Feedback from readers always makes me think about my comic strip from a different angle. The more constructive kind often opens doors for a little strip-introspection, if we can call it that. On my previous post Thoughts On This Week’s Comics there were two reader comments that made me think. They both mentioned that the strip is getting “weirder”, and more “surreal.” Has it? Or has it always been a little weird, and sometimes a touch surreal? Maybe I’m much too close to it to be the one to answer that, but I’m going to try.
Before becoming a comic strip cartoonist, I was a single-panel gag cartoonist. I also did comic stories. Both the stories and gags were of the outlandish kind — for me, outlandish and cartooning are natural partners. There’s a reason why I’m a cartoonist and not, say, a non-fiction writer — with cartoons you have a special kind of freedom to create broad worlds in which real-world logic plays a bit part. You can create worlds in which cats talk, dogs eat in high end restaurants, and people have two heads. I never stopped loving that type of creative freedom — the freedom to go anywhere I wanted creatively, and I remember promising myself that if I ever developed a daily comic strip, I’d make it the kind of strip where I could do just that whenever I felt the need.
When I began writing and drawing Tina’s Groove I had about twelve years less experience in writing than I do today. I remember struggling with my characters. I wanted to do two big things at once: develop the characters’ traits so that the reader could get to know them, and deliver a good gag with the fewest words possible — all in the same cartoon. This was difficult, but I managed (ironically, having to pump out a comic every single day without fail for a decade gave me the practice I needed to learn just how to manage it). Anyway, like I said, I started out as a single panel gag writer, and my early cartoons were a little wacky, and so naturally I leaned against my know-how in that area.
Today I find myself in a comfortable creative spot with Tina’s groove. Here I have these characters that have had enough time to establish themselves firmly in the world of the strip, a world where I can go almost anywhere (not as far as a single panel cartoon world where the boundaries are non-existent), and my own ability to write gags. I no longer struggle with the clash of characters versus world — in fact, what I formerly saw as an impediment to making humor, I now regard as an advantage. My characters are now ready-made vehicles for almost every gag I write — and yes, these characters oftentimes provide me with ideas of their own that I wouldn’t have thought of without them. I’m getting all excited just writing about it — It’s like some sort of magic!
So if you read Tina’s Groove and think its humor a little weird there’s a reason for it — it’s because I’m a little weird. And — maybe this is another blog post — if you begin to notice that the strip is getting less verbose and more gag-focused, you can blame that, too, on my uni-panelled past.
Tell me what you think… and, as always, thanks for reading!