning influences?

RUPERT: don’t have any specific ones but I’m probably influenced by everything I see.

TOM: What medium do you use? Digital? Pen and ink?

RUPERT: I use old fashioned ink pens – I’m a bit of a technophobe.

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?

RUPERT: As a boy growing up in the sixties I used to draw footballers quite a lot and soldiers. The comics I read as a child featured regular strips based on the war which was still very recent history. I also used to create my own strange characters. I used to get very absorbed and doodle for hours.

TOM: How did you begin your career as a cartoonist? When did you start cartooning? Tell me about Fred

RUPERT: Speaking of strange characters! I created Fred in 1989 and received over 80 rejection letters from publishers and newspapers. But when I had the greeting card range published by Paperlink it suddenly took off and became a big thing. Fred kept me fully occupied for about twelve years.

Fred was a combination of surrealism and suburban Englishness

TOM: Tell us about your studio or workspace.

RUPERT: I work in a fairly small room at home in South West London, it’s my ‘garden shed’ and i have to be prised out of it by my family sometimes. I’m happiest when I’m drawing and in my private dreamworld, just as I was at six years old.

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

RUPERT: Lucien Freud (with my clothes on)

TOM: What comics/cartoons do you read/follow today?

RUPERT: I probably don’t look at cartoons any more than anyone else but I always appreciate a good one. Gary Larson is brilliant.

TOM: Thanks, Rupert!

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Jason Chatfield; cartoonists are his favorite people

10 With Tom
10 questions in 10 minutes

Jason Chatfield and Ginger Meggs

I interviewed one of my favorite cartoonists, Jason Chatfield, who incidentally helped me immensely with my own cartooning, as I live by one of his statements: “Don’t curate your art to what gets likes. Curate it to what you like.” I live (and create) by that now.

I was interested in Jason’s schedule, technique and so much of his cartoons and comics work and work ethic.

TOM: You seem to do so much, TV, New Yorker cartoonist, daily comic strip (Ginger Meggs) and President of the National Cartoonists’ Society (NCS). What is the schedule like, for instance, when do you do the comic strip? When do you do New Yorker cartoons?

JASON: I have a pretty regular schedule — I work from a calendar instead of a to-do list — I tend to do 6 daily strips at-a-time, then the Sundays (weekend paper strips) on separate days.

I pitch a batch of 10 New Yorker cartoons each Tuesday; some roughs and some finished, and some of them re-submissions with new captions. 99% are rejected. Those are done in a 10-step process that I outline here.

The TV work is usually just a one or two-day shoot somewhere, then the show or commercial runs for years, so that’s not very time-heavy, and my NCS work is just constantly streaming in every day. Some days there is a lot to do, other days less so. Cartoonists are my favorite people, but trying to organize them can be like herding cats. ☺️

It sounds like a lot, but I manage to sleep somewhere in there and take weekends off with my wife and pup.

TOM: I see that Ginger Meggs recently turned 100 — that’s quite a weight to bear — taking over such a well-known strip. How did that come about? How were you chosen to do this?

JASON: When I was a 23 year-old editorial cartoonist in my hometown of Perth, the fourth cartoonist on the strip, James Kemsley, asked me to take it over. That was few days before he died of ALS. He was a dear friend and mentor so it was a very bittersweet honor to inherit. I’d give up the strip tomorrow it it meant having Kems back; he was an impressive guy, always way ahead of his time and always helping other cartoonists. I’m glad I could carry the baton and keep Ginger going past 100 years. (Details on the centenary are at gingermeggs.com )

TOM: As President of the National Cartoonists Society, what is your take on webcomics or comics only published online? They seem to be the most read today, yet I have heard that cartoonists have a problem joining the society.

JASON: We have many webcomic cartoonists in the NCS, and under past President Tom Richmond’s tenure (around 2010/11) the NCS introduced two webcomic categories into our Divisional Reuben awards. (Long form and Short form).

Webcomics are a rich and diverse artform we’re really proud to promote — comics in newspapers are only a fraction of the make-up of NCS membership. Our biggest numbers of entries for the 2020 Reuben awards were for both webcomics categories. 

I think I read about 70% of my favorite comics online (the rest in magazines and printed book collections.)

TOM: Do you work digitally or with pen and paper?

JASON: I use both. I learned to draw traditionally before I learned to draw digitally, so the transition was very natural. I use a Wacom Cintiq with an Ergo Arm for most of my work, but I often spin around to my drawing board and use a Hunt 101 Imperial nib on my dip pen for a lot of my New Yorker finishes. (Mainly because people request to purchase the originals… And I like to get inky fingers so my wife thinks I’m doing actual work.)

TOM: What does your studio, workspace look like?

JASON: It changes all the time. I’ve moved so many times the past 15 years my studio has been every kind of room imaginable. You can get a glimpse of my current studio (June 2021) in this video just shot by Wacom for the production of a series of coins I designed for the Royal Australian Mint. They cut the part where my dog sits under my desk while I’m working and farts. Almost constantly.

TOM: What comics/cartoonists influenced you?

JASON: I was a big fan of MAD growing up, so all the Usual Gang of Idiots were my teachers — Sergio Aragonés was my favorite for his pantomime marginals, but Mort Drucker’s hand gestures and caricatured likenesses, Jack Davis’ movement, brushwork and shoes, Al Jaffee’s inventiveness (and snark) all contributed to my weird brain. And then the “newer” guys like Tom Richmond, Mark Frederickson and a slew of other talented idiots followed suit.

For comic strips, I loved Calvin & Hobbes and later, Cul de Sac.

TOM: If you could crawl into any strip or panel for the day, other than your own, which would it be, and why?

JASON: Cul de Sac. I would want to sit down and just pick the brain of Alice Otterloop. What a brilliant mind Richard Thompson had, to bring her into this universe. Wildly inventive, funny and smart character writing.

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

JASON: Ha! I don’t think that’s true. I know it sounds silly considering all the things I do being so public-facing, but I now totally get people having a pseudonym. Fame isn’t something I aspire to — I just like to do my work and hopefully have people enjoy reading it. I think ‘actual’ fame comes with more downsides than upsides… unless we’re talking about my local diner naming a roast beef sandwich after me. That’s all upside. (And topside).

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

JASON: The theme to Curb Your Enthusiasm

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

JASON: Richard Thompson. Without question. 
One can dream.

TOM: Thanks, Jason! I learned a lot!

My daily cartoon is here.

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Ginger Meggs celebrates 100!

Chris Naunton, walking with Tut and Akhenaten

10 With Tom
10 questions in 10 minutes

I was excited to interview Dr. Chris Naunton, Egyptologist, who I see all over tv. I tend to watch a lot of shows based on ancient Egypt, I guess that’s why that subject appears in a lot of my cartoons.

Egyptologist, Dr. Chris Naunton (photos courtesy Chris Naunton)

TOM: Hi Chris, thank you for doing this.

I see you have a new book out, “King Tutankamun Tells All,” I noticed the great cover right away. It looks like it’s a book for children. Is this the case?

CHRIS: It is a book for children! I have an academic grounding in Egyptology and most people making a living from the subject are academics, but that kind of work is very serious and doesn’t allow much room for jokes or light-heartedness. I had, for quite a long time, been bugged by this idea that, if the ancient Egyptians’ beliefs were right, then Tutankhamun’s spirit might still be around, dying to tell his own story and to tell us how wrong we had got everything! Writing for children allowed me to give Tutankhamun a voice (that of a slightly perturbed teenager), and to imagine his life, death and afterlife from his perspective, and also to make a few jokes too (as a serious Egyptologist I’m not really supposed to make light of the fact that his underpants were found in the tomb but come on…). It’s not a very serious book in that way, but actually, I think the process has helped me to try to get inside the mind of an Egyptian pharaoh and that’s a very interesting and helpful exercise and one I’d recommend to my colleagues!

TOM: You were appointed president of Thames Valley Ancient Egypt Society recently, what is that all about?

CHRIS: We’re very lucky in the UK that there’s a rich culture of ‘local societies’ — groups around the country run by volunteers who invite people like along to give talks about heir research for local enthusiasts. It provides us with a platform and an opportunity to engage directly with audiences beyond our academic colleagues. Communicating with wider audiences is crucially important for any science, and every opportunity like this helps us to sharpen our skills, hear the very good questions that people want answered etc. I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years now and last year I was invited to become the President of one of the largest and best such groups — the Thames Valley group which serves a wide area to the west of London.

TOM: How did you begin your career as an Egyptologist?

CHRIS: Well, I went to university to study Ancient History and Archaeology — I was more interested in football and rock music than anything else at school but it was pretty obvious by then that I wasn’t going to become a professional athlete, and the bands I was in at school didn’t seem to be going anywhere. So I had no better ideas as to what to do at 18 than to get a degree and this seems like the most interesting way to do it. Once I got there I realized I loved it and my grades were good so I decided to have a go at making a career out of it — fully expecting it wouldn’t happen. After two degrees I started applying for every job and other opportunity going and to my great surprise I got a lowly admin job at the Egypt Exploration Society. I left 16 years later having been CEO for five years.

TOM: Are you just handed the keys to locked tombs and simply walk in with a cameraman?

CHRIS: Ha ha, not quite! All archaeological sites and monuments in Egypt are the responsibility of the Ministry of Antiquities and Tourism (MoTA) and they make sure all visits are closely controlled. TV work has taken me to lots of places that are not usually open to the public but months of application beforehand are required and we are then accompanied by MoTA officials and the local guardians who actually have the keys, and Egyptian facilitators who ensure we know exactly what we can and cannot do, what we can / cannot film etc, and how long we’ve got (usually not long enough!). Still, I feel incredibly lucky thatches line of work has taken me to the places it has. Be there at the moment the burial chamber of the pyramid is opened for the first time in 4,000 years? YES PLEASE.

TOM: Do you not fear the curse of Tut’s tomb when you enter?

CHRIS: I don’t know how many times I’ve been into the tomb now, behind the barriers, in the closed rooms, gurning for the cameras while standing next to the king’s mummy, and it’s all been OK… And having had a chance to imagine how the king himself feels about all this, I reckon I’ll be OK — he quite likes the publicity!

TOM: What song is the theme of your life?

Oh my goodness… It depends one my mood, what’s going on in life… Generally speaking I respond to music more than lyrics I think and a lot of my favorite songs have lyrics that don’t really fit. The lyricists that have — in the 25 years I’ve been listening to music quite intensely — given expression to what I’m thinking and feeling the best are probably Morrissey, who seemed like a disgruntled teenager as I was when I fist started listening to The Smiths, and more recently Matt Berninger of The National, who seems more like a disgruntled 40-something like I am now! (‘I wish that I believed in fate, I wish I didn’t sleep so late’ … ‘Goodbyes always take us half an hour, can’t we just go home’)

TOM: I could have sworn you would have said, “Walk like an Egyptian!”

TOM: What bores you (besides my questions)?

CHRIS: I’m not easily bored. I found out a few years, a little to my surprise, that I’m very much an introvert and part of that is that I don’t need a lot of external stimulation to occupy me, and internal thoughts come easily. Pointless meetings are boring and I’ve been in plenty of those!

TOM: Who is your favorite superhero?

CHRIS: This is not something I often think about. Maybe Bananaman? This was a cartoon on British TV in the 80s, which began: This is 29 Acacia Road, and this is Eric, an ordinary little boy. But when Eric eats a banana, an extraordinary transformation occurs: Eric… is, BANANAMAN! Ever alert to the call to action!”

TOM: Winter, spring, summer or fall?

CHRIS: Spring and Fall — the light is beautiful — gentle and raking — at these times of year. Winter in England is far too dar and gloomy, and summer is too hot. If I had to choose one, I’d perhaps choose Spring as it’s the time when all the time when nature reawakens and everywhere explodes with green. Autumn (Fall!) is tinged with melancholy, as we all know the gloom is coming…

TOM: Who would you like to hang out with for the day — Akhenaten, Tutankhamun or Cleopatra? And why?

CHRIS: Wow, great question! I think Akhenaten. Although we don’t know to what extent it was his project, his reign was one of the most interesting times in Egyptian history, when so much of Egyptian culture was reinvented. I’d love to know if he really was this great, driven intellectual with the imagination to envision an entirely new Egypt, or if he just had revolutionary advisors. And I’d love to know what he really looked like. I’d meet any of them though, especially if I could bunk off for an hour or so and just take a look round!

TOM: Thanks, Chris! Hoping to take one of your tours soon. Until then, I’ll look for you on tv!

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More of my comics at TomFalco.com

I’m in the funny papers; literally!

I’ve been written about often but I’ve never been in a comic strip before! The other day I was in “Amanda the Great” by Amanda El-Dweek! So cool!

I interviewed her four years ago for my Huff Post column, but she mentioned it this week!

Here’s the 10 With Tom Column with Amanda.
And here’s Amanda’s daily comic strip.

I’ve been wanting to be part of GoComics, so I guess this week I am! 🙂

Stephan Pastis – 10 With Tom

10 With Tom
10 questions in 10 minutes

I did this interview with Stephan Pastis a few years ago. For a long time I did a bunch of 10 With Tom interviews for the Huffington Post. I’m thinking of getting back into doing that. Anyway, here is Stephan.

I got the chance to ask Stephan Pastis, creator of the comic strip, Pearls Before Swine, my Ten With Tom questions. Stephan has one of the most popular comic strips around, his tipping point was when Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strip, noticed his work and mentioned it in a blog post. The rest is history. His online readership went through the roof overnight.

He won the 2015 Reuben Award for best newspaper comic strip. I’m trying to follow in his footsteps with my comics, so it truly was an honor doing Ten With Tom with Stephan.

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stephan2

Do people mistake you for Seth Macfarlane?

I’ve heard that before, but the one I hear more is Robert Downey, Jr.  I even had a restaurant owner in Dublin, Ireland tell me what an honor it was to have Robert Downey, Jr. in her restaurant. I told her that I appreciated it, but that I didn’t like to be disturbed while dining.

Why do you create your comics 7 months in advance, why so far ahead?
I’m anal retentive.  I need to relax.

Are you recognized on the street?
Almost never. Except as Robert Downey Jr. in Dublin.

What are a few of your favorite classic newspaper comics from your childhood?

Far Side
Calvin and Hobbes
Peanuts
Bloom County

Flintstones or Scooby Do?
Scooby. There’s always someone trying to scare away prospective house buyers by filling it with fake ghosts and/or monsters. Knowing that the ghost thing is a sham, I could probably get a great deal on real estate.

Which comic strip would you like to crawl into and spend the day?
Krazy Kat. Lots of peyote and throwing bricks at others.

Dick Tracy or Little Orphan Annie?
It wouldn’t be Annie. Her lack of pupils would be disturbing, particularly if you fell in love. You could never look into her eyes.

What section of the printed daily newspaper today should be eliminated to add more comics?
Many of the comics.

Without looking, what color is Olive Oyl’s dress?
Top half of her is red. Bottom half of her is black.  Both halves are probably stained by spinach.

Do you think you’ll ever go digital in creating Pearls Before Swine? Why?
No. Too lazy to learn. Plus, it doesn’t seem like something Robert Downey Jr. would do.

Thank you Stephan!

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‘Dunce” comic strip is in a class all its own

10 With Tom
10 questions in 10 minutes

jensk2

Jens K at work. (Photo by Agnese Zile)

jensJens K. Styve is the creator of Dunce, a delightful Norwegian comic strip he created in 2016. What attracts you first are the drawings, each strip is a work of art; add the comic writing and quality to that, and you have an award-winning comic strip. (photo by Nicolas Tourrenc).
TOM: Is Dunce you? Why the name Dunce for the title character?

JENS: Whenever I’ve done anything autobiographical, it’s been me drawn with that pointy Dunce-cap. I think it’s all about that voice in your head, the self-evaluating critic. The voice that, each time you do more or less anything, goes “You idiot, why did you do that? Why did you say that? Write that? Draw that? Look, now you’ve made a mess.” I think this voice is pure biology, every human seem to be their own worst critic. You should probably check with a biologist, but I assume it’s how we all made it this far. I guess my inner voice is also a sarcastic, satirical writer that can add some fiction and transform these expressions into comics. When I started doing a daily strip with the pointy-hat character, the title Dunce sort of gave itself.

TOM: What is Dunce’s name? He has a son, what about a wife, I don’t remember ever seeing her.

JENS: The main character’s name is Jens K, maybe with a tiny reference to another resentful literary character (Kafka’s Josef K.). The son is named Gustav, I haven’t really figured out yet if the characters should have other names in English, I guess it’s part of the concept that this is actually in the far north of Norway, far above the polar circle. Gustav obviously has (or at least has had) a mother, many readers ask about her, but that part of the story isn’t told (yet).

TOM: Your drawing style is beautiful, is it digital, do you use pen and ink?

JENS: In 2014, I came back from a 14 year long hiatus from comics. Actually I thought I had quit for good, with my steady job as a graphic designer. I did miss making comics, I guess what I missed most was working offline and analogue, with old fashioned tools like brushes, nibs, good paper and the meditative “flow” of drawing. So I returned. I decided to do a daily strip, just for myself. My days were packed, but I found that if I got up insanely early, I could sketch and ink a complete strip each day before going to work. These were self-published in small zines, and this eventually turned into my Dunce strip. The whole point then, was to do this without using any computers. After a year or so, my strip won several competitions and ended up running in Norwegian magazines and newspapers. After doing maybe 150 strips on paper, I bought an iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil, curious (and a bit skeptical) if these gadgets could recreate my analogue and “inky” style. One of the really good brush-makers for Procreate (Georg von Westphalen) came by and offered to make a brush pack based on my style. That did it, I switched to iPad.

dunce1

TOM: What does your studio/workspace look like?

JENS: Since I went full time comic artist in October 2017, I’ve been working at home. I have a separate room for work, but when I have the house for myself, I move around. My dog Brego (who is introduced in the strip, and often seems to be stealing the show) keeps me company, when I move to another place to draw, he finds another place to sleep. Kitchen is for writing, I have a good chair by the large window for sketching, and I do the inking in my office. All my nibs and brushes are there, in close vicinity, and although I do most work on the iPad now, I try to keep them active. Ink on the hands, and those random accidents that can’t be undone, is still what gives the best “flow”.

TOM: Dunce is run in newspapers in Norway and that area of the world. What is the schedule like is it run daily? How far ahead do you have to have the strips in?

JENS: It is running daily, and has been doing that more or less non stop since January 2017. That means I have to produce at least five new strips every week. There has been times (up to quite recently) when I’ve been so far behind that I handed in the next day’s strip at 12 every day. That is not at all recommended. I’ve now been able to build up a buffer of around four weeks. Also, I now try to make six or seven strips weekly, so that I can have a vacation one day, or even be able to get sick.

dunce2

TOM: I’ve read various quotes comparing your work to others but I don’t see it, I think you are totally unique. But who are your comic/cartoon influences?

JENS: My influences are pretty widespread, and they also change a lot. Some people mention Quentin Blake and Ralph Steadman, I admit those two have been great inspirations. I grew up loving French and Belgian comics like Asterix and Franquin, in the 90s I was hooked on Fantagraphics stuff (Hate, Eightball etc), and strips like Peanuts and Calvin & Hobbes have always been with me. Lately I’ve been looking into manga comics, working quite hard to find something to get hooked on. I’ve found a few gems, last one was The Girl From The Other Side, which I think everyone should read. Another artist who’s books I keep close these days is the Italian cartoonist Gipi.

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?

JENS: Ah, I remember copying Beetle Bailey in very early years. I was maybe 12 when I decided I wanted to become a comic artist. My theory was that I had to draw every day, so that’s what I did. Much of the daily grind at that time was copying whatever I could find. Some comics were almost impossible to copy, and those were often the ones I liked most. I think I was early aware of the mystical quality in a line/stroke and how some drawing styles had more of a “soul.” Early on, I found it hard to do comics, because I was more into drawing than writing. In my recent comics hiatus I wrote and published two novels, so that was pretty much turned around in time.

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

JENS: I think Quentin Blake could do a good one, probably also Richard Thompson. Those would probably be ink drawings. If I was to be painted in oil, it could maybe be by Australian comic artist Ashley Wood. Or Norwegian Edvard Munch, he would have painted me as some sort of devious villain.

dunce3

TOM: Who is your favorite super hero?

JENS: Ouch, I don’t mean to be cocky, but I’ve never been enthusiastic about any superhero comic (or superhero movie). Guess my reply just has to be «blank» on this one.

TOM: If you could go back in time and change one thing, what would it be?

JENS: I would have started doing this Dunce-strip in 1995, when all newspaper editors were happy and positive people with an optimistic outlook for the future.

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Jens K at work with Brego nearby. (Photo by Agnese Zile)

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Finding obscure comic strips

10 With Tom
10 questions in 10 minutes

I’ve been reading Allan Holtz’s “Strippers Guide” blog since it started in 2005, I believe. I love it because it’s all about thing I love – comic strips – old, historical comic strips. Alan is a comic strip historian and author of “American Newspaper Comics: An Encyclopedic Reference Guide,” a book I own.

Each day, Allan (shown here) and contributor Alex Jay, talk about old comic strips on the blog with plenty of wonderful images of the strips. Many I never heard of and quite a few bring back memories. I had the opportunity to interview Allan recently for Ten With Tom.

Allan-Medea-Jim

Allan at right, with his wife Media and cartoonist Jim Ivey at Jim’s 90th birthday party.

TOM: I love old comic strips and newspapers and enjoy the Strippers Guide blog, what made you come up with the idea of the blog?

ALLAN: I was about to begin shopping my book, “American Newspaper Comics – An Encyclopedic Reference Guide,” around to publishers. I’d spent over twenty years researching the book, and my name was somewhat known in the comic strip collecting world, but I felt that it would be helpful if I had wider name recognition. In 2007, when I started the Stripper’s Guide site, blogs were the hot new thing on the web. I figured that if I posted regularly about comic strips, with some eye candy in the form of nicely restored old comics, it might help my cause.

Well, it didn’t really help at all with publishers; I ended up having the book accepted by the University of Michigan Press primarily because another author vouched for me. However, I found that the daily regimen of writing short essays, and scanning and restoring the comics, was just what the doctor ordered to stimulate my desire to continue my research work. I also thrive on the feedback I receive from comic strip fans and historians.

TOM: Why Stripper’s Guide? I know what strippers are in the newspaper business, but what made you use that for the name?

ALLAN: I was trying to come up with a catchy title for the blog, and I figured that anyone with an ounce of curiosity would be intrigued by a site that calls itself Stripper’s Guide. Comic strip fans have occasionally called themselves strippers long before I came along, so I don’t get any points for originality. Over the years I’ve fielded my fair share of comments from site visitors who were hoping to find something very different. But maybe I turned a few of them into comic strip fans!

I wanted to call my book Stripper’s Guide as well, but the folks at University of Michigan Press very sweetly told me that there was no way in hell they would publish a book with that title. I still think we could have sold more copies, though …

detective-riley

Detective Riley, an obscure comic strip from the 1930s

TOM: I love the obscure comics, what you post as “Obscurity of the Day.” How do you find those? I know of some old comics I’ve been trying to find and I can’t find them.

ALLAN: Decades of research have yielded a practically never-ending supply of comic strips I can discuss for “Obscurity of the Day.” The real trick is getting the samples to show. Since microfilm photocopies and online newspaper archive images are rarely of decent quality, I have to find original newspapers that print these rarities, from which I make high-resolution scans and then do additional restoration work.

There is a lively trade in old newspaper comic strips. I haunt eBay constantly, always looking for oddball and obscure material, whether in the form of clipped comic strips, complete newspapers, or even newspaper bound volumes discarded by libraries. My collection is pretty vast and I’m always looking for more.

As to the subject of finding dimly remembered old comic strips, I get asked about them a lot. I’ve become a regular Sherlock Holmes when it comes to identifying dimly recalled comic strips from the past. Between a vague description (sometimes as little as “it had a funny looking kid in it”), a general idea of when they remember reading it, and the newspaper they saw it in, I can usually come up with the answer.

TOM: Do you draw? Have you ever created a comic strip yourself?

ALLAN: I’m good at quite a few things, but drawing is definitely not one of them. Unlike the old saying, though, I can in fact draw straight lines. It’s those darn curved ones that are completely beyond me. I think that may be a part of my fascination with comic strips — the ability to boil a story down to a few deftly arranged pen lines never loses its magic for me.

I did actually create a comic strip, though. I used to work in the software industry, and my company had a monthly newsletter. Just for kicks I came up with a sort of a Dilbert-y comic strip for it. At first I tried to populate it with stick figures, but it was incomprehensibly bad. So I drew a closed office door, and had all the dialog emanating from the other side. After submitting two of those, the newsletter was cancelled. I fear it was my fault.

TOM: You are the author of “American Newspaper Comics: An Encyclopedic Reference Guide.” I have owned that book for many years. How did that come about to begin with?

ALLAN: When I first got seriously interested in newspaper comics and wanted to read about their history, I was frustrated by the quality and lack of depth in the references available then. It seemed like everybody talked endlessly about a standard litany of high profile classic comics — Flash Gordon, Krazy Kat, Little Nemo and so on — but when they ventured beyond those strips the information was generally spotty, and often just plain wrong.

So I set out to gather all the basic information about every US newspaper comics and panel — their running dates, creators, formats, and so on. I felt that a comprehensive reference was needed as a jumping off point for researchers who want to go into more depth. I had no idea when I started that I was embarking on a project that would take a lifetime!

The book was originally published in 2011 and I’ve continued researching ever since, so I’ve got lots of new information to share. I’m very proud of the original book, but I’m hoping there’s a way to bring out the 2nd edition at a much lower price. I want comics enthusiasts to be able to buy a copy without feeling that they need to live on bread and water for a month to afford it.

the-captains-gig

A late 1970s strip, The Captain’s Gig, by Virgil Partch

TOM: What comic strip from today or the past would you like to crawl into and spend the day?

ALLAN: Wow, that’s a great question. My first instinct is to say I’d like to be Jiggs from Bringing Up Father. He’s obscenely rich, lives in rococo splendor, and moves through an Art Deco world drawn by the great George McManus. But then I remember that Jiggs regularly gets beaned by Maggie, his harridan wife. Maybe not so great after all.

I could have a wild day as Little Nemo, Buck Rogers or Captain Easy, but I’m enough of a homebody, used to my creature comforts,to take a pass on that.

No, I guess my choice is Dagwood from Blondie. He has a job where he gets away with murder, naps on the couch, and eats the most stupendous sandwiches without ever gaining an ounce. And who doesn’t have a crush on Blondie, whose personality, figure and lovely face put us imperfect real humans to shame.

TOM: Have you met many famous cartoonists? Which ones impressed you the most?

ALLAN: Cartoonists are the celebrity superstars of my world, and I’m sufficiently in awe of them to be a bit shy. I confess that I’ve been in the same room with some of my ink-slinging heroes and sometimes not gotten up the gumption to introduce myself. Which is pretty stupid, because cartoonists are cooped up in their studios so much that when they do get out in public, they tend to be very friendly and giving of their time.

I’d have to say that the cartoonist who impressed me most was still the very first one I met, at a comic book convention in Orlando. Wayne Boring had been the artist on Superman (both comic books and the newspaper strip) in the 1950s and ’60s. By the time I met him he was retired, and I was a snot-nosed 12-year old who saw the gray-haired fellow as a god.

I got up the nerve to approach him with a copy of one of the last Superman comic books he worked on. Much to my amazement, he was not only friendly but sat with me for about five minutes, paging through the comic book and reminiscing about working on it. He even asked me questions, which seemed impossibly congenial. I’ll never forget it.

TOM: Now that Bloom County is back, which of these classics would you like to see come back, too: The Far Side, Calvin and Hobbes or Pogo. Please choose just one.

ALLAN: Well, they are all classics, but if I could only have one back, it would by Gary Larson’s The Far Side. I’ve always had a particular affinity for slightly subversive and off-kilter humor (my current favorite strip is Zippy the Pinhead). Although Larson said he ended the panel because he felt his well was running dry, I’m betting that after the long layoff his creative juices have been revitalized and he could have another great run.

TOM: Do you attend comic cons? Which one do you like or prefer?

ALLAN: Comic conventions are about comic books, not newspaper strips, so I’d be a fish out of water. As a kid, when I was more into comic books, Jim Ivey‘s annual OrlandoCon was the highlight of my year. OrlandoCons were great because Ivey invited all these amazing cartoonists he knew, most of whom were newspaper comic strip artists and editorial cartoonists. Meeting these people opened my eyes that comic books were not the sum total of cartooning by a long shot.

From what I understand, nowadays most comic conventions are more about adaptations of comics for movies and television than they are about actual comic books, so I’d be doubly out of my element.

TOM: When you were a kid, what newspapers did you see/read the comics in? What is your earliest memory of reading comics?

ALLAN: I lived in Montreal as a kid, so I fondly recall the strips that ran in the Montreal Star. I especially remember Jasper, which was a comic strip distributed only in Canada. It was about a bear who lived in Jasper National Park in Alberta Canada. I guess that would qualify as an Obscurity of the Day on Stripper’s Guide now!

What really doomed me to a life of loving comic strips, though, was when my dad was doing some plumbing repair under our house and he came out of the crawlspace with an old newspaper he’d found wrapped around a pipe. It was a copy of the Sunday comics from a Montreal Gazette of the early 1940s. This 10-year-old kid had never seen such large, beautifully colored glorious comics. They were a powerful revelation to me, who was used to comic strips printed muddily and on the scale of a postage stamp in current newspapers. I must have read that old comics section a hundred times, and I guess that sealed my destiny.

TOM: Thank you Allan!

Herriman

A 1909 strip by George Herriman.

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