Join Washington Post Comics page editor Suzanne Tobin online two Fridays each month to discuss the comics pages. From artists to writers to editors, Tobin is joined by a different guest for each show. This week, Tobin will be chatting live from the Charles Schulz Museum in Santa
Rosa, Calif., with guests Rose Marie McDaniel, acting director of the museum, Jason Hillyer, education director, and Stephan Pastis, cartoonist of "Pearls Before Swine."
Tobin, McDaniel, Hillyer and Pastis were online on Friday, Sept. 24 at 1 p.m. ET to discuss Schulz's work and the art of cartooning.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
Greetings, comics fans, and welcome to another edition of "Comics: Meet the Artist." Today we are coming from you live from the Charles Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, Calif., where we have the acting director, Rose Marie McDaniel, the education director, Jason Hillyer, and cartoonist Stephan Pastis, of "Pearls Before Swine" waiting eagerly to answer your questions. Welcome, everybody and can you enter and sign in please?
Have you ever had any complaints or controversy surround your comics?
If the Boondocks is equally pessimistic and gets attacked all the time, and Get Fuzzy got in trouble for saying Pittsburgh stank, what happens when you do something like kill off a character or joke a bit?
Stephan Pastis: There have been a number of strips that have offended people. Off the top of my head:
-- the strip where I made fun of the dirty Greek restaurant (offending my fellow Greeks)
-- the strip where I mentioned Lou Gehrig's disease
--the strip where I made fun of President Bush a year ago.
--the Jerusalem bus strip last December, which drew 2,500 e-mails.
I'm not familiar with Get Fuzzy. I've never read it.
Long Beach, Calif.:
Does the museum deal with Mr. Shultz's
WWII service at all? Thanks
Jason Hillyer: We have a case in our biograhical gallery devoted to Mr Schulz' service in WWII. It contains, among other artifacts, his sketchbook from his time in the service and envelopes he illustrated for his buddy's letters home to his wife (his friend's wife, Schulz wasn't married yet).
ever since i met you at the most recent young republican cartoonists meeting, i have been thinking that darby conley could probably beat you up in, like, a minute.
i've been thinking that he probably should, too.
my question is this: which cartoonists do you think you could take in a fight? (if any.)
Stephan Pastis: Darby and I actually came to blows once, and I shoved him through a sliding glass door. After he stopped crying, I promised him I would never do it again.
hello, moon mullins here: why isn't there a museum for all comics and not just schultzie? thanks
Rose Marie McDaniel: Charles Schulz widow Jean Schulz wasn't married to all the other cartoonists. Jeannie wanted a museum for Sparky to share his genius with the world and with the Charles M. Schulz Museum she's done that. Come out to Santa Rosa, CA and visit us sometime.
Menomonee Falls, Wis.:
Love the new book. It's very interesting to read your comments below the strips. Now for my question. What happened to Goat? He hasn't been seen much lately.
Stephan Pastis: Thank you very much. I tried to make the new book more interesting by writing my comments below the strips.
As to goat, I'm not sure. I'll have to write more goat strips.
Tenleytown, Washington, D.C.:
Mr. Pastis: Since you handed over the writing in your strip to your children, the quality seems to have declined. Are there any steps in the work to arrest this development?
Stephan Pastis: My six-year old son takes offense at that. He feels he's writing some quality stuff.
Cornwall, N.Y. :
I know fantagraphics -- over the next several years -- is coming out with a
FULL collection of the entire Peanuts Comic
strip from Start to Finish. (50's to 2000. Amazing!) -- wonderful!
I consider the late 60's throughout the 70's some of the best years -- creatively.
Jason Hillyer: I'm inclined to agree with you. However, Mr Schulz constantly put everything he had into the strip through all fifty years of the strip and always considered his latest work his best work.
Often times some creators will be on the same wavelength and their comics will be nearly the same. How do you know if it's "been done before"?
Stephan Pastis: Well, when I look at someone else's comic strip and steal an idea, I know that it's been done before.
Rose Marie, can you tell us a little about your career and how you came to the museum originally?
Rose Marie McDaniel: My late husband Mark J. Cohen was a cartoon historian, collector, and writer for cartoonists. We brought many cartoonists to Santa Rosa and the Schulz's called us their cartoon connection. When Jeannie Schulz had the inspiration to start a museum, Mark said "Right On". Mark was on the Board of Directors for the museum, and upon his death, I took his place. We also had a traveling exhibit of MAD magazine originals that toured the US for approx. 9 yrs. and in that time we saw a lot of museums and universities through our exhibits. I was always a volunteer at the museum, and when the original museum Director Ruth Gardner Begell left, Jean Schulz as head of the Board of Directors, asked me to step in as acting Director.
Thanks for putting the comedy back into comics. Rat rules. I have now started to divide humanity into "Rat people" and "Pig people". Will that suffice or do I have to add Goat, Zebra, and agoraphobic turtle people too?
Stephan Pastis: Well, thank you very much. I appreciate that. I do get a lot of comments from people telling me that they fall in one camp or another. Personally, I relate to Rat.
Rose Marie, as acting director, is there a timeline for you stepping down and a new director coming in?
Rose Marie McDaniel: Yes Suzanne, the new director Karen Johnson will be on board October 20th, we'll have some overlap and then I'll be back to volunteering and heading the Exhibit Comm.
Tucker, Ga. (The Next Great International City):
I junderstand you are a lawyer. Are you still practicing?
Stephan Pastis: No, I quit being a lawyer in August, 2002.
Hey Stephan set the record straight here for us in d.c.
Skins or Cowboys Monday night ?
Stephan Pastis: Skins by 11. If you need the number of my bookie, I'll provide it to you after the chat.
Jason, first let me thank you for coming in on your day off to answer our reader's questions. Can you explain what an education director does and what sort of education or training is involved in becoming one?
Jason Hillyer: It's my pleasure, Suzanne. I should start by saying that here at the Schulz Museum we have a very small staff and we all do a little bit of everything. But, my job essentially is to develop programs, train volunteers and docents, and help put together exhibitions.
Like most of us, I changed my mind about what I wanted to do one or two times as I went through college. Even though my degree is in communication I also earned my teaching certification. Instead of settling in a school, however, I decided to get into the museum world instead.
The Schulz Museum is my fourth museum.
Jason, did you ever meet Charles Schulz?
Jason Hillyer: Unfortunately, for me, no, I never did. I wrote him several letters, when I was a child, but was always too shy to send them.
I was seriously ill last winter and my 'Pearls' and 'Fuzzy' collection really helped me through. My question is, were you and Darby Conley separated at birth? Thanks for being you. Bonna
Stephan Pastis: Well thank you very much. I appreciate that.
Yes, in actuality, Darby and I are best friends. As far as I'm concerned, Get Fuzzy should be in every paper in America.
Rose Marie, how does your current job rate in comparison to the other jobs you've held in your career?
Rose Marie McDaniel: The Director's job has been quite a challenge. I'd never written a newsletter before, and I've now put one to bed on time and feel pretty good about that.
Jason, can you tell us when you started reading "Peanuts" and if you have a favorite storyline or strip?
Jason Hillyer: An uncle gave me his collection of Fawcett Crest paperbacks when I was three or four. I devoured them (first the pictures and then the stories as I learned to read) over and over, night after night, for years.
My favorite strip is the one where Linus is eating sugar lumps with honey. I also love the one in which Linus breaks all of Lucy's crayons and she makes him glue them back together. I could go on and on...
With the changing comic strip landscape
what is the latest advice to an aspiring
cartoonist? You know, to get syndicated.
Stephan Pastis: For me, I think it all comes down to the writing, and I think the most important thing is to just be funny. Draw 100 or so strips and show them to other people. Watch their reactions. Do they laugh or not? If they don't, you need to figure out what you might be doing wrong. If you can't make the person sitting next to you laugh, you probably can't make a larger audience laugh either.
Rose Marie, how many museums are there in the United States devoted to cartooning?
Rose Marie McDaniel: Actually, not very many. There's the San Francisco Cartoon Art Museum at 655 Mission St. in San Francisco. There's the Cartoon Research Library at OSU in Columbus, Ohio and Mort Walker is trying to start one again in the Empire St. Building in New York. There may be others I'm not aware of.
OSU is hosting their eight triennial Festival of Cartoon Art beginning Oct. 15-16, 2004. Log onto firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Thank-you. I am now half blind after trying to read the fine print on Monday's strip.
I can't remember which character is dating the female pig--Rat, isn't it?--but wonder if they will ever get engaged as Cathy has in her strip. What will their offspring look like?
Stephan Pastis: Yeah, that drew a lot of e-mail from people, especially web-only readers, who wanted to know what it said. The resolution on the web version was just not strong enough.
Rat used to date Farina, who is Pig's sister. She lives in a plastic bubble because she's a germaphobe. But after she dropped him, she married someone else. You'll see her return to the strip in a few weeks, just to torture Rat.
Mr. Pastis: Do you really monitor Gene Weingarten's chats and occasionally write in, or is that someone pretending to be you.
Stephan Pastis (or am I?)
Stephan Pastis: Yes, that was really me. I believe Gene contacted me that day with a couple questions, and I answered them. I enjoy his columns. It's one of the few forums on the internet where syndicated comics are intelligently discussed.
Tucker, GA (The Next Great INternational City):
I hate to hear you have given up law. As a friend of mine said, having you in the profession gave him more respect for the legal profession. Which do you enjoy the most, Lawyering or comic stripping?
Stephan Pastis: Oh, man. I just had to get out. Frankly, almost every attorney I ever met had an escape plan...something they were hopefully going to do some day to escape the law. I was extremely fortunate that I actually got to get out and pursue something I absolutely love to do. I feel now like I don't even have a job.
Jason, since you deal directly with the children who visit the museum, I imagine you've had some interesting experiences with them. Are there any you'd like to share with our readers?
Jason Hillyer: We get several school groups per month in the museum to take tours and participate in workshops. Also, we have full-scale cartooning workshops in the summer.
Of course, kids say the darnest things (Mr Schulz illustrated an Art Linkletter book of the same name in 1957) and we love to have them in the building and drawing. One day I hope to be reading a chat or interview with a young cartoonist and when he/she is asked about some of his/her influences he/she will say "the fun day I had at the Schulz Museum."
One of the cutest things I've heard a child say was when she was describing the giant tile mural we have in the museum. She called it a bunch of little cartoons in a big cartoon.
Tucker, GA (The Next Great International City):
I am an avid Peanuts collector and have a fellow collector who works there at the museum. Will one of you say "Hello, and Happy Snoopin' " to Susan Morrison for me?
Jason Hillyer: Will do! Were you at Beagle Fest in July?
Park Ridge, N.J.:
I enjoy your work, its refreshing to see
a new comic strip NOT a "demographic bore".
Like many successful Comic strip artists
and Stand up Comedians, their humor and
"Point of View" is very distinct and focused.
How would you describe your Point of View with regard to your strip? in general, not in terms of a specific character.
Also, what currently produced strips do you
Stephan Pastis: Well thank you very much.
I don't really have a set point of view. All I try to do when I write is isolate myself in a room, put on very loud music and drink a lot of coffee. I think the point of that is to sort of deaden the part of my brain that is logical and reasoned, and write from the more instinctive part of the brain. The best humor is spontaneous, not reasoned.
Some of the ones I like include Get Fuzzy, Dilbert and Speed Bump. I think Dave Coverly is one of the few comedic geniuses on the comics page.
Jason, are there any plans to have a searchable archive of Peanuts strips in the future? I would think that editors would love to be able to access art on different topics to use in their publications...
Jason Hillyer: We have one that we get to use interally. I would bet (though I've never heard officially) that one is in the works for the public sometime in the future. My guess is that closer to the end of the run of The Complete Peanuts, we'll see one.
Again, I stress that this is just my own guess.
Stephan, did you move to Santa Rosa because it was Charles Schulz's home and you thought his genius would rub off on you?
Stephan Pastis: My wife, Staci, was born and raised in Santa Rosa (which, for those of you who aren't familiar, is about 60 miles north of San Francisco). So we returned here to be close to her family.
Sacramento, CA: Rose:
How many strips are on display at the museum?
Rose Marie McDaniel: Good question, there's approx. 100 strips on view at any one time. Our current theme in the strip gallery is Movies & Literature. Beginning Oct.6th the theme in the strip gallery is "Pigskin Peanuts" featuring lots of football related strips and a version of Charlie Brown balloon kicking the football in the annual Macy's parade. We also have a temporary gallery currently featuring parodies of Peanuts as done by MAD magazine called MAD about Peanuts. Beginning Nov. 12th the temporary gallery will feature a showing by Yoshi Otani Peanuts Found in Translation that will run through 4-11-05. Following the Yoshi show will be a show featuring Dogs throughout cartoon history co-curated by Patrick McDonnell creator of Mutts.
San Jose, Calif.:
Why is Goat your least favorite character?
P.S. Nice drawing of Zebra and Goat at the Museum Book Signings.
Stephan Pastis: I wouldn't say he's my least favorite. He's probably just the least developed. He sort of has a limited, straight guy role. But as I said earlier, I'm looking to maybe flesh out his personality a little more.
hello Stephan Pastis First I enjoy the comic very much, how hard was it to get the strip off the ground and get it syndicated ? is there a lot of competition in the daliy comics?
Stephan Pastis: It's pretty hard. Syndicates get around 3,000 to 4,000 submissions a year and they pick 1 or 2 for syndication. Then, if you're lucky enough to debut in papers, something like 5 out of 6 new strips fail in their first 3 years. But there's always room for a new strip that's funny. Over time, I think quality wins out.
Rose Marie, I know that Charles Schulz loved his home here in Santa Rosa and that Snoopy's Ice Rink next door to the museum was one of Charles Schulz's favorite places.
What other projects did he initiate in Santa Rosa?
Rose Marie McDaniel: Sparky funded many organizations without any recognition expected or received. The Schulz's funded the Schulz Libray at Sonoma State University in nearby Rohnert Park. They donated the land where Canine Companions for Independence is centered here in Santa Rosa. Sparky & Jeannie have been very generous with the Santa Rosa Community.
Do you find yourself getting more inspiration for the topics and characters in your strip from people around you and in the news, or simply from ideas you randomly think up?
Stephan Pastis: It's more of the latter. But after I draw the strips, I can frequently see that a given strip or idea must have come from a specific event in my life or from something I saw or heard. But I don't make this connection until afterwards.
Ft Washington PA:
You have about 15 minutes. Any questions for Carolyn Hax?
Stephan Pastis: I'm afraid I don't know who that is.
For the museum curator,
I love the early Peanuts strips. But my favorite cartoon of all time is Calvin and Hobbes and the creator, Bill Watterson credited Charles Schulz for the obvious influence on his work. Both cartoonists took children seriously. What did Mr. Schulz think of Calvin? Any comments you have on the connection between those two great strips?
Rose Marie McDaniel: Sparky admired the strip Calvin & Hobbes. Sparky also was dismayed by the size the newspapers were running strips but took it in stride that you couldn't change editors minds.
Both strips were fantasies.
I don't mean to be rude, but it seems to me that the fact that Mr. Schulz's strips are now hanging in a museum is perhaps an indicator that it's time for our newspapers to stop re-running them. How do you at the museum respond to people (like me) who think that Peanuts should make way for new voices on the comics page?
Jason Hillyer: Of course, I'm biased and hope Peanuts runs in newspapers around the world for generations to come. Very few of the strips date themselves and they still hold up (humor and drawing-wise) against newer strips.
However, you do bring up a valid point. Cartooning is an extremely competitive field and very difficult to break in to. I've often wondered what Mr. Schulz' response would be to your question. Newspaper editors will continue to run Peanuts in their papers as long as their readers demand it. A few papers did just what you suggested at the end of Peanuts original run and reinstated it after the backlash from readers.
History, I think, has shown us (with The Far Side, Calvin and Hobbes, Pearls Before Swine, etc) that new great strips will always find their way onto the comic page.
I'm curious as to what the rest of you out there think.
For the past 19 months I've been "paperless" when it comes to as many things as possible - including newspapers. Fortunately, there are an abundance of online resources to take the place of most things I would normally read in the Washington Post or New York Times (such as their respective websites) and many of my comic picks (such as yours). However, this past Monday I found myself in the odd position of knowing that there was a joke in the strip, finding the idea of the joke funny, yet not being able to READ the joke due to the scan quality of the strip on the website.
As the author of the strip, I would be interested both in your thoughts pertaining to your strips being available online in general, and also to the issue of whether (for example) you think Monday's strip should be rescanned to give the full impact of the punchline both to current readers as well as future readers (since these online versions could be all that remains of the strips in 200 years).
Stephan Pastis: Yes, I know it wasn't readable online, which is too bad. It was readable (barely) in papers though.
Being online has been huge for Pearls. It draws fans from all across the country, who in turn write their papers and ask their papers to run the strip. If Pearls were not available online, they would have no way of knowing about it, and would never write their paper. Pearls has picked up many a paper from fans who wrote their newspapers like that. It's been a tremendous boost.
Foggy Bottom, Washington, D.C.:
I was at the museum in August and thought it was fantastic! I loved the great collection of comics and the depth of Shulz's talent.
My question is whether the museum plans to sell framed comic strips to the public? Seems like a great way to make some money and for the public to be able to get some memorable comic strips.
Jason Hillyer: We do not plan to sell framed strips to the public. However, one can get reprints of favorite strips through Comics.com, I believe.
Here's a question for Suzanne, although I'd welcome everyone's feedback.
What is the justification for the censorship of this week's Boondocks?
Suzanne Tobin: We ran the strips, which were about Russell Simmons starting a new reality show called, and I quote, "Can a N**** Get a Job?" past a variety of people in the newsroom. Finally we went to the executive director, Len Downie, who has the final say. He decided to pull them. The syndicate had sent substitutes, where they replaced the letter N with another asterisk and made some other adjustments. But we decided that the storyline, which included such stereotypes such as contestants quitting when asked to be on time, a contestant being fired for smoking weed in the boardroom, and two women contestants attacking each other with knives (the syndicate's substitute changed that to them just fighting) was still a bit too much for our broad audience. We have gotten numerous complaints about "Boondocks" which you know if you read the Free for All page in the A section on Saturdays, because several of the letters have been printed there.
It's a difficult decision, which is why it was kicked up to Len Downie. I talked to a features editor at another paper, who happens to be a black woman, and she struggled with the decision, running it by various people, young and old, black and white, in her newsroom. She finally decided to run the original strips Monday through Friday, and use the substitute strip, which toned down the knife fight to just a fist fight, on Saturday.
I know many people, including Gene Weingarten, take us to task for censoring the comics, but I don't want to see "Boondocks" get killed from the newspaper entirely. I think if last week's strips had run, we would have had a firestorm of calls for its removal.
I don't expect Boondocks fans to agree, but look at "Free for All" tomorrow because I know they were considering a letter from an irate reader before I left to come out here, and you'll get an idea of the other side's opinions.
Tucker, GA (The Next Great International City):
To answer your question, yes I did attend Beaglefest in July along with my wife. This was our secend one to attend, the first being four years ago.
Seeing the new museum was a real treat for both of us. You all have done a tremendous job there.
I had particular interest in the MAD parodies exhibit as I have been a Mad Magazine fan (I started to say phenatic but I didn't know how to spell it) since its beginning.
Rose Marie McDaniel: This is Rose Marie, I'm answering since I co-curated the MAD about Peanuts show. Since Sparky alone did all the work on Peanuts, the museum couldn't show progression in his work, and so we attempted to show this through the MAD exhibit. Since I had so many MAD artist friends, it seemed a natural that I'd be able to borrow some MAD originals for the show.
Jason, how does the Schulz Museum compare to the other museums you've worked in? And can you tell us where you worked before?
Jason Hillyer: My other museums were hands-on science centers (COSI, in both Columbus and Toledo) and a historical village.
As this is my first art museum, they really don't compare. I love talking Peanuts with people all day.
Sacramento, Calif.: Stephen, :
What's the timeline from creation, submission and finally, pulication for your daily strips?
Stephan Pastis: Most cartoonists, I think, work between 2 and 6 weeks ahead of publication. I'm actually 8 1/2 months ahead of deadline. So the strips I draw today will not be seen until next May or June. The only exception to this is when I substitute in a strip I just drew for one already scheduled to run. For example, I wanted to comment on the recent theft of the Edward Munch paintings, so I recently did a strip that I subbed in to run tomorrow.
I just wanted to post that Pearls Before Swine is one of two comic strips that I read daily (the other is Boondocks).
I think it's definitely one of the best out there, and I love the album cover parodies!
Stephan Pastis: Thank you very much. I appreciate that. If you like album parodies, you may like the new Pearls book that just came out this week, "Sgt. Piggy's Lonely Hearts Club Comic." The cover is a parody of the Beatles Sgt. Pepper's album.
Takoma Park, Md.:
Mr. Pastis great comic. Do you think you could ever do what Bill Watterson did and retire rather than sell out?
Stephan Pastis: Thank you very much. I plan on retiring next year.
No, no, no...Just kidding there.
I'll quit when doing the strip is no longer fun.
I love your strip. Is there any chance that Goat will get a storyline? He's sort of a blank slate right now.
Stephan Pastis: Yeah, one day he will. I'm always tempted to make him a lawyer, so I can bring my lawyer days into the strip.
Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio:
What was the deleted ending to the comic "Pearls and Swine" dated Aug. 31, 2004? Michael Jackson is totally fair game!
Stephan Pastis: I wish I could say, but I can't. You'll have to talk to my syndicate.
Snoopy is very famous and popular in Japan, too and everybody knows him. However, we have less chances to learn about the other characters or Sparky himself. I was so shocked when one of my friends told me that he had believed that Snoopy was drawn by a female cartoonist. Do you have any plans to introduce more about Sparky in Japan in the future?
Jason Hillyer: Snoopy was drawn by Mr. Schulz.
Maybe in the future we'll develop another traveling exhibition that will make it's way to Japan. In the meantime, I invite you to check out our web site (www.schulzmuseum.org) or better yet visit us here in Santa Rosa. We get thousands of visitors here from Japan every month.
Since the comics page is primarily for kids do you have any concerns about your strip being included on that page? Should your strip be moved to a different section of the paper like Doonesbury, Dilbert and Tom the Dancing Bug have been in the Washington Post? Where do you think humor about beer-bongs and killing your neighbor would be most appropriate?
Stephan Pastis: I don't it's appropriate to discuss beer bongs on the comics page. Nor death. Death is inappropriate.
Sacramento, CA : Pastis:
Where do you see Rat in 5 years?
Stephan Pastis: Rat will join the priesthood and devote his life to helping others.
I think Pears Before Swine is an awesome strip! I really love the mouse!
My question: I am also a cartoonist and I draw really good, however do sometimes struggle with the writing. I read at TOONERHEAD-ONLINE that you buy gags from Guy Gilchrist and Rex May among others. Do you recommend this route and how would I reach your stable of writers?
Stephan Pastis: I write all of my own strips, except the bad ones, which Darby Conley writes for me.
Santa Clarita, Calif.:
What kind of coffee do you drink? It must be good for you to be eight months ahead of schedule. I've got to get me some.
Stephan Pastis: I have very sophisticated taste in coffee. Currently, I'm drinking a rather obscure brand called "Folgers."
Stephan, did you do any comic strips before "Pearls"? Where did the name of the strip orginate?
Stephan Pastis: The name of the strip comes from Matthew 7:6: "Don't cast your pearls before swine."
And yes, I did two prior strips involving Rat (called "Rat"), a strip called "Bradbury Road" and a strip called "The Infirm", which was about a law firm associate. I sent all them to the syndicates, but they were all rejected.
I also did a strip called "Get Fussy" about a fussy Siamese cat named "Buffy" and a cute dog named "Snatchel", which I submitted to the syndicates in 1998. I never heard back from them on that, and I understand the entire concept has now been later lifted by another artist.
Litigation is pending.
Thanks to my guests, and to everyone here at the offices of the Schulz Museum who has been so patient as we commandeered their offices to do this chat. And to our Post readers, the next time you come to Northern California for a wine tour or to visit San Francisco, plan to visit the museum. It is an absolutely gorgeous facility with wonderful exhibits. I'm sorry you won't have a chance to see the Mad parodies exhibit, which is a complete riot, because it's closing Sept. 27th. And Santa Rosa is just a lovely place in and of itself. I'm sorry I've only had a day here, and I definitely plan on returning.
I hope you all will join me again in two weeks, when Lynn Johnston, creator of "For Better or For Worse" will be our guest.
From California, this is Suzanne Tobin saying, Hasta la vista, baby!