Birds, Bees and Canoodling…

After posting a response to a criticism by R.C. Harvey back in December, I’ve noticed some rather complimentary postings by him since. As you can imagine, that took the wind right out of my sails. It was also pretty gratifying.

Here’s a link to the most recent one describing the birds and bees series from January. He mentions my penchant for delving right into the subject of “canoodling.” I’m glad he brought that up, it’s something I do without apologies (and I sincerely hope without driving papers away).

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Thanks, also, to everyone who emailed me with positive feedback regarding this series. It was definitely a fun one to work on.

Helping Haiti…

My friend, Barry Gott, who is a very talented children’s book illustrator and fellow card writer/illustrator, recently created t-shirts to sell as a fundraiser for the Haitian earthquake victims. If you are interested in making a very worthwhile purchase, check out the site:   http://quakeshirt.org/Welcome.html

All 100% of the proceeds of this sale will be donated to Heartline’s earthquake relief efforts and will be spent on the ground in Haiti, helping those who lost so much in the devastating earthquake of January 12th.

(On a completely unrelated side note, I want to thank everyone who emailed me mentioning they enjoyed the “Birds & Bees” series. Believe me, it was a fun one to write.)

Artistic Liberties…

Happy New Year! I thought I’d begin 2010 with a funny realization that came to me this morning while coloring strips.

Occasionally, I get called out for grammatical or illogical (writing) errors. In fact, my husband caught one the other day while reading my strip in the paper (by the way, this was after both of us proof-read it prior to publication…argh). In case you’re wondering, it was from 12/30: Jill mentions Amy getting sick in school; technically, the kids are supposed to be on winter break. Oops. Still, a relatively minor infraction.

What most people probably don’t realize is that there are many more artistic inconsistencies in the strip. Oh, sure, sometimes I may forget to shade in part of a shirt or maybe there’s the occasional problem with a color translating into print. But I’m talking about inconsistencies that are intentional.

Just for funsies, let’s play a game. Try to pick out what’s inconsistent in the two strips below. Bet it’s easy:

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Yep — the furniture and cabinetry placement. Also, color – although in the top one, I intentionally muted the cabinetry color so it would recede into the background.

Normally, I try and keep the general color scheme and styles consistent, but sometimes the scenery changes for the sake of composition. Also, evolution. In the “early” days, the kitchen – like in the top strip — contained a jutting cabinet “peninsula.” That became compositionally problematic, so I took it out. The cabinetry now hugs two walls. One thing that changes constantly: refrigerator placement. I rarely even include one unless needed. Don’t ask me why. I use the same back door, but that placement changes in relation to the kitchen table. Again, for artistic purposes.

The family room layout changes, too. The same couch is always there, but sometimes there’s a table in front of it, sometimes not. The lamp changes from the left-hand side to the right. And rarely, I’ll add a window behind the couch. I justify it by pretending the Kaplans are restless and like to move furniture around.

As I said, part of it is for composition, part of it is evolution. But much of it goes unnoticed. Most people don’t read the comics fastidiously and aren’t aware of artistic details as much as they are of the written ones. I’d include myself there. When reading other comics, I mean.

Anyway, just a fun fact to remember as you continue to (hopefully) read Pajama Diaries. In fact, try and catch this in other cartoons. Bet it’s more common than you think.

Have a great 2010!

My Wordy Defense…

I came across this little piece by R.C. Harvey in “The Comics Journal” the other day thanks to our ever-reliable Google Alert system. It was a criticism to a particular strip: Dec 1. At first I kind of wrote it off. Why get defensive, right? To each his own. But then I caught myself later quipping to my husband, “You know one of my biggest pet peeves? When someone tries to define what a comic strip is.” After all, comic strips are constantly evolving. Like other art forms, how can anyone define its parameters?

So I’d like to take a stand. Yes, of course I’m aware that Pajama Diaries is wordier than many cartoons. It is in diary format. But if you read it on a daily basis, you’ll notice I tend to balance the wordier ones with more visual or less text-y strips. Not that I should defend that process at all. I mean, geez, has anyone read a Doonesbury cartoon?

In college and beyond, I was an admirer of artists like Lynda Barry and Nicole Hollander, whose comics are not only wordy, but feminine-skewed. Like Lynda Barry, I deal with both narrative and dialog. I like that dynamic. And after hmmph-teen years working in the card business, I also came to realize men and women generally gravitate toward different styles of humor.

Not that I’m trying to appeal just to women, but let’s face it. When I do hear from both sexes, the men tend to like my quicker, gag-based jokes while women usually appreciate the story lines and relatable stuff. Those often include the heavily “verbose” strips. Honestly, most of the time I’m just writing for myself…and you wouldn’t believe how much paring down even the wordier ones are subjected to.

But no matter. Harvey points out that this strip’s wordiness gets in the way of the art. The artwork certainly looks fine and engaging on my computer screen. And in the case of this particular strip, I simply didn’t want the visuals competing with the message.

Okay, so he isn’t fond of my “verbosity.” No problem. But next time I’m busy “emasculating” my strip, think about my biggest audience: MOMS.

 

Pacing Myself…

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Okay, I’m feeling off kilter. Why? Because for the first time ever, I’m so far ahead of my deadlines, I’m way out of sync with the strip’s timeline. I know, I know, this is a good thing. I much prefer the 4-month lead over scrambling to meet my deadlines. I can also double check strips with more objectivity closer to the publishing date. And I can now take trips and sick days without hyperventilating.

But does having a cartoon that reflects “real time” mean I shouldn’t be writing 40th birthday strips while I’m still 39 ½ (ok, technically 39 7/12)? Huh. Maybe that one’s because I’m just not prepared to think about that particular milestone yet.

Anyway, the point is I’m realizing that being too far ahead of the game can be a little counterproductive. It’s the winter holiday season and I’m writing spring break cartoons. It’s easier to think of spring-related ideas when it’s actually closer to spring. Also, my daughters’ personalities change like the wind, and I’d like to keep up with that in the strip.

BUT, given the choice, I’d take this cushion of time any day. I won’t give it up. I’ll probably try and maintain this 4-month lead and not get much farther ahead. So for now, I’ll just take a deep breath, relax and enjoy the status quo. Ahhhh.

Reality Strips…

I imagine that, having a cartoon based semi-loosely on life, it can be confusing to readers as to where the strip ends and reality begins. For instance, when I wrote about the character, Rob, getting laid off back in March, many concerned readers and friends asked if my flesh-and-blood husband similarly lost his job (which he didn’t).

Likewise, last week’s light-hearted story arc about Jill’s new haircut drew a similar (if more subdued) reaction. Folks wanted to know if I, too, got hacked. The answer is no. Often it’s just creative license.

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But then there are real life occurrences that end up making it into print. Although I rarely write verbatim, documenting my realities in a humorous light can be pretty cathartic. For example, a few years ago I discovered (after months of driving my family nuts) that I had PMDD, or Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder. I needed to go on a mild antidepressant to ease the symptoms. I wrote a small story line based on my wariness about taking the drugs. Or an even better reality scenario: Rob’s vasectomy series (man, my husband’s a good sport).

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Soon I’ll be developing another medical-based story line modeled after real events. Let’s just say it’s been a tough month. From my warped cartoonist’s mindset, a sane way to put closure on that episode is to expose it to the masses. If anything, to give myself a laugh. Hey, someone’s gotta be entertained, right?

Too Much of a Good Thing…

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I have control issues. There. I said it. In fact, I’m a bit of an obsessive/compulsive head case. Well, maybe not that bad. I don’t check five times in a row to make sure I locked the door or anything, but I’m a perfectionist and pretty orderly. I freak if my kids get below an A- on any given test, and I hate flying…for lack of control, of course. If I could compare my personality to that of anyone’s, it would be the character “Monica” from “Friends.” I even have her relentless cleaning tendencies. I stop at the competitiveness thing, though. Hey, I’m not crazy.

But I have to be especially careful around my kids. My husband already accepts my control-freakazoid personality, but I don’t want to be one of those overbearing helicopter parents. What I need is to find a happy medium — and with my genetics, that’s hard to achieve. I’ve already started doing what I swore I’d NEVER do…nag. I guess it’s unavoidable, though, as my kids need to hear everything at least 200 times before it sinks in.

Where I do draw the line is with art projects. I know it seems contrary to my profession, but I rarely take control here. I learned my lesson when my daughter’s first diorama started looking like an off-Broadway set (due to my art direction). My husband had to tell me to remove props. Better to leave the teaching to the experts. In fact, my kids are now in a weekend art class and, thankfully, love it. I remember my mother – an amazing painter – did the same thing with me and I thank her for that. I probably would’ve strangled her. As my kids would with me.

Crazy for Peanuts…

It’s been another long expanse of time between blog entries. I chalk it up to the summer/pre-school crazies. We went on our first real “faraway” family vacation since about…hmm, ’03? We traveled to Northern CA and had a great week spending time with relatives and sightseeing. My husband and I managed to escape on an overnight side trip to Napa as well as to the Charles Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa.  For anyone who grew up idolizing the creator of Peanuts like I did (uh, is there such a thing as a cartoonist who hasn’t?), I highly recommend seeing this wonderful homage to the late great Schultz.

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Many thanks to Justin Thompson and Stephan Pastis for our tour of the Schulz studios as well. It was an incredible experience.

*As a side note, it’s the first time I’ve EVER taken off more than 3-4 days at a time without feeling stressed. In other words, I’ve finally managed to work far enough ahead of my deadlines that I don’t hyperventilate over making up for lost work time. I can’t tell you what a relief that is. Now back to the drawing table…

An oops…

As some readers nicely pointed out yesterday, I made a mistake in my 7/18 strip. I accidentally wrote “adverse” instead of “averse.” Got a little confused there, sorry. I do proofread my strips several times beforehand, and they go through editors as well, but this one got past all of us. I must’ve confused the meanings.

Anyway, thanks to those readers who caught it. Damn, it had to be in the punchline!