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Comics: Meet the Artist
With Hilary Price
"Rhymes With Orange" Cartoonist

Hosted by Suzanne Tobin
Washington Post Comics Editor

Friday, Oct. 25, 2002; 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 "Rhymes With Orange" cartoonist Hilary Price.

Tobin and Price were online Friday, Oct. 25 at 1 p.m. ET to discuss "Rhymes With Orange" 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: Greetings, comics fans and welcome to another edition of "Comics: Meet the Artist." Today our guest is Hilary Price, creator of "Rhymes With Orange," who is joining us from her studio in Florence, Mass. Welcome, Hilary, and thanks so much for joining us Live Online.

Hilary Price: Hi, Suzanne. It's great to be here. For those of you who don't know of Florence, Mass., it's a hamlet of Northampton, Mass., which was just voted No. 1 artsy-fartsy small town in America in some Artsy-Fartsy Small Town of America rating book.

Nantucket, Mass.: I am writing a poem about my blorange maker which every day I use to storange my octatorange. If I could only think of a word to rhyme in my poem, but I'm stuck.

Is it really true that orange is the only English word without a rhyme?

Hilary Price: If you live in Nantucket, Id stick to limericks. No, there are other words without rhymes, such as silver, purple and months.

Redmond, Wash.: I read "Rhymes With Orange" in the Seattle P.I. and find it very funny.

I notice that sometimes there's a "thanks ---" in your strip. Do you use ideas that people send you?

Hilary Price: Yes, I do take ideas from readers. And its important to me that people get credit for their contribution, thus the "thanks" lines. I think theres a myth out there that creativity is a one-person show. And without interacting with their world, I dont think any artist would get any ideas. I have no problem sharing the stage. There are some cartoonists who wont take others ideas, because they want the work to be totally theirs. Im an extroverted person. I get my energy to get up in the morning from interacting with other people. Its an interesting tension in this job, because the actual translation of the ideas into a cartoon is a very solitary one. Ive worked it out so that I share my studio space with two graphic designers. That way, once I have the cartoon down, I can bounce it off a real live human being.

New Windsor, Md.: Ms. Price,
I'm a new reader of your strip, and enjoy your whimsy! Do you use your pet's behavior for inspiration? (Many of your strips include pet situations.)

Hilary Price: My partner and I are proud parents of a 12-year-old blonde mutt, Doxy. And we also share the house with two cats, two fish and a lot of pet hair. So of course they inspire me. Actually yesterday morning after I woke up I had to vacuum the feathers off the quilt and pick up the dead bird that was sleeping next to me, a present from one of the cats. He was kind enough to bite off the head for me.
The time we came home and there were three mice left in various places in the house, I did a strip of two people talking with two cats in the background playing badminton with a mouse, and the two people are saying, "It's cruel how they bat it around before they eat it."
So I have my furry friends to thank for plenty of my off-color pet jokes.

Buzzardbreath Wyoming: Is Jay Kennedy really an elf? An inquiring mind wants to know.

Hilary Price: For those readers who don't know, Jay Kennedy is the editor of King Features Syndicate, which syndicates my strip. And while not a Wilt Chamberlain in height, he is a fine strapping man. What, did he reject a submission from you, and is that your motivation for defaming him online?

Armpitville, N.J.: You were nominated for a Reuben last year. Would that have been a conflict for you had you won since aren't you a vegetarian?

Hilary Price: If for some crazy reason you don't know, the Reuben Award is like the Oscar for cartoonists. I was nominated for a division award, "Best Comic Panel," not the actual Reuben itself. Had I been up for the Reuben, I would have had no dietary issues as I'm not actually a vegetarian.
I didn't win, Dan Piraro's "Bizarro" won.
It was a real thrill to be nominated. (I KNOW everybody says that about the Oscars, but in my case I really was psyched about it. It came in a letter and I opened it and was completely surprised.
The best part about the awards ceremony, which is the highlight of the National Cartoonist Society convention, was that it was in Cancun, and so I got to drink tropical rum punch out of a pineapple while sitting in a pool and deduct it as a business expense.

Stink Creek, Calif.: It seems like your strip tackles lots of different topics. How come it's not just about one thing, like work, or pets, or a relationship?

Hilary Price: None of us spends our time thinking about just one thing, so I feel like the strip reflects the variety of things that pass through our head each day. It seems confining to limit it to just one topic over and over again. That's how I stay fresh, besides bathing daily.

New York: One of the reasons I love your strip is that many of the "gags" mimic my life. Such as repeatedly having to fish the brownie box out of the garbage, or cleaning up after the mess my cats made batting a mouse around or not being able to get up in the morning because of the weight of the cats on me or hiding certain things and doing a marathon cleaning when my parents come over.

So I just wanted to tell you that you are awesome and your cartooning is some of the most expressive I have ever seen.

Hilary Price: I can see you right now on one of the many TV screens I have. By the way, you're very attractive, but tuck in your shirt.

Arlington, Va.: You're relatively young. Did you find it difficult breaking into the comic business? How did you make sure the right people saw your work?

Hilary Price: I did it by the book. Literally A book. The book was the "Artists and Cartoonists Market," now out of print. But I think "The Graphics Designer Market," has since picked up most of the same information. Or you can get in online right from the syndicates.
I didn't know I was going to be a cartoonist. And I think that's because I didn't get my inspiration to be a cartoonist from the comics pages. I got it from book authors, like Shel Silverstein who did the poems and the drawings "Where the Sidewalk Ends," from Dr. Seuss, and from the New Yorker cartoons (I was precocious). As an eighth grader, I was also influenced by Boynton's Recycled Paper Products greeting cards. It was then that I found out Boynton was a woman, a Sandra vs. a Sam. I didn't think about the comics pages as a venue for my work because although I did read the comics, that's not where I saw myself, because I literally didn't see myself there. There are only a few women cartoonists, and I'm not sure there were any in my hometown paper, the Boston Globe, except Lynn Johnston and her "For Better or Worse." So, initially I wanted to be a New Yorker cartoonist. I actually wrote a letter to Sam Gross, whose work appears in the New Yorker. He was kind enough to write me back and it was encouraging, but then I forgot about it.
When I was about 21, I took a year off of college to travel. I was living in Dublin for a few months, and noticed a political magazine, and decided to submit a few cartoons to them. Then, when I got them published there and I actually had a check in hand, I finally got the idea, "Hey, maybe I could do this for a living."
So I finished college and submitted some of my cartoons to the San Francisco Chronicle, which sort of randomly dropped them into their book review section. Seeing them there got me motivated to start submitting my work to syndicates.

Springfield, Mass.: We see your strip daily, but not on Sunday. How can we get the Sunday strip?

Hilary Price: You can get that by, gently but firmly hassling your newspaper editor. I love doing Sunday strips, because I have more space to work with.

Denver, Colo.: Hilary,

I've been worried sick. Months have gone by without a RWO newsletter. I thought I had done something to upset you. Will we be seeing the newsletter more frequently in the future?

Also, I see that you are having an open house. But those of us in the Wild West don't have much opportunity to make the journey. Will you be taking your open house on the road?

P.S. Our cats love your strip. Well, Spooky does; Misty is a bit ambivalent.

Hilary Price: For you newbies, I do an e-newsletter which you can sign up for on the Rhymes With Orange Web site, at www.rhymeswithorange.com. Last spring I talked about how our air conditioner fell out of a second-story window and made a crater-like hole in the ground below. In addition to those sorts of pithy details, I let people know anything going on with the strip or me.
I hope to be on the road after the "Reining Cats and Dogs," the second Rhymes With Orange collection, comes out in spring, 2003. (Product pitch, Product pitch.)
And so I'd like to dot around to different parts of the country and since my sister lives in Boulder, and I have a free place to stay on her couch, Colorado will definitely be on the itinerary. Keep an eye out on the Web site or in the newsletter for details.

Hinckley, Minn.: Took a "sneak peek" at your forthcoming book. So who came up with the title? You? The cats? The dog?

Hilary Price: It was a collaborative effort.

Fort Wayne, Ind.: Out here in the sticks, our paper chooses not to carry your strip on sundays. We have tried asking nicely, we have tried innuendo, we have tried threats. Can you suggest anything short of violence that would make the Journal-Gazette cave on this request?

Hilary Price: Well, you can tell them that The Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Boston Globe all carry "Rhymes With Orange." Surely, they would want to be included in the same sentence with that kind of company. And this is a relatively quick and easy way to do it.
Please don't be discouraged, just keep peppering them with your request. Repetition is the key.

Hinckley, Minn.: What influenced you to move from California back to Massachusetts?

Hilary Price: Well, I missed my family, and they live in Massachusetts. While I loved the social scene in San Francisco, where I moved after I finished college at Stanford, geographically it didn't feel like home.
And I love to ski. In California the slopes were four hours away. Now the slopes are less than 90 minutes away.

Jamaica Me Crazy, Mass.: Last time I checked, women made up 51 percent of the population. How come there are so few women cartoonists?

Hilary Price: It's going to take longer than the time we have to answer that question. The short version is, for one, I think women are conditioned to laugh at the jokes, not make them. I think that most kids are interested in comics, but girls lose interest around the 8th grade, because they don't have the bridge of superheroes that boys have to keep their interest. There are Archie comics, but then again it's about Archie and his friends, not about Betty and Veronica and THEIR friends.
In a lot of strips on the comics page, the main character is a boy or a man. Until such time that it's more evenly distributed, and that a regular Jane can speak for both men and women the way a regular Joe can, it's going to be an uphill battle.

Monson, Mass.: It's not really a question -- I just wanted to tell you I LOVE your strip and your sense of humor. I save your comic until LAST every day because it's my favorite! I want to go your open house and hope I can make it to meet you in person!

Hilary Price: Well consider this a personal invitation, Monson. It's Nov. 9th and 10th, from 10-4, and directions are on my Web site. Looking forward to seeing you and skip the hostess gift!

Napa, Calif.: Hilary,
Do you feel that cats translate into a wider variety of humor? If so, why? And, do you like Lennie Peterson's trombone playing? (Is it worth it to see his band when they come out this way?)

Hilary Price: I think they do if they're fat cats.
Lennie Peterson draws the comic strip, "The Big Picture," and I hear he has great embouchure (look it up!). His rock band is called "Clutch Grabwell," and although I've never had the pleasure of seeing them live, I have the CD, and it's got lots of energy.

Titillated in Syracuse: Rumor has it that you formerly were drawing advertisements for Chung King or some such thing. Was there a particular cartoon fling that allowed you to burst upon the scene? Okay, scene wasn't great but it was the best I could do.

Hilary Price: I wrote small business ads for Bank of America when I was a freelance writer. Could anything be more thrilling?
The advertising agency I worked for also did Chung King ads, but I was never senior enough to work on fried noodles.
As for "burst upon the scene," I think I covered my odyssey into the comics pages in an earlier question, and it was more of a burp than a burst.

Washington, D.C.: Hi Hilary,

Love your strip -- so much in fact that I sent you an idea (which you graciously thanked me for!)

Do you find it hard to keep up a steady flow of hilarity on your publisher's schedule? Do you keep some in your idea pantry and bring them out when they are ripe, or if you've had a dry spell?

Hilary Price: Yes, it is hard. As soon as you're done sending in the round of seven for one week, next week's seven looms menacingly. My idea pantry is like Old Mother Hubbard's, so if I'm having a dry spell, I just have to leave my office and take the dog for a walk or read whatever I can get my hands on to try and spark my imagination.

Washington, D.C.: Steven Sondheim: "To find a rhyme for silver/Or any 'rhymeless' rhyme/Requires only will, ver-/Bosity and time."

Hilary Price: It's Stephen with a ph, my friend. And I'm a huge fan of his.
How about this for a rhyme, that someone actually sent me: "The four engineers wore orange brassieres."

Granby, Conn.: Oh, I love being reduced to a city and state! I'm too old to know how to handle these online chats, but I wanted to say how much I enjoyed going to the open studio last November. I see you (and the other artists at your bldg) are doing it again this year. Anyone who lives anywhere near western Mass should give it a whirl.

Hilary Price: Absolutely. Signed, Florence, Mass.

Redmond, Wash.: Do you use any computer graphics programs in your work? Or is it all pen and paper?

Hilary Price: Pen and paper. And then I color the Sundays in Adobe Photoshop.

Hinckley, Minn.: What! You're not in Washington, D.C. with the moderator?? Does this mean you don't want her to know that you intend to use this experience today in your future RWO strips (and her along with it)!? Heh, Heh, you are a sly person.

Hilary Price: Dare I tell you that on NPR's radio program, "Fresh Air," Terry Gross's guests are NEVER the studio with her.
No interaction is sacred. It can all be used for an idea for my strip. I warned Suzanne of that going into this.

Fort Wayne, Ind.: When you tour to promote the new book, surely Fort Wayne will not be a tour stop. Will signed copies of the book be available for purchase online?

Hilary Price: I could be persuaded to stop by. Do you have a couch?
As for signed copies being available online, I hope so.

Hilary Price: I have to run now, folks, to finish coloring my Sunday strip for December 1st, and send it in to the syndicate. Jay, if you're online with us, it's on its way, I promise!
Thanks for having me, Suzanne. I'm hoping to meet some of you in person when I finally piece together a book tour in 2003.

Suzanne Tobin: Thanks, Hilary. I have to admit, despite the fact that I think all your women characters look like they've just come from their mammograms, I still like your strip.

Hilary Price: Not all the women on the comics page have to be stacked. This is for all the A and B cups out there.

Suzanne Tobin: Far be it from me to argue with an ARTISTE. Join us again in two weeks when Rick Detorie of "One Big Happy" will be our guest Live Online. See you then!

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