A real paint


A comment and question from Jim in Southeast Mississippi: Using 7-29-85 as the first publication date of A&J, an app on my phone tells me today’s cartoon should be about number 9,269. So, how do you do it so well for that long, without burning out?

First, Jim, my old journalism professor P.C. Burnett would tell you that “about number 9,269” would be imprecise. It would be “about 9,270.” Unless we’re going to deal in fractions, there is no “about” to “number 9,269.” However, your point is valid: that’s a lot of cartoons! I’ll tell you my secret: a non-negligible number of the cartoons are stinkers. I do my best to disguise this by interspersing the stinkers evenly among the cartoons that do not stink. All cartoonists do this, and—despite what some of the young whippersnappers who want my job might say—it is not a reason to rend one’s garments or slit one’s wrists or step aside willingly so some talentless hack can have a go at it.

Having said that, bad cartoons aren’t much use to anyone. If all I produced were bad cartoons, I would go away eventually, willing or not, and it might happen yet, although my plan is to die first. However, evidence suggests I still crank out a winner now and then. From the beginning, I’ve thought I had a good week if I produced two or three cartoons worth the effort, and I think I do that most weeks. How I do it is anybody’s guess. Being alert for things like apps that count the days helps.

Bob asks: Do you sometimes assume that some readers will miss the joke or the point of that day’s strip? I occasionally do miss the point, and it doesn’t bother me. I appreciate the occasional ambiguity.

Absolutely, Bob. I don’t purposely draw cartoons I know a lot of people won’t understand, although deadlines sometimes dictate I draw a cartoon I might know is not ready-for-prime-time. (See Jim’s question above. And Saturday’s A&J.) However, I occasionally do an inside joke that I think a subset of readers will absolutely love, even if it leaves some readers scratching their head. I think this is OK, although the conventional wisdom of comic-strip writing always has been that a joke should appeal to the broadest section of readers possible. And I’m glad you don’t mind my ambiguity. I wish there were more like you.