washingtonpost.com
Weingartens discuss 'Barney and Clyde'

Gene and Dan Weingarten
Comic strip writers
Monday, June 21, 2010; 12:00 PM

Dan and Gene Weingarten take your questions about how collaborating on their new comic strip, Barney and Clyde, helped them find common ground as father and son.

Gene's story: Drawn Together

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Gene Weingarten: Good afternoon.

Even though I am in a hotel room in NYC, and Dan is at his home in Alexandria, Va., and Paul the producer is at the Washington Post newsroom, we are going to try to coordinate this chat ingeniously, cueing each other's entrances and exits with split-second timing. We are going to fail spectacularly. Please forgive us.

The reaction to this strip has so far been intense, and oddly polarized. Online commenters to the story gleefully lined up to pee on it, a golden drizzle of denunciation; whereas emails, and early posters to this chat have been mostly very complimentary. To all of you, we honestly appreciate the feedback, including the savage denunciations, character assassination, schadenfreudian ebullience, and general acerbity, but, honestly, it's too early to judge this strip - for good or bad. Those of you who like it? Our advice is to hold your applause; it might yet suck once we've exhausted a few pregnant storylines. Those of you who hate it? Hold your fire. There are utilitarian requirements for the opening weeks of a strip - we're telling a story from the beginning; "A Tale of Two Cities" dragged for a few pages. You may find yourself more satisfied soon.

Solemn promise to the naysayers: If you are still underwhelmed six months hence, Dan and I will gamely take your flak right here, and either mortify our flesh in penance like this or explain patiently and simply, as to a developmentally disabled schnauzer, why you are wrong.

But most of you are asking about fathers and sons, which was our intent for this chat. So, let's go.

Two notes: I'm going to have to end this about 15 minutes before the hour. And Dan was at class at morning and is coming late to the pre-chat prep, so I'll be answering many of the questions first. I'M NOT DOMINATING HIM, OKAY? He'll catch up. He is unmuzzled.

Okay, let's go.

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Peanut Gallery: Enough with the stage setting. When does the funny start?

Gene Weingarten: We thought we'd wait a few more months.

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Derwood, Maryland: Gene, Great story in yesterday's paper. You guys are lucky to have such a great relationship. Why didn't you try a cartoon strip based on that? Or were you afraid of it appearing like 'Zits?'

Gene Weingarten: Well, because that's not the idea Dan had on April 28, 2005. If he'd had an idea for a strip about The Holocaust, you might be reading Moishe & Klaus.

Dan Weingarten: Oooh, Moishe & Klaus is a great idea. We should make a few sample dailies and send them to Joe Martin.

Gene Weingarten: Hahaha.

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Baltimore: Gene- Your son is actually hot based on his picture. I know we ladies that read your chats and articles are supposed to be throwing panties at you and having VPL with our knee high boots, etc., in your honor. However, Dan might actually warrant it.

You should have the Date Lab folks set him up on a Date Lab date with one of your readers. That could be a riot.

Gene Weingarten: Dan seems to have gotten none of my looks genes. BUT I AM NOT AT ALL WORRIED ABOUT ANY IMPLICATIONS OF WHAT THAT MIGHT MEAN.

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Kar, MA: What has been the reaction of fellow comic artists, particularly the ones you have abused and ridiculed over the years? Does becoming a published cartoonist make you more sympathetic or less towards the demands of producing a daily strip?

Gene Weingarten: DEFINITELY more sympathetic.

Haven't had any piling on by the cartoonist establishment yet, after a brief, spirited salvo before the strip debuted. I expect some, though. It's not impossible some of the anonymous Commentariat to this story comes from those guys. We'll never know.



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Single for 82 more days: Gene, the Rib (without the Gene nose & glasses in the photo) must be absolutely smokin' because while you are very adorable in a ugly-dog-you-can't-look-away-from sort of way, Dan is hot! Nice job on both counts.

Liked today's strip. Excellent introductions.

Gene Weingarten: The Rib is indeed smokin'.

I've gotten some complaints that the type is too small. If that's a problem, it will be most apparent in today's. Is the type too small?

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Paris, France: Congrats for everything ; I'm eager to discover the strip each day, and read it before any other. The graphic style is attractive, including the coloring, but why the HUUUGE "Copyright Cartoonist Group" sign right in the middle of the Monday-Saturday strips? It looks like a bad ink smudge and undermines the artist's work, IMO.

Gene Weingarten: I don't know! But thanks for reminding me. I have to take this up with the Syndicate. It's much prettier to read it on gocomics.com, which is not a good state of affairs.

More on this later.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, Ladies and Gentlemen, you are about to see an example of The Washington Post Listening To You, the Little People.

In the time between my posting that first answer and the beginning of the chat, I relayed this person's complaint to the Writers Group, and the Writers Group has agreed -- barring any legal problem -- to take watermark off the art.

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Steve Canyon: Hey, do you guys realize that "Barney and Clyde" sounds a lot like Bonnie and Clyde? They were gangsters during the Depression. Bonnie and Clyde, that is. Bonnie was pretty hot, and apparently she looked like Faye Dunaway. Is there a connection between Faye Dunaway and the comic strip? Maybe Faye Dunaway can make a cameo appearance in the movie version of "Barney and Clyde!!!!" That would be very cool. Also, the guy who played Clyde grew up in the D.C. area somewhere. His name was Ned Beatty, or Warren Oates, or maybe Ned Oates. Maybe he can make a cameo in the movie, too.

Dan Weingarten: Yeah, you're right. It does kinda sound like that. That's so strange.

Gene Weingarten: Gene Weingarten: Okay, I believe I have just discovered something so amazing it will be written about for years to come. Faye Dunaway = Fadin' Away.

So that might be the ultimate connection to Barney & Clyde, if it bombs.

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Alexandria, VA: It's unusual that I find a new comic strip consistently entertaining from its beginning, but maybe I am just used to the Weingarten style of humor. Congrats on the new strip, and much success with it.

My question is: does your artist have input on the graphic details of the comic, or do you write that as well? For example, in the June 18 strip, while the storyline was funny, what made me laugh out loud was the dog greeting his master with the newspaper in his mouth, and a serving tray with a martini in his paw. Who thought that up?

Dan Weingarten: David adds a lot to this strip. The dog greeting for example was all David. Often when we give the script to David we have very little artistic direction. Quite simply, he doesn't need it.

Seeing a daily or Sunday fot the first time is always exciting to see how he interprets the script.

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Downtown, DC: Loved the article, Gene. I was particularly moved by the description of your reaction to the diagnosis of Dan's dyslexia. How old was he when that happened?

Gene Weingarten: Actually, I used a shortcut there -- it wasn't exactly dyslexia, it was a dyslexia-type learning disability for which he got an accommodation on tests and such. He was in middle school.

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Arlington, Va.: Why'd you take a good chunk of two weeks to establish the relationship between B&C? Kind of tedious. Was any thought given to letting the reader imagine what happened, while pieces are filled in later on?

Barney's wife is hot. So kudos.

Gene Weingarten: I was just debating that with Amy Lago... if we should have broken it up more. Not sure. It might have confused the narrative. But it's a shrewd question.

Again... give it time. Stuff will happen.

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Arlington, Va.: Don't you think it was a bit disingenuous to go on in your article about what a slacker Dan was academically without copping to your own checkered academic past? At least he didn't drop out of NYU to cavort with a gang, pop heroin and contract hepatitis.

Gene Weingarten: Touche.

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Washington, D.C.: As a lifelong comics critic, and now a computer science person, what does Dan think of the Web comic xkcd?

Dan Weingarten: I had never heard of this strip actually. I think it's pretty good.

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New Haven, CT: Dan looks like Harry Potter.

Gene Weingarten: This has been noted. His Facebook photo is of a shirtless Daniel Radcliffe.

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Buggy Whip, PA: With newspapers dying, why are you starting a newspaper comic? Why not do a webcomic where the barriers of entry are so much lower?

Gene Weingarten: Very good question. Dan and I are very bad businessmen: It was either start a newspaper comic or become commercial fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico.

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Story Subject?: Gene -- You have said previously that as a rule you don't let the subject of a story see it before it gets published. Did you make an exception this time since Dan was one of the subjects?

It was a beautifully written article and I thank you for admitting what many of us can't, that we struggle with our relationships with our children. I am closer to my son than daughter and it pains me. I know I need to work at it...and see your path with Dan as a model for how to make us closer together.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you. This is exactly the sort of reaction I was hoping for.

And yes, Dan saw the piece before I even submitted it to The Post. If he had a problem with it, you would not have read it.

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Baltimore: Dan, do you think that your youthful behavior and your unorthodox educational route was a form of rebellion against an overachieving family? Did you get "achievement" satisfaction from having your comic published, or was it just a project you enjoy?

Dan Weingarten: I wasn't revolting against my family so much as it was against everything. That's pretty much the definition of angst.

"Achievement" satisfaction is a pretty new concept for me, actually. It typically requires learning to delay gratification. Five years of Barney and Clyde not being published helped me with that, a lot. Case in point: Molly got me Super Mario Galaxy 2 for Christmas. I had it for almost 2 weeks before I allowed myself to play it, since I was so busy with schoolwork. Not sure I could have done that two years ago.

I do feel "achievement" satisfaction quite a lot, now. Unfortunately, also "failure" defeat, and sometimes, "burning" itch.

Gene Weingarten: Noted.

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Waiting: Gene and Dan - I am reading the cartoon every day. I think I am going to like it eventually. It still feels like the "stage setting" phase, which I know we have to go through for it to make sense.

The article was so touching to me. Having children who did not take to school when both their father and I were high achievers was so maddening/puzzling. They are both adults now, have achieved much personally and career wise and are wonderful human beings. It makes me sad that I tried to bully them into being what I thought they should be rather than being open to who they actually are. Sometimes they do turn out great in spite of us!

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, I think it is hard to actually ruin a kid. If there is love, and an effort at understanding, and no physical or emotional abuse, I think kids turn out fine.

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Fairfax, Va.: First of all, Gene's description of the relationship between the two of you was wonderful to read. Regardless of how Barney and Clyde pans out, I hope you both continue to enjoy being father and son.

Although I realize that it may be far too early to know for sure, I am curious if you think that the Weingarten name has been more of a help or more of a hindrance to Barney and Clyde.

That is, I assume that the name helped open a few doors. I also assume, however, that hiding just beyond those doors may have been a couple of cartoonists, and perhaps a few others, with really big clubs.

Gene Weingarten: Several posters are wondering -- with varying degrees of tact -- whether favoritism was at work in the fact that The Post picked this strip up. I don't know the answer to that, except to note that The Washington Post Writers Group (which syndicates the strip) and The Washington Post newspaper are two different entities; the Writers Group never took it for granted that The Post would buy it.

The strip has also been purchased by three other big newspapers. One is The Miami Herald, at which I used to work, so you could reasonably allege favoritism there, too. Or, you could reasonably conclude that these two papers know me and trust that I won't screw up. The third big one is the Chicago Tribune, at which I have no history and know nobody.

Your question is more genteel, though. I doubt if my name hurt sales chances. It might provoke more vicious than usual criticism from within the cartoonists' league. I have sometimes not been kind to others.

As I said in an interview with Michael Cavna, the main lesson I have learned so far is that people like me, who critique comic strips, are anuses.

Dan Weingarten: You mean 2 other large papers. 3 large papers total

Gene Weingarten: True enough. A fourth is poised to buy. News as it develops.

It is an odd fact that so far it's the big-city papers that have shown the most interests. I wonder if our urban elitism is peeking through?

Also, did the last sentence need a question mark? I've never known how to go on "I wonder if..." sentences. Any copy editors reading this? Pat the Perfect?

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Fairfax, Virginia: Who would you say are your influences for Barney and Clyde?

Gene Weingarten: Well, there are cartoonists whose work I revere -- Trudeau, Watterson, Larson, Joe Martin -- but I don't think anything in Barney & Clyde is imitating anything they've done. The single obvious inspiration in this strip is Cynthia Pillsbury, the smartass 11-year-old. She is Dan at 11. Several of the things she does and says are pulled directly from things that happened to Dan. One is coming up in a few weeks, on a Sunday.

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Rockville, Md.: For Gene: After you won your first Pulitzer you said that you were going to buy a parrot. Did you, and is that the basis for today's comic?

Gene Weingarten: Oooooooooooh.

More on this in about a week.

I have no parrot in my house TODAY.

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Rockville, MD: How much did you pay the Post for the free advertising? How many other comic strips got a similar write-up from the Post??

"Those of you who hate it? Hold your fire. There are utilitarian requirements for the opening weeks of a strip - we're telling a story from the beginning; "A Tale of Two Cities" dragged for a few pages. You may find yourself more satisfied soon. "

Which is the only reason I keep reading it. You're running only slightly ahead of "Close to Home" - which nevery has anything funny and really poor drawing.

Gene Weingarten: Sigh. You didn't even find exploding kitten eyeballs funny? What's not funny about exploding kitten eyeballs?

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For Dan: So who do you love more, your mom or your dad?

Dan Weingarten: Love is such a harsh word...

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Legacy Comics: I've enjoyed your comic thus far and Gene's story about creation of the comic was by far the best story in Sunday's Post.

Still, there's one point worthy of further examination. I seem to recall in his prior life as a comics critic on weekly chats, Gene came down hard on "legacy comics" -- "Beetle Bailey" and "Family Circus" come to mind -- for which the creator of the comic handed it down to his children. The theory was that such legacy comics prevented new talent without connections from getting published.

Yet "Barney and Clyde" is an instant "legacy comic" -- the product of a famous two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and his as yet unheralded son. Without the participation of the Pulitzer Prize winner, would any daily be running the strip?

Gene Weingarten: I never objected to strips that were passed down from father to son or daughter. I objected to strips that got so fat and comfortable in place -- "tenure," as Garry Trudeau calls it -- that they stop trying to be good. Very often, these have been legacies, where the child is simply continuing the family "business" without the same fire and drive and creative spirit the father had.

This is different. We created it together.

Some of you are making an odd assumption: Newspapers are really loath to change their comics pages -- they desperately fear change. My Pulitzers aren't any sort of attraction to the editors of the comics pages. If I were Justin Bieber, sure. His weak strip might sell on his name. I have no name to comics readers. My weak strip has to make it on its own.

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Washington, D.C.: My wife and I were discussing Calvin and Hobbes yesterday. I say that it's a vital piece of American art and expression. She says I only think that because I am a boy. She claims that the comic speaks volumes to boys but that it's off-putting to many girls, what with Calvin's frequent love of grossness and gore, his action fantasies, and the portrayal of Susie Derkins. What do you both think?

Gene Weingarten: I think Susie Derkins represents All Girls, and does it brilliantly. I think Calvin & Hobbes was a strip for humanity.

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Ellicott City, Md.: So where's Molly working these days?

Gene Weingarten: Molly has just completed a one-year veterinary internship in Connecticut, and next month is starting a three-year residency at a big emergency vet clinic in Gaithersburg.

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yelloj, KT: What rules have you established for the aging rate of your characters? Is that adorable smart-alecked daughter going to stay 13 forever?

Gene Weingarten: Dan and I and David have yet to solidify out strategy here. My vote would probably be to freeze them forever. I'm not sure I want to see Cynthia with breasts.

Gene Weingarten: This reminds me. For years I have had a question that I have never gotten a cartoonist to give me a straight answer to. When they draw something sexy, do they turn themselves on?

Even DAVID CLARK wouldn't give me a straight answer to this. I think there is something dark and disturbing under the surface here.

Gene Weingarten: Oh, and Cynthia is 11, not 13. At 13, she'd probably already have breasts.

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SPP: In two weeks, you have managed to use the Silent Penultimate Panel trope three times. What other comic strip cliches do you intend to repeatedly use in a post-modern ironic manner?

Gene Weingarten: Oh, we are adherents of the SPP. We make no apologies for it.

This poster, possibly a toonist, is referring to the conceit in which the next-to-last panel of a strip is essentially a silent freeze frame. It's a timing thing: a setup has occurred, and this delivers a drawn-out moment of tension -- or a dawning realization -- before the punch.

It's effective. A cliche, but effective. Cliches become cliches because they are effective.

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The Father And Child Reunion: Okay, I'm really glad you and Dan bonded over creating a daily comic. And I have long admired your journalistic mojo, which far predates your nifty prizes (Snowbound remains your ne plus ultra).

However, having read your first-person account of how Barney & Clyde revived your father-son relationship, I find myself wishing someone else had written it. No offense, Gene, but we Chatters knew a lot of that already, and we'd heard it told from your perspective before. But I wonder how different the piece might've been if it had been written by someone looking in from the outside - someone who would've maybe asked you and Dan some probing questions you didn't think of (or were afraid to address).

So, was that possibility ever discussed? If so, did you support or oppose it, and who made the final call? And if it HAD been written by someone else on staff, who would you have chosen to do the job?

Gene Weingarten: Interesting question.

I think I've mentioned in the chat that letter from Dan's pocket, but I don't think I've ever talked about the substance of this story before. I didn't think it would have been appropriate without some real and serious context.

I'm surprised you find that this failed to confront deep issues! I thought I was confronting 'em and wrestling them to the ground until I and the issues were a twitching, bloody mess on the mat.

But most to the point, you can't ask a writer who he would have chosen to write his story. If the answer is anything but "me," you're not dealing with much of a writer.

Gene Weingarten: What did you feel you'd read before?

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Tralfamad, Ore.: Gene, When Dave Barry 'retired' (he has a new book out) and you tried to take his place as syndicated columnist of choice, it kind of flopped. How is syndication of Barney and Clyde going vis-a-vis your previous effort?

Gene Weingarten: I like your place name.

No one took Dave's place. Essentially, when he retired his column, 450 newspapers retired their decision to have a humor columnist. I suppose if I had been as funny as Dave, I could have persuaded them not to. But, as I have said often in the past, I don't consider it an insult to be told I am not as funny as Dave Barry.


As far as Barney & Clyde, we'll revisit whether it's a flop in six months.

Didn't think I'd answer this one, did you, Jocko?

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Fo, MA: It's very traditional in the comics industry for sons to take over from their fathers, e.g. anything originally drawn by Mort Walker and/or Dik Browne. Are you two the first case you know of where a father and son have started a strip together?

Gene Weingarten: I believe so. If anyone knows any different, please tell us.

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Doylestown, PA: Some of the comments to this great story come off as the barking mad ravings of anti-social creeps. And some readers commented as well. No, seriously, does it matter, when you've written something as clearly personal as this, that people react with such spite and malice? Do you feel any different about it compared to how you would feel if the comments were to a humor column or one of your features?

Gene Weingarten: Thanks for asking this. I was hoping someone would.

I have a hide like a rhino; if I didn't, I couldn't do what I do. Moreover, I fundamentally think it's a good thing that readers get to vent, and get to vent anonymously.

But I'd be a liar if I didn't admit some of this stuff took me aback -- not the criticism of the strip, which is fair game -- but the questioning of my motives in writing this story. For the record, I wrote this story because I hoped it captured something universal about parent-child relationships, and that it might be of value to others. Yes, it gave the comic strip publicity, but there were other ways I could have done that more effectively -- even within the confines of a more superficial story about how Dan and I wrote this strip. I chose to put pain in there, and to question the quality of my own parenting. I did not do it for self-aggrandizement.

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Comic, AL: Hi Gene, I'm enjoying the strip. The concept seems to have boundless potential, but did you even consider ancillary sales and marketing?

Will we see Barney bobbleheads and Clyde Christmas ornaments in the near future? Does Lucretia love lasagne and come in a life-sized blow-up doll?

Maybe a line of "Dent my bumper-stickers"?

Gene Weingarten: Oh, we are way ahead of you, though a Lucretia blow-up doll is a very good idea.

We have created a character who exists ONLY for plush-toy licensing potential. He is an adorable rabbit named Adolf. Paul, can we link to a picture of Adolf?

washingtonpost.com: Adolf

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North McLean, Va.: Besides being related, you two are of different generations. Has this affected the way you approach the strip?

Gene Weingarten: I keep wanting to have jokes about, like, Gerald Ford being clumsy. Dan keeps exercising his veto.

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North McLean, Va.: I winced at recognition at the description of the complex relationship between the two of you. Although the issues that my son and I deal with are different, the underlying dynamic is the same. And since I believe that a shared project is crucial, I am delighted for you that Barney and Clyde came about.

I am also delighted for myself, of course, because I am enjoying the strip. I especially like the way that you are mixing subtle philosophical notions (whether you intend to or not) and surprising twists. I laughed out loud at the "kitten eyeballs" bit and hope that you don't shy away from that kind of edginess.

I also like the way that your characters are showing signs of depth of complex personalities. I am hopeful that as these characters get better established we will see more and more character-driven humor. One of my complaints about many comic strips is that the characters are superficial and simple, and are used for no real purpose but to spout lame jokes.

So good luck with the strip and, more importantly, with the partnership.

Gene Weingarten: Thanks. Most of the philosophy is deliberate. We deal with solipsism soon in a rather illuminating way.

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Arlington Park, Va.: I've been enjoying the strip so far, but am not sure yet where it is going. Do you view this as becoming more of a gag-driven strip, or are you planning on introducing more convoluted plots?

Gene Weingarten: In the world of cartooning, there is supposedly a sharp dichotomy between gag-driven strips (setup, punchline) and character-driven strips, which are what they sound like. "Get Fuzzy" might be the prototypical character-driven strip. "Get Fuzzy" sometimes has no punchline at all -- just characters interacting in ways that are funny because you are invested in their bizarre life together.

I think the best strips, like Doonesbury, do both. We're trying for that.

Actually, in a few Sundays, we have a meta-strip exploring exactly this issue.

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A Year's Worth in the Can: As the strip goes on, does the (so far) overall theme of rich-is-bad and homeless-is-noble continue? Or do you get some depth? Or is this strip just another nepotism-driven product of the Weingarten People's Collective?

Gene Weingarten: You will have to see. Things happen, okay?

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Arlington Gay: Gene, I agree your son is hot though he's way too young for me. However, I don't see any "implications." I think he does look like a pretty version of you.

I'm liking the strip so far. I can see potential if you don't run out of steam. Loved the article, too. My father never wanted to write a comic strip with me.

Gene Weingarten: I find the concept of "a pretty version of me" to be completely terrifying. But thank you.

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She claims that the comic speaks volumes to boys but that it's off-putting to many girls: Not THIS GIRL! I loved C&H!!!! Between that, Peanuts, Pogo and The Far Side, I could be happy forever. Nothing else compares. That is sad, since C & H is deeply witty, she's implying that girls can't get the jokes, we're not smart enough.

Gene Weingarten: Well, to me the existence of Susie was essential. I think it would have been very boy-heavy without her.

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Bowie, MD: My problem with the strip so far is that Barney looks too much like that other billionaire, C. Montgomery Burns from the Simpsons. I have a hard time not hearing Mr. Burns' voice when I reading Barney's dialog.

Gene Weingarten: Originally, he looked more like Monty Burns. We actually changed him so there was a lot less resemblance.

I think if you put them side by side, you'd see they're quite difference. But sure -- dome head, pointy jaw. A very superficial similarity.

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Washington, D.C.: This is Daniel Meltzer, from Walt Whitman high school. Not sure how to prove my authenticity, but we met again when I tore your movie ticket at Landmark Theaters...

I've received a half-dozen or so phone calls with regard to my name being in the first paragraph of this article. Brought me back to my surly early teenage years for sure! I recall Dan being a good kid: not as prone to get into trouble as I, and Adam Cohen and I had a falling out that year or a year prior. If indeed that is my detention note and not Dan's, I'm sorry for any trouble it got you into with your parents, Dan! If, on the other hand, Dan accomplished this double-slight and blamed his insubordination on me, good choice! There weren't many people more likely for such a detention to have stuck than myself at that time. Best of luck with your strip, Dan, it is great to hear about your successes!

Gene Weingarten: Hey, Daniel. No, he pulled the double reverse, indeed. You misremember Dan, if you remember an orderly guy. Once, we got a call from a teacher because he had stowed away on a another class's class trip to an art museum. He simply wanted to see the museum, so hitched a ride. They discovered him at the museum, and had no way to get him back to school, so he got his jaunt. And detention.

Another time he pulled a fire alarm...

Dan, is there anything else I am forgetting?

Dan Weingarten: No, there's nothing else...
I swear.

It was good bumping into you Daniel. I hope nursing school is going well. Sounds like you're less prone to get into trouble now. Unless you have "Scrubs"-like pranks in mind. In which case, document them well.

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Washington DC: Will the Post be furnishing magnifying glasses to their print readers, or should we just go online to see all the text in your strip?

Gene Weingarten: The type is not a font -- it's hand-lettered -- and does seem slightly smaller than some other strips. Are other people having trouble reading it?

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Capitol Hill: Did you consider Barney and Clive as the title? Clive sounds more upper crust than Clyde; just make Barney the homeless guy.

Gene Weingarten: But then you'd lose the Bonnie and Clyde resonance. Plus, if it were Barney and Clive, Clive would have to be the homeless guy. A no-brainer.

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DC: I remember reading that Dilbert had to move away from word play humor because it didn't sell overseas.

Is that a "problem" you're hoping to have?

Gene Weingarten: Exactly. When we're on the verge of sales to Bosnia and Lithuania, we will definitely consider wholesale changes to the humor engine.

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Tangentially: Do either of you have advice on how to develop "a hide like a rhino"?

My life would be much improved if I could learn that. I know I should not be bothered by the words, much less thoughts of others; there is a big distance between knowing it rationally and manifesting it.

What do you mean, that you aren't Carolyn Hax?

Gene Weingarten: I have been writing publicly for so long that I can't remember a time I took things deeply personally. It was really a pragmatic decision: You basically tell yourself one day that you either need a new attitude or a new line of work.

Will that work for you?

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Fathers & Sons: It seems like every guy I know has had the "the time I belted my father" or the "time my son punched me" moment. Is this a universal, a tipping point in the relationship? Did you ever haul off and hit your father?

Gene Weingarten: Nope. But that's interesting: Is this really that common?

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Dan: Did your father's relationship with your sister hurt your relationship with your sister? Did you resent her the academics/sports/general "good kid" label?

Gene Weingarten: Dan won't answer this so I will; it's best answered from afar, actually: Dan and his sister are as close as a pair of siblings can be. It's a joy to see them together.

When my wife and I discuss what we've done wrong and right, this is what gives us the greatest reassurance. Neither of us was close to our sibling; somehow, in some way, we facilitated this for our children.

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Olney, MD: Gene! You're hogging the chat! Let the young man have a turn!

Gene Weingarten: He's on a balky computer, doing things as fast as he can.,

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McLean, VA: As the mother of soon-to-be 2.5- and 1-year old boys, I hope they turn out as great as Dan sounds. I plan to encourage them to challenge authority and follow their own path. I expect all of their teachers to be annoyed with them and me for being "challenging." Any tips on fostering a real independent spirit, or is it just innate? So far I've been practicing benign neglect (or I might just be a little lazy) and letting them figure out most things for themselves. But I would appreciate any tips you've got!

Dan Weingarten: Clearly this article didn't go into my faults enough.

Um, I don't think you really can teach a kid to follow their own path and challenge authority. That's why second generation hippie communes die.

But if you're going for an interesting child, bad parenting is typically the best way to go. Ritualistic abuse can lead to Multiple Personality Disorder. And that's like having dozens of independent spirits.

Thanks for the question.

Gene Weingarten: See?

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Fairfax: So you listed three "major" newspapers you're in. How many total? What are your goals six months from now? A year?

Gene Weingarten: Technically, in lying syndicate terminology, we are in eight papers right now. That means four newspapers, each buying Sunday and daily. Other deals are in the works.

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DC: When Dan moved out and in with a girlfriend, did you give him an updated "Birds and the Bees" talk?

Gene Weingarten: He gave ME one.

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article: Did the Gene/Molly and rib/Dan dynamics ever cause Gene/rib conflicts? If so, how long did they linger.

Dan Weingarten: For some reason this question creates disturbing imagery in my mind.

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Gene Weingarten: Okay, thank you all from Dan and me. We appreciate all the comments, good and bad. Keep watching the strip; we'd like to hear from you.

To my regular chatters: No update tomorrow. I'm traveling.

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Not PtP: You said: Also, did the last sentence need a question mark? I've never known how to go on "I wonder if..." sentences. Any copy editors reading this? Pat the Perfect?

I typically end "I wonder if" sentence with the ellipses, as they feeling like trailing thoughts that wouldn't have punctuation so decisive as a question mark or period. As in, "I wonder if Gene will post this comment . . . "

Gene Weingarten: And he will! Good solution.

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Exploding: Kitten eyeballs.

The joke was a bit of a cliche, wasn't it?

Dan Weingarten: The kittens didn't see it coming.

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