Interview with Pat Lewis conducted by Gerhard
§ Obsessive Crush presents us with a very interesting mix of characters. Have you used any of these characters before or were they all created specifically for this book? And how did the story evolve? Did you plan it ahead of time or just start drawing it with the idea of throwing in all of the “sharp turns” in the storyline that you did?
One of the fun things about minicomics is that you have the ability to try out new ideas and methods of working without investing too much in the final product. With “Obsessive Crush,” I wanted to tell a story along the lines of bad-but-fun 80’s movies like “Adventures in Babysitting” or “License to Drive.” You know, with Corey Haim and Corey Feldman. So I created all the characters from scratch and wrote a few pages at a time, trying to build in a twist or cliffhanger each time the narrative shifted between subplots.
I usually alternate between writing and drawing. If I make everything up right as I draw it, I risk writing myself into a corner, but if I script it all ahead of time, I lose the passion to draw it up once the story is “out of my system,” so to speak.
§ The story sets a very frantic pace with quick jumps in the narrative that I tend to think of as being pioneered by cable TV cartoons like Ren & Stimpy. At the same time your drawing tends to be along more traditional forms of newspaper cartooning. Are you someone who has a foot in each camp or do you have a preference?
Actually, I think the narrative jumps in “Obsessive Crush” may be a device I picked up from hour-long action programs like “24” or “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” I love storytelling in general, and I try to bring elements of animation to my comics, but also elements of television, movies, and novels I admire.
I’ve always been a huge fan of newspaper cartoons—for a long time, that’s where I imagined my career in comics would lie. One nice thing about syndicated strips is that they place a high importance on readability, and from that I’ve learned the value of communicating action and dialogue simply and quickly, which helps draw in readers and maintain their interest.
A few years ago, I had a strip, “Matt’s Rabbit,” which was nearly picked up by one of the major syndicates, and I imagine I may make another attempt to break into newspapers eventually. For now, though, I’m enjoying the freedom of self-publishing, where I can tell longer stories with wilder action that wouldn’t be feasible given the size, format, and audience restrictions of a daily newspaper strip.
§ This is related to the previous question. You’ve had your work circulated through King Features and the Tribune Media. Do you think these mainstream environments have been opening up to different approaches in recent years or are they still pretty hidebound in their approach to cartooning? I’d be interested in your general assessment as well as any personal experiences you might’ve had that would indicate change or “no change”.
Overall, the big syndicates and other mainstream outlets I’ve dealt with are pretty conservative. They look at cartooning as a business, not an art. Once you understand the boatloads of money a successful strip can earn over several decades, it’s easy to see why they’re reluctant to try anything new. One syndicate head urged me to make my work more like “Beetle Bailey” instead of the less profitable, edgier strips I enjoyed.
At the same time, though, I think they realize that the teenage and young adult audiences are largely untapped, and that those audiences ARE looking for something new and unique. Every once in a while, something like “The Boondocks” slips through the cracks and succeeds despite the system, but even “The Boondocks” isn’t radically different from “Bloom County” or “Doonesbury,” which were hits some 20 years ago.
§ We both liked your “Office Funnies” strips on your website. “My Cruddy Valentine” and the others are very funny. Did you have a lot of experience in offices to draw on for these strips and are any of them based on personal experience?
Yeah, of course! I worked off and on as a temp for several years, in offices all over Pittsburgh. Nearly every “Office Funnies” strip has its origin in some destructive fantasy I was barely able to restrain myself from acting out while on the job.
§ What advice would you give to a cartoonist who wanted to keep producing his or her own more personal work while also servicing the more traditional cartoon outlets? What does your voice of experience have to say? What should he/she watch out for or is it mostly a trial-and-error thing that no one can prepare you for?
Most editors and casual readers pay little attention to comics, so it’s easy enough to be subversive as long as you can play by a few superficial rules. Avoid profanity, nudity, sex, religion, and violence. Check your spelling. And most important, learn to draw well. That’s about all the editors notice, anyway. “Calvin and Hobbes,” “Pogo,” and “Peanuts” deal extensively with personal and political issues, often through allegory. But if they weren’t good, funny, all-ages strips on the surface, they’d never have achieved wide distribution and commercial success.
Still, you have to be true to yourself. If the regulations imposed by conservative outlets are too restrictive, find (or create) a new market. Most of the great success stories are those who forged their own path and were able to offer the public a product that’s both unique and well-crafted.
§ Have you gotten any good reviews on the Internet for your work, for Obsessive Crush or for your other strips or publications from major comic-book websites? Minor comic-book websites? Close relatives pretending to be satisfied customers? We’re looking to link these Day Prize interviews to as many sites as possible and, frankly, we’re more than willing to commit anything just this side of outright fraud in order to accomplish that..
Poopsheet.com has reviewed my comics “Obsessive Crush” and “Thankless Job,” and Optical Sloth reviewed “Obsessive Crush” and “Giant-Size Office Funnies.” Also, “Thankless Job” was nominated for an Ignatz award at the 2004 Small Press Expo.