ED. NOTE: The 44th annual San Diego Comic-Con International — the granddaddy of the American comics and pop-culture conventions — is expected to draw more than 125,000 fans to the Convention Center through Sunday. Today, Comic Riffs talks with a Eisner nominee for tonight’s awards ceremony.
(Full disclosure: Comic Riffs is a judge for the event’s Eisner Awards — aka “comics’ Oscars” — on Friday.)
IF, AS A CREATOR of art or story or craft, you are waiting for Inspiration, Jerry Scott has a cheeky idea for you:
“Inspiration is for amateurs.”
Scott is reflecting on writing two highly popular daily comic strips for the past 15 years. Thanks to one of them — “Baby Blues” — the California-based cartoonist will be at tonight’s esteemed industry Eisner Awards (across from the Convention Center at San Diego Comic-Con) as a nominee.
He and co-creator Rick Kirkman — himself already a Reuben Award winner this summer — are up for an Eisner in the Humor category for their anniversary treasury, “Baby Blues XX.”
To get to the strip’s 20-year mark so successfully, Scott says he often couldn’t afford to wait around for capital-I Inspiration. “Syndication takes discipline, creativity and curiosity about the tiny moments of life,” Scott tells Comic Riffs. “Oh, and some luck.
“We work pretty hard at having fun with the strip, as well.”
That sense of fun comes through in both “Baby Blues” and his strip about adolescence, “Zits,” co-created by the Pulitzer-winning Jim Borgman. Comic Riffs caught up with Scott to talk about his approach to daily syndication’s demands, his first illustrated novel — and how one sanely culls through more than 7,000 strips to celebrate a birthday:
MICHAEL CAVNA: First off, Jerry, congratulations on the Eisners nom for the “Baby Blues” treasury. It succeeds in terms of both insights and overview. Can you describe how you and Rick [Kirkman] created and curated this sizable project?
JERRY SCOTT: “BBXX” was a fairly large undertaking. I want to say upfront that Rick Kirkman was the main engine behind the design and production of this book, and we're both really proud of it
The project started out with a notion that 20 years of syndication is a
good thing to commemorate, and went from there. The book began to rise out of the pile of napkins, Post-It notes, sketchbook pages and emails generated during our conversations. Very early on we had to undertake the task of choosing seven or eight hundred strips the book would contain out of the approximately twelve million strips we'd created over the previous twenty years. We did that by going through all of the collection books we'd done between 1990 and 2010 and independently marking our favorites with little colored sticky tabs. I think there were about 27 books in all, and it looked like a stack of rectangular sea anemones with their colored tentacles waving in every direction.
After we bickered about the strips for a few months, we broke the book down into chapters and sections, I wrote some essays and we dug through photo albums and closets for the additional images. We also had the foresight to hire Jeff Schulz, a very talented book designer to make it all look nice.
MC: The "XX" in the treasury's title underscores what an achievement the 20-year mark is for a comic — especially in these tough times. What do you and Rick do to keep the strip fresh — how do you stay so inspired?
JS: Inspiration is for amateurs. Syndication takes discipline, creativity
and curiosity about the tiny moments of life. Oh, and some luck. We work pretty hard at having fun with the strip, as well.
MC: Speaking of Rick: What was it like to see him win the big Reuben Award a few weeks back? Especially as someone who's won it yourself, confirming the respect of your pro colleagues.
JS: Totally thrilling. I was very happy for Rick. The Reuben is a really big deal for those of us who have dedicated the majority of our working lives to comics. The peer recognition that wonderful, ugly statue represents is huge.
MC: You, of course, juggle duties on that and “Zits.” How do you so nimbly ride two horses at once for 15 years and counting? Is there a steroid for cartoonist brains that I'm unaware of?
JS: I work with two incredible partners, and I'm married to another. If there's a performance-enhancing substance, it's the endorphin that squirts out of my adrenal gland when I make either Jim or Rick laugh. Or maybe beer.
MC: And speaking of ”Zits,” you and Jim [Borgman] just released “Chillax” — how did you approach writing your first illustrated novel?
The Duncan circle is so sharply defined in the strip, yet you've got to build a long arc — and juggle so many filigreed threads — in the novel. Can you speak to the differences as a writer?
JS: Book writin' is hard. Well, it's different. After spending so many years distilling ideas down to the fewest possible words and images, it's really strange to have an editor say, "This is a funny scene. Can you make it longer?" Jim and I write the books together, sort of like the way we do the strips. Ideas come from everywhere, words come mostly from my keyboard, drawings come mostly from Jim's hand, and the funny is spread between us. The way we keep the story arc going is through rewriting the rewritten rewrites, I guess.
MC: One thing I must note in ”Chillax”: The obvious affection — perhaps nostalgic — for old VW vans and old guitars and even old Nixon and McGovern bumper stickers. It all feels so real — verbally and visually. Is there some personal history being tapped there?
JS: Heck, yeah. Jeremy shares some of the same interests we do ... how lucky is that?
MC: I know from experience that mainstream newspaper syndication comes bundled with many "family newspaper" language and issue restrictions. Did “Chillax” allow you a bit more freedom in terms of language or topic? Certainly you have fun with those band names.
JS: These was some loosening of the language and topic restrictions, but not a lot. We did have fun writing the band names, song titles and lyrics in the book (especially the ones that didn't make the cut), but in the end we were aware that this is a “Zits” book. It would be really dumb for us to suddenly throw out the years of family friendly behavior and reliability the characters have built with our comic strip readers for the chance to do a few easy shock jokes.
MC: Is there anything I didn't ask that I should have?
JS: The second “Zits” novel, titled ”Shredded,” is moving toward completion. It's a road trip story filled with fast food grease, salty snacks and warm vinyl. Who wouldn't want to read that?
SCHEDULE: On Friday evening, Jerry Scott says, he will attend the Eisner Awards; he notes that he’ll also appear on the convention floor at the National Cartoonists Society booth.
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