From left: Tom Heintjes, Brian Walker, Greg Walker, Jeff Keane, Mason Mastroianni. Photo courtesy of Hogan’s Alley.
I read a really great interview in Hogan’s Alley, where editor Tom Heintjes sat down with some famous cartoonists,who took over the family business from their fathers and grandfathers. Jeff Keane of Family Circus, Mason Mastroianni of B.C. and Brian and Greg Walker who are Mort Walker’s sons, who work primarily on Beetle Bailey and Hi and Lois sat around a table and talked.
They bring up the dynasty aspect of cartooning, something that has always bothered me. When a cartoonist dies, should the strip continue? Did it run its course?
Greg Walker says, “We’ve got to do quality work, or papers will drop us like crazy. We did come in with a nice list, but there’s the pressure to maintain it.”
I never really thought of that. It has a leg up being a popular strip with lots of newspaper subscribers but as one of them said in the interview, “When you’re at the top, there is only one way to go.” But on the other hand, newspapers are loath to drop a comic because losing just one subscriber over that is not acceptable, so I do think that some of these older strips just stay there year after year because the newspapers don’t want to make waves by dropping them, even if it’s only a handful of people who read a particular strip.
They all agreed that the older strips mixed with the newer strips make up a complete comics page and there is something for everyone that way. I’ve always agreed with that, I just felt that the older strips should be the original older strips, not an extension by the second, third and sometimes fourth generation of artists. And don’t get me started on those who buy gags. To me a cartoonist writes the strips and draws the strips, sometimes along with someone else, but purchasing gags just makes the cartoonist an artist, not a cartoonist.
Brian Walker says of his dad Mort Walker: “My father has been asked millions of times why he doesn’t retire, and he says, ‘Why should I retire? I’ve got millions of readers who enjoy my strip!’ Why should he retire just because he’s getting old? When he started out, in 1950, he was competing against Pogo, Li’l Abner, Dick Tracy, Little Orphan Annie. None of those guys quit to make room for him — he scratched and clawed for every one of those 1,800 papers.”
The roundtable interview is here. It’s really good.