Jul 09, 2010

Hilary Price takes your questions about judging The Post's America's Next Great Cartoonist Contest, her strip "Rhymes With Orange" and more.

Howdy everyone.  Happy to be here! 

Your strip is fairly apolitical, but I wonder if you've been finding any inspiration in the DC political scene these days? Seems like there's plenty of material to work with!

I do my dailies 4 weeks in advance and the Sunday is 6 weeks in advance.  It is hard to accurately predict what the news will be then.  So instead of looking at particular events, i scan the pages for trends.  

Hi Hilary, I've been a big fan of yours for a long time. I first started following your strip back in the mid 90s when the Burlington (Vermont) Free Press ran a contest to decide which new comic to add to the paper. Unfortunately, I think they chose Mutts (!?), but your comic struck a cord with me.

I had just graduated from college, and they posted a strip of yours that followed a young child "alphabetizing," then an older child "reading," then a college student "analyzing," and finally a college grad in an entry level job "alphabetizing." That strip pretty much summed up my life at that point, and I immediately went out and bought your book.

You are the only cartoonst since Bill Waterson that consistently makes me laugh out loud. About a year later, my sister contacted you to purchase a print for me as a present: "Tired of secretarial work Gladys looked for openings as queen." You can probably tell I still wasn't that happy with my job. :) She mentioned that you were so nice about working with her to add color to the print, and get it to her in time for my birthday. That made even more of an impression on me, and I have been a loyal fan ever since. Thanks so much!

Please e-mail me nice things like this every day.  Especially tuesdays, when the deadline on friday has gotten a little closer and I hit my weekly panic.


How did you become a cartoonist and is there anything in your journey that serves as advice to prospective cartoonists?

My piece of advice is this:  People respond to an authentic voice.  In writing as well as art.  The way to develop an organic style is through drawing and drawing and drawing and writing and writing and writing.  Other people's influences will very slowly filter out.

That said, it is not a bad thing to copy someone's style to see how they do it.  Try and do a Charlie Brown face and you will realize how difficult it is to get it right.


How did you find the judging? Was it hard or easy? Did you feel mean at times?

I didn't feel mean because the judges were asked to comment on the strips that spoke to them.  That way I didn't have to put on a Simon Cowell hat.

Within memory, you've had Mo Willems do a guest week on your strip. Do you get any response to that switch? I liked it myself and think it's a better idea than reprints.

People really enjoyed Mo's work, and I am a huge fan of his.  He also has a fabulous dog and excellent family but that is beside the point.  It's a mixed review whenever I have had a guest cartoonist.  First because people think I've died.  Second because the comics page is about ritual and I have disrupted it and that is confusing and alarming to people who have not eyt had their coffee.

"Respond in an authenic voice." Got it. If I can fake that, I've got it made.

Funny!  you are already on your way.

At least you panic on Tuesday for a Friday deadline. I know too many people whou wait until Thursday to panic.

How long, on average, does it take to create a strip. What is the minimum amount of time you need, meaning, at which time would you reach sheer panic?

It took me an hour yesterday to pencil out the simplest of drawings.  When you see it in the paper, it looks like it could have been dashed off on a cocktail napkin.  But it took a while to get the spacing of everything right.  When you draw or write in the letters, it is not just about the black ink,  you have to put enought white space around that ink so it is easy to read and interpret what is going on.  Inkiing this strip will be 30 min.  then erasing the pencil and scanning and adding the color notes for the dailies will be another hour on that. 

I have been reading RWO for a while and could not start my day without it (so thanks for that). After the point when you dedicated RWO to the dog and cat (a few weeks), the comic changed (not for better or worse - just different). Was this a conscience change or change that inevitably happens?

It really depends on what is happening in my world that week.  This week I'm drawing a dog strip that I'm really pleased about and either this sunday or next is another one. 

One of the things that I love about your comic is that it manages to focus on female characters without relying on a lot of the stereotypes that other comics do. Is it difficult to resist the pressure to become ... well ... Cathy?

I see my character (if you can call her that) as an individual navigating the world, with the emphasis on individual.  So she is the "everyman" with a b-cup.  There are alot of short cuts in cartooning that rely on stereotypes that are inevitable-- god being a white old guy in the clouds, for example, but there's no reason a police officer has to be a white guy for a joke to make sense.  I was just a guest at a cartooning camp for kids and we were coming up with a toon together.  When I drew a cop they were surprised at her femaleness.  We all know female police officers, so sometimes  it is important to consciously choose a female or a person of color in a strip. 

That's just one part of your question though.

The stuff I toon about it what interests me.  Cathy appeals to a certain set of people and that is her authentic voice. 

It seems like some of the greatest cartooning talent these days is entirely on the internet, and no wonder - cartoonists are able to create comics with whatever art they want, in whatever format they want, and are able to target a more adult audience. Meanwhile, newspapers' comic pages are getting ossified with strips whose original creators aren't even alive anymore! Is there any future in newspapers for young cartoonists? If you were just starting out today, would you write a webcomic instead of a print comic? Have you ever considered producing special web-only content? And who are your favorite webcomic writers today?

Web comics are one more medium for people to create great art.  I don't think it's a worthwhile argument to say "the best are on the web" or "the best are in the newspaper" or "the best are in the Newyorker."  To borrow from the GOP, comics are a big tent, and the bigger the better!

Your question is hard to answer, since I am not starting out today.  I think the web is a great place to publish comics and there is a gigantic fanbase that never reads a newspaper. 

The deadlines of the strip exhaust me, so web only content would be tough.  Doing an anemic blog is the best I can muster.


Do the people at your syndicate or any of the newspapers sometimes reject your ideas or do most or all of them still go through without any question?

Most go through.  If they aren't working, I let them sit. Occasionally we discuss content.  You enever want to get that phone call that says, "How many paper are you willing to lose by publishing this?"  That happened at the beginning a long time ago when I did Jewish themed strips and people got worried that I might be being offensive.  (I wasn't, and fought for them, and people appreciated them!)

Did you feel as though you were helping out possible future competition by being a judge?

No.  Like I said, it is a big tent.  I prefer to live as if there was an abundance of space instead of a scarcity of it.  You have to help other people out and teach them what few things you know.  I am always happy to look at people's work and critique it.  That's your responsibility as someone who's been around the block.

How far ahead are you? A 'Cul de Sac' week or a 'Pearls Before Swine' 1/2 year?

4 weeks for mon-sat, 6 weeks for the sunday strip.

Curse that Stefan Pastis!!

I couldn't get to every part of every question.  One more comment about the web comics part.  I am just getting to know about the great web talents and want suggestions as to what to go read!  Send me links to your favorite web comics!

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Hilary Price
Hilary Price is the creator of the comic strip Rhymes With Orange.
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