Comics: Meet the Artist
With Mike Twohy
Cartoonist, "That's Life"
Hosted by Suzanne Tobin
Washington Post Comics Editor
Friday, Jan. 17, 2003; 1 p.m. ET
Welcome to the Washington Post Style section comics discussion, hosted by Comics page editor Suzanne Tobin. This week, Tobin is joined by Mike Twohy, creator of cartoon "That's Life."
Tobin and Twohy were online Friday, Jan. 17 at 1 p.m. ET to discuss "That's Life," 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 our first edition of "Comics: Meet the Artist" in 2003. Today our guest is Mike Twohy of "That's Life." Mike is joining us from his studio in Berkeley, Calif. Welcome, Mike, and thanks for joining us Live Online.
Richmond, Va.: Did you go to art school?
Mike Twohy: Yes, I went to San Jose State and majored in art, and then I attended UC-Berkeley and earned an Master of Fine Arts in Painting. I intended to make a living as a painter, and to teach art, but within about a year I sold my first cartoon to a magazine, the Saturday Evening Post, and I re-routed my career.
Falls Church, Va.: How many papers is your comic syndicated in and how long have you been penning "That's Life?"
Mike Twohy: It's going on four years now that I've been doing the comic. I can say it's in roughly 60 papers, at last count.
Richmond, Va.: Do you still paint?
Mike Twohy: I don't paint now, but my Sunday color strips call on my painting abilities. My syndicate, The Washington Post Writers Group, encouraged me to do a loose type of watercolors for the Sunday cartoons to give it a fresh look. So I use an overlay and I put watercolor and colored ink over the line drawing.
Suzanne Tobin: Mike, I notice that you often have cartoons in The New Yorker magazine. For our readers who have recent issues on hand, take a look at page 75 in the Jan. 13th issue, or p. 131 in the Dec. 23-3o issue. Is there different creative process from doing those magazine cartoons and the ones for your regular panel?
Mike Twohy: Yes, there is. When I cartoon for magazines, including The New Yorker, an important part of the process is slanting the humor and the subject matter to the appropriate audience. The New Yorker emphasizes words and language and has a level of verbal sophistication that is very specific to that publication. With my "That's Life" panel, the slant is very general and I'm trying to appeal to a very broad audience.
Bethesda, Md.: Have you ever thought about teaching?
Mike Twohy: Well, as I mentioned earlier, I wanted to teach art, but since I've started cartooning, except for an occasional workshop appearance, I don't really have the time to teach. I am open to doing it at some point.
Annandale, VA: The "That's Life" archive link at the top of this page is a broken link. Just thought you'd like to know.
washingtonpost.com: Try this one: That's Life
Mike Twohy: .
Woodbridge, Va.: Hello, I am an aspiring cartoonist and I was wondering if you could share any advice on getting published.
Mike Twohy: The first piece of advice is don't be discouraged and learn how to deal with rejection, because everybody has to go through that and many talented people give up too early. My experience with The New Yorker, actually, brought that home, meeting some of The New Yorker cartoonists, like George Booth, who took 20 years to first get published in the magazine. One of my heroes in the freelance cartoon world was Henry Martin, and I've heard that he went to The New Yorker with his bundle of cartoons every week for 4 years before they finally bought one.
Arlington, Va.: How did you get into cartooning?
Mike Twohy: Actually, I saw a notice on a bulletin board "Gag Writer Looking for Cartoonist" and I answered it and the gag writer was an old-timer who used to write for comedy shows on the radio. I drew up several of his ideas and sent them off to The New Yorker. They were rejected immediately. But it was enough to launch me on a new career.
Suzanne Tobin: You seem to use a lot of animals in lab settings in your "That's Life" panel. What's up with that, are you a PETA person?
Mike Twohy: I guess I'm not a PETA person, but I love animals and have numerous pets, including a 140-pound indoor Newfoundland. You gotta love dogs to have an an indoor Newfoundland!
I draw "That's Life" while my 4-year-old pet cockatiel sits on my shoulder, so maybe that's where the animal mind set comes from.
I think that a lot of humor comes out of extreme situations. The lab situation is one, heaven-hell cartoons are another and then there's always the classic desert isle setup. When I can't think of anything else, I'll start sketching a prison cell or a courtroom, both stressful environments, and see what comes out of it.
Arlington, Va.: It's amazing that you got past the rejection. I wish I could. Any advice?
Mike Twohy: I guess it's part of my personality, but I sort of approached the rejections more positively...like when The New Yorker actually allowed me into the office with my submissions when I visited the East Coast, even though they had rejected all my drawings up to that point. And I relished any small successes, even a small sale to a small magazine.
As for advice, for The New Yorker or any other branch of cartooning, draw what you enjoy and develop your own style and voice.
Annandale, Va.: Are you friends with other cartoonists?
Mike Twohy: Most of the other cartoonists that I know live on the East Coast and so I'm somewhat isolated out here. I used to visit the East Coast regularly and would keep up with my peers more then. Now, except for an occasional Christmas card, I'm pretty on my own. But, I did go up in August to the opening of the Charles Schulz museum in Santa Rosa and got to see a lot of old friends there.
Suzanne Tobin: Do you listen to music while you work?
Mike Twohy: I jump around the radio dial while I'm drawing. I listen to a lot of talk radio while I'm sketching, and that seems to help trigger ideas later on.
I go out almost daily to local coffee houses, and I have a couple of favorites. It's a little like fishing, where I get certain types of ideas at different coffee houses. I usually nurse a latte for about 3 hours and just concentrate on ideas for that block of time.
If I don't come up with ideas at one place, I'll move on to another coffee house. I used to work more at home but now I've found that going out to think is like punching a time clock and I concentrate well for that period.
Tysons Corner, Va.: How do you pronounce your last name?
Mike Twohy: Like the number 2 and the letter e, which is why my e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lyme, Conn.: You mentioned your first cartoons were rejected by the New Yorker, yet they were enough to laugh your career. There seems to be a little more in between that story. How did you make your first sales and how did you get your strip launched?
Mike Twohy: There's not too much in between. It was just persistence and it took about a year before The New Yorker bought my first drawing. For my "That's Life" panel, The Washington Post Writers Group was interested in syndicating a general humor panel of mine when I first showed it to the editor there. I guess of one of the lucky ones.
Washington, D.C.: What cartoonists do you admire the most?
Mike Twohy: Charles Schulz, of course, for his great accomplishments. Many of The New Yorker cartoonists, and they were the ones who were most inspirational to me, because my first goal was to get into The New Yorker.
I did read the comics pages in newspapers when I was a kid, and when I was in elementary school, I had my own neighborhood newspaper, and I did the entire comics page for that, which included all different styles of comics, from realistic to goofy. I submitted one of my cartoon strips to the syndicates when I was 11 years old. I was actually was thrilled to receive a rejection letter addressed to "Mr. Twohy." When I was in high school I did a sports cartoon for my local paper, The Palo Alto Times, and in college I had a summer job illustrating math workbooks with cartoons. "If John stacks 6 logs of wood in an hour..." that type of thing. But then I got into "serious" art, until I realized that cartoons pay better.
Washington, D.C.: You do realize, don't you, that you just gave out your e-mail address to the entire free world?
Mike Twohy: It's been out there for awhile, since it's listed in my panel every time it's published. And I welcome sweet comments.
Arlington, Va.: Is it as hard for artists as it is for writers to get a piece into the New Yorker?
Mike Twohy: Well, at least you don't an agent to submit cartoons. And I believe that each submission actually gets looked at by the cartoon editor at The New Yorker. The New Yorker is like the Holy Grail of panel cartoons, but it doesn't help to set your sights a little lower, like in a local newspaper or small magazine, so that you can relish some success.
Suzanne Tobin: Thanks so much, Mike, for taking time out. I must say this is the first time I've had anyone Live Online, where I had a background with a cockatiel whistling in the background. Pip certainly lives up her name. I hope our readers will come back in two weeks when Tom Armstrong of "Marvin" will be our guest Live Online.
Mike Twohy: I enjoyed answering everyone's questions and thanks for the opportunity to chat. I have to go crank up my AC here, as the temperature is about 75 degrees.
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