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Comics: Meet the Artist
With Graham Nolan
Cartoonist, "Rex Morgan, M.D."

Hosted by Suzanne Tobin
Washington Post Comics Editor

Friday, May 16, 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 Graham Nolan, illustrator for the comic "Rex Morgan, M.D." and on which he collaborates with Woody Wilson. He also is the cartoonist for the 'Phantom' comic.

Join Tobin and Nolan online Friday, May 16 at 1 p.m. ET to discuss the art of cartooning.

Submit questions either before or during the discussion.

Nolan is a professional cartoonist with 16 years of extensive experience in the comic-book business. He worked for Marvel Comics and DC Comics, illustrating the adventures of well-known characters such as Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, X-Men, Wolverine and many others. For six years he was a senior Batman illustrator for DC, where he designed and co-created BANE, a Batman villain of the '90s who appeared in the movie Batman and Robin. Prior to his comics career, he worked in advertising.

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 Graham Nolan, illustrator for "Rex Morgan, M.D." and the Sunday "Phantom" comic strips. Graham is joining us from his Compass Comics studio in East Aurora, N.Y. Welcome, Graham, and thanks for joining us Live Online.

Graham Nolan: Thanks to everyone who is in the chat room. It is nice to be here!

Alexandria, VA: Why did all characters, even Heather (who already was an attractive chick,) undergo plastic surgery, makeovers, etc., when you began drawing the strip several years ago? Heck, even 100-year old Melissa has skin as smooth as Baby Sarah's. If Becka's boyfriend, the chef, ever resurfaces (assuming he survived the toxic mold in his apartment,) I suspect he will resemble a young Marcello Mastroianni. Don't these people realize that aging is natural? Why the emphasis on the young and the beautiful? Demographics?
(Now I know this girl, Cathy, and her friend, Irving, who just might be willing to change strips...)

Graham Nolan: The character are supposed to be in their early 30's…they were just poorly drawn before. I brought them back to the way the originally were conceived and gave them modern clothes instead of outfits from the 1950's.

Gasoline Alley: Graham:

Hi. About 20 years ago, I remember meeting Rex Morgan at a Medical Society dinner party, and he was there with Abbey Spencer. I believe Rex and June, as well as Abbey and Sam, were both temporarily separated at the time. My question is: how long did Rex court Abbey, and what became of their romance? Also, is it true that Mary Worth used to date Mark Trail, long before he dated and married Cherry? Wasn't there an age difference thing? It's just so hard to keep up with these comics folks! Thanks for answering these socially pressing questions today.

Graham Nolan: I believe Rex used to date Olive Oyle as well,…but some sailor kicked his butt.

Cottage City, Md.: Quite a jump from Batman to Rex Morgan, wasn't it? What was the impulse to take on a doctor as the lead? Oh, and thanks for releasing June from her 1950's prison. It's nice to see she can be a whole person finally.

Graham Nolan: I got tired of the direction that comic-books were going and wanted a change.

Forestville, Md.: Compliment, but...: I love the "upgrades" on the entire cast. It was a major improvement to the quality of the strip. With the modern story lines, and an occasional smirk on June's face, I'm almost happy with everything in one of my favorite soap operas. I especially enjoy the fact that your work now allows the characters faces to match their lines. Rex getting angry with June, or Berna in shock over a malpractice bill, or heck, everyone can finally smile...Great work.

However...you have the same problem drawing babies that I do, so I feel comfortable complaining. Little Miss Morgan looks, um, weird. I do portrait art, finally won't display anything with a baby in it until I think that I have finally gotten the proportions right. Thus, I have never presented a piece with a baby in it! Maybe she could show up as just a head when her absentee mother picks her up, or just a hand throwing things at English spies, etc.

Graham Nolan: Try drawing a baby in a 2 inch space!

Crystal City, Va.: How much of your work, if any, do you do on the computer? Are you a Mac person or a PC person?

Graham Nolan: I am a Mac person…and I add tones on the computer.

Arlington, Va.: I don't see what all the fuss is about Kitty Prescott in Rex Morgan, MD, being so beautiful. To me she just looks like June with longer hair. I know you can't draw her like a a buxom vixen out of the action comic genre for this audience, but don't you think you should have made her beauty more distinct since it was talked about so much at the beginning of this storyline?

Graham Nolan: Kitty has a different jawline than June as well as thicker eyebrows…she is base on Jennifer Connelly.

Harrisburg, Pa.: As an illustrator, what input do you have on plot lines or dialogue? If you could have more influence on the written end, would you wish such influence?

Graham Nolan: I just control the visuals on the strips. In comic-books, I had more input.

Lyme, Ct.: If you were not an illustrator, what else do you think you might have done in life?

Graham Nolan: This is what I have always wanted to do since I was 11 years old.

Wollongong, NSW, Australia: Hi Graham. Are you enjoying drawing The Phantom, and what has been your most enjoyable comics work to date?

Graham Nolan: The Phantom is one of my all time favorite characters and I love doing the strip!
The Phantom, Monster Island and Superman: The Odessy were my favorites projects.

Harrisburg, Pa.: How did you come up with BANE? Have you suggested other characters? If so, what characters have you created that we never (or have yet to) saw?

Graham Nolan: Actually, Chuck Dixon came up the idea for an evil "Doc Savage" and I designed the character.

Severna Park, Md.: Graham, I think you have breathed a lot of life into Rex Morgan, MD. Your style is GREAT! I also read your "sister" comic strip, Judge Parker (also in the Post), what do you think of Harold LeDoux's style of comic art? And, if Harold ever retires, would you consider taking over Judge Parker also? If not you, what other comic artist would you recommend to continue the Judge?

Graham Nolan: I like Harrolds slick style. I think Eduardo Baretto would be great on a strip like Judge Parker

Annapolis, Md.: Hey, Graham!

Love your work! From the comic books to what you do now with Rex and the Phantom Sundays(HOW COME THE POST CAN'T CARRY THAT, SUZANNE?).

How do you work with writer Woody Wilson on the strip in terms of how the characters look(outside of Rex, June and the rest of the cast)? Does he give you an idea of what they should look like?

Lastly, how do you have time to do Rex Morgan and the Phantom...are you under constant deadline pressure?

Keep up the great work!

Graham Nolan: Thanks for the kind words. It is a busy schedule, but I am pretty fast. I handle all the visuals, but Woody might give me an idea of how the character should look and I take it from there.

Towson, Md.: Who is your favorite character to draw in your Sunday Phantom strips?

Graham Nolan: The Ghost-Who-Walks

Denver, Colorado: One chat room I frequent has a rather large and fervent following for June. Her bathtub appearance set the loyalists ablaze...any plans for similar appearances?

Graham Nolan: I sure hope so! Comic strips have become so sanitary it was nice to see a little skin ;)

catawissa, PA: this is an art class and my students want to ask when and how you got started in comics?

Graham Nolan: I went to the Joe Kubert School in Dover NJ. Then worked in advertising till my comics career took off.

Durham, NC: A friend and I have been doing a comic strip for a college newspaper for the past 2 and a half years. Do you have any advice for aspiring cartoonists? How did you get into the business?

Graham Nolan: That's a tough question and at the risk of sounding trite...hard work and perserverance. Keep sending your stuff to editors.

Ballston, Va. Metro: How do you work your schedule so that you can go on vacation, especially when you do a strip like Rex Morgan, where reruns are not an option? Do you take your work wherever you go?

Graham Nolan: When I want a vacation, I have to work ahead.

Gotham: Is Rex Morgan the new Batman colleague, Doctorman? This is what I'm hearing on the Gotham social circuit. Thank you.

Graham Nolan: No, I think he's the new Leslie Thompkins!

Louisville, Ky.: Graham --

If you've never done so, you really need to visit The Bucket at www.gilthorp.com.

Since the Gil Thorp strip pretty much reeks, we've all had to look elsewhere for our comic strip entertainment, and your extensive renovation of June & company has not gone unnoticed.

You are our hero. Drop by and have a drink sometime.

Graham Nolan: I am always open for a drink...!

Sandy Spring, Md.: You mentioned an artist named Eduardo Baretto...I'm not familiar with the name. Is he currently drawing a newspaper strip?

Graham Nolan: No but he has worked comic-books for over 20 years. He's great.

Tysons Corner -- Vienna, Va.: You draw too very different types of strip: the action-adventure and the soap opera. Do you prefer one over the other? If you could only do just one, which would you choose?

Graham Nolan: My roots are in the adventure style of strip, but the soap offers different challenges that I enjoy.

Brookland, Washington, D.C.: When you create a character for a comic strip, like BANE, do you own the rights to that character, or does the comic book publisher?

Graham Nolan: The publisher owns the right, but the creators get a piece of it.

Avenue, Md.: How did you get the job to draw Rex Morgan? Did you all get much feedback--positive or negative--when you first took over the job?

Graham Nolan: I was in the right place at the right time. I was submit a strip of my own and King asked me if I would be interested in Rex.

Providence, RI: Who were your early influences when you were just starting out in your career?

Graham Nolan: John Romita, Roy Crane, John Buscema, Frank Robbins were all influences of mine.

Los Angeles, Calif.: Did you ever see the 1996 "Phantom" movie with Catherine Zeta Jones? If so, what did you think of it?

Graham Nolan: I loved it.

Alexandria, Va.: What was the toughest thing for you to learn to draw? Facial expressions, action sequences, etc?

Graham Nolan: I can't draw space ships....don't ask why!

Takoma Park, Md.: Do you ever watch cartoons on TV? Would you ever be interested in working in animation?

Graham Nolan: Not really. Other than story-boarding it seems kind of tedious.

Rockville: You said earlier that you weren't happy with the direction comic books were going in. Can you elaborate on that? I remember a year or so back, Frank Cho of "Liberty Meadows" left newspaper comic strips to concentrate on comic books because he didn't like the constant deadlines and the censorship by editors, but I think he publishes his own work.

Graham Nolan: I don't like that it's nearly impossible to sell an adventure strip to a newspaper these days. Most of the continuity strips are a far cry from what they were, but that doesn't mean there aren't new and great ideas out there looking for readers.
The gag a day strips are so derivative...if I see one more Far Side rip off in the paper I think I will puke!

Leesburg, Va: What was the strip you submited to King Features when they asked you to draw Rex? Are you still hoping to have it syndicated? What's it about?

Graham Nolan: It's an adventure strip based on a comic-book I published, called MONSTER ISLAND. It's about two navy fliers that get stranded on a an island of aliens and monsters.

Bethesda, MD: Graham,

Who does the coloring of the strip on Sunday? Also, how come the characters have different colors on during the week (dailies) and different ones on Sunday? Can't the syndicate get it together?

Graham Nolan: The colors on the Sunday's are done by me. The colors on the dailies are done by the syndicate. Since the Sunday's are done so much further ahead, I don't know why they don't look at them to base their colors on.

Point of Rocks, Md.: Hi, Graham. Thanks for taking my question. Who is currently drawing the daily "Phantom" strips if you are drawing only the Sundays. And are you hoping that he has an unfortunate accident involving his drawing hand? Seriously, if the opportunity to draw "Phantom" on a daily basis came up, what would you do?

Graham Nolan: George Oleson has been doing the dailies since Sy Barry retired many years ago.
I would be more than happy to take over the dailies when George decides he is ready to retire.

Reston, Va.: Do you ever appear at comic book conventions? Are you going to any in the near future?

Graham Nolan: I don't have any on my schedule right now, but yes I do conventions. The last one I attended was Mega-Con in Orlando back in February.

Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: What's the best way to submit work to the comic book companies? Is there a directory (like the "Writer's Market" book freelance authors use) I can find?

Graham Nolan: The best way is to submit xeroxes of your work and send them directly to the editors of the characters you have drawn. I wouldn't send Marvel characters to DC editors and vice-versa.

Tampa, Florida: Graham,

As a fellow pro, it's great to see you bring such energy, enthusiasm and skill back to the 'funny' pages. Your work is something I always look forward to seeing.

What haven't you had the chance to draw yet in the Phantom, that you are dying to get to put on paper?

Graham Nolan: Thanks so much...(is this a Cross-Gen compadre?)
I can't think of anything in particular.

Oxon Hill, Md.: Are there many women working in the comic book business? I know when I go to comic book stores I'm almost always the only woman in the place. Is it an old boy network that is difficult for women to break into?

Graham Nolan: There are not a lot of women in the comic-book business, but I think it's more of a function of the subject matter is less appealing to woman rather than an old boy network that is keeping them out.

Northwest DC: Hey, Graham, you mentioned the Joe Kubert School earlier. Are you telling me there's actually a school for cartoonists? I've never heard of it.

Graham Nolan: Yep! It's in Dover, NJ. I think if you do a search you can find a web address.

White Oak, Md.: Do you have an agent? Who handles the business matters--like contracts with the syndicates--once you get hired to do a strip?

Graham Nolan: No I don't have an agent. I handle most business affairs myself, but if it is a complicated issue I will use an attorney.

Waldorf, Md: What's the funniest piece of fan mail--positive or negative--that you've ever received?

Graham Nolan: I got an angry letter from an elderly reader when I took over Rex saying she represented all the readers in her retirement village. I think she tried to poison me with all the perfume on the envelope!

Chicago, IL: Graham,

Really cool of you to do this...couple of questions...

Do you do all the lettering on the strips (Rex and Phantom)?

Do you have anyone assist you (inking, clean up)?

Thanks...now if one of the Chicago papers would carry Rex...

Graham Nolan: Yes, I do all the lettering...but I cheat a bit by using a computer font.
I do use an assistant occasionally on Rex when I need to get ahead to take a vacation.

Arlington, VA: No question I'm afraid, since the Joe Kubert-influence has already been answered. Instead, I'd like to compliment Graham on his artwork. His excellent work has drawn me into the strip which I never read before he took it over. In fact, I'd be interested in a collection - any plans or hopes for one?

Graham Nolan: Many thanks! I wish they would collect the strips together. I would think they would be great in a doctors waiting room.

Tampa, Florida: We go back quite a bit farther than that.

How about this:

AS far as the art goes, How tightly do you pencil you strips before you ink them? And, Do you need to get approval of the pencils before you can finish them off?

Graham Nolan: Hmmm, now you have me wondering. I don't pencil the art as tight as I would if someone was inking me. I like to do a lot of the "noodling" in the inking stage.
And no, I don't have to have any approval on the pencils.

Richmond, Va: Hey Graham! How does the syndicate pay the artists/writers of each strip? I would assume a strip like Rex Morgan, which has been around for years, commands a lot of money...or does it depend on the kind of paper it runs in (ie: The Post and some smaller paper like the Richmond Times-Dispatch)?

Graham Nolan: The syndicate rates are based on how profitable the strip is. In other words, how many papers it appears in.

Baltimore:: When did you start working on the "Phantom" comic strip? I read it in the Baltimore Sun on Sundays. And what can you tell me about Lee Falk, its creator?

Graham Nolan: I started on the Phantom in August of 2000.
Lee Falk created the Phantom in 1936 (as well as Mandrake the Magician) and wrote both strips till his passing a few years ago.

Towson: The current Sunday "Phantom" has a terrorism storyline...is that in response to the current world situation?

Graham Nolan: Yes. I wanted to do a story that looked modern about modern themes, so I consulted the writer and he came up with the storyline.

Alexandria: I have not seen the Phantom in years. With regard to today's earlier discussions, does Mister Walker- now have more stylish shades and raincoat than previously? Also, have you
replaced the Phantom's beautiful purple tights with perhaps Nike warm-ups? I can't imagine how the Pygmy Bandar people look.

- for the Ghost Who Walks

Graham Nolan: The Phantom still looks the same...But the pygmies are now 7 feet tall...I felt they needed an overhaul so as not to offend the vertically challenged.

Ellicott City, Md.: Since you do the Sunday "Phantom" and someone else does the dailies, do you have to adjust your style to his for continuity purposes?

Graham Nolan: No, because they are two different storylines that run concurrently.

Tampa, Florida: What is your fondest memory of Dover?

Graham Nolan: So much of it is a blur...he, he.

Downtown DC: Hi,
As a mom, I just wanted to say that I love how the strip portrays motherhood. I was so glad to see that June breastfed her infant and that she is working mom.

Graham Nolan: You are welcome, Cara. I also love that aspect of the strip. The real world touches.

Southwest DC: Graham...great work on Rex Morgan...it is a much better strip because of you. Do you get paid by the number of papers carry the strip...or how does the syndicate cut a deal with artist/writer?

Graham Nolan: It's different if you create the strip then it is a 50/50 split with the syndicate. I work on existing strips so it is a work for hire deal.

Rosslyn: What was the best piece of advice you ever received from a colleague or mentor?

Graham Nolan: Make sure you set aside your tax money and make those quarterly payments!
And I am serious about that answer!

Cleveland Park: While you're working, do you have anything going on in the background, like CDs or TV?

Graham Nolan: I usually have music on, but sometimes I listen to old radio programs or books on tape.

Columbus, OH: Graham...great work on both strips...our paper here carries the Phantom on Sunday. How far ahead do you work? And why is it that Sundays have to be done so far in advance. Thanks

Graham Nolan: I work 6-9 weeks ahead on the Sundays. The reason being is that they have to be color separated and printed separately from the dailies.

catawissa, PA: I've got the Swedish comic with Monster Island. Where can I find one with English text?

Enjoying the interview,

Graham Nolan: e-mail me @grahamnolan@aol.com and I will tell you how you can get a copy.

Suzanne Tobin: Thanks so much, Graham, for being with us here today. It's been great fun! We hope everyone will join us again in two weeks for another edition of "Comics: Meet the Artist."

Graham Nolan: This was a great pleasure to talk to so many readers of my comics and strips.Thanks to all who participated and I'll see ya in the funny papers!

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