Tuesday, September 04, 2007

More Arnold Wagner

One of the Internet forums Arnold participated in was Toon Talk, hosted by cartoonist Darrin Bell (Candorville, Rudy Park). Another poster there, Armand Anloague, compiled some of Arnold's Toon Talk contributions over the years and I thought they were worth sharing, both for their content and the insight they provide about their author. With thanks to Armand, here's Arnold:

ON STRIPS VS. PANELS: "I've always seen a correlation between cartoonists and comics. The gag cartoonist is doing standup and the the strip cartoonist is doing situation comedy. Not everyone can do both. I'd make a third classification for a few like Wiley. There are comedians who don't really fit into either class. Fanny Brice, Red Skelton, and Carol Burnett are examples. They have a repertory of characters they use without order or set frequency. Wiley obviously does that. Larson also did it to an extent, his cows were the most noticeable example, but you can go through one of his collections and make a list.

As gag cartoonists most of us never develop a strong connection with the audience, not the way a strip artist can, or the way Wiley or Larson could (can't believe I'm putting those two in the same category). That isn't to say the strip artist has it easier, developing characters that the reader connects with isn't easy."

ON LEGACY STRIPS [Note to those not hip to comics lingo: a "legacy strip" is a still-published comic that has outlived its creators, e.g., Blondie, Dick Tracy, etc.]: "This plays into the myth that it's the legacy strips that are keeping newcomers out of syndication. Syndicates don't have a limit for signing strips. They sign those they think they can sell. If they haven't signed a strip that's the reason. They may be wrong, but it has nothing to do with numbers, budget is the only other factor involved.

Actually the legacy strips help with that. The profit from them pays for launching new material. If we knocked out all the strips not done by their creators tomorrow it wouldn't change anything for the hopefuls, unless it makes it harder. It would be huge benefit to those already syndicated who don't have enough papers to make a decent living, but have a good product, and I'm all for that."

ON HUMOR VS. GAGS: "There are basically two kinds of strips, those that use gags, and those that use humorous situations that we can identify with. In the long run humor is better than gags. Strips that become popular are ones that we identify with. Appeal tops funny every time. In addition to Dilbert another strip that takes a lot of hits here in a mostly male forum is Cathy, and yet the feature has a huge and very loyal fan base who identify with it."

"A mistake too many beginners make is thinking they need a knock 'em dead gag every day. If that were true, or even half true, Mutt and Jeff would still be syndicated as one of the hottest strips around. Generally that approach may result in a strip that's hot for a year or so then fades rapidly without ever building a strong following. If you look at the top strips they have a much larger repetoire. That's true of gag cartoons, stand up comics, sit-coms, the works. They do the ironic, the satiric think bits, the pathos, bathos, maybe even a touch of tragedy now and then. They may be nostalgic or sentimental. Variety makes them real."

ON STYLE: "Without naming the guilty, copying a style is not good. At least four features looked so much alike I had to check to see if they were by the same person, they weren't. A sophisticated and fairly illustrative style hooked to slapstick humor kills the gag. Colored art that is busy and doesn't have good contrast is hard to read, and you only have a couple seconds to get your premise across. Contrast and simplicity are better. If you have to use templates or tracing to make the strip you're wasting your time, and don't fool yourself by comparing it to Dilbert. He spent a lot of time developing his style.

Assuming that the goal is syndication (and that may be a false assumption in some cases) there were features that would have failed simply due to the language or the situations. Others used formats that wouldn't fit in papers. Old gags, gags that telegraphed the punch line, and captions that should have been polished for better tempo and impact, were also very common. Never use the first idea you come up with."

ON WORKING: "The one thing never to do is stop and wait for the muse to return. In any of the arts the difference between a pro and an amateur is that the amateur waits for their muse, the pro does their best and works through it."

"The reasons vary, but it's always because of pressure we put on ourselves making us tighten up. Some of the work I've been happiest with was when things went wrong and I had to get something for a client yesterday. No time to redo or be careful, quality wasn't the issue, having something on paper was."

1 comment:

ronnie said...

At least four features looked so much alike I had to check to see if they were by the same person, they weren't.

Well now I'm darned curious as to know which 4 he is referring to...