Comics: Meet the Artist
With Chip Sansom
Cartoonist, "The Born Loser"
Hosted by Suzanne Tobin
Washington Post Comics Editor
Friday, April 19, 2002; 1 p.m. EDT
Welcome to the Washington Post Style section comics discussion, hosted by Comics page editor Suzanne Tobin. This week, Tobin hosts "The Born Loser" cartoonist Chip Sansom. Sansom began preparing to become "The Born Loser" at the age of 14 when his father, the late Art Sansom, first created the comic strip. That was 1965. After years of observing and assisting his father, Chip is now in the role he was destined for -- cartoonist for "The Born Loser."
Tobin and Sansom were online Friday, April 19 at 1 p.m. EDT to discuss "The Born Loser" and the art of cartooning.
The transcript follows.
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.
Suzanne Tobin: Welcome, comics fans to another edition of "Comics: Meet the Artist." Today our guest is Chip Sansom, cartoonist for "The Born Loser," who is joining us from his studio in Lakewood, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. "The Born Loser" was originally created by Chip's dad, Art, in 1965, and the two of them worked together on the comic until Art passed away in 1991. The strip has been nominated six times for the National Cartoonist Society Best Humor Strip Award, winning twice in 1987 and 1991. Welcome, Chip, and thanks for joining me and your Washington Post readers Live Online.
Chip Sansom: It's my pleasure. Thank you for having me, Suzanne, and I'm looking forward to chatting with Washington Post readers.
McLean, Va.: "The Born Loser" is funny. The characters are well-drawn, with great names. I wonder if you got elements of his character from Charlie Brown of Peanuts. And is it a deliberate choice to make his wife look bigger (as a put-down to the husband)? I hope he gets a raise someday from his condescending boss (fat chance!).
Chip Sansom: Thanks for the compliment. I agree about the names of the characters, my dad did a great job with that. I think it's impossible to be a cartoonist in this day and age, and not have been influenced by Charles Schulz's creations. But none of the characters are consciously based on any Peanuts character.
It IS a conscious choice that EVERYONE is bigger than Brutus. It's not really a put-down, but it does help reinforce Brutus's meekness and smallness of stature, and, of course, the fact that everyone picks on him.
Seattle, Wash.: Your artwork seems to be exactly the same as your father's. Did you have any formal training?
Chip Sansom: I consider that a compliment whenever anyone tells me that my artwork looks the same as my dad's. That has been my goal since I took over the strip when he passed away in 1991. I have no formal training from school in art work, a fact that I deeply regret. All of my training is from my father. I apprenticed with him for 15 years and he taught me everything he knew--all of his techniques and little secrets that he picked up working for 20 years as a staff artist for the Newspaper Enterprise Association syndicate before he created "The Born Loser" in 1965. He used to call it working in the bullpen, and he started out by drawing other strips when the artist was sick or went on vacation. That was wonderful training, and gave him the opportunity to work in a variety of styles. It also allowed the syndicate to get to know his talents and his wonderful sense of humor. And the time came, when they actually asked him to create his own strip. And that's when he created "The Born Loser."
He was such a great teacher, that I suppose that's why I'm so good at doing what he did.
Colorado Springs, Colo.: I can't imagine coming up with a funny gag every day. You must have a lot of writers on your staff?
Chip Sansom: Coming up with a funny gag every day is the hardest part of this business. I do not have a staff, but I do have a great circle of friends that love the strip and whenever they think an idea has potential, they pass it along. I'm very fortunate that my wife, Brooke, has become as assistant to me, in much the same way I was for my dad. She gives me terrific gags and often, when I'm stuck on an idea that I can't quite work out, the two of us bounce it back and forth until we come up with something that works.
I started working on the strip, strictly as a writer. In 1977, Dad was not looking to retire, but wanted to cut down on his workload a bit. He actually interviewed several professional writers, and at that time, I figured I would give it shot because I had given him gags over the years that he had enjoyed and used in the strip. I believe the reason he ended up choosing me was because I was more attuned to the characters than any of the professional writers were, because I knew the strip better than anyone else, having grown up with it from the time I was 14. Over time, it worked out so well, that both of us felt that I should train to pick up the art work as well. So I did.
Chicago, Ill.: Besides being a cartoonist, I hear that you are an accomplished musician? Is that true? And if so, what instrument do you play?
Chip Sansom: You're good, Chicago! For 20 years, I've been playing bass guitar in a rock 'n' roll band called the Rockin' Ravers, as a hobby on the weekends, in the local club circuit here in Cleveland. It's a nice outlet for me. They're a great group of guys and it's alot of fun.
Jackson, Mich.: I have loved "The Born Loser" for years. Are the people and dog, etc. based on loved ones and friends and employers in your fathers' or your's life?
Chip Sansom: So have I! As for the characters being based on anyone my father or I knew, thank goodness they're not! However, many of the ideas that we get for situations come from personal experiences with friends and loved ones.
Cleveland Ohio: Have any characters been added or deleted since the strip's inception?
Why doesn't Thornapple have a cat?
Chip Sansom: The last major character that was added to the strip was Hurricane Hattie, and that was in about '73. No major characters have ever been deleted. I'm always toying with the idea of adding a character, but haven't settled on one yet.
Thornapple does have a dog, perhaps a cat would provide even more conflict in the house. I'll have to give that serious consideration. After all, I do have a dog and a cat myself at home.
Bethesda, Md./Amateur Psychologist: Do you think that part of the appeal of the strip is that EVERYONE has felt like a "loser" at some point in their life? So, we might find humor in Brutus' situations, but only because we realize it could (or has) happened to us, too! (nervous laughter)
Chip Sansom: It's ironic, but what you said sounds exactly like many of the quotes my father gave in response to questions about the basis of the humor in "The Born Loser." It's like we all think, "there but for the grace of God go I."
Detroit, Mich.: Is syndication your sole means of support? Or, what is the percentage for syndication, licensing and other types of sales?
Chip Sansom: Yes it is my sole means of support. But each artist's deal with the syndicate is unique, and I can speak to that in general. You're basically paid a commission based on the number of newspapers you're in, and the circulation of those newspapers.
Washington, D.C.: No question, just a comment.
One of my favorite Born Loser strips was from years ago. Brutus sees a loving couple (in a bar? restaurant? or something) and sighs that he wishes he and Gladys were like that. His friend tells him to be more romantic, so he goes home and sweeps Gladys off her feet and gives her a passionate kiss. While he kisses her, she notices (and points out!) that the ceiling needs fixing.
Chip Sansom: I remember that one. It was one of my dad's! It goes back about 20 years. I'm glad you enjoyed it enough to remember it all this time.
Alexandria, Va.: No question, just wanted to tell you that I love seeing references to the Cleveland area in the strip, like the CWRU sweatshirt that Brutus wears occasionally. Sigh.
A Homesick Clevelander
Chip Sansom: You're very observant. I often make references to people and places in my hometown and I am a proud graduate of Case Western Reserve University (Class of '74) and often allude to it in the strip. Come for a visit to cure your homesickness.
Somewhere, USA: I love Hurricane Hattie. She reminds me of Lucy from Peanuts. I was wondering if your dad was a friend of Schulz?
Also, I'm a high school librarian and I think I've seen some of your art work for Literacy Projects in Cleveland. Is any of your stuff for sale?
Chip Sansom: Charles Schulz and my dad worked for the same syndicate and they were casual friends. I'm glad you like Hurricane Hattie. For myself, I see more of Dennis the Menace than Lucy in her.
On a serious note, I have done alot of work for the Ohio Literacy Network with several other Ohio-born cartoonists, as well as working in the Newspapers in Education project with other members of the Great Lakes chapter of the National Cartoonists Society. I feel very strongly about the cause of literacy and do whatever I can to promote it.
If you're interested in the Ohio Literacy Network posters, you should contact them directly. I'm sure they're on the Web, but I don't have an exact address.
Washington, D.C.: Hi Chip--
Sounds like you have a great job! Was wondering what other careers you might have pursued if the strip hadn't become available for you to do.
Chip Sansom: I studied to be a writer in school, majoring in English. And I guess in a way you can say I am a writer now, with the comic strip, although not in the way I ever imagined. I have a real need in me to be creative and I find the comic strip very rewarding in that respect. I suppose if I hadn't been able to do "The Born Loser" I would have explored journalism or perhaps even music.
Baltimore, Md.: My favorite "Born Loser" character is the boss, particularly when his arrogance gets the better of him. I still enjoy recalling one comic strip several years back, when he's impatiently posing for a photograph. To express his exasperation with the photographer's delay in taking a picture, the boss sticks out his tongue and makes a face. It's at that moment, of course, that the oblivious photographer snaps the picture and proclaims it perfect while the boss just sits there doing a slow burn.
Is that character, the boss, based on anyone you've ever had to work with or for?
Keep up the great work!
Chip Sansom: I worked a bunch of odd jobs in my youth before I started on the strip, and I have to say I was fortunate not to ever come across anyone like Rancid W. Veeblefester in my working life. Looking back on it, one of my favorite comic characters as a kid was Uncle Scrooge, by Carl Barks. And I do think that he has had an influence on my portrayal of Veeblefester.
Washington, D.C.: Why did your father come to choose a character like Brutus (whom everyone picks on) as his main character?
Chip Sansom: I believe Dad saw Brutus as a sort of "Everyman," the type of character we can all use as the brunt of our jokes without hurting anyone. I think there's a little bit of Brutus in everyone, but hopefully not too much.
Suzanne Tobin: So about how many newspapers carry "The Born Loser"?
Chip Sansom: So many that I can't keep track of them. The last count I received from my syndicate was around 1,300 in over 30 countries. It's translated into at least nine languages that I know of. So I guess Brutus does have a universal appeal to people in all walks of life. Personally, I consider myself a born winner to have had my dad train me for such a wonderful job.
Suzanne Tobin: How did you get the nickname Chip. What's your real name?
Chip Sansom: I'm actually Arthur B. Sansom III. My parents called me Chip so when Mom called us for dinner, she could distinguish me from my dad. When they came up with the nickname it was because they thought I was a chip off the old block. Ironically, following in my father's footsteps in his profession, I guess they were right on the money.
Suzanne Tobin: Do you have any children of your own? And what do they think of your career?
Chip Sansom: I have two daughters, so there's no Arthur B. Sansom IV!
My oldest is 21 and my youngest is 9. (One wife, but two kids!)
I'm actually training them to follow in my footsteps. My youngest is already feeding me gags. She thinks it's really cool that Dad does a comic strip that some of her classmates can read in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
But my oldest was actually more inclined to tell her friends that I was in a rock band rather than the fact that I was a cartoonist.
loser town: Hey, how do you know so much about my life?
Chip Sansom: You poor thing, you have my sympathy. After all, there's a little bit of the Born Loser in all of us.
Chip Sansom: I know we're almost out of time, but before I go, I want to say it's always fun when I have a chance to have contact with my readers. This has been a great break from my normal routine. Now it's back to the drawing board!
Chip Sansom: It's been a pleasure, Chip. And .com folks, if your question didn't get answered in our limited time today, feel free to e-mail Chip at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have a question or comment for me, you can e-mail me at email@example.com.
And a final note while I have your attention! I want to put in a plug for our Comics Survey which will be published on Page 12 in the Sunday, April 28 comics. We're always trying to keep up with what our readers want, and it would be a HUGE help if each and every one of you would fill it out and send it in!
We're going to be taking a break from our regular Live Online chat until May 31, but don't forget to join us then when we'll meet another cartoonist on "Comics: Meet the Artist."
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