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Comics: Meet the Artist

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Tony Cochran
Cartoonist, "Agnes"
Friday, September 1, 2006; 1:00 PM

Join Washington Post Comics page editor Suzanne Tobin online once 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 was by " Agnes " cartoonist Tony Cochran to discuss his eight-week tryout in The Post.

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Tony Cochran: Hello everybody! It looks like I'm all alone here. I've never done this before, interview myself I mean. Suzanne is having trouble getting online. I will try to be easy on myself.

My name is Tony Cochran and I do the comic strip Agnes which has been in the Washington Post for the last 8 weeks. I will be the first to agree they were the most hilarious comic strips I ever read. I would like to thank the Washington Post for letting me conduct such a one sided interview.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: How long have you been drawing "Agnes"? How did you come up with your characters? Did you have cartoon characters when you were in school and, if so, do any of them have any resemblance to your existing characters?

Tony Cochran: Agnes was syndicated in 1999. All of my art before I went to the Columbus College of Art and Design looked like cartoons. But I majored in fine arts there and it transitioned to large paintings, both figurative and egocentric. However, after graduating, getting married, and spending 15 years working in an auto body shop waiting to be discovered by the hooty-tooty art people in New York and Los Angeles, I went back to cartooning. I had a lot of success painting, but never enough to quit the day job. But one day my patient and understanding wife, Vickie, gave me the go ahead to do the art thing full time. I got a studio in an old casket manufacturing building and chased success with mixed results. One month I was out of canvas and reluctant to ask my patient and understanding wife for one more check to buy supplies. So I began using up my paper. Agnes showed up in my sketchbook one day. She wouldn't be quiet and hasn't been quiet since.

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Santa Fe, New Mexico: Agnes' Grandma looks awfully familiar to me. Was she ever a Lunch Lady in Upstate New York?

Tony Cochran: She has that haggard look, doesn't she? I wouldn't take that lunch lady job if I was down to my last quarter tank of gas. My sister-in-law, June, has that gig. I've heard a lot of stories. She doesn't look like Granma either, by the way. People write to me and tell me that they ARE Grandma. They tell me they ARE Trout. And you wouldn't believe how many people are running around this country who believe that they ARE Agnes. And they see nothing wrong with that!! Yikes!!! I am flattered, though, that they find the characters so real and identify with them so readily.

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San Diego, Calif.: Who are some of your favorite fine artists? Who are some of your favorite comic artists (art only, not judging text or comedy)?

Did you read the funnies as a kid? Which ones?

Tony Cochran: I liked Jasper Johns, Robert Crumb, Herrimen, Larry Rivers. They are all of the same caliber whether fine artists or cartoonists. I don't differentiate as much as I used to. My favorite comic as a kid was probably Dondi. I was a sad little kid:-)

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Columbus, Ohio: Who was the inspiration for Trout? Why does she have such a big nose.

Tony Cochran: My inspiration for Trout was a best friend of mine, Mark. To understand why her nose is so big, you should see his honker from hell! That won't hurt his feelings because he knows already.

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Columbus, Ohio: I LOVE Agnes! She often speaks from my soul. I think she is rich in many ways, but do people ever tell you they think it is sad Agnes is so poor?

Tony Cochran: Poverty has nothing to do with money for Agnes. She can glean elation from a fine sandwich. She finds her richness in anticipation more than the actual culmination. In other words, hope is cool enough in the journey. I have met both truly miserable rich people and some truly financially challenged people whose faces shine with joy. Of course, I've met really happy rich people and miserable poor people. I think it's about attitude. Agnes has a good attitude.

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Washington, D.C.: Nice stereotyping in your math camp arc. People who are good at math don't necessarily hate the fine arts, you know (think Leonardo da Vinci?)

I'm sick of people like you -- I rock Calculus, but I still love Hemingway.

Tony Cochran: I wasn't stereotyping people who are good at math, I was stereotyping with my own character people who are afraid of math. Please don't be sick of Agnes yet. I hope you get to read her for a long time. Numbers hurt my own head. I am jealous of people like you.

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New York, NY: Do you ever think about Agnes when you're NOT working and away from your studio?

Tony Cochran: It's sad, but YES. She's there all the time making her sardonic comments in my head. It would be mental illness if I wasn't getting paid for this. Seriously, I need to look at things from my point of view and then Agnes's in order to distill the writing process. I write all the time no matter where I am. I was even captured writing on the jumbotron when I was suppose to be watching hockey.

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Oakton, Va.: Did you receive my first comment?

Bud Grace

Tony Cochran: No . Please send again. If it was kind:-)

Their still having some tech problems.

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Dayton OH: I love Granma, but wonder why Agnes lives with her. Where are Agnes's parents?

Tony Cochran: I followed Agnes home one day and that just happened to be her living arrangment. With the history of families in this country it was no surprise to find her parents absent and even less of a surprise to find that her Grandmother had unselfishly stepped up to the plate. Unselfish love is the key to a functional family.

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Cleveland, Ohio: Why do you draw girls? If inspired by guys or a guy why not draw a middle aged guy with a big nose?

Tony Cochran: If you take a small girl, her point of view, and run it through the brain of a middle aged man, it stands a greater chance of coming out funny than middle aged man point of view coming out of a middle aged man writing about a middle aged man.

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Alexandria, Va.: What's your take on all the zombie strips cluttering up the comics pages? Will you pass the torch on to your child after 60 years of drawing "Agnes?"

Tony Cochran: People ask me what I think of classic Peanuts being in the paper. I tell them "If John Glenn died would we continue shooting him off into space and marvelling at his accomplishments?" I don't call them Zombie strips because I've met many of the Zombie authors. When I die, Agnes dies.

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Japan: Tony,

Will there be more "Agnes" books?

Tony Cochran: Agnes has 2 compilation books right now. The first published was "I'm Far Too Young to Look this Hot." The second is "I Have Tampered With the Divine Plan." The title of the third hasn't been decided yet. I am taking suggestions. I'm also considering Agnes books that don't follow the standard compilation book format. One lady wrote and told me to put all of Agnes's school strips into one book and make it required reading for new teachers. Sounds like fun. BTW, books are not the only merchandising opportunities. I'll keep you posted.

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San Diego, Calif.: How far ahead to you draw your strip?

What type pen do you use?

Do you test any ideas with your wife before submitting them?

Are you ever tempted to slip in comment about current events?

Karyl Miller

Tony Cochran: I filter all of the strips through my wife and she finds the spelling hilarious even if little else. I use Microns and Sharpies to draw. I think current events are a myth. I'm about 6 months ahead. I need time for any possible cardiac events or health failures. I have no back up people.

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Huntsville, Ala: Are you Catholic? You seem depressed and confused. I think you are. If so would you consider converting?

Tony Cochran: Converting would be a sin. I'm not depressed and confused because that would be a sin. I have to admit I'm Catholic or it would be a sin of denial. Otherwise, the faith has no affect on me.

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Suzanne Tobin: Tony, please accept my apologies for all the technical difficulties. I'm going to blame it on Ernesto...yeah, that's the ticket! Ernesto is wreaking havoc on our little corner of the Internet.

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San Diego, CA: Are there ever going to be Agnes dolls? Or Agnes calendars etc? What do you think of the shameless merchandising of comic strip characters?

Tony Cochran: I am more than willing to discuss any merchandising that is either shameless of profitable. I will not jeopardize the integrity of my characters, but I confess to being not just a little worried about how much money I have to retire on someday. Most cartoonists are not listed on Forbes list, you know.

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Providence, R.I.: Hi, Tony: I can't seem to log on to my own Web site. Pretty pitiful. I'm here in Providence in my son's basement apartment and I can see the questions, but whenever I try to answer it says "unauthorized." What would Agnes have to say about this situation? -- Suzanne

Tony Cochran: I once again want to thank the Washington Post for this opportunity to moderate my questions to me. This is a lot of fun and will go on how long? This question is from my moderator wh cannot get on the site. I hope it's a clean basement. Do I have to answer the questions that have swear words?

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Edgewater, Colorado: Please would you tell us what brand of footwear Agnes wears?

Miss Amy

Librarian

Tony Cochran: Agnes wears simulated imported Spanish vinyl Winklepickers. She gets them 5 for $1 at Save Mart.

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Suzanne Tobin: You can go as long as you have questions you want to answer...

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Martin, Tenn.: Tony,

What is the process of doing "Agnes"? From drawing it to sending it to your syndicate.

How do you color your Sundays?

Tony Cochran: Write. Write. Write. Throw away the bad stuff. Pencil in the dialogue of the good stuff on template of bristol board. Ink it. Draw the characters in pencil. Ink them. Agonize for 2 hours if I could have written it better. White out where it can be improved. Change my mind again. Reink. I color my Sundays with magic markers. I copy, stamp, and mail. I hope this helps. I don't use a computer. I'm a tech dinosaur and I like the smell of eraser dust.

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Suzanne Tobin: Tony, of course the room isn't clean!!!! This is a male college student we're talking about. Was YOUR room clean when you were in college! I think not. Thanks for being so willing to roll with the punches today. I feel Miss Manners would have my head for inviting someone online and not even showing up to moderate properly. But it's not for lack of trying, I swear.

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New York, N.Y.: What makes "Agnes" so popular?

Tony Cochran: I think, from my fan mail, it's her total flawedness. There is nothing perfect or ideal or dishonest about her. I think she is someone a lot of people can identify with. She is ageless.

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Dayton OH: Tony, I LOVE Agnes's pink sponge curler. If Agnes ever takes the form of a doll, PLEASE include the pink sponge curler!

Denise in Dayton OH

Tony Cochran: YES! I love the curler too. My wife use to come to the door when we were dating with them impailed in her head. I never go t over the horror. We're still together, so it couldn't be too bad.

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UpMo, MD: Ummm...could you just explain Agnes to me? I think I'm the mother of that kid...

Tony Cochran: If I could explain Agnes she wouldn't be funny to me. If you are the Mother, my sympathies and my envy. All your stories shuld be saved for a future date and you will find them funny too.

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Burke, VA: Of the three test comics I've enjoyed yours the most. If there is no more Boondocks, I'd like yours to take its place.

Tony Cochran: Thank you!!!! I appreciate the vote of confidence. Tell everyone, especially the Washington Post!!!!

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Los Angeles, CA: I agree with your wife, you ARE a dreadful speller!

Tony Cochran: This is obviously an unabashed slam from my editor. I would mention her name, but that's why she did this:-) Kathy, you are a vice president now. Get back to work!

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Suzanne Tobin: Speaking of pink curlers, I worked until 1 a.m. last night and decided that if I went to sleep, I probably wouldn't make my 8 a.m. flight. So I'm at BWI and this older woman comes to the gate with a pink curler in the same place as Agnes's! I almost asked if she was a fan of the strip, but thought she might think I was dangerous and call security. It's the first time I've seen someone in public with a visible curler in years! But then again, I spend most of my time either at work or at soccer games, so I probably don't see a representative sample of the population.

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San Diego, CA: Cartoonists aren't on the Forbes list, but you've gotta admit you guys live the life of Riley - spending your workday in your pajamas and drawing funny pictures and getting paid for it!

Tony Cochran: I admit it looks easy, but I'll have you know I wear a suit to work. I also drive around during rush hour and pretend I have a place to go. This way I can enjoy road rage with the rest of you. It's more work than it looks, but it doesn't look like much I admit.

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Suzanne Tobin: So if you can't spell, does your wife do the lettering for you? Or does she just snicker, correct it and leave the drudgery to you?

Tony Cochran: Vickie's lettering would be much better than mine. Mine looks like I did it riding shot gun in a cement truck, but it's unique.

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capitol hill: i'm falling in love with little agnes. she is a breath of fresh air! i don't even miss the boondocks. (please don't get me started on the pajama diaries---so awful!).

really, please keep agnes!

Tony Cochran: Thank you for the plug!! Tell the paper. Tell everyone you know. This has been a paid announcement:-)

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Plain City, Ohio: Will you ever introduce an Amish person into your comic?

Tony Cochran: I would never preclude the Amish. Never say never. It's up to Agnes.

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Oakton, Va.: Hi Tony. I've really enjoyed Agnes in this, my home town paper. There's nothing better than pure, simple humor as far as I'm concerned. Yours is terrific. - Bud Grace, Piranha Club

Tony Cochran: Thanks, Bud! It's always a special compliment when a fellow Forbes lister makes one. I enjoy your strip too.

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San Diego, Calif.: Are you ever tempted to have Agnes grow up or make any other drastic changes in the strip?

Tony Cochran: Oh yes I'm tempted to make drastic changes, but it would not be good art. You see, the continuity in comic strips is the art of the comic strip. People want to see a strip like Agnes in the format that they learn to love her in. I would not have wanted to see Charlie Brown as a lanky teenager with problem skin.

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Alexandria, Va: In your opinion what is the better comic strip Little Nemo or Krazy Kat?

Tony Cochran: I will answer that question one way. If something is good, that's good enough. When you try to categorize soemthing as best, then you start fights. Of course, you have to decide now which of the 3 replacement strips was the best. I hope there's no bloodshed:-)

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Miami, Fla.: If you could be a fruit which would you be? Which would each of the people in your strip be? How about if you were cars?

Tony Cochran: Apple-...plum...avocado...orange slice...cars, um...32 Deuce...Echo...Prius...53 Buick

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San Diego, Calif.: Could Agnes be animated, like Peanuts? What would her voice sound like?

Tony Cochran: Anything's possible in this day and age, but I wouldn't know how to do it. It's risky. Her voice would sound like this. "Hi. I'm Agnes. Don't make fun of my voice."

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San Diego, Calif.: I just love Agnes. There's nothing like her in the paper today. She's got real character and she's funny. I want to know how Cochran happened to channel this fascinating little person with the big feet.

Tony Cochran: I don't know where she came from, but I'm glad she chose me. I hope the Washington Post chooses her. It's a high compliment to be in such a distinguished paper.

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Tony Cochran: Sorry, gotta go. This has been a ot of fun answering the questions I moderated. Suzanne is here now and I will let her clean up the auditorium. Anybody who wants to contact me can email at wordbaloon@aol.com. I'll get back to you as soon as I can. Thanks again to the Washington Post, Suzanne, and Liz for this great opportunity. And thanks to my wife, Vickie, for typing like a madwoman for an hour and a half.

See ya!!!!

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Suzanne Tobin: Thanks, Tony, for your quick thinking and your willingness to interview yourself. I must say you're no Mike Wallace. You've been such a good sport. And let me take this opportunity to remind everyone to let us know if you'd like to see "Agnes" have a permanent spot in our comics pages. You can call our hotline at 202-334-4775, e-mail us at comics@washpost.com or write Comics Feedback, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington D.C. 20071. Also, we asked the syndicate for a firm date on "Boondocks" return, but they don't have one yet. We will keep you informed once they let us know. I'll be back in October with another guest. In the meantime, tune in to Gene Weingarten's chat on Tuesdays for more comics discussion.

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