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Posted at 12:01 AM ET, 12/17/2011

BEST QUOTES OF 2011: From Gaiman to Watterson, the Year in Comic Riffs

YOU CAN’T TAKE YOUR EYES off cartoonists for a minute. Or your ears. You give ‘em a split-second, a window of opportunity, a sliver of space to maneuver, and they floor it verbally — going from zero to witty in nothing flat.

This is what makes the Cartoonist Interview such an on-your-toes enterprise. They are typically cagey and quick, members of this fast-thinking lot, pivoting between intellectual depth and humorous breadth as if their livelihood depended on it. Which, of course, it often does.

Over the course of a year, Comic Riffs typically has more than a couple-hundred of these encounters. Some are e-mailed drive-bys, and some are hourlong journeys in person that, if you’re fortunate, present welcome, unpredictable hairpins in the road. The joy of seat-of-the-pants back-and-forth.

A sit-down in downtown D.C. with Neil Gaiman, in the shadow of both the Washington Monument and imposing stacks of signed “American Gods,” or an impromptu Baltimore Comic-Con talk with “Bone’s” Jeff Smith. A welcome into the Beverly Hills office of Stan Lee, with enough Spider-Man visuals around to make your head spin. Or a surprise e-mail from “Calvin and Hobbes” creator Bill Watterson, sharing thoughts with an interviewer for only the second time in 22 years. These were among Comic Riffs’s unforeseen moments in 2011.


Petey opens his notebooks. (CUL DE SAC / Richard Thompson - Universal Uclick)
And then there were the hours and weeks that “Cul de Sac” creator Richard Thompson graciously tolerated my presence and pesky questions — allowing me into his home before perhaps thinking better of it — for a Post Magazine profile.

If, as a reporter, you pay keen attention in these situations — sometimes as a fly on the wall, sometimes as a fly in the ointment — the ideal quote or quip or soliloquy will suddenly land like a gift. (And the humble reporter knows better than to ever look a gift source in the mouth.)

So there seems no better way for Comic Riffs to recap the comics year — as we actually experienced it — than to share some memorable interview comments from our notebooks and digital recorders and e-mail box. Here they are then, to wit: Our Favorite Comics Quotes From 2011...

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“Talent gravitates to places where it can have an impact. Newspaper comic strips are still the high end of cartooning with a daily audience in the tens of millions, but the mass-media model seems to be disintegrating before our eyes. The sudden climate change may offer great opportunities ahead for the scrappy little mammals that used to cower in the underbrush, but it’s probably bad news for those of us who liked thundering around with our heads above the treetops.”

— “Calvin and Hobbes” creator BILL WATTERSON , assessing the industry he retired from in the ‘90s

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NEIL GAIMAN, sketched immediately after an interview at Washington’s National Press Club. (MICHAEL CAVNA - Comic Riffs/ The Washington Post)
“I figured Twitter was going to be evanescent. [That was] part of the fun of Twitter in the early days. Of going: ‘I don’t think this is going to be around very long.’ And also, the threat that maybe they’ll break it, or spoil it, or there’ll be too many advertisers. It felt like discovering a nice bar, and we know the problem with discovering a nice bar ...”

NEIL GAIMAN (he of the nearly 1.7-million Twitter followers), while discussing the 10th anniversary release of “American Gods”

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“I told my wife Joanie, ‘I’m going to quit.’ But she said: ‘Why not write it the way you want to write it? If it doesn’t work, the worst that’s going to happen is that they’ll fire you. And you want to quit anyway.’ I tried having heroes [Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Girl] in love and getting married. And the teenager was a brother [the Human Torch] who didn’t particularly want to be a superhero.

“It was the turning point of my life.”

— Marvel mastermind STAN LEE, on the creation of the Fantastic Four a half-century ago

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. (Jim Byrkit - Titan Books)
“Childhood is the well that never dries up. There is infinite material to mine there, memory fragments of Sid and Marty Krofft television, thunderstorms in the desert, or the gush of anticipation of Christmas. I learn a lot from great current artists like Joe Sorren and Hayao Miyazaki, but I also get inspiration from bad — perfect — ’80s music videos.”

— ”Rango” writer and storyboard artist JAMES WARD BYRKIT

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“One thing I really wanted to get out of him [involved] reader comments. I feel like my humor and my feelings toward my own work have changed because of commentary about my work. ... You’re affected by it when there’s a surge and a quarter-million fans on Facebook [respond]. But Larson, he basically worked in a cave. I loved hearing that. I thought: It would be thrilling to be like you.”

— The Oatmeal creator MATTHEW INMAN, on lunching with “The Far Side” creator Gary Larson

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“Joking [about] something is a defense mechanism to overcome your fear towards it. If people see their leaders in cartoons, that can help to make them realize they are not gods. Cartoons break people’s fear.”

— Egyptian political cartoonist SHERIF ARAFA, during Arab Spring

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“V for Vendetta” (Alan Moore & David Lloyd / DC Entertainment)
“As far as that mask is concerned, well, I’m happy it’s being used as a multi-purpose banner of protest. It’s like [Alberto Korda’s] Che Guevara image on T-shirts and such that was used so often in the past as a symbol of revolutionary spirit — the difference being that while Che represented a specific political movement, the mask of V does not: It’s neutral. It just represents opposition to any perceived tyranny, which is why it fits easily into being Everyman’s tool of protest against oppression.”

DAVID LLOYD, “V for Vendetta” co-creator, on the Guy Fawkes mask adopted by Occupy and Anonymous groups

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“I am becoming a connoisseur of teargas.”

SUSIE CAGLE, comics journalist who was arrested as she covered the Occupy Oakland protests

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“Parkinson’s was described to me as a disease that first robs you of your dignity. So it’s fitting to combat a slapstick disease with cartoons.

— “Cul de Sac” creator RICHARD THOMPSON, announcing the launch of Team Cul de Sac (with the Michael J. Fox Foundation) to raise money for Parkinson’s research

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“MetaMaus” (ART SPIEGELMAN)
“For the first month or so, I was crying. I was devastated by the material — at having to climb back in. ... I’m not metaphoring — I was crying, because [revisiting] ‘Maus’ meant having to develop the emotional calluses again to move forward. My skin had gotten smooth again since 1991. ... It was like toughening-up to walk again over the hot coals.”

ART SPIEGELMAN, on revisiting his Pulitzer-winning landmark work to write his new book, “Metamaus”

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“Yes, technically, I have a piece of the ‘movie’s net profits.’ As I’ve said, wrap your tongue around that last phrase like you would the word ’leprechaun.’ ”

— “Bloom County” creator BERKELEY BREATHED, on seeing his book “Mars Needs Moms” turned into a Robert Zemeckis feature film (the movie, which had a reported $150-million production budget, has grossed about $39-million worldwide)

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“I think Spielberg and ‘Tintin’ will be the real test of whether motion-capture” can really catch on with audiences.”

JEFF SMITH, creator of the epic “Bone” and “RASL”

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“I am gobsmacked,”

ROGER EBERT, on at last becoming a finalist in the New Yorker caption contest after entering the weekly cartoon contest more than 100 times

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. (GARRY TRUDEAU / "DOONESBURY" / Universal Uclick - .)
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“[There was] an embarrassment of riches. ... And, of course, there were revelations that didn’t make the cut because I couldn’t figure out how to make them work as comedy.”

— “Doonesbury” creator GARRY TRUDEAU, on adapting some previewed revelations from Joe McGinness’s 2011 Sarah Palin biography for his comic strip

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“I’m hoping Arianna [Huffington] takes maybe a couple of those megabucks and elects to pay and support a nice stable of cartoonists and political satirists.”

— Politico editorial cartoonist and AAEC president-elect MATT WUERKER, on the announcing of the HuffPo/AOL deal

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“It’s no accident that the first superhero boom came when we were facing the Great Depression and a world war. Superheroes represent the best in all of us — in that sense, they are us. So it’s natural that we look to them for our entertainment, whether it’s on the pages of the comic books or up on the big screen.”

JOE SIMON, virtuoso writer-editor; co-creator of Captain America; first editor of Marvel precursor Timely Comics (Simon died Dec. 14, at age 98)

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The two-million-dollar book, from 1938. (METROPOLIS COLLECTIBLES via AP - .)
“Jack [Kirby] and Joe [Simon] were innovators in their storytelling. And we all influenced each other.”

JERRY ROBINSON, multifaceted cartoonist who got his start as part of the original Batman team (Robinson died Dec. 7, at age 89.)

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“We thought it was going to be creased, but it was beautiful. It is so close to perfect. This book has got freshness and bounce ... it’s simply stunning.”

— Metropolis Collectibles’ VINCENT ZURZOLO, recounting the early 2011 rediscovery of a “9.0”-rated Action Comics No.-1 [left] in a California storage locker after a decade-long disappearance. The 1938 book sold at Metropolis’s online auction in November for a record $2.16-million.

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“ ‘Habibi’ reflects my male guilt and worldview. ... I grew up disgusted by my own kind. ... I had to learn to embrace and embody being a man. ... A lot of that happens in the course of this book.”

— “Blankets” graphic novelist CRAIG THOMPSON, on his epic new work — a love story about a harem girl and a eunuch

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“Cartoonists have a gift and an obligation to produce the most original, creative work possible. It seems that plagiarists get caught up in the ‘job’ aspect of cartooning, and forget the magic of drawing an infinite variation of lines to create anything! Plagiarizing is the opposite of passion.”

MARK FIORE, Pulitzer-winning political animator, speaking in the wake of two plagiarism cases (both accused cartoonists — in Ohio and Oklahoma — left their jobs)

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“The New Yorker” anniversary cover. (ANA JUAN - The New Yorker)
“The process toward inspiration usually has different ways. This time the idea came suddenly, but ... years ago, the idea slept peacefully in my sketchbook, until the right moment.”

— Spanish artist ANA JUAN:, who created a striking New Yorker magazine cover to mark the 10th-anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks

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“You’ve got to make hay while the sun shines — there is an ebb and flow to this business. There was that epic period when in 1979, six of seven ‘Garfield’ books were on the bestseller list at the same time. That was a high-water mark. No one cares about ‘Garfield’ now.”

— “Big Nate” creator LINCOLN PEIRCE, on taking advantage of his feature’s current digital and publishing opportunities

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“All good writers are pretty much writing about their own lives. Some of them just cover it up more than others do. I do the opposite. I draw a guy who has a more interesting life than mine, and then I try to live up to it.”

— “Frazz” creator JEF MALLETT

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. (MIKE LUCKOVICH / Atlanta Journal Constitution / Used by permission of the artist - .)
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“I really appreciate when my editor or colleagues tell me an idea stinks, because it motivates me. I thrive on rejection.”

MIKE LUCKOVICH, Pulitzer-winning political cartoonist at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, describing his deadline process

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“Sometimes when we’re stuck, we can say to each other, ‘What is wrong with this?’ We benefit a great deal from being around each other. It’s a positive place when work is going well, and in moments of doubt, we’re allowed to vent to each other. It’s great to know that we’re going to look at each other’s work with the positive critical eye.”

DOMITILLE COLLARDEY, on the six-member Brooklyn cartoonists’ studio dubbed “Pizza Island”

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“I drank my way through my first three books, and consequently, I think they’re all garbage.”

JULIA WERTZ, cartoonist of “Fart Party” and “Drinking at the Movies” (and Pizza Island co-studio mate)

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“To be honest, it exceeded all of our expectations. The numbers are so solid and so strong, but are they substainable? I feel that we have a healthy future.”

— DC Comics honcho DAN DiDIO, on advance sales of the “New 52” launch

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Womanthology (Womanthology - IDW Publishing)
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“The response was so overwhelming, I figured I’d better just take the leap and run with the idea. And here we are — all from one tweet!”

RENAE DE LIZ, on the successfully well-funded “Womanthology” Kickstarter project spotlighting more than 100 women creators

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“Our libraries are becoming our community centers. Libraries saved my life as a kid. We didn’t have a lot of dough, but we had library cards.”

— “Our Cancer Year” co-author JOYCE BRABNER, on the successfully funded “Cleveland Heights Library Statue” Kickstarter project to memorialize her husband, comics great Harvey Pekar (who died in 2010)

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“There’s ‘Krazy Kat’ and then there’s everything else. Of course, let me qualify that…I’m not just talking about comics or fine art or poetry — I’m talking about EVERYTHING ELSE!”

— Author CRAIG YOE, on his latest book — about George Herriman’s classic strip

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Lightning McQueen and Mater, “Cars 2.” (DISNEY/PIXAR via AP - .)
“Pixar comes in and plucks you up and plugs you right into a film. No making copies or fetching coffee for anybody. ... It’s sink or swim.”

— “Cars 2” animator BOB MOYER, on his internship during the making of 2006’s “Cars”

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“It plays on a universal desire: the longing for adventure we all have deep within us.”

TOM JENKINS, director of the viral stop-motion animated video ”Address Is Approximate” (which notably used Google StreetView)

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Both CGI and hand-drawn animation are achievements in art. Comparing them is like comparing a drawing and a photograph. ... They shouldn’t be compared — they are different kinds of animation.”

— Oscar-nominated “Illusionist” animator SYLVAIN CHOMET

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“In recent years, the Pulitzer has gone to much younger folks, who are newer in the business. I thought my day had passed.”

MIKE KEEFE, upon winning the 2011 Pulitzer for Editorial Cartooning, just months prior to accepting his paper’s“buyout” offer

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. (JOSH NEUFELD / Cartoon Movement - .)
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“I just happen to be part of this new acceptance of American comics abroad, and nonfiction comics journalism in general,” “It used to be just [Joe] Sacco, ... Now it feels like comics journalism is expected out of any big news event — from Japan to Occupy Wall Street to economic protests in Europe and turmoil in Africa. It’s no longer such a shock to see it.”

JOSH NEUFELD, comics journalist and author (“A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge”)

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Author of NBA finalist “Radioactive.” (Lauren Redniss / It Books)
“A friend sent me a ‘jpg’ of a 19th-century cyanotype print and I knew instantly it could be a beautiful, thematically meaningful medium for the book — a book about radioactivity and the idea of ‘exposure.’ “

LAUREN REDNISS, whose book “Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout” in 2011 became the first nonfiction graphic narrative to be named a National Book Award finalist

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“I’m well past the point to ever break even at a show. The dream of selling enough to pay for the table cost [$300] never happens, but meeting fans at the show makes it worth it. I still can’t believe that total strangers will buy my work and enjoy it.”

G.B. TRAN, Small Press Expo panelist and graphic novelist (“Vietnamerica”)


“New DC's” Swamp Thing (Scott Snyder & Yannick Paquette - DC Comics)
“[Alan] Moore’s Swamp Thing is a masterpiece and I would only take the series on if I had a take that honored everything that came before — keeping it part of the character’s past, not erasing anything — and moved forward in a way I thought was compelling, different, and central to the core of the character.”

— “American Vampire” writer SCOTT SNYDER, on inheriting the Swamp Thing series

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“Will I turn ‘Liberty Meadows’ into a movie or a TV show? Sure, if the right offer comes along. However until that offer comes, I’m going to enjoy writing and drawing the next misadventures of Brandy and crew at ‘Liberty Meadows’ with no suits looking over my shoulder telling me which market I should target.”

FRANK CHO, on the return of “Liberty Meadows” in a new collection

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“I have been the one who has been the optimist, going to cartoonists’ conventions [to cheerlead for] political cartoons. It’s like being at a buggywhip convention in 1920. ... The suits just have to realize that political cartoons are going to attract people to your brand.”

STEPHEN HESS, author of the award-winning “American Political Cartoons: The Evolution of a National Identity, 1754-2010.”

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“I walk in Herblock’s slippers.”

— The Post’s TOM TOLES, on winning 2011 Herblock Prize for political cartooning

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“They exploited these nonpolitical murders to create vitriolic partisan cartoons denouncing vitriolic partisanship. As keepers of the public trust, cartoonists should be smarter than that.”

— Washington Examiner editorial cartoonist NATE BEELER, on the cartoon response by some colleagues to the Giffords shooting in Arizona

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“Getting diagnosed with this disease at that age [43] is to have your personal world struck by a meteor, transformed to ash in an instant of unexpected impact. Like most people, I knew so little about the disease that all I could focus on were the words “progressive, incurable and disabling”. ... It threatened my longest-held sense of who I am and wanted to be, a cartoonist.”

— Alaskan cartoonist/animator PETER DUNLAP-SHOHL, on receiving a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease

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Arab Spring activist Dalia Ziada was inspired by the Arabic translation of "Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story." (Courtesy of American Islamic Congress)
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“That was the motive behind my starting to fight against female genital mutilation at a young age — and then fight for women’s rights and civil rights when I grew up. In other words, you can say a personal crisis made me an activist on a wider public level.”

— Arab Spring activist and Egyptian writer DALIA ZIADA, on how female circumcision led her to spread the nonviolence teachings of Martin Luther King through a vintage comic book

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“I didn’t think of it in terms of gags. I wanted to get across one point: Ultimately, bin Laden was a narcissist and a failure, and he’s going to be just another footnote in history.”

DARRIN BELL, on his tight-deadline week of “Candorville” strips in the immediate wake of bin Laden’s death

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“Fatwas suck.”

— Artist MOLLY NORRIS, after being placed on an “execution hit” list by Yemeni American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in an October drone attack. (Norris, who created 2010’s “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day” poster art, subsequently changed her name for her safety)

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“I can certainly understand how he feels after suffering a moronic and philistine attack in a newspaper, but I wish he wouldn’t let this intimidate him. Robert isn’t a glory-hound, is not comfortable making public appearances, and was probably ambivalent at best about appearing before so many people.”

— Would-be moderator GARY GROTH, on R. Crumb’s canceling an Australian festival appearance in the wake of an article that characterized him as a pervert

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An autobiographical comic by Roz Chast. (ROZ CHAST - .)
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“It’s a graphic memoir about the last few years of my parents’ lives. I was an only child. My dad died at 95 and my mom died at 97. The last few years were very, very intense.”

— New Yorker cartoonist and author ROZ CHAST, on her current project

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“If not for Chris Shea, those two specials don’t work. I give him all the credit in the world. I’m like the pitcher who sets him up for each line.”

PETER ROBBINS, the original voice of Charlie Brown, on the child actor who voiced Linus in the classic “Peanuts” holiday specials

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“I often shake my head and think, ‘Sparky would not like to see all this.’ ”

JEAN SCHULZ, widow of Charles “Sparky” Schulz, on the shuttering of the century-old syndicate United Media (which launched Schulz’s “Peanuts” in 1950)

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“He was the type of artist who did the hard things well and the great things great — his dynamic figures and layouts, sexy women, bold blacks and brushwork added a dramatic splash to the often tepid comic page and revitalized the strip.”

— Artist MIKE MANLEY, on his “Judge Parker” predecessor Eduardo Barreto (who died Dec. 15, at age 57)

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“When I was young, we would go to Bob’s Big Boy restaurants on Saturdays for breakfast. Dad would turn over their placemats and draw Ziggy about ready to fall in a manhole, a safe would be falling toward him, and then Dad would say: ‘I want you to save Ziggy.’ I would have to draw a contraption so Ziggy would avoid this horrible thing. Then Dad would say that there’s just one rule: ‘You have to throw out the first idea.’ “

TOM WILSON JR., “Ziggy” cartoonist and son of the comic’s creator, on his weekend ritual in Cleveland with Wilson Sr. (who died in September at age 80)

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“I remember I did a paper for school on Abraham Lincoln when I was about 9. I asked him to help me with the cover. He began to draw. Eyes, nose and soon an amazing character of Lincoln emerged on the page. It was magical. ...He will always be my hero.”

— Artist KEVIN RECHIN, memorializing his father BILL RECHIN , cartoonist for “Crock” and “Out of Bounds” (he died in May; he was 80)

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“I think he’d probably most like to be recalled as a guy who struggled mightily to open the gates wider to multiculturalism within comics, he himself having been profoundly inspired by the example of the Black Panther when he was young — and wanting to pass that same sort of experience on to the next generation, regardless of their particular race, creed or background.”

— Marvel’s TOM BREVOORT, memorializing comics/animation creator Dwayne McDuffie (who died in February; he was 49)

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“For kids like me, there was a map and a compass that was hidden [in] ’Family Circus.’ The parents in that comic strip really loved their children. He put that image in my head and it stayed with me. I’d always heard that great art will cause people to burst into tears, but the only time it ever happened to me was when I was introduced  Bil Keane’s son Jeff. As soon as I realized who he was, I just started bawling my face off because I realized I’d done it. When I shook his hand, I realized I had climbed through the circle to the side Jeffy was on.

“To me, they are family. My soul family. That’s why if someone says a word against ‘Family Circus’ to me, I will slug them so hard.”

— Cartoonist LYNDA BARRY, upon the death of “Family Circus” creator Bil Keane (who died in November; he was 89)

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“Ideas are easy. Knowing what to do with them is hard.”

RICHARD THOMPSON, weeks before winning the Reuben Award as 2011’s Cartoonist of the Year

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Alice and Petey Otterloop have ideas on how to help their creator. (Richard Thompson / CUL DE SAC - Universal Uclick)
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By  |  12:01 AM ET, 12/17/2011

Tags:  bill watterson, neil gaiman, art spiegelman, berkeley breathed, jeff smith, roger ebert, richard thompson, david lloyd, susie cagle, sherif arafa, matthew inman, oatmeal comic, james ward byrkit, stan lee, garry trudeau, matt wuerker, joe simon, jerry robinson, vincent zurzolo, craig thompson, mark fiore, ana juan, lincoln peirce, jef mallett, mike luckovich, domitille collardey, julia wertz, dan didio, renae de liz, craig yoe, bob moyer, tom jenkins, sylvain chomet, mike keefe, josh neufeld, lauren redniss, g.b. tran, scott snyder, frank cho, stephen hess, tom toles, nate beeler, peter dunlap shohl, dalia ziada, darrin bell, molly norris, gary groth, r. crumb, roz chast, peter robbins, jean schulz, mike manley, tom wilson jr., kevin rechin, tom brevoort, lynda barry, dwayne mcduffie, kevin rechin, bil keane, eduardo barreto

 
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