Calling all future cartoonists…

It’s once again the annual Jay Kennedy Memorial Scholarship!

Do you cartoon? You could win a $5,000 scholarship and a trip to Las Vegas to meet the top names in cartooning. Don’t delay – the deadline is December 15. Applicants must be students at a 4-year college in the United States, Canada or Mexico who will be a Junior or Senior during the 2012-2013 academic year. Applicants do not have to be art majors to be eligible for this scholarship.

The annual Jay Kennedy Memorial Scholarship, in memory of the late King Features editor, was funded by an initial $100,000 grant from the Hearst Foundation/King Features Syndicate and additional generous donations from Jerry Scott, Jim Borgman, Patrick McDonnell and many other prominent cartoonists. Submissions are adjudicated by a panel of top cartoonists and an award is given to the best college cartoonist. The recipient is feted at the annual NCS Reuben Awards Convention attended by many of the world’s leading cartoonists.

My Dirty Business…

It’s no secret that I’m a writer for American Greetings. I’ve been with the company for – eek – almost 19 years now. I was hired full-time to be an in-house humorous writer/illustrator. These days, I have a part-time contract, and I exclusively write (no illustrating, which only sucks for the sheer fact that I can’t enter the Reuben Award card division. Eh.).

Anyway…I say this because I just ran a story series based on my kids discovering a few adult-themed cards lying around my desk. Normally I’m pretty careful about keeping them hidden, but occasionally I slip. These weren’t X-rated cards per se – not like some I wrote in the 90’s (my nickname? “Dirty Terri”) — but “unclean” enough for young eyes. One positive thing came out of it: it sparked this idea:

Cards_Jail

Cards_Trust

It’s like I always say: if you can’t be a model parent, then write a story arc about it.

Cartoon E.R.

Back when I first started “The Pajama Diaries,” I discovered that I don’t always write good strips…but, man, am I good at fixing them.

My late editor, Jay, used to comment on this. Sometimes I feel like a comic strip doctor, capable of dissecting and resuscitating a nearly deceased piece of writing. Of course, this can only happen after a period of time when I’ve achieved some mental distance. Which, in turn, requires me to sit on the writing for a while.

I don’t know if this stems from earlier years of card editing and rewriting…or if it’s from pure laziness. Just kidding. Rewriting a strip is often harder than writing one from scratch. But I’ve found that it’s one of my stronger suits. And there’s nothing more satisfying than taking an old piece of copy that’s on the verge of greatness (well, maybe goodness), and bringing it home. Check out these three examples, which I wrote in order, within the span of about 5 months.

Scan2

Scan1

Scan3

This last strip became one of my favs. And it certainly needed that final polishing. Goes to show that you might not start with a winner, but with a little tlc and a lot of patience, you could end up with one.

It Never Fails…

Funny little story: Pajama Diaries was recently picked up by The Toronto Star (yahoo!). Earlier in July, I was told it might start during the week of July 25. In a panic, I looked up the strips that would be published that week (I write 5 months in advance now, so I usually lose track of what’s running in the present). Anyway, I noticed there were two risqué strips running back-to-back. One of them I wasn’t so worried about. But the following strip REALLY worried me. These are the two comics:

TugClothes

Duck

Bet you know where I’m going with this. A brand new strip with an f-bomb debut? … I was afraid I’d be booted from the Star before the week was even over. My editor and I decided it wasn’t worth the risk. So we replaced it with this one:

Massage

The day came…I noticed the replacement strip was up on the King Features Daily Ink site (nice plug, eh?). I went about my business. Later that week, my husband mentioned that his coworker’s teenaged son LOVED my Tuesday strip. I was confused…the one about the massage? That didn’t connect. No, my husband replied, the one with the f-bomb.

Wait, WHAT? That made even less sense. I had it replaced! A few emails later, I learned that it was only replaced on the website, NOT in the papers. Oops. So we waited for the angry emails from horrified new readers. None came (at least, not to my inbox. The paper might be a different story)

The lesson? It never fails: the strips that I think are going to invite negative email rarely do. You might as well cue the crickets and tumbleweeds. And of course, the most innocuous ones will inevitably draw the most criticism. I guess the one thing I’ve learned is that I really shouldn’t try to second guess myself too much. It pays to just write from the heart.

Or in this case, from the gutter.

Channeling my Inner “Weird Al”…

About once a year, I get the parody bug. I’m not sure if it’s the closet songstress in me or what, but I have tremendous fun making up spoofy tunes. I’ve done about four of them so far, and the bug is starting to bite again. I work about five months ahead, so maybe the next one will be holiday-themed. We’ll see.

Anyway, these take up a considerable amount of mental energy, which is probably why I only do them once a year. The lengthiest so far was from early 2011: a Lady Gaga knock-off.

I have a feeling readers either love or hate these parodies, depending how patient they are (or how much pop culture knowledge they possess, as in the case of Gaga). Well, love or hate ‘em, here they are in all their glory. If you have 10 minutes and great vision, please enjoy!

From 2008

From 2009

SurviveSon

FDsong

From 2010

From 2011

BluesSong

LadyGaga

Hypersexed

Is it me? Am I alone here? Based on blogs and articles I’ve read, I’m guessing…no. What am I talking about, you ask? I’m talking about tweens and teens disguised as hoochie mamas. This is more than just a pet peeve. I’m literally scared for womankind. I’m scared my daughters will be judged solely on their “hotness.” For pete’s sake, last year my 7-year-old told me a classmate had called her “hot.” I asked her what that means and she shrugged.

NiceRack

I’m all for a girl feeling attractive, but come ON. I’ve seen acrylic fingernails on a 6-year-old. I’ve seen words written across the butts of toddlers’ pants. I’ve seen cleavage where cleavage shouldn’t be. I’ve also observed so much makeup and hair extensions on celebrity kids, they resemble Bratz dolls more than…well, Bratz dolls. And don’t get me started on my kids’ favorite store, “Justice”…my washing machine is constantly full of glitter.

Yes, this is nothing new, but I worry it’s getting worse. There’s a lot of superficiality everywhere. I try to preach “inner beauty” to my kids. I hope it’s sinking in. I have a feeling it’ll continue to be my hot button (no pun intended), and will spawn more comic material as my kids mature. Just another level of feminism to heap onto the pile.

This brings to mind something that occurred in our household the other night. Our family was watching the one and only reality show we’re addicted to: “Chopped” (Food Network). As usual, we tried to guess who would be eliminated in each round. My older daughter said, “The lady will get chopped because ALL the girls do.” That did it. I went off on a 10-minute tirade, explaining that by statistics alone, all the women should be eliminated because usually there’s only 1 female chef among the 4 contestants. Of course, sometimes the girls do win.

Anyway, I also told her those women had to work very hard to prove themselves in a predominantly male field (much like cartooning and humor writing, I might add). I think she paid more attention to my hysterics than to my actual words, but let’s hope something got through…I don’t go off on feminist tirades very often.

I’m not sure what my point is. I think I’m venting. Let’s just hope I can someday look back on this blog entry and laugh at everything I was worried about. If anything, for my kids’ sake.

What’s in a name?

MaidenName

Occasionally, someone will ask how I came up with The Pajama Diaries characters’ names. The characters were named very intentionally. First and foremost, I wanted short, quick names that don’t take up much space because, if you haven’t noticed, the strip can get texty. The only exception to this rule is “Perfectville.” Here are the brief explanations behind the rest:

Jill is my middle name. It’s short and punchy, like me. It’s more anonymous and less androgynous than Terri. And it still allows some association to seep through.

Rob is a nice, short name that has no real ties to anything. I could’ve used my husband’s perfectly fine middle name, Aaron, but in my opinion it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Just sayin.’

Amy is named after my closest friend. We grew up blocks from each other and unfortunately live far apart now. This is my way of paying tribute to our longtime friendship. Originally, I could’ve named the character “Samantha” (my older daughter’s middle name), but I think we see the obvious problem. And a shorter “Sam” would’ve been confusing, gender-wise. Especially in the early years when the character looked like a boy in drag.

Jess is simply my younger daughter’s shortened middle name, Jessica.

Lisa and Nanci are completely made up. “Lisa” is pretty common for my generation. “Nanci” is a slight nod at my older daughter, whose name is also spelled unconventionally.

Kaplan is the family’s surname. I like it because it’s obviously Jewish, but not overly stereotypical. I have a few friends with the last name, Kaplan, so it has a nice connotation.

Little-known fact: Jill’s maiden name is “Davidodavitz” (a takeoff on my husband’s old family name, “Davidowitz”). I originally came up with it for a comic strip gag, but I’ll be re-introducing it down the road (the above panel is a sneak peak).

So that’s it in a nutshell. One funny little tidbit: “Mike” was the main character’s name of an old comic strip I used to write. It also happens to be my husband’s name. I wrote the strip before I met him (insert eerie music here). Yeah, yeah, okay, but I think it’s uncanny.

Happy PD-versary!!

I’m floored. Now I know why these syndication contracts are so long…no one tells you how fast the time really flies. This 5-year milestone of Pajama Diaries is a big deal. Probably because I worked my butt off for twice that amount of time to get said contract. To mark this occasion, I’m all for a bit of self-reflecting. Don’t worry, I’ll try to keep it brief.

In honor of the 5-year mark, here are the TOP 5 things that syndication has taught me:

5. Gut-wrenching heartache. Forget unrequited love. Having your creative “baby” stomped on, critiqued, and pummeled in the polls is an emotional rollercoaster. For every year of syndication, my skin has grown another layer of armor. If I hit the 10-year mark, I’ll be a virtual armadillo. NOTHING will penetrate this (or I’ll at least be able to curl up into an armored ball).

4. The power of catharsis. I display much of my own personality in the strip. I’m totally exposed: the good, bad and just plain daft. PD is essentially a diary within a diary. Traditional therapy is expensive, but this is pays ME. Maybe I’m onto something here.

3. Appreciation. Not that I’m not ordinarily appreciative. But syndication has made me even more so. I’m appreciative of the readers who write to me, of the editors that pick up the strip, and especially of the editors that continue to run it after the obligatory week-long trial run. I’m also appreciative of my poor family that reassures me every time I’m on one of my poll-related rollercoaster rides. I’m appreciative of the hard-working syndicate folks, and I’m appreciative of my friends who still like me even though I’ve become an isolated, workaholic hermit with no social skills. Oh, and I’m appreciative of my alone time.

2. Time Management. Not an organized person? Bad with deadlines? Here’s the answer: get a syndication deal! Suddenly the daily deadlines will force you to become type A! Actually, I already am, so this is a well-suited job. Even so, I really didn’t know the meaning of “organized” until my launch. That was quite an awakening. But I made it…even with small children in tow. Now I feel like I can pretty much conquer the world. I don’t even worry about the deadlines anymore. I should…but I don’t.

1. Requited love. Yes, cartooning is an unstable business. Yes, who knows where newspapers, comics, and my own little “baby” will be in 5 more years. But I can honestly say I’m glad I’m here NOW. I have that contented feeling of someone who is doing exactly what he/she is meant to do (or has the illusion of it, anyway). I really love being a comic strip creator, and I hope to continue this career path indefinitely. And yes, there have been bumps in the road. But overall this job has given me more than I ever thought it would. Isn’t that what a meaningful relationship is about?

My debut strip, March 27, 2006:

Minivan

Annnd March 27, 2011 (click on image to rotate vertically):

Click to Turn

Exciting Times…

If you keep up with my blog, you already know that I don’t update often. It’s typically once every month or so. This time it’s been longer than usual. That’s the bad news. The good news is: I’ve been occupied by the all-consuming task of putting together the FIRST BOOK COLLECTION OF PAJAMA DIARIES STRIPS!!!

RobJill_wink

Lemme tell you, it’s been a task. My husband has had his share of it, too. He can now add “Book Editor” and “CEO” to his resume. But we’re feeling the relief of knowing it’s about to go to press. As soon as I have the publication date, I will post it all over this website.

In the meantime, you can pre-order “The Pajama Diaries: Déjà To-Do” on Amazon. I don’t know if it’ll arrive in time for Mother’s Day, but you can at least give your mom/wife/grandma/friend/grown daughter/neighbor, etc. an I.O.U. in their greeting card.

That’s all, folks. Now I leave for vacation. I think I’ve earned it!

Sex and the Strip…

Happy New Year! Let’s start off 2011 with the most captivating topic I can conjure up. I don’t think it’s any secret that I like to approach this off-limit topic in the funnies: you got it…sex. Also known as its watered-down, print-worthy euphemism, “intimacy.”

SUN_Flowchart

I think sex is an honest and intrinsic (well, let’s hope) part of marriage, and therefore I deem it a necessary subject in my brand of story-telling. We’re talking about fleshing out a narrative that runs through the mind of a married woman. If sex isn’t occasionally on her mind, well…she definitely wouldn’t be my alter ego (sorry if you’re reading this, Mom).

Actually, as far as the character goes, I also cover the lack of sex on the mind. Or, I should say, the lack of time and inclination. After all, she’s an exhausted working mom.

BedChart

To sum up, I cover all my bases. Jill and Rob certainly try to find time for intimacy, whether it’s spontaneous or scheduled. They also find excuses not to have sex (well, she does). Whatever the case, I’m glad to broach the topic. It’s something virtually everyone is interested in. M’right?

RobJill_wink