you really look like the character in your comic strip?
Yes. I'm often recognized on the street because of that. "Hey, are
you the guy in that comic strip?" is something I hear more often than
"Hi, handsome, are you single?". Unfortunately.
Big Picture" really about your real life?
Fortunately or unfortunately depending on the circumstances. But, yes. Through
better and worse, eighty percent of my strip is one hundred percent reality.
The other twenty percent is reality with a twist for a half-decent dopey
I buy your book?
My book is called "The Big Picture, A Comic Strip Collection"
published by Andrews/ McMeel and can be found right
here. It's a collection of about 4 years of "The Big Picture"
when it was a weekly, right up to the book deal itself.
I get your book signed by you?
Just send the book in a postage paid self addressed envelope to:
P.O. Box 729
Norwell, MA 02061
I buy an original comic strip?
I do sell my originals and I'm always happy to check if the one or ones
you're interested in are available. They range in price from $100.00 to
$250.00 (plus $5.00 shipping) each depending on how much dough I think I
can make for charity (hey...just being honest...).10% of all original Big
Picture comic strip sales will be donated to "Why Me, Inc.", a
Massachusetts based non-profit organization that provides emotional and
financial support to children with cancer and thair families. An additional
5% will be donated to Greenpeace International and another 5% of proceeds
will benefit The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
me for availability and pricing for a specific strip and I'll tell
you what to do from there.
I can only
accept checks (bank or personal), We're not set up for credit cards (yet)
and NEVER send cash. I'll just spend it on a coffee binge and forget you
available for purchase?
Yup. My syndicate, Universal Press Syndicate, makes those available at UComics.com.
Check there for pricing and availability. They also have a free service
to send e-postcards of favorite strips not only of The Big Picture but of
every comic strip on their roster from Doonesbury to The Boondocks to The
Duplex and all of 'em in between. It's a good site and they have all the
cool strips. Needless to say...
you name it "The Big Picture"?
Honest to God, I've never seen the movie. Back when my strip was a one page
format in underground comics, it was called "Daily Diary". When
I started making attempts at syndication I changed the name for no other
reason than to disassociate it from the underground comics I was doing for
fear the mainstream syndicates (distributors of newspaper columns, features,
and comic strips) would consider it too "racy". As it turned out,
I didn't have to change the name 'cause they didn't know who the hell I
was anyway. But "The Big Picture" stuck as a sort of representation
of me having the freedom to go wherever I want in the strip. Sort of an
overview of everyday "life in general" and a way to look at things.
Life's Big Picture. Now that I've intellectuallized that to the point of
vomiting, i can just plain say I like the name so I kept it. So there.
Is she your
a cat person?
I like all animals so I like to think of myself as an animal person.
tell me more about your cat?
Ginger is everything she is in the strip and more. She's about 14 years
old (got her from the Animal Rescue League so I'm not 100% sure), pure white,
VERY mellow except for about 30 seconds every afternoon (y'know, that cat
thing where they all of a sudden get up and run around like mental patients?
What IS that, anyway??), always hungry and as smart as any animal I've ever
had the pleasure of having or knowing. Do a web search for "Princess"
and there's a big-ass picture of Ginger.
your cat the main character in your comic strip?
Please stop reading now. i mean now. Good. Now go to garfield.com. Or heathcliff.com.
Or something. Good. Good-bye.
Why a comic
strip about your life?
No reason except that it's my life. I come from reading a lot of underground
comics and a lot of my favorites are autobiographical experiences from those
cartoonists. That translated into my work eventually. Also, I submitted
a few different comic strip proposals to all of the syndicates over a period
of a few years (there are about 7 or 8 major syndicates out there) and finally,
Jay Kennedy, a real nice guy who's the veepee of King Features Syndicate,
told me he liked my stuff but I should write more about what I know. I took
those words literally and made the strip about me. Like it or not, "The
Big Picture" is the first ever purely autobiographical syndicated comic
strip. In my opinion, in a perfect world, EVERYONE would have their very
own purely autobiographical syndicated comic strip.
special about YOUR life?
Nothing (see last sentence above).
Do you plan
on introducing any new characters into the strip?
I have to be honest and say that this question drives me nuts only 'cause
it's usually asked by people who aren't familiar with the strip at all.
This is not one of those dopey comic strip/ sitcoms where there are 5 or
6 main characters locked into their own little personality traits. I have
more depth and dimension than that and so do the people I hang out with
(and so do you. I hope.). I don't do "characters". This is a real
life thing and people come and go every day, week, month, and year, in and
out of the strip as they do in life. Damn, that question pisses me off more
than "why isn't your cat the main character in your comic strip?".
Anyway, in answer to that question- no, I don't have a plan. For ANYthing.
I'm divorced (my ex-wife, Louise, and I are "connected" and are
best friends) . Am I "available"? As you know, if you read my
comic strip, that seems to change, for one reason or another, every fifteen
minutes or so.
I'm 44 in years. Forever 20 in mind. 160 in wisdom. I haven't dated anyone
over 28 years old in over 6 years. I'm 5 in spirit. I'm 30 in maturity.
Okay, okay. You get the picture...
I live in a small town near the ocean in the Boston, Ma. area. I moved there
in February of 2000 from Central Massachusetts (Worcester).
Do you draw
your comic strip for a living?
Yes. That along with the band and my free-lance trombone playing makes up
my income. I draw by day, play music by night. Nice, huh?
how long did you teach at Berklee College?
I graduated from Berklee in 1979. I was Assistant Professor teaching classes
in music theory, ensembles and recording from 1984 to 1994 when I took my
leave of absence to pursue art and playing the trombone full time.
I find more information about your band, Clutch Grabwell?
Check out our website at grabwell.com.
I buy your c.d.?
You can purchase the Clutch Grabwell c.d.s (our first one self titled and
the second, "How Ya Gonna Be", as well as our single "Do
It 4 You") at the "lennie mart"
section of this website, at grabwell.com
or through the usual internet markets such as cdbaby.
They are also available at stores in the Northeast.
Do you really
answer all of your e-mails?
Yes! That aspect of this job is REALLY important to me. I feel that if people
take the time to write to me, I want to write back. Even that stoopid hate
mail that I hate. But I especially like hearing from KIDS who like "The
Big Picture". They're really smart and sharp (and have great taste
in comic strips). I'm into the whole "community" feel of this
comic strip. I feel like people know me. Come to think of it, they do.
in advance do you create your strips?
Syndicates generally require that you submit your daily strips (6 a week)
4 weeks in advance and the Sunday color strips 8 weeks in advance. I'm always
on time, if not ahead. I generally wouldn't brag about this but I'm amazed
at it myself seeing that I'm always late for EVERYthing in life other than
you get your ideas?
I'm usually somewhat insulted by this question (I get asked this question
a LOT in cookie cutter media interviews where the interviewer won't take
the time to think of GOOD questions) because it usually means whoever is
asking it isn't familiar with the strip at all. But here goes- The strip
is about me. Thank you.
the process of creating a comic strip every day?
(those of you who aren't cartoonists or aspiring as such, please feel free
to skip this section...) I can only speak for the process of how I create
mine and it pretty much goes like this-
(or at least something I think is funny) happens in a daily experience and
I write it down so I can use it later. Usually, if the idea is good enough,
I'll remember it but I've found when I write the stuff down and I go back
and look at it out of the context of when it happened, it's lost it's edge
or it's humor. I keep a notebook of all that stuff so i can sort it out.
I work on the
strip 2 days straight every week for a 48 hour stretch with a little sleep
and food in between.
After a walk
and gallons of coffee, the morning shower routine, and my daily meditation
(none of that ever in the same order, by the way), I go to my notebook and
choose the strips I want to develop for the week and choose all 6 dailies,
including the featured "e-mail Monday" for the week (all of the
E-mail Mondays are for real, by the way. I get asked that a lot, too) and
the Sunday that I'll use for even further down the line. I sit down and
write the strips out and try to tweak them the best I can both in my writing
style and in attempting to give each word and phrase the most "bang
for the buck". I also work hard on seeing which words can be replaced
with a visual to minimize the dialogue in the strip. I care most about facial
expressions of the strips characters. I work hard on that.
When I feel
pretty comfortable with the writing panel by panel, I do a real quick thumbnail
kind of sketch in the size the strip will appear in the papers. This is
for me to have a general idea of what the layout will look like when it's
published. I work larger (as most cartoonists do) in the original art work
than what will be published so that can be deceiving at times while creating
I then sit
down at my drawing board to do the pencil versions of each strip.
I work on the
lettering first, copying the dialogue from my revised writing. This pencil
work is done on a vellum tracing paper. When the pencil lettering and artwork
is completed on all 7 strips, I move on to the inking which pretty much
involves tracing everything onto my bristol board (bristol board is a high
quality thick paper) from a light table. I place the tracing paper with
my pencil work on it, onto the light board (which is built the same as a
drawing table but it has lights in it which shine up from the table) and
place the bristol board over that. The light shines up through the tracing
paper and through the bristol so I can simply trace, in ink, what's showing
through. This means no erasing or smudges or worrying about pencil lines
on the final artwork.
Once the strips
are all inked in, I laser photocopy each strip, reduced, and then color
the Sunday strip using a color guide that is supplied to me by a color company,
American Color. When that's done, I ship the photocopied strips to my editor,
Lisa, at UPS via FedEx and they magically appear in the papers and on websites
4 weeks later.
This has pretty
much been the process for ages now of most comic strip creators. I know
that there are a lot of creators doing their strips electronically, straight
into the computer which is cool but not really for me right now. I like
the feel of working on paper and I like having the original art as a tangible
thing if that makes sense (plus I sell 'em for lots of dough. I mean, let's
be honest here). But I am looking forward to the day (that'll be soon) when
I can at least e-mail my photocopied toons to the syndicate. Most EVERYbody's
doing that 'cept me and I feel stuck in the eighties about that whole FedEx
thing. Soon. Soon. Honest to God, Lisa. Soon.
By the way,
the entire process you just read is about 40 hours worth of work give or
take a few hours depending on how "involved" or complicated the
drawing or writing is for that week.
do you use?
Non-cartoonists DEFINITELY want to skip this section:
As a note, I used to work in brush when my strip was a weekly. I worked in
brush because I know Bill Watterson and Mike Peters work in brush and I figured
I should be doing what two great cartoonists are doing but then I realized
I was only doing it 'cause they were and, oh, never mind. It's a long story.
So now I use calligraphy pen.
- I use a light table that my brother-in-law, Bruce, made for my nephew,
Todd (the nephew that's in the strip a lot), awhile back and I traded
my smaller light box with my nephew for this actual light table. I had
it through all my freelance-starving artist days and I'm pretty much cosmically
"one" with the thing. Me, the table and my coffee pot have been
through SOOO much together.
- for a pencil, I use a mechanical pencil with .07 lead.
for tracing paper I use a fairly heavy (so it doesn't rip when I erase)
- I use a 2 ply bristol board (smooth surface) for the final, inked art.
- and I use a calligraphy pen for lettering and the actual inking (I'm
currently using Sanford permanent calligraphic pens), a Micron .08 mechanical
pen for details (these are the same as rapidographs without the pain in
the neck clotting) and Sharpies for large surfaces of black.
At this writing, I've decided to go to a smaller original format so I might
switch to those Microns for everything. I'm not sure yet. The strips of the
week of July 17 '00 will definitely be done with a different pen and a smaller
format and hopefully it won't change the look of the strip too much. I just
want to try something different. Right now my original strips are huge (16"X5")
and I think I'd like to work smaller which will mean a smaller pen point will
need to be used. I'll keep you posted if you care.
Why do you
use upper and lower case lettering all mixed up?
There is no method or purpose to that and no master plan. I like how it
looks in Nichole Hollander's strip, "Sylvia", and I ripped it
off from her. I like it's funky look.
Why do you
spell the word "stupid" as "stoopid"?
That's my own little secret tribute to legendary underground cartoonist
R. Crumb. He spells it that way too and everytime I write it I think of
him. It's just one of life's little self indulgences.
you get into doing a daily comic strip?
That's all laid out in my book but, long story sort of short, I started
out doing underground comics for a very small publisher in Boston (I was
still teaching at Berklee College at the time) as well as freelance commercial
work, eventually quit teaching and 6 years of eating potatoes and ketchup
and sleeping on the floor later, here I am. During those starving artist
days, "The Big Picture" won Editorial Humor Magazine's "Best
Unsigned Comic Strip" national competition. Lee Salem, veepee at Universal
Press asked to see more and another VERY long story short, got me the book
deal which led to the syndication.
Why do the
drawings of you look so different in your book from the way you look now?
'Cause that's the way I used to look.
Do you have
any pointers for someone trying to get into the field of commercial art
or trying to get syndicated?
I get asked this question a lot and I like it 'cause I get to preach. I
address this throughout my book as well but the shorter answer is that-
1) You really
should go into any field having to do with art (that goes for music and
film as well) because you can't help it. PERIOD. Anything to do with the
arts and entertainment is a long tough road of sacrifice, competition, rejections
and thick skin. People are CONSTANTLY telling you that you either should
get a "real job" for the security, or that you should "grow
up and get a grip", or that you just plain suck. Don't listen. EVER.
If you quit, it probably means you should have never been there in the first
2) You have
to believe so strongly in what you're doing that NOTHING will discourage
you from doing it. And if you're doing it soley because you want to be rich
and famous, GET OUT NOW!!! It doesn't happen that way!! TRUST ME. Do what
you do. What you were BORN to do. What you most naturally do. What you would
STILL be doing if you had all the money and time in the world. The success
will follow. And, by the way, no matter HOW hungry you are, consider yourself
"successful" because you're doing what you love to do 365 days
a year, 15 hours a day. That's Success and very very few people in the history
of the world have been blessed with that discovery and that joy.
to second guess "public" likes and dis-likes. Carve your own road.
Do what you love to do and the world will catch up to you.
4) Draw, draw,
draw. Then, draw some more then take a break. And be sure to draw on your
5) In the words
of Winston- Never, ever give up. At the point you want to give up once and
for all because you're sick of eating potatoes and sleeping on the floor,
that's when ANYone would give up. Try not to be just anyone.
attracts like". You start to notice that you attract the people and
things and circumstances around you that you truly expect or believe you'll
attract. This is how all of nature works, no exceptions. It's a Universal
Truth and it's deep and it's profound and I discovered it about 2 years
ago and I try to live my life by it but I'll leave it at that because it's
too much to go into here.
7) Did I mention
I'd have to say THE major influence growing up was MAD magazine and I think
that's typical of many cartoonists 25 years and older. I used to read and
study and worship MAD magazine cover to cover (especially Sergio Aragones,
Mort Drucker, and Don Martin). I also remember, of course, wearing out the
Peanuts book collections.
As far as current
influences, I mourn the absence of Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes), Berk
Breathed (Bloom County) and Gary Larson (The Far Side) daily. And I like
Peter Bagge's "Hate" comics as well.
I feel fortunate
to personally know Scott Getchell (a fellow musician in Boston) and Hilary
Price (Rhymes With Orange). I stalked Hilary for awhile because I liked
her work so much and then, come to find out, we have the same book publisher
and it went from stalking to a friendship. Nice to hang out with your idols.
I also got
to know a lot of great people at the cartoonists' convention this year.
I'm really new at the whole syndication thing so it's been a little weird.
I read as many
comic strips as I can on the web when I have the time. I go first to the
ones I like (Mother Goose and Grimm, Close to Home, Rhymes With Orange,
Boondocks, Mutts, Baldo, Heart of the City, Garfield [yes, I still like
Garfield. Sue me.], For Better Or Worse, Dilbert, Zippy the Pinhead, Robotman,
Bizarro, Foxtrot and a few others I'm forgetting to mention).
Then, I move
on to some I dislike (I won't mention them here. You can probably guess)
just to make sure they still suck. And they always do. I love the art form
and I always wish I had more time to browse and enjoy.
I get a newspaper or website to carry "The Big Picture" daily
or both daily and Sunday?
The absolute best way is to simply call or e-mail your local newspaper and
get your friends and family to do the same. This has been done a few times
for "The Big Picture" and it works. They will listen and my syndicate's
crack sales team (I said crack sales team, not sales team on crack) is out
there on the road pushing it to these people all the time. A lot of newspaper
editors and publishers don't really give a crap about the comics all that
much (a lot of them seem to like comics that don't "make waves")
until they know it will sell more newspapers and advertising or if a particular
comic strip is causing some kind of ruckus ("ruckus". is that
a word?). The key is persistence with them.
I get a newspaper or website to DIScontinue "The Big Picture"?
Same exact way you can kiss my ass. Try it.
"The Big Picture" gets dropped from my newspaper or a website?
When this happens the only thing I can say that helps is to start a revolution.
Call, write, rally your friends and Loved Ones. It works. A lot of papers
even do what's called a "test drop" (how RIDICULOUS!!) to see
if people will respond or not. Revolt. Period. Revolt. Change your last
name to Castro. And revolt.