The name Tom Toro sounds like a super hero or a bull fighter or something like that, but he’s a cartoonist. He’s had over 200 cartoons published in The New Yorker these past dozen years and just last week his new digital comic strip called “Home Free” debuted at the GoComics.com website.
Tom graduated cum laude from Yale, where he received the Betts Prize for his literary work and he was cartoon editor for the Yale Herald. He also attended film school at NYU.
I had the chance to ask Tom my 10 With Tom questions recently, here they are:
TOM FALCO: Tell me about “Home Free,” how did that come about? I know you got the idea during the pandemic, being home with the family and all, but how did Andrews McMeel get involved with co-development?
TOM TORO: The creation of Home Free involved several unexpected twists — much like the renovation of the family’s home in the comic itself! Initially, I’d gotten to know an editor at a different syndicate, United Media, where we were planning to spin my New Yorker gag cartoons into a daily single-panel comic. That was 12 years ago. But the editor moved over to Andrews McMeel, and our idea kind of fell by the wayside. In the meantime I had a kid and started drawing a family-themed cartoon, “Parentlandia,” for a local magazine here in Portland. I suspected there was a germ of a bigger idea in there, so I reconnected with the editor, and luckily he agreed. It just so happened that Andrews McMeel was launching a new development program at the time, and they thought my concept would be a perfect test case.
We started collaborating — which is right when the pandemic hit. Weirdly, it gave me a lot of inspiration, and it allowed me to immerse myself in comics like Calvin & Hobbes by reading them over and over again with my kid. The concept for Home Free, its characters, its central premise, all began coming into focus, and somehow I found the time to sketch it up between stints as a sourdough chef and a homeschool teacher. Two years of roughs, sample finishes, color tests, note sessions, and PowerPoint pitch decks later — and now here we are!
FALCO: What song would be the theme of “Home Free”?
TORO: Heck, I’m just going to go ahead and say it — “We Built This City” by Starship. (One of my editors is very into music and I can already hear him projectile vomiting!) But I’d use it ironically, with images of the house falling down around the family’s ears, so that’s okay, right?
FALCO: Speaking of themes, home renovation seems to be a theme in “Home Free.” What home improvement shows do you like? Which are your favorites?
TORO: It might not technically count as a home improvement show, but I’ve enjoyed “The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes.” It’s British, which is an automatic plus, and it’s more than just lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous voyeurism. They do deep dives into homes with truly unique designs. I can imagine Mr. and Mrs. Szabo dreaming of something like that even as their renovation spirals out of control.
FALCO: Do you work digitally or with pen and paper?
TORO: I take advantage of both. I jot down ideas on paper, then I draw tighter sketches digitally, then I create ink finishes on bristol paper, and finally I scan and color everything digitally. It’s the best of both worlds: the flexibility of editing and coloring on a tablet, without losing the tactile quality and happy accidents of inking with a brush.
FALCO: Tell us about your studio or workspace.
TORO: It’s cozy. I think there are squirrels living in the roof.
FALCO: If you could crawl into a comic strip present or past, and spend the day, which would it be?
TORO: Hands down, one hundred percent, no question about it: Calvin and Hobbes. It’s practically a requirement to say that you’re influenced by Bill Watterson’s work, but it’s the absolute truth. The joy, the energy, the imagination — there’s just nothing comparable. Getting hit upside the head by a Calvin snowball would be a dream come true.
FALCO: When did the first big break come that made you feel you were really a professional?
TORO: I mean, kind of last week when Home Free debuted! It’s wild to say, since I’ve been in the cartooning racket for over a decade, but this is the first time I feel like I have a steady gig. That’s all you can really hope for in the arts: enough support to practice your craft, and an audience to share it with.
FALCO: Will you continue creating New Yorker cartoons or are you focused on “Home Free” currently?
TORO: Oh yes, I hope to strike a balance doing both. The New Yorker only takes submissions once a week, so I’ll have plenty of time to draw Home Free as well. (“Plenty” is parenting-speak for the frantic few hours when school is in session.) It may take a little while to establish a routine, but gag cartoons and comic strips exercise different creative muscles, so it’s actually beneficial to switch back and forth between the two. That’s something I learned from “Pumping Iron” — symmetry is the key to success.
FALCO: If you could go back in time and change one thing, what would it be?
TORO: I’d write a briefer answer to Question 1. (Is anybody still reading this?!)
FALCO: If could live anywhere in the world for a year, where would it be?
TORO: Joe Machin’s houseboat. Apparently that place is worth sacrificing the health of the planet and the future of democracy over — it must be amazing!
Tom’s work can be seen here:
Home Free comic strip: gocomics.com/homefree
Tom’s Instagram: @homefreecomic
Tom’s Twitter: @homefreecomic
Tom’s website: tomtoro.com
RECEIVE “10 WITH TOM” EACH TIME I PUBLISH. SUBSCRIBE HERE.