Friday, May 18, 1 p.m. ET

Meet the Comics Pages

Bill Amend, Dave Coverly and Dan Piraro
Cartoonists -- "Fox Trot," "Speed Bump" and "Bizarro"
Friday, May 18, 2007; 1:00 PM

Join Washington Post Comics page editor Suzanne Tobin on Friday, May 18 at 1 p.m. ET for a discussion with this year's Reuben nominees -- "Fox Trot's" Bill Amend, "Speed Bump's" Dave Coverly and "Bizarro's" Dan Piraro to discuss their National Cartoonist Society nominations and the art of cartooning.

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Baltimore, MD: Dan,

Do you still do the Baloney Show?

Dan Piraro: Sort of. The full comedy show is a tough thing to drag around, but I do a lot of public speaking, maybe 20 gigs a year, and these talks are sort of crosses between a typical talk and my comedy show.

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Chicago, IL: Congratulations on your nominations! I'm a big fan of all of your comics, but I think I have a pretty good idea who is going to win. But who do you think will win best comic strip: Zippy the Pinhead, Pearls Before Swine, or Lio? I'd love to know your thoughts on these.

Lisa Spurrows

Dan Piraro: I like all these strips but I have no idea who will win. Cartoonist of the Year is voted on by the entire NCS membership, but the category awards are voted on by an individual chapter. It's hard to predict what an individual chapter will think about a given category.

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Brooklyn, NY: There's a perception that cartoonists producing graphic novels are important and literary artists, while comic strip cartoonists are made fun of as commercial hacks. Do you feel that this is something that the media is making up? How do you feel about your own work's value?

Dan Piraro: The answer varies from person to person. Both the syndicated and graphic novel worlds have no shortage of geniuses and hacks. I like to think I'm a genius, but the truth is that I'm probably somewhere in between.

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Suzanne Tobin: Welcome, comics fans, to our annual edition of Meet the Reuben Nominees, where we have the nominees for Cartoonist of the Year on to answer your questions and listen to your comments. We usual do this live from the convention, which is next weekend in Orlando, but we're doing this a week ahead because of scheduling conflicts that day. I'm thrilled to welcome three great cartoonists: Dave Coverly of "Speed Bump" which The Post recently decided to carry 7 days a week instead of the 3 we were running it (a brilliant decision by my bosses, I must say); Bill Amend of "FoxTrot," who recently took his strip to Sundays only, much to the sadness of his many fans and Dan Piraro of "Bizarro" which is carried in our Express edition that's given out free on the Metro. Welcome, gentleman, and sign in please!

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Bill Amend: Great to be here, although this does interrupt my Friday video game time.

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Dave Coverly: Great to be here. I'm writing this from a Caribou Coffee place, by the way, in case you wonder where that lovely coffee smell is coming from.

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Suzanne Tobin: Well, folks, as you can see, Piraro, as usual, did not follow instructions, which is why his answers are above my welcome...some people, sheesh...Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.

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Indianapolis, Indiana: This question is for Dan;

Dan, with your musical abilities as well as your artistic

talents you seem like a natural for children's

entertainment. Any chance of you toying with this idea as

a future project?

Thanks! Wendy in Indy

Dan Piraro: Thanks for the compliment. I like doing comedy shows and public speaking but my favorite kinds of humor are those dealing with adult issues. I think I'd be bored doing a children's show. I wouldn't like having to keep things simple and clean. Pee Wee Herman is the only person I can think of who ever successfully did a children's show that adults could enjoy.

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First of all Congratulations to you all: Bill, since Foxtrot has become a Sunday-only strip, what have you been up to? Has anyone in Hollywood asked to make a Foxtrot movie?

Bill Amend: No calls from Hollywood yet, which is fine. My goal these days is to try to do some things outside of FoxTrot. Probably stupid from a business perspective, but neccessary from a sanity one.

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arlington: What do you plan on doing with your Reuben statue, once

you win it?

Dave Coverly: Give it back to Dan or Bill.

Bill Amend: Knowing me, I'd probably trip and impale myself on it.

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Ann Arbor, MI: Dave Coverly, you are so funny! Your cartoons always make me giggle, especially the animal ones...

Dave Coverly: Thank you. This one is obviously from my new puppy, Macy...she can type, but she still poops in her own bed. It's a real contradiction.

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Philadelphia, PA: Dan, you've recently turned your cartoonist's eye more

frequently to vegetarian and "animal rights" concerns. While I

applaud that, I'd like to know how you some up with funny

ideas to get across a topic - the needless deaths of animals -

that is inherently so unfunny?

Dan Piraro: It's not easy, thanks for noticing. It took me a long time to find a voice for these issues but eventually it started to click. Humans have always used humor to deal with dark issues, so I'm not the first. I'm glad I'm able to do it, it makes me feel like my work is worth something in the long run, beyond just a smile a day. Which is also a good thing, of course.

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Washington, DC: Bizarro is one of my favorite cartoons -- for its style and the issues presented. I'm sure you got hate mail, but do you have examples of feedback from your readers about how your cartoons have positively influenced them to be more open-minded, especially regarding our interactions animals?

Dan Piraro: Fortunately, I get more "love mail" than hate mail. I've had any number of people write to me over the years who have been positively affected by my cartoons about animal rights and the environment and changed some of their lifestyle choices as a result. That kind of stuff is what keeps me going.

Dave Coverly: Yes, but you can't count the "love mail" you get from Bill.

Bill Amend: I only send Dan love mail to make you jealous Dave.

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Atlanta, GA: A question for Bill Amend:

This question comes from a big FOXTROT fan, one who can

quote nearly every strip.

Why did you name Jason's iguana "Quincy?"

thanks, Ben

Bill Amend: Glad you enjoy the strip to such psychologically questionable levels. I had a pet hamster named Quincy when I was a kid. My little tribute to him.

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Ann Arbor, MI: Dave Coverly, I love all your cartoons! Love the animal ones especially! The cover of your last book was the best! Do you see alot of crazy animals in your town?

Dan Piraro: I've visited Dave in his hometown and he sees lots of crazy animals all the time. Even when they're not there.

Dave Coverly: That was you? I thought I was just imagining a visit from one of my favorite cartoonists...hey, maybe Charles Addams really is sitting here with me at Caribou, then...

As for the question, yes: Squirrels and Students.

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a pothole in DC: Bill,

Paige is hot, is she seeing anyone now?

Bill Amend: Paige is begging me to get your phone number. The truth is that I kinda like having Peter having a girlfriend, Jason not wanting one but sort of having one, and Paige desperately wanting a boyfriend and not having one. Makes for interesting contrasts/dynamics/conflicts.

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Dulles: So how embarassing is it that The Washington Post -- which likely has one of the best comics sections in the last -- does not carry the strip of one of the top three artists in the main paper?

Dan Piraro: A little. But the way it works is that syndicate salesmen hit the local papers and the first one to buy a strip gets it. My cartoon was picked up ages ago by the other paper in Washington, so the Post couldn't have me. No fault of mine or the Post, the other paper just acted faster and now that's where it is until they drop it.

Suzanne Tobin: We do carry Bizarro in the Express, our free tabloid paper that's distributed at Metro stations throughout the area. I'd don't handle the contracts, they have responsible adults who do that, but I know that there are times when one paper has an "exclusive" clause so that their competitor can't pick up that particular strip. I'll have to check on that. In the meantime, abandon your car and ride the Metro and you can have your daily fix of Bizarro to brighten each day before you get to work and they suck the life out of you.

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Seattle, Washington: For Dan Piraro.

You seem to be very hostile to fat people. What do you think

of the fat acceptance movement, fat but fit, the dieting

industry, etc.?

Dan Piraro: That's a very deep subject and one that requires a long answer. I'm not hostile toward fat people, but I am sensitive to animal cruelty. The simple truth is that most Americans are fat because they eat animal products. There is nothing more fattening (and bad for your health) in the world. And it leads not only to cruelty to animals but the worst environmental damage on earth. So my jokes about fat people are more about over-consumption of products that create cruelty and environmental damage.

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Baltimore, MD: I recently went to a talk by a syndicated cartoonist and he said that Calvin and Hobbes was ended because Bill Watterson refused to market his characters on mugs, shirts, etc.... He said that the syndicate was tired of having Watterson make all of the money (he claimed Watterson had a 95/5 split with the syndicate!), and his refusal to let the syndicate make money off of marketing the characters was the real reason that the strip was ended in its prime. Is there any truth to this, or was it simply a case of sour grapes by a cartoonist with a marginally successful strip?

Bill Amend: Um, given that I know all of the players involved, I'd have to say your source was pretty misinformed. Universal made buckets of money from C&H, both from syndication and the books, and the decision to end the strip was Bill's alone. And who on Earth would call C&H "marginally successful"???

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Portage, MI: Dave Coverly, I never thought I'd meet such a HOT cartoonist! Where did you get that beautiful smile from?

Dave Coverly: I am only replying to this so it will get published for Dan and Bill's benefit. They will get a good laugh, at least...

Dan Piraro: I see Dave's orthodontist is online again.

Bill Amend: Let's not forget to mention how many hours a day you spend practicing that smile in the mirror, Dave.

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Generational Difference?: Bill Amend's departure from the weekly pages brings to mind several other voluntary 'retirements' - Bloom County, Far Side, Calvin and Hobbes, Boondocks. On the other hand, the older strips continue on well after the original spark is gone and often after the artist has died. Is this a 'generation gap' or what?

Bill Amend: Possibly. I can't speak for other cartoonists, all I know is that I've always viewed my strip as a personal form of expression/observation more than a business, and the thought of continuing it with others at the helm just seems wrong to me.

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Bethesda, MD: So, Bill, what is your World of Warcraft name? I know that's why you went into retirement, so that you could have more WoW time!

Bill Amend: Yeah, going into semi-retirement at the same time the WoW expansion came out wasn't the best timing for productivity, I'll admit. I keep my Warcraft character names secret... I don't want the world knowing how much I suck at the game.

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washington, DC: I have a great idea for a cartoon - however, I want to develop my artistic ability. All I've heard about is Joe Kubert's School of Cartooning - but this school is all the way in New Jersey - are there any schools that you can recommend that are in DC or nearby in Maryland or Virginia - where one can take cartooning classes?

Dan Piraro: I've always felt that cartooning is something you can teach yourself just by practicing and showing your work to your friends and relavitives, to see what works. I don't know anything about the various schools or how effective they might be.

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Fairfax: Can the three of you discuss some the different plusses and minuses in a strip format versus the single-panel format? Thanks.

Bill Amend: I do a strip with recurring characters and themes and thus can use them as a starting point when writing. I can't imagine how hard it'd be to do a panel and have to come up with a joke from scratch every day. Although, I do envy guys who only have to fill one panel and not four every day.

Dave Coverly: Whereas I think it would be so hard to do what Bill does, creating distinct and interesting characters, and keeping them fresh day after day after %$#@ day. You have to be one talented writer to pull it off, and you'd really have to love the world you've created.

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Bizarro: Dan,

Do you take umbrage that your strip is in the free Post Express instead of the 35 cent edition?

Dan Piraro: No, I don't care where I'm published. As long as people read my work, it's okay by me. In a free paper, even more people might be seeing it, who knows? I'd love to be in the Post's print version, but as I mentioned in another answer today, the other Washington paper already has Bizarro and so it can't be sold to two papers in the same market. No idea how they can put it into the Express, but I'm not going to rattle any cages over it.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Are there topics you have done that you sat back and thought to yourself: a few decades ago, I could never have done that? If so, what were some of those things?

Dan Piraro: Yes, joke about Britney Spears. She wasn't famous a few decades ago.

Dave Coverly: A few decades ago, I would have been the youngest syndicated cartoonist EVER.

I've done jokes about bomb-sniffing dogs that, post-9/11, I probably wouldn't draw now.

Bill Amend: To be honest, newspapers seem way more PC and sensitive with regard to comics then I remember them being when I was younger.

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San Francisco: Dan: BIZARRO is very supportive of animal rights more & more. Seldom do we see you taking on Big Tobacco and the Gun Lobby. Are they blackmailing you or making threats? -Michael

Dan Piraro: I focus most of my efforts on issues that have unwilling victims. To be honest, although I'm an ex-smoker, I don't care much about big tobacco. People smoke because they want to, they're only hurting themselves (except for the passive smoke issue, which I suspect claims very few lives) and there seem to be plenty enough laws against public smoking to satisfy me. I've done a number of anti-gun jokes over the years and have gotten tons of hate mail from the NRA, I'm proud to say. Much of it is deliciously illiterate, too. I read the best ones in my comedy shows and it always brings the house down.

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Sacramento, CA: Cheers to you all--very cool panel.

My question is for Dan Priaro...

I have tremendous respect for your non cartooning art (your Blue Eyed Jesus piece, for example) And I see you as an Art-first cartoonist--my question is, do you see the visual gag first (as a rule), or do you actually...'write a joke' and then draw around it--being as you have no recurring characters in 'Bizarro' I am very curious as to how you keep the Mill running! Keep up the great work, and thanks for taking my question...

Dan Piraro: Thanks for the compliment on the art. It's always been important to me and I put a lot of effort into it. But when writing jokes, I come up with the joke first, then draw accordingly.

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Arlington, VA: I'm pretty sure the "cartoonist with a marginally successful strip" was referring to the source of the C&H gossip, not Watterson.

Bill Amend: OK that makes more sense.

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mid-Maryland: Who'd win in a fair fight between Bazooka Joe, Krazy Kat and any of your characters?

Dan Piraro: My dynamite stick would cream both those guys.

Dave Coverly: My characters would be hiding behind Bill's and whimpering.

Bill Amend: My characters only fight with each other. It's in their contract.

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Kensington, MD: So Dave. Tell us about all the references to obscure bands in

your cartoons.

Dave Coverly: As an obscure cartoonist, I have a special affinity for obscure bands! Mostly, though, I'm just obsessed with music, and love to plug any band I feel is doing great stuff...The Lucksmiths, Jazz Butcher, Max Eider, Pernice Brothers, Calexico...all great stuff...

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Baltimore, MD: I have heard other cartoonists say that the dwindling number of newspapers will eventually lead to the end of comic strips as an artform. Would you still encourage an aspiring cartoonist to persue his dream, or is it a waste of time to think that a comfortable living can be made in the future by drawing a comic strip?

Bill Amend: While newspaper cartooning is certainly feeling a squeeze these days, the rising popularity of webcomics makes it pretty clear that people still like to draw cartoons and people still like to read them. The challenge is to figure out how to earn a living off of web content. Hopefully that'll get easier as business models mature. But cartooning has always been sort of a crap-shoot of a career choice, so aspiring cartoonists need to have Plan B careers in mind, certainly.

Dan Piraro: I encourage people to pursue syndicated cartooning only if they are working in a strip format, which doesn't compete with potential clients for Bizarro. If they work in panel format, I have them killed.

Dave Coverly: Yeah, I'd agree with Bill. It's a weird time, but I wouldn't necessarily dissuade anyone from pursuing syndicated cartooning. The syndicates are full of smart people looking to make money, so I think they'll figure things out and change. It's not a dead art form yet by any means.

I'm still in a Witness Protection Program to keep Dan at bay, though.

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Los Angeles, CA: For Dave Coverly:

Any truth to the rumor that your "Crash Dummy" series of toons were inspired by family members?

Dave Coverly: Yes.

Now hang up or pull the car over before you hurt yourself.

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new port richey florida: I just wanted to say that I really like all you guys and basically thats all I read in the paper! Thanks for the laughs!

Suzanne Tobin: From those of us who work on the comics pages, even though it's in a production capacity and not a creative capacity, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

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Santa Rosa, CA: Hi Dan,

The George W. Bush casket is my comic is the best of all time. Is it too late for a Jerry Falwell comic? The caption on the Angels going to hell for the weekend could work.

Thanks,

Al

Dan Piraro: The only time you can get away with a cartoon about the death of a famous person is if they aren't really dead yet or died forever ago. I've done W and also Charlton Heston, (and got tons of negative mail from superstitious readers) but I can't do Falwell for a few decades.

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Washington, DC: Question for all: what is your favorite subject area or cliche that you turn to as a source for funny cartoons?

Bill Amend: On the occasions when I've resorted to cliche humor, it's usually been out of deadline-imposed desperation. Favorite themes would have to be the math and science and video game jokes, but I have to space those out a bit lest all my non-nerdy readers desert me.

Dave Coverly: Cliches are part and parcel (ha!) of panel cartooning, because the situation has to be self-explanatory or the joke runs out of time to tell itself. I find myself really looking for the things we all have in common, to appeal to as many people as possible.

Dan Piraro: I love dealing with new takes on classic cartoon cliches: the guy crawling through a desert, the guy stranded on an island, the psychiatrists couch. My favorite ones are the ones that make reference to the fact that it is a cartoon cliche. I have one coming up in a couple of weeks like that, as a matter of fact.

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Alexandria VA: Do any of you lurk on the various comics blogs? 'Comics Curmudgeon' comes to mind.

Dan Piraro: To be honest, I've never been to one in my life. Although I'm sure they're interesting, I dont have time for blogs.

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Washington, DC: How do you keep coming up with ideas for your cartoons? Also, you once made a reference to comedian Will Franken in one of your cartoons. What do you think of him?

Dan Piraro: Will Franken is a mad genius stand-up comic/performance artist in San Francisco for whom I have unlimited respect. He is the most talented and hilarious person I've ever had the privilege to see perform, bar none. I'm not kidding. I mentioned him in a cartoon one time purely because I'm such a huge fan of this guy.

Regarding the ideas, I have no idea how I come up with them but as long as I do, I can pay the mortgage.

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Rich, Columbia, MD: What factors go into choosing whether a strip unfolds in real-time (like For Better, or For Worse) or is static (like Foxtrot)?

Bill Amend: In my case, I created the characters such that they would play off of each other in interesting ways. Were I to age the kids even a couple of years, the changes in their interests/maturities would affect the whole structure of things, and I wasn't interested in doing that in such an irreversable way. My understanding is FBOFW was always meant as a sort of fictional autobiography on Lynn's part, so the aging was a natural feature.

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Falls Church, Va.: Bill, do the Foxtrot kids still formally reset their ages at the beginning of each school year, or do they just sort of float along agelessly?

Bill Amend: Yeah, Paige hates having to start every school year as a freshman, but with the kids' ages all frozen at 10, 14 and 16, that's her lot in life, unfortunately.

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Alexandria, VA: Do you feel that comics in Newspapers are not really art anymore just quick one liners and puns preceded by two or three panels of trite/banal setup? There are so many comics on a page that there is no room for extensive dialogue or more than two characters in a single panel. It seems that the next great wave of comics will most likely come from the Internet, for example sites like the Perry Bible Fellowship and Qwantz among others.

Dave Coverly: Do I wish we had more room and space to work within? Sure. But I also think it's a real art form to get an interesting, funny idea across in such a small space. You have to work with the logisitics you're given. You should check out Dan's oil paintings - talk about art...

I agree there's more room for art on the internet. I don't agree that the writing is any better, though.

Suzanne Tobin: One of the fascinating things about the comics is how much good cartoonists can pack into such little space. Whenever I go to the NCS convention, I come home totally depressed because these people are brilliant, and I feel like such a loser. And when people complain that the comics aren't funny every day, my response is: YOU try being funny 365 days a year. What syndicated cartoonists do is an amazing feat, and there are fewer of them than there are members of Congress, so that gives you some idea of the rarity of their talent.

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Seattle, WA: The paradigm of business/form of expression seems false.

Aren't there lots of different ways that a comic strips can be

created? For example, some cartoonists and comics may

actually benefit fromcollaboration?

Dave Coverly: Absolutely. Zits and Baby Blues are two great examples. On the other hand, I'm friends with Jim, Jerry and Rick, and they're all off-the-chart talented, so it's tough to use them as an example. I'd still say, in general, a unique individual form of expression works best.

Bill Amend: Was this in response to what I said? I was only talking about my approach to FoxTrot. Collaboration can be a great benefit in some cases. The danger with approaching a strip as a business, is a business is almost always most concerned about money and creative judgements can get skewed in the process.

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Bixby, Oklahoma: What do you all typically have for breakfast? This is a very important question, and goes a long way towards understanding your humor. Thanks a lot! Debbie.

Dan Piraro: I'm a devout vegan, so I usually have oatmeal with fruit in it. Sometimes I go out to a vegan-friendly restaurant and have more elaborate breakfasts.

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Lawrence, KS: You're all up for the Reuben Award, the "Oscar" of the pro cartooning field. Are you guys friends? Do you ever get jealous of another cartoonist? Does it frustrate you when you see what you personally consider as mediocre or unprofessional work get printed and lauded?

Dan Piraro: Yours is a sticky question and one we don't normally talk about. Yes, we're all friends, but to be honest, not every cartoonist in the NCS admires every other cartoonist's work. So yes, it is frustrating to see mediocre work applauded, but that's the nature of all organizations and awards. At least the ones run by humans. It's just part of the deal.

Dave Coverly: We're all friends until the bar bill comes. And I think humor and cartooning honors are Eye of the Beholder deals, so I don't take issue. I still find it thrilling and a bit surreal that I'm doing this for a living, and much more so that Speed Bump is getting recognition from my colleagues.

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Seattle, WA: How has the Internet changed what you do?

Dave Coverly: Three words: Google Image Search

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comic art: Have any of youse guys been offered your own division at Hallmark?

Dan Piraro: Hallmark turned down my cards years ago.

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Muncie, IN: What do you all think of the current comics pages? Are there any new strips that stand out? Should the older strips be dumped?

Big Comics Fan Tom

Dan Piraro: I don't follow the comics pages very closely, I have to admit. I don't know about new strips until there is some kind of buzz among my friends or colleagues about one. You could argue that older strips should be dropped, but I guarantee that almost any you choose will have millions of daily readers who consider it an irreplaceable part of their daily routine.

Dave Coverly: Yeah, I don't really feel like it's my place to say whether older strips should be dumped. With a little luck, I'll be drawing one of those older strips someday. Newish strips I do like are Pearls and Frazz, but like Dan, I don't read the comics much, in part because I don't like seeing good ideas I should have come up with myself.

Bill Amend: I won't say older strips should be dumped, but I wish that when newspapers did surveys or otherwise gauged reader opinion, they gave younger readers more clout than they currently seem to. It does sometimes seem as though the comics section is aimed to please the over-60 crowd way more than the under-30 one. Which doesn't help newer cartoonists get a toehold in papers, and it doesn't encourage younger readers to develop the habit of reading the paper.

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Falls Church, Va.: Dan, how did you ever come up with the idea to have that pinheaded man in your comic?

Just kidding. But what's up with the pie, the bird, and the dynamite? Is it like the three rocks in Nancy?

Dan Piraro: Yes, exaclty like the three rocks. They are there so people will wonder.

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Arlington, VA: Bill,

Are the characters in your cartoon reflective of anybody in your real life?

Dan Piraro: Yes. The piece of pie I put on the floor of many of my cartoons represents the actual piece of pie that is on my floor. And the dynamite stick represents my wife, Ashley.

Bill Amend: Just in the good ways... at least that's all I'll admit publicly.

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Freising, Germany: Cartoons really seem to reflect current issues in society. Which current issues do you guys consciously address in your comics, and which just kind of sneak in there without you knowing?

Dan Piraro: I like to slip in politics when I can, but I have to be fairly vague. I'm very liberal but my cartoon runs in very conservative newspapers as well, so I can't be too offensive without losing clients. Animal rights, vegetarianism, environtmentalism, the idiocy of pop culture, these are all subjects I hit regularly without negative consequences. I've addressed the gay marriage issue on a number of occasions, too, and get both negative and positive mail from those. I'm pro gay marriage rights, by the way.

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Sacramento, California: This question is for Dan Piraro.

Does Dan ever plan on making an animated series of Bizarro? or something like that for fans like myself who would like to see his work on TV/Cable? I have noticed that a lot of other comics have become animated over the years, like Peanuts, Garfield, etc...

Thanks _Big Bizarro Fan

Dan Piraro: I've toyed with the animation thing for years but never gotten around to doing anything about it. Recently, I started working on a treatment for an animated TV series. Hopefully, it will lead somewhere.

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Arlington, VA: Question for Bill Amend.

I've often felt that comic strips that involve entire families, like FoxTrot, For Better or For Worse, Family Circus, or Hi & Lois, are often based (partially or fully) on that author's family. Is that the case with FoxTrot, or are they entirely your own creation?

Bill Amend: When I first created the characters, they were purely fictional, but over time I noticed bits and pieces of my own siblings and parents (and later my wife and kids) showing up in them. More than anything, though, I think they represent various aspects of my own personality.

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Bloomington, Indiana: When I'm suffering from severe creative mental block, I find a cold shower and a Capt. and Tennille album side often snaps me out of it. Do you have any methods that work for you personally, assuming it's even a problem?

Thanks,

Daniel

Dan Piraro: I suck on the left, hind foot of my cat, Jemima. That usually does the trick. For both of us.

Dave Coverly: I find a shower WITH the Captain and Tenille works. It doesn't get me out of the mental block, but it helps on so many other levels that I don't really care about cartooning for awhile. You'll have to ask them if it helps with their mental blocks, though.

Bill Amend: I wouldn't even know what it'd be like to NOT be in a severe creative mental block. And I even listen to Captain and Tenille round the clock.

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San Francisco: Dan: BIZARRO is very supportive of animal rights more & more. Seldom do we see you taking on Big Tobacco and the Gun Lobby. Are they blackmailing you or making threats? -Michael

Dan Piraro: I like to focus on issues that have unwilling victims. To be honest, although I'm an ex-smoker, I don't care all that much about big tobacco. Everyone knows that smoking is bad for you by now, if they want to smoke, let them. Except for the issue of passive smoke, which I suspect is a fairly small health problem and for which there are already a lot of laws, the only person being hurt is the one who smokes. I tend to chalk that up to "natural selection".

I've done a lot of anti-gun cartoons over the years, for which I've received tons of viscious hate mail from NRA members. Some of it has been deliciously idiotic, too. I save the worst ones and read them in my comedy shows. They never fail to bring the house down.

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Ann Arbor, Michigan: Dave Coverly...who is the funniest person you know, personally?

Dave Coverly: Present company excepted, of course...

Well, my Uncle Rick is very, very witty - as a kid, I was in awe of the way he could make my parents laugh. His sense of humor is really smart and dry, and I think it informed what I now find funny. The dry part, anyway...I'm still working on the smart part...

My kids are also very funny, though not always intentionally.

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Tulsa OK: Mr. Piraro, I noticed in an e-mail that you referred to your writings as a cartoon. Is that the term usually used? I always hear "comic strip" but didn't know if there was a preference.

Also, our newspaper stopped the dailies of "Fox Trot" and we now only get the weekend. Not good at all.

Dan Piraro: We call them cartoons, comic strips, comic features, llama lips, lots of things. Anything will do, most of us are not picky.

Suzanne Tobin: I guess you missed the announcement that "FoxTrot" went to Sundays only a few months back. Your newspaper didn't "stop" the dailies; Bill stopped writing them.

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Deja vu: Say - weren't you all nominated last year too?

Not that I am complaining - I love all your work, and read it daily (well, not Foxtrot, at least not in the paper (we have all the books))

Thanks for making my day more enjoyable!

Bill Amend: The NCS dues came in a little short this year so they just used last year's ballots to save money. The three of us objected strenuously, of course.

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Fairfax: First thought that comes to your mind: Your syndicate tells you that they want you to do a brand-new comic strip. What/who will the main character(s) be?

Bill Amend: A lazy and stubborn cartoonist who refuses to do what his syndicate asks of him.

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Washington, DC: If one of your were to die suddenly, would you want your comics to continue with hired guns, or to end when you do?

Dan Piraro: I'd never let anyone else write/draw Bizarro. Some cartoons are the personal expression of their creators, some are corporate products. That's not a value judgement, it's just that there are two distinctly different kinds of cartoons. Some can be done by anyone, some cannot.

Dave Coverly: I'd want Bill to continue mine, if only because he's got so much time on his hands.

Bill Amend: Let the record show that just because I've been practicing Dave's art style a lot lately, I have no concrete plans to kill him.

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Tempe, Arizona: What kind of crazy stuff happens when a bunch of cartoonists get together, like at the Reubens this month?

Dan Piraro: Most of these guys are not all that crazy in person. Imagine a group of middle-aged characters in golf shirts and hagar slacks, drinking heavily. That's a cartoonists convention. I like all these guys, don't get me wrong. But there are only about five that are what you'd call crazy.

Bill Amend: Actually, it's insanely crazy. We just wait until Dan goes to bed before we let loose.

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san diego, ca: I collect original comic art. Are any of you selling your stuff cheap?

Dan Piraro: I sell my stuff, depends on what you think is cheap. Donald Trump has one and didn't seem to mind paying my asking price. I tried to sell one to the crazy homeless lady that lives outside my door in Brooklyn and she spat on me when I told her the price.

Bill Amend: I don't sell my originals. Sorry.

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Claverack, NY: For the panel- What's your favorite comic strip that's no longer running?

Bill Amend: I miss Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side a lot.

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Alex., VA: I really enjoy some of the new comics and find myself drawn away from the old, old comics....

How do feel about having to compete in your industry against people that are quite literally dead?

Bill Amend: It's definitely tough to convince a newspaper to drop a classic for a new strip. I'm glad I got the breaks I did when Bloom County and Calvin ended and freed up some space.

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Kansas City, Kansas: What's the closest you've gotten to submitting your strip before the deadline or do you work a few days ahead? Also, what is the oddest inspiration you've gotten to write the next comic strip?

Dan Piraro: My drop dead dealine for daily strips is four weeks before they run. So the answer is that I'm both ahead, and always bumping up agaisnt the deadline. I usually send mine electronically, via computer, a few hours after they are due. Which is also four weeks ahead of when they print.

Dave Coverly: Mine is two weeks before publication, and I turn them in mere minutes before the beleagured staff at American Color calls it a day. I can just imagine how much they love me there.

Oddest inspiration is too tough...they're all kinda odd by definition.

Bill Amend: I've struggled with deadlines the entirety of my career. The past few years I turned in the dailies about 10 days prior to publication which with my Syndicate was about as close as I could cut it without having my kneecaps broken. One time I cut it to six days, which was really a low moment for me. I'm still limping.

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New York, NY: The cliche is that cartoonists say they keep a sketchbook or notepad with them all the time, because ideas come to them at any time. But do you dedicate a block of time to sit down and focus just on producing ideas? Are certain days idea days? Or is a certain part of each day idea time? Please tell us, specifically, your technique for generating gags and brainstorming.

Dan Piraro: I never carry a notebook and almost never get ideas outside of the hour each morning that I sit down to write cartoons. I usually write a week's worth of gags in a couple day's time, but always during that first hour of the day. Before my mind is polluted.The rest of the day I use for drawing and coloring them, etc.

Dave Coverly: I don't carry a notebook, either, and find that ideas rarely come to me while I'm out and about. It really takes some organized daydreaming to come up with cartoons, because the entire context for the joke has to be contained within that little box. However, unlike Dan, I get my best ideas after my mind has become a little polluted. I tend to accumulate material for a couple days, then write and draw them all in the next couple days. Then I take a day to decompress and do other things, like online chats.

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Memphis, TN: Who are your all-time favorite cartoonists?

Dave Coverly: Present company excepted again, of course...

Looking back, Quino, Sergio Aragones, Jim Borgman, George Booth, Virgil Partch and Jim Unger were all major influences, as well as too many New Yorker cartoonists to list.

Dan Piraro: I'd go with Kliban, Quino, Sam Gross, Revilo, and there are dozens of others that I'll regret not thinking of as soon as I hit "send". I've always loved the single-panel magazine cartoons best.

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Washington, DC: Why do you think some people are comics/cartoon people and some aren't? The comic page is the first thing I read in the morning. I know others who never read them (they're not very fun people).

Bill Amend: If everyone read comics, then those of us who currently do wouldn't be superior anymore.

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DC: Bill, I have a signed sunday Foxtrot strip. Will that be worth more (or anything?) if you win?

Bill Amend: It'll increase in value by tenfold. Of course, 10 x 0 = ...

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Harrisburg, Pa.: We hope you are enjoying your more relaxed life, Mr. Amend. Just note how you've ruined the lives for millions others. We'll try to manage and keeping waiting anxiously until Sundays.

Bill Amend: Thanks. One more thing to deal with in therapy. Seriously, it's nice to not be perpetually stressed and panicked for the first time in 20 years.

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R lington: Does your own work ever make you laugh?

Dave Coverly: I love this question, because this is something cartoonists do discuss among themselves. For me personally, I sometimes get a laugh looking back at certain cartoons I've done, especially ones I've forgotten. There needs to be an element of surprise to humor, so laughing at recent work is almost impossible. What many of us find most interesting, though, is how often the cartoons we like of our own aren't the ones that get the most positive feedback. Sometimes I think we fall in love with the process, and get more satisfaction out of an idea that was more unique and difficult to attain. Of course, the readers aren't privy to the mental aerobics involved, so they wouldn't have the same sort of reaction.

Dan Piraro: I get to where I "process" cartoons rather than laugh at them. Occasionally I'll laugh at one when I write it, because it surprises me in some way as Dave was saying. Cartoons like that are not always the most successful ones, however. I don't have a very "common" sense of humor.

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Kensington, MD: Orlando?? Not Kensington? You can't celebrate Cartoonist of

the year in Orlando like you can in Kensington! C'mon guys.

Dan Piraro: Believe me, I'm no more thrilled about Orlando than you are.

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R lington: How high tech are your drawings? Anybody try a Wacom

tablet or anything similar?

Dan Piraro: When I'm away from home for extended periods, I do all my work on a Wacom Cintiq screen. That alleviates the need to bring a scanner and art supplies. I really love it. Even at home, I draw a cartoon the old fashioned way, then scan it and repair, rework and color it on my Cintiq. It rocks.

Dave Coverly: I am still stubbornly non-tech.

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R lington: Have any of you ever done animation?

Bill Amend: I worked as an inbetween artist for a small animation outfit in San Francisco right after college. If you ever watch the Prince "Raspberry Beret" video, I helped with that. I'd like to try tinkering with 3D animation and/or Flash now that I have some free time. I just no longer have the money to buy the software.

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Japan: Amend-

Just want to say that I miss my daily dose of "FoxTrot." I am glad, however, that you're willing to do Sundays at least.

So, just wondering. Will Sundays continue for a while, or will it be temporary?

Bill Amend: My contract to do the Sundays ends in a few years, but I don't anticipate stopping them then.

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Rancho Bernardo, CA: For Bill Amend--

If memory serves me at all, Jason used to wear a football helmet all the time. Considering how much of his geekiness you've maintained over the years, why did you drop the helmet?

Bill Amend: You must be blurring comic strip memories. Jason has worn a football helmet on the rare occasions when I've done football jokes with him, but otherwise he's been the same. Maybe the way I used to draw his hair was more helmet-like?

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R lington: If you win a Reuben will they let you participate in a Disney

Parade?

Bill Amend: One can dream...

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R lington: What would a Reuben Award Acceptance Speech sound like?

Bill Amend: In Dan's or Dave's case, it'd be riotously funny and articulate. In my case, image two minutes of "umms" and "errs" and "are you sure there wasn't a miscount?"

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Washington DC: This question is for Bill Amend.

One summer years ago, I was reading Fox Trot and the strip referred to Mr. McDermott, an english teacher. Did you happen to go to Acton Boxboro High School in Massachusetts, or was that merely a coincidence?

Many thanks!

Sarah

Bill Amend: Often I use names of friends and people I know when the strip calls for a generic name. One of the editors at my syndicate is Alan McDermott, hence the name.

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arlington: Where do you get your ideas? There's a store, right, one of

those big box places?

Bill Amend: The box stores got too expensive. Cheap overseas labor does the trick for me now.

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Lakeside, Montana: Mr. Amend,

Would you consider writing Foxtrot on a daily basis again? Foxtrot is my favorite, and Sunday just isn't enough.

Thanks,

Amy

Bill Amend: I don't foresee a return to the seven-strip-a-week schedule. It was really gruelling and I think I'm probably better off sticking to saner pursuits.

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Dan Piraro: Thanks, kids, I had a great time. My fingers are smoking from typing. Thanks for stopping by our little electronic corner of the world.

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Dave Coverly: Thanks for the great questions, everyone. And thanks, Suzanne, for being a such a smooth operator...Take care.

DC

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Bill Amend: This was fun! Thanks for having me!

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Suzanne Tobin: Thanks so much to all my guests...I know we went way over time, but that's the beauty of the Internet. I hope you'll join us again on June 1, when Tim Rickard of "Brewster Rockit" will be joining us Live Online.

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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. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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