Friday, March 23, 2007

Front-page News: Artist in the Making

Stoney Creek NewsI'm happy to say that last week's March Break cartooning workshop at Valley Park Library was a success. We had a full turnout of approximately 25+ kids, and it was great to see some of them bring along their parents/guardians to join in the fun. Thanks to all who attended this year!

I'd also like to thank Laura Lennie from our local Stoney Creek News for stopping by with her camera. I'm honoured to have received a front-page mention in the latest issue of the newspaper ...

Stoney Creek News: Artist in the making - March 23, 2007 - Page 1
"Artist in the making" Photo by Laura Lennie
SOURCE: Stoney Creek News, March 23, 2007 (Page 1).

You can click the above image to enlarge it. The photo and text caption are also currently available on the Stoney Creek News website.

Last, but certainly not least, a special thanks to Sue and Laurie at Valley Park Library for inviting me back this year -- I look forward to future events hosted by the Hamilton Public Library!

Stay TOONed!

- Mike Cope

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Gag Writing: PC and Pixel Comic Strips (Part III)

PC & Pixel by Tak Bui

I recently received an e-mail from a reader who asked me, "Do you write the PC and Pixel gags for free?" This e-mail was from a young cartoonist who, like me, would love to have their own syndicated comic strip one day. Paid or not, they thought that being a part-time gagwriter for an existing comic strip was a nice way to gain publication experience.

I wrote back and thanked "Joe Cartoonist" for their e-mail, and wholeheartedly agreed that gag writing is definitely a nice way to gain publication experience. PC and Pixel is currently printed in newspapers worldwide and is also featured on United Media’s website, Comics.com, so it feels good knowing that there’s a receptive audience out there.

But perhaps even more importantly, this particular gig also gives me the opportunity to develop my comic strip writing skills and learn from an experienced cartoonist like Tak Bui.

You see, producing a daily comic strip is similar to running an endurance race. A strip cartoonist needs to draw 365 different ideas every year, otherwise, their cartoons will become boringly repetitive. That can seem overwhelming at times, especially if one hits a writer's block. At the time of this writing, there's an excellent article available on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel website, which discusses this very issue titled "Drawing the line: Deadlines, censorship drive comic strip artists to pack up their pencils" by Lori Price.

And so, writing for PC and Pixel gives me the opportunity to "train" my imagination (albeit without the daily deadlines), but I'm still grateful because I get to work with and receive a little coaching from a professional colleague who's successfully ran this race before. Inevitably, there've been times, especially when I first started submitting ideas to Tak, when some of my gags collapsed short of the punch line (i.e., were just plain bad). Some might've been funny in their own way, but they didn't suit Tak's comic strip because I had the characters saying and/or doing things that were “out of character.”

That was a really important lesson -- one which I never learned while drawing a comic strip for my school's newspaper. Back then, I was writing basic jokes about college and university life, rather than developing my characters by giving each a unique voice. When writing for a comic strip, especially someone else's, you need to be creative and fresh enough with your ideas, but you also need to be “true to the strip” by maintaining certain rules. A great example of this would be Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz. After he developed the strip and discovered who his characters were, there were certain rules that "Sparky" never broke, such as the audience never seeing or hearing the adults, although the kids did, or how Snoopy's house was drawn from the side view -- allowing him to sit and write at his typewriter.

A daily comic strip needs these kinda rules.

I'll never forget the time when Tak and I had a lunch meeting, and I had broken one of his PC and Pixel rules. There was this gag in one of my earlier submissions in which I had PC doing something out of character. Tak had a "subtle" way of letting me know why this particular gag was weak -- that is, he straight-up told me that PC was "out of character." But honestly, he's always encouraging with his critiques. PC and Pixel is a mix of one-shot panel gags versus multi-panel strips, so there’s always room for short stories and recurring themes. Nowadays, I think I've gotten the hang of staying true to the strip, but I still try to offer Tak some new directions to experiment and have fun with.

For example, Cyber Ninja Space Cat...


April 30, 2006

Getting back to the question that "Joe Cartoonist" asked me ...

Yes, a little extra cash for one's efforts never hurts! To any aspiring cartoonist who might consider doing gag writing for another, I highly recommend that you too seek suitable compensation -- especially if the cartoonist you are writing for sells their work. But that's a discussion for another time.

I haven’t done an official tally lately, so I honestly don’t know how many comic strip ideas I’ve sold to Tak since I started writing for him back in May 2003. A while back, he gave me permission to share samples of my published gags online, but otherwise, most readers don’t know which gags I've written because I usually have a “ghostwriter” status.

That said, from time to time, Tak slips in a name credit ...

The following are some PC and Pixel comic strips that I recently contributed to. Click any cartoon to enlarge ... Enjoy!

First, we have a nod to the Academy Awards and Hollywood's battle against movie piracy. You know what they say about if you can't beat 'em ...


February 25, 2007

I find that the bathroom mirror is a great place for PC to have moments of self-realization, and to do serious soul-searching ...


February 27, 2007


February 28, 2007

Everyone has their own way of dealing with rejection.

As mentioned in a previous post, rejection is a business reality for almost every cartoonist, so it's "therapeutic" to occasionally have fun with it. In Peanuts, Snoopy used to write stories. Here, we find Pixel receiving a rejection for her "Dog Catcher" video game idea ...


March 02, 2007

And finally, sometimes a gag idea is inspired by a real life event.

Back in February, I upgraded to Microsoft's new Windows Vista operating system, however, this proved to be a "bumpy road" because the upgrade installation software was buggy and didn't work as Microsoft had advertised. Not a fun experience, but I did get mentioned in a CNET News article, and thought of a gag for the strip. I'm glad that Tak included the "WOW Starts Now" sign, as I suggested. You could call it "bittersweet revenge" ...


March 04, 2007

You can read PC and Pixel daily at United Media's Comics.com.

You can also view additional samples of my PC and Pixel gag writing by visiting Part I and Part II of my blog entries on this topic.

Stay TOONed!

- Mike Cope

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

March Break 2007: Calling all Cartoonists!

March Break @ the LIBRARY 2007

That’s right, parents ... March Break is just around the corner, so if you live in the Hamilton (Ontario) area, and are looking for a fun activity for the kids, give the folks at Valley Park Library a call to register for an afternoon of cartooning!

Last year, everyone had lots of fun, so I’m happy to accept the Hamilton Public Library’s invitation to return this March Break. The session is for beginners and intermediate cartoonists alike, not to mention, it's a great way to meet some new friends and share your drawings. If your aspiring cartoonist attended before, please feel free to sign-up again ... we’ll be drawing on new ideas this year.

For those who haven’t participated before, I’ll let you in on a little secret ... We gave away a full-colour cartoon print as a door prize last year! But the really good news is that nobody goes home “empty handed” -- nor without a smile!

Here are the details ...

Hamilton Public Library: Calling all Cartoonists!
Click the above image to open source webpage.

You can also download a PDF version of their flyer:
March Break @ the LIBRARY

Information courtesy of:
myhamilton.ca

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

Stay TOONed!

- Mike Cope

Monday, March 05, 2007

Cartooning Philosophy: "On Rejection ..."

Nobody likes to be rejected.

But if you’re aspiring to be a professional cartoonist, that’s one of the first things you need to adapt to. Rejection is simply part of the business. Even the legendary cartoonist, Charles M. Schulz (creator of Peanuts), wasn’t immune to rejection.

The same rings true for most creative careers – Just watch an episode of Canadian or American Idol. There, in the form of “Reality TV,” you’ll witness a rollercoaster of emotional highs and lows ... Climbs. Falls. Loops. Twists & Turns. As the old saying goes, “Strap yourself in, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride!”

However, there are good sides to rejection...

For example, a rejected cartoon(s) means that an editor thought, for one reason or another, your work wasn't ready / suitable / usable for their publication at the present time. You can’t argue with that. After all, they know what’s best for their company. In essence, they’re doing you a favour because they’ve saved you the embarrassment of sharing your not-quite-up-to-standard cartoon(s) with millions and millions of potential readers.

Therefore, as a cartoonist, a rejection can/should motivate you to do better ... work harder ... and (if necessary) give up. Not give up on cartooning altogether, but maybe change the drawing and/or humour style that you’ve been using ever since you started creating cartoons. Most people grow up and mature. There’s no reason why your cartoons shouldn’t do the same.

Still, editors receive thousands and thousands of submissions every year. So, there’s always a chance that you were number 11 on their "Top 10 List." That said, whether you’re an aspiring, young cartoonist, or a seasoned professional, a rejection will always remind you of one important thing:

You’re only human.

And it’s moments like these that keep you humble.

Saturday Evening Post - Cartoon Rejection Slip

Stay TOONed!

- Mike Cope

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Gag Writing: PC and Pixel Comic Strips (Part II)

PC & Pixel by Tak Bui

As mentioned in a previous post, one of my regular cartooning gigs is working as a contributing gag writer for the daily comic strip feature, PC and Pixel by Tak Bui. This means that I help the comic's creator out by doing some of the, what I like to call, "productive daydreaming" that usually (i.e., sometimes) leads to a workable idea for the strip.

Unfortunately, this also means that I need to have writing materials readily available at all times, because I never know when an idea will present itself. For example, I can sit and think long and hard at my desk, and just type the gags as they arrive, however, there are also other places where I occasionally sit for extended periods of time. Places where the ideas seem to, umm ... "flow."

The moral is to never let a good idea (*ahem*) go to waste.

The following are some PC and Pixel comic strips that I recently contributed to. Click any cartoon to enlarge ... Enjoy!


January 31, 2007


February 03, 2007


February 04, 2007


February 19, 2007


February 20, 2007


February 23, 2007

You can read PC and Pixel daily at United Media's Comics.com.

Stay TOONed!

- Mike Cope