‘Dunce’ comic strip is in a class all its own

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Jens K at work. (Photo by Agnese Zile)

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Jens K. Styve is the creator of Dunce, a delightful Norwegian comic strip he created in 2016. What attracts you first are the drawings, each strip is a work of art; add the comic writing and quality to that, and you have an award-winning comic strip. (photo by Nicolas Tourrenc).


TOM: Is Dunce you? Why the name Dunce for the title character?

JENS: Whenever I’ve done anything autobiographical, it’s been me drawn with that pointy Dunce-cap. I think it’s all about that voice in your head, the self-evaluating critic. The voice that, each time you do more or less anything, goes “You idiot, why did you do that? Why did you say that? Write that? Draw that? Look, now you’ve made a mess.” I think this voice is pure biology, every human seem to be their own worst critic. You should probably check with a biologist, but I assume it’s how we all made it this far. I guess my inner voice is also a sarcastic, satirical writer that can add some fiction and transform these expressions into comics. When I started doing a daily strip with the pointy-hat character, the title Dunce sort of gave itself.

TOM: What is Dunce’s name? He has a son, what about a wife, I don’t remember ever seeing her.

JENS: The main character’s name is Jens K, maybe with a tiny reference to another resentful literary character (Kafka’s Josef K.). The son is named Gustav, I haven’t really figured out yet if the characters should have other names in English, I guess it’s part of the concept that this is actually in the far north of Norway, far above the polar circle. Gustav obviously has (or at least has had) a mother, many readers ask about her, but that part of the story isn’t told (yet).

TOM: Your drawing style is beautiful, is it digital, do you use pen and ink?

JENS: In 2014, I came back from a 14 year long hiatus from comics. Actually I thought I had quit for good, with my steady job as a graphic designer. I did miss making comics, I guess what I missed most was working offline and analogue, with old fashioned tools like brushes, nibs, good paper and the meditative “flow” of drawing. So I returned. I decided to do a daily strip, just for myself. My days were packed, but I found that if I got up insanely early, I could sketch and ink a complete strip each day before going to work. These were self-published in small zines, and this eventually turned into my Dunce strip. The whole point then, was to do this without using any computers. After a year or so, my strip won several competitions and ended up running in Norwegian magazines and newspapers. After doing maybe 150 strips on paper, I bought an iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil, curious (and a bit skeptical) if these gadgets could recreate my analogue and “inky” style. One of the really good brush-makers for Procreate (Georg von Westphalen) came by and offered to make a brush pack based on my style. That did it, I switched to iPad.

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TOM: What does your studio/workspace look like?

JENS: Since I went full time comic artist in October 2017, I’ve been working at home. I have a separate room for work, but when I have the house for myself, I move around. My dog Brego (who is introduced in the strip, and often seems to be stealing the show) keeps me company, when I move to another place to draw, he finds another place to sleep. Kitchen is for writing, I have a good chair by the large window for sketching, and I do the inking in my office. All my nibs and brushes are there, in close vicinity, and although I do most work on the iPad now, I try to keep them active. Ink on the hands, and those random accidents that can’t be undone, is still what gives the best “flow”.

TOM: Dunce is run in newspapers in Norway and that area of the world. What is the schedule like is it run daily? How far ahead do you have to have the strips in?

JENS: It is running daily, and has been doing that more or less non stop since January 2017. That means I have to produce at least five new strips every week. There has been times (up to quite recently) when I’ve been so far behind that I handed in the next day’s strip at 12 every day. That is not at all recommended. I’ve now been able to build up a buffer of around four weeks. Also, I now try to make six or seven strips weekly, so that I can have a vacation one day, or even be able to get sick.

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TOM: I’ve read various quotes comparing your work to others but I don’t see it, I think you are totally unique. But who are your comic/cartoon influences?

JENS: My influences are pretty widespread, and they also change a lot. Some people mention Quentin Blake and Ralph Steadman, I admit those two have been great inspirations. I grew up loving French and Belgian comics like Asterix and Franquin, in the 90s I was hooked on Fantagraphics stuff (Hate, Eightball etc), and strips like Peanuts and Calvin & Hobbes have always been with me. Lately I’ve been looking into manga comics, working quite hard to find something to get hooked on. I’ve found a few gems, last one was The Girl From The Other Side, which I think everyone should read. Another artist who’s books I keep close these days is the Italian cartoonist Gipi.

TOM: What was the first thing you would seriously draw? I mean, I would draw Fred Flintstone, I always remember as a young child doing that. Did you draw a character or have a favorite subject at a young age?

JENS: Ah, I remember copying Beetle Bailey in very early years. I was maybe 12 when I decided I wanted to become a comic artist. My theory was that I had to draw every day, so that’s what I did. Much of the daily grind at that time was copying whatever I could find. Some comics were almost impossible to copy, and those were often the ones I liked most. I think I was early aware of the mystical quality in a line/stroke and how some drawing styles had more of a “soul.” Early on, I found it hard to do comics, because I was more into drawing than writing. In my recent comics hiatus I wrote and published two novels, so that was pretty much turned around in time.

TOM: What famous artist, dead or alive, would you want to paint your portrait?

JENS: I think Quentin Blake could do a good one, probably also Richard Thompson. Those would probably be ink drawings. If I was to be painted in oil, it could maybe be by Australian comic artist Ashley Wood. Or Norwegian Edvard Munch, he would have painted me as some sort of devious villain.

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TOM: Who is your favorite super hero?

JENS: Ouch, I don’t mean to be cocky, but I’ve never been enthusiastic about any superhero comic (or superhero movie). Guess my reply just has to be «blank» on this one.

TOM: If you could go back in time and change one thing, what would it be?

JENS: I would have started doing this Dunce-strip in 1995, when all newspaper editors were happy and positive people with an optimistic outlook for the future.

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10 things you didn’t know about Rina Piccolo’s groove

Rina Piccolo is a syndicated cartoonist, best known for her daily comic strip “Tina’s Groove,” which revolves around Tina, a waitress at Pepper’s Fine Dining Restaurant. Tina’s Grove started in 2002 and is distributed by King Features Syndicate. She also does lots of other single panel work for magazines and has filled in for other cartoonists. I think the best part is her name – Rina Piccolo – very musical.

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Cartoonist Rina Piccolo

TOM: You do the Tina’s Groove comic strip and I’ve seen single panel gag cartoons, and also sometimes fill in for Hilary Price for Rhymes With Orange and I’ve also seen Six Chix in the past. How do you decide what gags to use for which comic strip or gag cartoon?

RINA: It’s a wonder that no one has ever asked me that because it’s an issue that I encounter often, and it can sometimes be really frustrating. I mean, I have all these outlets for cartoon ideas (well, I no longer do cartoons for Six Chix, so there’s one outlet gone), and it’s often hard to see where best to use them. Sometimes ideas choose for themselves where they want to go. Like, for instance, all restaurant/workaday gags would obviously be used for my strip Tina’s Groove, since it’s about a waitress and her co-worker friends. And if I ever have an idea that’s too racy for the newspaper comics, then I try to shop it around to various magazines that publish cartoons in the style that you see in the New Yorker. On the occasion when I’m filling in for Hilary Price’s Rhymes With Orange comic, I usually have a couple of gags in my drawer that I can’t use for any of my outlets, and what I do is combine these with fresh ones that I sit down to write specifically for the Guest Spot.

TOM: Tina is a waitress, were you ever a waitress, you seem to know so much about the restaurant business?

RINA: Let me admit it right away– I make a terrible waitress, ha ha! However, I have worked in several restaurants in other capacities (kitchen, and counter service). In the last restaurant that I worked in I was the Hostess, and interestingly enough, it was while I was in that job that I had cooked up the idea to do a strip about a waitress, and life in the service industry. Anyway, as I say, I never made it as a server — once, in a small café that I worked in as sandwich-maker/kitchen help, they needed someone to fill in temporarily as a server, and so I served tables — for about 15 minutes. That’s how long it took for the owner to tell me to go back to the kitchen. Ha! Anyway, all this just to say that the reason I know what I know about the restaurant business is because nearly all of my “real” jobs were jobs in which I worked with the public. Anyone who’s worked with the public — and not just the restaurant business– shares the same sorts of experiences. That’s basically what fuels Tina’s Groove.

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KING FEATURES SYNDICATE

Tina’s Groove

TOM: How long did it take for Tina’s Groove to bet syndicated? Did you submit the feature to many syndicates? Did you submit other features? What were those about?RINA: Like nearly every cartoonist at the time, I submitted stuff to all the major syndicates, with no real success. Then, in 1997 or thereabouts, Jay Kennedy, the comics editor (at the time) of King Features syndicate, had become familiar with my single panel gags from contributions I was making to “The New Breed”– a single panel daily that had a different cartoonist every day of the week. Anyway, he called me — this was back in the days when people actually used to use the phone to call people, ha ha. And the weird thing is, the call came one afternoon when I was putting together a submission to King– I mentioned it to him, and he said, “Put my name on it, and I’ll make sure it gets straight to my office”, or something like that. When I hung up I felt stunned. It really felt like it was written in the stars, or something silly like that. But the feeling of having a wide open door to a syndicate deal was fleeting, because what followed was three or four years of going back and forth with Jay, submitting strip premise ideas and character ideas, with no guarantee of a contract. On about the two or three year, I took one of the characters I’d been working with and made her a waitress. When Jay saw it, he liked it enough to encourage me to move in that direction, and from that was born “Tina” from Tina’s Groove. But I should stress that I had always wanted to do a single panel gag cartoon, and not a comic strip with characters. Apparently the trend at the time made character-driven strips more marketable, and Jay was only interested in seeing comic strips; he encouraged me to go in that direction, so that’s what I created. As for the other characters & strip ideas that I submitted to Jay in those years I can only say that there were several, and I can barely remember a couple of them – one of them was a kid strip that featured a little girl who narrated her views of the world around her, and another was an actress character whose roles in movies became adventures in the strip. Or something like that. My old brain can’t recall most of the crap I wrote at the time!

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KING FEATURES’S SYNDICATE

Tina’s Groove

TOM: How do you work? What is the schedule like?

RINA: I do have a schedule. My schedule is that I work all the time, ha ha! Seriously, I am one of those people who just really enjoys this stuff a lot, and I seem to have an eagerness to constantly create stuff. I pencil and ink Tina’s Groove on Monday, write material on Tuesday, and part of Wednesday, pencil and ink the Sunday cartoon on Wednesday, and then I have Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and part of Sunday to work on other projects– personal or paid work. If I have a free evening I like to goof around in my sketchbook.

TOM: Although cartoonists seem to be alone most of the time, they seem to be a cliquish group. What other cartoonists are you friendly with?

RINA: Yes, the industry is pretty small — at least the world of syndication is — and everybody kind of knows everybody else. Some of us have great friendships that last years and years, and yes, even romances. But like you say, cartoonists spend an awful lot of time alone, and so when we get together, well, it’s what you’d imagine — a lot of catching up, a megadose of shop talk, and some gossip thrown in. I love my cartoonist friends. The ones I hang out with, or keep in touch with, in person, or through Skype, are Sandra Bell Lundy (Between Friends), Paul Gilligan (Pooch Cafe), Cathy Thorne (Everyday People Cartoons), Susan Camilleri Konar (Six Chix), Anne Gibbons (Six Chix) ( in fact you can include all of the Six Chix ladies, as we Skype now and then), Hilary Price (Rhymes With Orange)… oh boy, there are more, but do I have the space here to list everyone? When I lived in NYC I used to hang out with a lot of cartoonists in the NY, NJ, and Connecticut area. I think the reason why cartoonists are “cliquey” is because we relate to one another in a way that others just don’t, or can’t. Cartooning is an uncommon profession. (It’s not like the typical neighborhood comes with a couple of pro cartoonists in it.) Since it’s such a rarity, it’s nice to have a friend that can totally relate to you when you say something about penciling, or inking, or anything like that, without having to explain (which I think would be boring for people who don’t cartoon).

TOM: Digital or pen and ink?RINA: Both! I use a Cintiq Companion to pencil and ink Tina’s Groove (also used it for last two years of Six Chix, and my guest weeks on Rhymes With Orange). And I use a brush, pen, and ink to draw gag cartoons (magazine gag cartoons, and lately for the book I co-authored, Quirky Quarks: A Cartoon Guide to the Fascinating Realm of Physics.) I also do a lot of sketchbook drawings in a paper sketchbook. Sometimes I draw on my iPad, or Cintiq for animated Gif art, and things like that.

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KING FEATURES’S SYNDICATE

Tina’s Groove

TOM: What was the first thing you would seriously draw? I mean, I would draw Fred Flintstone, I always remember as a young child doing that. Did you draw a character or have a favorite subject at a young age?

RINA: Horses. I’ve always loved horses, and when I was a little girl I used to try to draw them all the time. I still can’t draw a horse. Well, not a good one.

TOM: What famous artist, dead or alive, would you want to paint your portrait?

RINA: Jackson Pollock… Ha, ha, kidding! (Although he’d get my hair right.) … Seriously, good question — I really don’t know. John Singer Sargent would certainly make me look good in brush strokes. No way I’d let Robert Crumb draw me– I think he’s a master, but he’d probably give me a bulbous butt.

TOM: Favorite movie of all time?

RINA: The Wizard Of Oz. That movie does something to me. I’ve watched it numerous times. It never gets old.

TOM: What other comic strips/panels do you enjoy? Past and present.

RINA: I wouldn’t call myself a humongous consumer of comics, weirdly, but I do enjoy a lot of them. In fact, too many to list here—and many are created by people that I know personally. My all time favorites, I can say, are Lynda Barry’s “Ernie Pook’s Comeek”, and anything by Roz Chast (especially her longer-form stuff). I’ve always loved these two because their stuff makes me literally laugh out loud — and I know how difficult it is to have that effect on a reader.

TOM: Thank you, Rina. Enjoyed the chat!

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Amanda the Great

Amanda El-Dweek’s daily comic strip, “Amanda the Great,” is a slice-of-life. Her life! It started appearing on the GoComics website in November, that’s when I first noticed it.Amanda

Amanda El-Dweek

TOM: I noticed all the strips are in black and white, in this age of full color webcomics, why black and white? (which I like, just asking).

AMANDA: Two reasons: I like the look of the black and white contrast (I also use an ink wash for gray tones). The other thing is, coloring is kind of piddly work, and I’m unsure I’d ever get done with the strips if I had to color them!

The comics I read growing up were black and white (newspaper comics), and I always thought they were so singularly beautiful that way.

TOM: Are all the stories/adventures true to life? Did they all happen to you or are some fiction and just there for the enjoyment of readers?

AMANDA: The story is my real life, and the timeline starts about a year before my husband and I were married. (I drew the comics this past year, but they are set in late 2012/early 2013 so far.)

Most of the things I draw did actually happen – sometimes I have to paraphrase things, and sometimes I have to kind of re-format how things happened in order for it to make sense in a three-or-four-panel comic strip format. Some of it is verbatim because if it was something funny, I wrote it down in a notebook, which is fortunate because sometimes I am a poor historian.

But – all of the events are real, and the characters are real. (Except the alter-egos, natch.)

TOM: Is “Amanda the Great” created digitally? Or do you draw with pen and ink?

AMANDA: I create Amanda the Great using smooth Bristol paper, a pencil, ink, brushes, and a Kuretake brush pen for the letters. I use an ink wash for the gray scale. Then I dust off the cat hair and scan them in.

TOM: Who were/are your comic/cartoon influences?

AMANDA: My first comic book was a Garfield book, and I also read a lot of Archie comics – I really tried to emulate these two when I first started drawing (I was pretty young). When I was old enough to pay attention to the newspaper, my favorites were Cathy, Calvin & Hobbes, The Far Side, and Foxtrot. My grandma always had those Peanuts, B.C., and Wizard of Id paperbacks around, which I enjoyed. I think Luann was in a girls’ teen magazine when I was young, which is the first place I had seen it.

All of these different comics kind of shaped how I wanted to do things, and how I wrote comics when I was younger. They still do, to some degree.

I enjoy character development – I always liked how the characters aged in For Better or For Worse.  They experienced things as we do – the circle of life, death of charcters (Farley!), et cetera.

I have read here and there that some cartoonists won’t read other comics because maybe they don’t want the impact on their own stuff, but I don’t know – I think we were all inspired early on by someone’s work.

TOM: Which comic strip, other than your own would you like to crawl into and visit for the day?

AMANDA: I’d love to be in a Cul de Sac or Wallace the Brave comic strip – they have such beautiful backgrounds! My comics lack this feature, usually – haha!  They are so beautifully drawn and colored. I want big curly hair like Viola’s (Cul de Sac) – mine isn’t big enough.

TOM: How far ahead do you work?

AMANDA: I should be further along, but right now I have strips drawn through March, and possibly into April? I need to hustle more!

TOM: Who is the most famous person you have ever met?

AMANDA: If you mean in real life, I met Ron Campbell at an art gallery in Bismarck, North Dakota – he was an animator for the Yellow Submarine movie. I don’t have much opportunity to see famous folks where I live, so that was cool!

TOM: What song would be the theme of your life?

AMANDA: Oh boy, Tom. I’ve thought a lot about it, and I don’t know that I can come up with one. I think my themes sometimes change.

TOM: Biggest fear?

AMANDA: I think it’s a tie between spiders, and everything else.

TOM: Superpower if you had one?

AMANDA: It’s hard to pick just one, isn’t it? I’d like something akin to the Force, but I’d just be tempted to use it Dark Side-style once in a while, so I probably shouldn’t have it.

Thank you Amanda!

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Images courtesy GoComics

Scott Adams – Ten With Tom

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Scott Adams, courtesy Twitter.

After looking over the 10 With Tom I did with Stephan Pastis, Pearls Before Swine cartoonist, I thought why not ask the 10 questions of Scott Adams, creator and Dilbert cartoonist, after all, it was Scott who was Stephan’s tipping point. He liked the strip when it was kind of new, talked it up and overnight it became a sensation, something like that.

Here are my 10 With Tom questions with Scott Adams.

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Tom: Are you recognized on the street?
Scott:
 Almost never, except locally.

Tom: If you had to kill off one of your Dilbert characters, which one would it be and why?
Scott:
 I have a character named Ted the Generic Guy. I kill him whenever I need something bad to happen in the strip. After that, probably Dilbert, but he’d come back to life somehow later.

Tom: What newspaper(s) did your family subscribe to/read when you were a kid?
Scott:
 Albany Times Union

Tom: Which comic strip, past or present, would you like to crawl into and spend the day?
Scott:
 Sounds like a sad life any way you look at it. But I’d go with Mutts because I like pets.

Tom: Without looking, what color is Lucy Van Pelt’s dress?
Scott:
 I’m thinking yellow or red. My final answer is…yellow?

Tom: No. It’s actually blue.

Tom: What do you usually order at Starbucks?
Scott:
 Cafe Mocha (hot) with whipped cream.

Tom: Me too! Always.

Tom: Last book you read
Scott: Hard to Ignore by Dr. Carmen Simon.

Tom: What bores you?
Scott: Listening to someone describe food or TV shows.

Tom: Tell me about someone you envy.
Scott: Someone has a better life than I do? My life hasn’t always been easy, but at the moment it’s spectacular. I honestly can’t think of anyone I envy. (But envy isn’t a big part of my personality in general.)

Tom: Do you still feel that Trump will win the election? (I know you endorsed Hillary)
Scott:
 It wouldn’t be any fun if I changed my prediction now, would it? My prediction assumed Trump goes into a deep hole before powering out toward the end. So we are right on schedule.

Thanks, Scott. Good sport.

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