Friday, June 4, 2004; 1:00 PM
Welcome to the Washington Post Style section comics discussion, hosted by Comics page editor Suzanne Tobin. This week, Tobin welcomes Greg Evans of "Luann," recipient of the National Cartoonist Society's Reuben Award for "Cartoonist of the Year."
Evans joined Tobin online Friday, June 4 at 1 p.m. ET to discuss "Luann" 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.
Welcome, comics fans, to another edition of "Comics: Meet the Artist." Today our guest is Greg Evans, creator of "Luann" since 1985. Unfortunately, the Post hasn't yet found room for "Luann" on its comics pages, but we didn't want to miss this opportunity to congratulate such a talented person because of that little snafu. On Saturday night, I was fortunate enough to be in Kansas City when Greg was named Cartoonist of the Year by his peers in the National Cartoonists Society. Congratulations, Greg and welcome!
Greg Evans: Thank you. It's great to be here.
Hi. I don't think I can be in the live chat from JAPAN since my Internet provider screwed up their Internet and on certain times, it's not working, so I'm gonna say this in advance.
I basically want to congratulate you for winning Reuben Award for Best Cartoonist category.
Greg Evans: It's a thrill to win the Reuben. Joining the likes of Charles Schulz, Milton Caniff and Bill Watterson gives me a definite "I'm not worthy" feeling.
Do you ever feel constrained by your choice of subject matter? There's only so much that can go on in a high school, and Luann presumably can never graduate, go to college, or become an adult. Are you concerned that at some point, you're going to have to recycle themes and plots?
Greg Evans: My strip lives in an odd world someplace between Beetle Bailey and For Better Or For Worse. The characters have real lives and experiences and they do change, but they don't really age. This formula provides both advantages and difficulties. It's something I struggle with all the time.
Hi Greg, it's Cathy. You've probably been asked a thousand times, Is Luann based on your family? The characters, unless Peanuts, have been gradually growing older. What happens when Luann and the gang graduate from high school? I asked before and said not to tell me, but Will Brad get the girl? Don't answer that!
Greg Evans: Luann was inspired by my pre-teen daughter (who's now 25). For now, I have no plans to age Luann or have her graduate. But never say never.
Falls Church, Va.:
Hi... thanks for Luann. It's a really insightful, sensitive strip -- but still a lot of fun. It's the first thing I read when I come to the office in the morning.
When are you going to let Brad finally grow up? You did it for Luann, and it feels like he's overdue. I like his emotional and mental maturity, but I'm tired of his slavishness at home... it doesn't fit with the rest of his nature anymore. Will it happen when he starts firefighting basic?
Greg Evans: Brad's going to evolve into a slightly higher lifeform. He'll be more responsible but still be the pain in Luann's side. I don't want him to get so "good" that he's no longer funny. Conflict is funny, harmony isn't.
I think the way you draw "hot looking" characters like Zane with a few pen strokes is original. How did you learn to do this? Do you start with a more complex drawing, then minimalize it?
Greg Evans: Designing new characters is always challening - and fun. I did about 200 sketches of Zane before I got him right.
As a man who has passed out of his high school years long ago (I assume), from where do you draw your inspiration for your characters? They are all so rich and multifaceted, and teenagers are hard to depict, in any media. You do a terrific job of pinning down teenaged life in just a few words.
Greg Evans: I try to keep current on teen trends by watching the WB, reading teen magazines, being observant at the mall. My 3 kids are all grown, married and gone. Maybe I need to hire "Rent A Teen."
St. Mary's City, Md.:
I initially got into "Luann" because I was a sucker for the storyline about Luann's unrequited love for Aaron. But what kept me reading was the depth of the characters and the strip's realism.
As your cast has moved into their teenage years, you've maintained that realism, with one glaring exception -- Tiffany. She's become a shallow soap-opera villain. Surely, Tiffany's craving for male attention is rooted in insecurity. If Tiffany had the same degree of realism as the other characters, we would see some hint of her insecurity. Maybe her parents are divorced and/or have problems with gambling or alcohol, and she's really jealous of Luann's stable home life.
Greg Evans: Tiffany is one of my favorite characters because she's so evil. Actors prefer to play the bad guy over the good guy and it's the same with writing. You're right about Tiffany's background - there's a definite story there and I intend to explore it someday.
You seem to have a keen understanding of both the male and female teenage psyche and the resulting relationships. How do you get this so right?
Greg Evans: I think the key to a good comic strip is to have interesting characters who do compelling things - it doesn't really matter if they're teens or adults or cats. And you need to write from the heart.
Greg, how did your children react when they were the same age as Luann? Did you ever embarrass them nationally?
Greg Evans: Altho Luann was inspired by my daughter, the two are nothing alike (except for the messy room!) So my daughter never had moments of "My dad is using my life in his strip and embarrassing me in front of the whole planet."
College Park, Md.:
Congratulations on winning the Reuben, what other goals do you still have now that you've won the highest award from your peers? And what exactly do cartoonists do when they get together at a convention?
Greg Evans: Schulz said "once you win the Reuben, you can't think of a good gag for a month." I hope that doesn't happen. I'm inspired by the award to do my very best to deserve it.
New York, N.Y.:
It is good that you have a main character who is basically good but has flaws. Sometimes Luann comes across so self-centered, I feel like she should go over a parent's knees. Have you ever felt like that about her, or are you able to keep yourself detached from your characters?
Greg Evans: My characters ARE me, so I guess I'm self-centered.
Silver Spring, Md.:
Hi, my name's Amy, and I am a college student in Santa Fe, NM, as well as an aspiring cartoonist. I was wondering if you might be able to offer me any advice in regards to becoming syndicated. How did you start? How long did it take you to get your work published? What steps did you have to go through? Thanks!;
Greg Evans: I'm always glad to see females interested in cartooning. We need more feminine points of view on the comic page. Go to LuannsRoom.com and click the "So you want to be a cartoonist" link. I've written all I know on the subject. Good luck!
You have dealt with some pretty important topics, Delta's lymphoma, Zane, Brad and wanting to protect the girl from an abusive relationship and give her room to make her own decision, HS politics. What's next?
Greg Evans: I try to mix humor and serious topics. For now, I'm in a humor mode. No Big Issues on the horizon.
Hey, Greg, I remember when I was in high school you did a series of strips featuring fashion drawings by your readers. Do you think you'll ever do that again? I've got a niece who dreams of being the next Coco Chanel.
Greg Evans: The Fashion Show was a lot of fun to do, but also a lot of work. We got 17,000 drawings! Still, I'd like to do something like that again someday.
I remember the series you did when Delta had cancer, and especially the Sunday when she got her favorite Christmas present: the knowledge that she was in remission and her hair growing back. Did you know someone who was battling cancer? Or what gave you the idea for that storyline? It really did illustrate that attitude is everything.
Greg Evans: A dear friend inspired that storyline. He died, but his spirit and humor was incredible right to the end.
Hi, Mr. Evans:
I'm a relatively new reader of Luann and was wondering if she's always been a teenager. Do you plan to age her at any point, or is she going to be like Jeremy in Zits and stay 15 forever?
Greg Evans: When Luann began 19 years ago, she was 13. A few years back, I felt she'd grown and matured, so I gave her her first birthday and aged her to 16. Will she ever have another birthday? I just don't know. If I keep aging her, pretty soon I'll be doing "Cathy."
Which comics strips influenced you in your career as a
cartoonist? And did I read Luann is going to become a TV
show? Will it be animated?
Greg Evans: Ask 100 cartoonists and 99 will say "Peanuts." Me, too.
Dick Clark Productions is working to sell a live action (not animated) sitcom. So far, no luck. I'm learning that, in Hollywood, they talk fast and move slow.
What is your work style? Do you produce strips at a steady pace, do you work in batches, or do you vary your pace? How far ahead do you tend to work, or have you ever found yourself falling behind? If so, what do you do then?
Greg Evans: I work a pretty typical work schedule. I stay 2 months ahead. I've never been behind. I'm compulsive that way.
Greg Evans: Hold on. FedEx just dropped off a box....
Hey, folks, guess what - it's my REUBEN AWARD!
If any of you have seen one of these things, it's big, heavy and lethal looking. In an era of tweezer confiscation, the Reuben would be impossible to take on an airplane (the Reuben weekend was in Kansas City, I'm in San Diego). So, it was shipped... and here it is!! (I'm holding it up to my computer screen).
Hi, I'm just signing on here...I absolutely love reading Luann, and do so daily, and would like to know, if you'll actually say it, whether or not Luann's brother will ever wind up "getting the girl", so to speak!; I'm starting to feel rather sorry for the poor guy, as he really doesn't seem that bad...except for his eating and dressing habits!; May be a stupid question, but I'd really like to know...
Greg Evans: Lots of people have asked about what's going to happen with various stories. Hey, I can't tell you. If I tell, you'll stop reading!
New York, N.Y.:
Since your daughter was different from Luann, how would you react as a parent if your daughter acted like Luann? Do you think she should go over your knees as suggested previously, or is an OK kid?
Greg Evans: I think Luann's a typical teen: full of contradictions and emotional instability. Having raised teens, I think patience and a good sense of humor are critical to the survial of both parent and teen.
Did you ever see The Onion article about you. They had some really funny things from your "sketch book" did you help create that or did they just have someone really good at mimicing your style?
Greg Evans: I was really flattered by that. No, I had nothing to do with it. I was impressed by how well they captured my style.
Mr. Evans, You've tackled a lot of controversial topics in your strip (drugs, Luann's first period, etc.) Do you think you'll ever do a storyline on gays or gay marriage, since it's so much in the news these days? I remember how much grief Lynn Johnston got when she introduced her gay character in "For Better or Worse." But it seems like gays are the only "politically correct" prejudice in high schools. I think it would be great if you would tackle this one, too.
Greg Evans: There are several "touchy" topics I'd love to explore in Luann but can't risk. For Better Or For Worse is in about 2500 papers. I'm only in 400. Lynn can afford to lose a few clients. I can't.
I have e-mailed you before Greg, and you wrote back, but I just want to emphasize that you are my favorite EVER! I have literally grown up with Luann, having my birthday the same day she debuted. I hope that Luann will join The Washington Post soon!;
Greg Evans: Thank you! I appreciate all of you who've written with compliments. And I'd LOVE Luann to be in the WP! I hope you'll all write to the editor.
The cartoonists society named their top award after a sandwich? What gives?
Greg Evans: Yes. We're a hungry bunch.
The Reuben was named after the first president of the National Cartoonists Society, Rube Goldberg, who also designed the award
We always welcome feedback from our readers on what strips they would like to see. Every day, on the second comics page, under the crossword, we print the phone number and e-mail for reader feedback. In case you don't read our print edition, here it is. Call 202-334-4775 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Keep those cards and letters coming!
How much of your (then) pre-teen daughter can be found in Luann"? (Don't worry: we're certain she'll never read this.) Did you get ideas from actual life, or are your ideas basically fictional?
Greg Evans: Early on, many of my ideas came from real life. Now, most are fictional.
Earlier in the chat:
"Irvine, Calif.: 'Hi Greg, it's Cathy.'"
"Cathy" lives in Irvine? AAACKKK!;!; And she's writing in to your chat!; How many other comic-strip characters do you count among your fans?
-- S. Forth
Greg Evans: As far as I know, EVERY comic strip character reads Luann. So does Bart Simpson.
Hi, Greg, thanks for taking my question. If all of the characters are you, as you said earlier, does that mean you have multiple personality disorder? Seriously, which characters reflect which parts of your personality?
Greg Evans: All of us cartoonists have multiple personalities. Schulz did. It's the only way we can create multiple characters that ring true. Maybe that's why I have trouble with my one black character, Delta (as Schulz had trouble with his)
Virginia Beach, Va.:
I'm a "Gunther" on the road of life, so I'm wondering: A few years ago, you did a survey of who Luann should ultimately end up with, with the result that she should end up with Gunther (after all, he treats her so much better than Aaron does).
Are you ever going to follow through, and let Gunther "Go Cool(ish)" and finally win the heart of fair Luann from Aaron? Or are we forever going to be teased about where Luann's true love truly lies?
Oh, and as for an idea... Luann, the College Years, is still going to be rich inspiration for a comic strip.
Greg Evans: Hooking up characters can kill a strip (or a TV show. Remember "Moonlighting"?) The pursuit is interesting... the actual romance isn't.
Is this to say that Luann will never experience romance? Stay tuned...
Congratulations on a well-deserved award.
I've been reading Luann for a while and it looks like something non-funny is going to happen at some point with Toni and her boyfriend. Am I on target?
By the way, I personally enjoy the plot lines over the gags. The parade thing, Luann's "positive personality," and so on.
Greg Evans: Thanks to all of you who've sent congrats on the Reuben. I appreciate it.
As for gags vs. plots... I enjoy writing both and I try to alternate. When Luann began, it was all gag. About the 4th year, I began doing stories. Recently, the strip's become quite story heavy. Currently, I'm being a bit lighter. I have no real formula. It's all seat-of-the-pants. And I always end up annoying someone!
LOL at Luann going to prom with TJ and Tiffany getting jealous. I loved Brad's reaction and warning TJ.
Thanks, Greg for writing Luann, you have given us (our household) many laughs.
Greg Evans: Doing Luann these past 19 years has been a joy. I always wanted to be a cartoonist and I feel fulfilled and fortunate.
Thanks for your kind words about my work. I know Luann doesn't appeal to everyone, but no comic strip is supposed to. I value all my fans and appreciate the compliments you send.
Congrats on having the Rueben, live and in person!;
Greg Evans: Thank you all for being here when my Reuben arrived! It's been fun chatting. Sorry I couldn't get to all your questions. I should have paid more attention in my junior high typing class.
I'm going to go sit and stare at my award now.
Thanks so much, Greg, for taking time out to chat with our readers. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting you and all the other cartoonists at the NCS convention F2F. I hope you and everyone else will join us again in two weeks for another edition of "Comics: Meet the Artist."
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