Welcome to the first Collective Inkwell interview. Our aim is to showcase the most creative bloggers, writers and artists working on the web today. We kick things off with an interview with cartoonist Brian Anderson of the syndicated comic strip Dog Eat Doug.
Anderson’s strip follows the adventures of Sophie, a cheese-loving chocolate Labrador and her owner’s baby, Doug. The popular strip is cute, imaginative and at oftentimes laugh-out-loud funny. If you’re a parent or dog owner, or daring enough to be both, you’ll swear that Anderson is spying on you to come up with his ideas.
Among topics for discussion, Anderson talks about his creative process, how he uses social media to promote his work and the effects of the economy on syndicated comics.
Please give a warm Collective Inkwell welcome to Brian Anderson.
My chocolate Lab, Sophie, was the original inspiration. I didn’t have my baby boy at that time. So all the baby stuff I made up. Lot’s of image searches for toys, high chairs and numerous other baby products. Now I just look around my living room.
How much of your real life seeps into the strip?
A lot. The strip is more of a documentary at this point. My wife has gotten used to everyday occurrences showing up in the strip.
Describe your comic creating process.
Everything starts in notebooks. Ideas, doodles, storylines and new characters all start as ink sludged around pocket sketchpads. From there I put together a weeks worth of ideas, then print out the panels on bristol board (5.5 x 14 in.).
At first, I penciled then inked with copic multiliners. I always wanted to use a brush, but was a bit nervous. So the only way to get over that and give the strip the look I wanted was to jump in and just start inking with the brush. I used Kuretake and Sailor brush pens. Recently I switched to a variety of felt tipped brush pens from jetpens.com. So I still get the brush look with a but more control. I also now pencil with blue lead. This eliminated the erasing step. Skipping steps helps a ton when you’re on a daily deadline.
The inked strips are scanned in and lettered in photoshop. I started out lettering in illustrator but because the strips are delivered for print as Tiff’s, there wasn’t a need to keep the type vector (again, skipping a step = good thing).
Tell us a bit about your syndication story.
My first go around with syndication was in 2000. I revamped my college strip and sent it off. I also ran it online as a short lived webcomic (“Paying the Rent”). A couple syndicates were interested in developing the strip, yet in the back of my mushy cartoonist brain I knew it wasn’t the strip I could be married to for ten years or more. So I stepped away from pursuing syndication and focused on my screenwriting.
It wasn’t until 2004 that I just couldn’t ignore the desire to do a daily comic. Once again I burned through some sketchbooks with possible ideas. One being another revamp of “Paying the Rent” and the other was a single panel strip. One day sitting around on the couch with my dog, the whole “Dog eat Doug” thing hit me. The title, the characters and the first dozen or so strips materialized in a flash.
I grabbed the URL dogeatdoug.com and signed up for Comics Sherpa and launched DeD as a webcomic. Once I had enough strips for a pitch, I sent off packages to all the syndicates. That was July of 2004 and in October of that year, Creators called with an offer. Honestly, during that initial phone conversation, my only thought was “huh, I never knew they called you to reject a strip”.
The strip didn’t launch into papers until November of 2005. That gave me a bit of time to let the art mature and refine some of the first strips. Everything happened fast after I created the strip. Of course there were many years of cranking out junk and piling up rejection letters.
What comics did you look up to as a child?
A ton. really anything I read influenced me in someway. However the standouts would be Walt Kelly, Jim Davis, Charles Schultz and Sullivan (a political cartoonist in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette).
If given the opportunity, what other comic, current or no longer running, would you love to write and draw?
Ooooh. That’s like locking a five year old in a candy store. Man, there’s a lot of strips I’d love to get my hands on. If I really had to pick, it would be Little Nemo.
What comics do you enjoy these days?
I’m fortunate enough to have partnered with some of my favorite tooners at TallTaleFeatures.com. I was a fan of all their work before we all got together. Cocknbull.net is a newbie, but at the top of my list (and not for the kiddies).
I keep a steady diet of comic books too. Right now I’m reading Farscape, Muppets and OZ.
What role does social networking play into your comic’s success?
Well twitter is really starting to explode for me. Other than that I only hang out on Facebook. The key to social media is using what you enjoy.
How do you balance your comic time with the family?
It’s tricky. I was at home for a year before my son came along. SO now it’s a work in progress figuring out how to get everything done. Plus I have two books I’m working on outside of the strip. But you do figure things out. Obviously nap time for junior is prime work hours. And there are tricks. I carry a small notebook and a voice recorder all the time. Even if my son is running at 80mph, I can catch ideas that jump into my head before they fade out. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
I noticed that you still host your own comic on a blog, despite it being on the syndicate’s web site. Why did you choose to continue to host your own comic and what kind of resistance did you get from the syndicates?
DeD started as a webcomic so it was natural to keep that going. Plus, my main focus has always been online. Webcomics is the new frontier. No one’s really figured it out yet and that’s part of the fun. There was no resistance from my syndicate. And really there never is resistance on anything from them. Cretaors is a dream.
How do you feel the decline of newspapers will affect the syndicated comic business? Has it affected you personally, yet?
It has affected it in the sense that the web is slowly eliminating the middle man in the whole comic strip equation. Unfortunately that middleman, newspapers, has been the one paying the bills for syndicated cartoonists. Like many things in web-land, readers are just not going to pay to read a strip online. The focus for cartoonists who want to make a living at it is still the same: get as many readers as you can.
In the hey days of newspapers you could make a sweet living just from royalties. Even in those years, the most successful cartoonists used the exposure in papers to build a franchise. That remains a valid model today on or offline.
So far I’ve only lost one client due to a paper going belly up.
It was highly surreal the first time I got ink stains from holding a comics page containing DeD. There was a bit of a lag from signing with Creators until it launched. Seeing it in print made it all real. And the collection was a dream. I mean growing up, comic collections were the ultimate perfect bound prize.
What are your plans for Dog Eat Doug?
My number one plan is to keep improving the strip, both art and writing. Business wise I see the newspaper side of things as one pillar in the foundation. The second pillar was bringing Doug and Sophie into the world of children’s books. And right now I’m working on greeting cards and getting DeD animated online.
What are the syndicate’s plans? Do they have any merchandise in store
for readers, etc?
Fortunately my plans go hand in hand with my syndicate. I’m free to pursue any opportunities and they are also working on some. And I do hope to have some merchandise out there soon.
What are your plans for your other comics?
Oh boy. There’s a lot of veggies stewing right now. I do have a graphic novel based on my screenplay “Bloodkin” that’ll be out later this year. And I have a few new webcomics in the works. Two are based on upcoming novels and the other is just for fun.
What advice do you give to others looking to break into comics?
Absolutely love what you do. Never quit, but at the same time you need to be honest with yourself about your work and your goals. I self published three comic books years back that I knew weren’t ever going to break sales records. But I knew that upfront. I didn’t have “American Idol” syndrome (that is singing like a choking wombat yet convinced you’re the next Usher).
What have been your best and worst experiences regarding Dog Eat Doug?
The best is hearing from readers. I always said that if a comic strip makes only one person laugh, it’s a success. There really haven’t been any bad experiences.
If you could go back in time to before you started the comic and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
Learn to live on three hours sleep.
Thanks Brian for taking the time to talk to us!
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Now the Collective Inkwell Questions: Do you read comics strips in the paper or online? Which comics do you enjoy? What are some of your childhood favorites?