Friday, September 18, 2020

Mike Lynch: Interview About Cartooning for a Living


I'm prepping some cartoons of mine for a question and answer session about "What's It Like To Be a Cartoonist?" for a SUNY college class this morning. Sometimes, I get asked to show up and talk about this kind of career. I hope I can answer some of the students' questions. In the meantime, here are some cartoons and some interview questions and answers from an interview I did for a European site that I've never published here. 


What experiences have triggered your ideas most?

Ideas! When you draw magazine gag cartoons, as I do, you have to have the habit of coming up with a lot of ideas on a regular basis. The finished gag cartoon has to successfully communicate to its reader in about 4 seconds. Or, in other words, a successful gag cartoon takes only about 4 seconds to “get” or “not get.” As for what triggers me getting a good idea: I stay aware. I keep up on the news. Anything that makes me angry or seems like an incongruity in life – THAT is fodder for a cartoon. My grandmother told me this. She kept up on the news and would talk current events and controversies. It kept her plugged in to the world.

How would you characterize the philosophy of your artwork?

Oh, gee. Well, I never really thought that much about the philosophy of my drawing. I like it to be clear. I mean, I like my drawings to be clear. That's pretty basic now, isn't it? I want a dog that I draw to look recognizably like a dog and so on. That's damn basic. Ha ha! I don't like cartoonists who draw close ups all the time. It seems like a cheat to draw closeups of the eyes and the mouth and so on. I try to work in a background and I try to put people's hands in the image. I don't ever want it to look like I'm afraid to draw something, you know? I remember talking to a cartoonist at my first National Cartoonists Society Reubens weekend. He was saying how he does one drawing for a comic book page and then just repeats it for a dialogue scene. Ugh.


Above: for a book of Maine cartoons I edited and contributed to. The little girl reaches for "Blueberries for Sal" as the bear is going for "Little Girl for Lunch."

What has been the relationship between music & literature in your life and art? How does affect your inspiration?

We all get inspiration from listening to music or reading. I'm moved by certain pieces of music like the Faure Requiem, but does it impact my inspiration? Good question. 

Inspiration is a word that makes me uneasy. I would love to lie and say I am inspired all the time, but I am not. As a working cartoonist, you have to create every day, whether you are inspired or not. But, hey, I think you are talking about the influence of other creative people, and yeah, of course, there is a relationship. They do inspire.

There is a lot of art that I love (George Grosz, Thomas Hart Benton, Bemelmans to name a few off the top of my head). Most of it tends to be comic art by cartoonists I admire (Jean Jacques Sempe, Walt Kelly, Billy DeBeck). I love looking at their art and I guess there may be bits of it in my own work. It does help to look at their work and see how they drew, how they communicated. I used to assist a Marvel Comics artist and he would put a Wally Wood-drawn comic book page in front of me and say, "Look at the knowledge!" And he was right. There is a lot of great work out there and there are always things to learn.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice ever given you?

George Rhoads, an audiokinetic sculptor, bought my Dad's house in Ithaca, NY. This was a while ago when I was still working in a full-time “real job.” I had dinner with George, his wife and my Dad one day after George moved in in 1999. George is a working artist, best known for those sculptures with billiard balls that roll down tracks and make noises. His work is on display all over the world. He was a quiet fellow who seemed a bit gruff, but when I asked about his work, he showed me around their new home and was showing me how he works. He asked me about my plans and I told him that someday I would try to draw full-time. And he frowned at this and told me I would never be any good unless I did it full-time. 

I could see the truth in his eyes. I felt it the moment he said it. Having an artist of his stature tell me this impacted me. I quit my job as acting head of graphics for Deloitte and Touche later that year. It was a hard choice, to leave the security – but one that I needed to do to prove to myself that I could cartoon full-time. Plus: Rhoads was right: I got better once I started cartooning more.

What are your hopes and fears for the future of art? What do you miss most nowadays from the art of past?

When I think of "art" I think: "cartoons." Is that OK? 

I do hope there will be more artists out there who connect with fans. It's vital to survival. Chris Schweizer and Mattias Adolfsson, just to name two contemporary cartoonists I admire, sell prints, originals and books. They both sell copies of their sketchbooks, which I love and buy. Seeing these behind the scenes process sketches and drawings is exciting and it's good to see something like that on the market. Selling cartoonist to cartoonist is a still-new thing -- and there is a market for this! Now, these guys take time out to hype their wares on social media. This can take time and I always remember that it's very good of them to take time away from actually working and drawing to get the word out.

What do I miss about art from the past? Paper. I miss seeing comics interspersed in between articles in newspapers and magazines. I miss gag cartoons in magazines. It's a real shame.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of counterculture comix of 60s with the new generation of artists?

The 1960s counterculture cartoonists (like Jay Lynch, Skip Williamson, Robert Crumb, etc.) were drawing comics for themselves and I think the same is true with some of the younger cartoonists today.


If you could change one thing in the world of comic and it would become a reality, what would that be?

Allow good cartoonists to make a living wage. Well, maybe better than that: allow them somehow to only concentrate on their creative work and not have to be business people as well. So many cartoonists MUST be aware of how to be in business: contracts, invoices, taxes, etc.


What is the impact of comix/cartoon to the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

Well, you know, the fact that it's the 21st century and cartoonists are being hurt and assassinated kinda tells me some bad stuff. In America, the editorial cartoonists who are fiercely controversial are seeing their markets shrink, while bland, non-controversial cartoonists gain newspapers. People love cartoons, but a lot of editors are afraid of them. At the end of the day, the impact of an insightful, sharply written cartoon is still there -- but the cartoonist's welfare -- in money and in body -- threatened now more than ever. This is not good.

Where would you really wanna go via a time machine and what memorabilia (books, records) would you put in?

There's a great gag cartoon by Don Rosa in an old 1970s issue of Rocket's Blast Comic Collector that immediately pops in my head when you asked this. Rosa did a drawing of Captain Kirk jumping out of the Guardian of Forever time travel portal, carrying a big stack of Action Comics #1 and other vintage comic books! I always think of that cartoon when I think time machine! I guess if I could be anywhere, it would be in the offices of the New York World in the early 20th century, hanging out with TAD Dorgan, their sports cartoonist. He was a great guy, by all accounts. He attended Polytechnic High School with Rube Goldberg. At the age of 13, he had an accident and damaged his drawing hand. He lost several fingers. Most accounts agree he as left with only his thumb and little finger on his right hand. So, he learned to draw with his other hand. Now, THAT'S serious drive. A lot of the phrases he made up ("the cat's meow," hard-boiled," 23 skidoo" and others) made it into American slang. In addition to cartooning, he managed a bullpen of comic artists. He advised Segar where to send his "Thimble Theater" comic strip proposal. He was a mentor to a number of cartoonists, including Herriman. Walter Berndt, who drew the comic strip Smitty for 50 years, signed the "T" in his signature just like TAD signed his "T" as a salute to Dorgan. So, I would love to meet TAD. He lost those three fingers on his right hand, and learned how to draw with his other. Who could not want to meet a guy who had that kind of drive?

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