Cartoonist Stephan Pastis revisited

Stephan Pastis

A few years back, I interviewed cartoonist Stephan Pastis for the Huffington Post. As of today, millions of people have read it, literally. That’s how popular he is. Here’s a repeat of that interview.

Below is today’s new interview. As you know, he is the creator of the long-running comic strip, Pearls Before Swine. I had the opportunity to check in with Stephan again.

TOM: You have a new book out, “Trubble Town,” what’s the gist any of the Pearl Before Swine characters in it?

STEPHAN: Yes! Trubble Town 2: The Why-Why’s Gone Bye-Bye just came out, and is the sequel to Trubble Town 1: Squirrel Do Bad.

It contains both the cat and the moles from Pearls, as well as cameos from other Pearls characters. It’s about a town that’s been torn apart by stupidity and greed, and the only way to save it is for aliens to remove all the adults and let the children take over.

TOM: I guess you are going to hit the road promoting the book, I noticed you seem to travel a lot, do you get things done with the Pearls Before Swine comic strip? Do you work on the road? What is your work schedule like?

STEPHAN: Yes, I’m sure I will be doing that once again. I try to draw 14 Pearls strips every week that I’m home, which buys me 26 free weeks a year to write other books and travel. Next week, I’m headed to Copenhagen, eastern Germany, Poland, and Prague.

TOM: That’s amazing, because most cartoonists wrestle with the non-ending schedule of daily comic strips. Are you still working with pen and ink or have you moved to digital yet?

STEPHAN: Pen and ink on a flat desk with a manual pencil sharpener. About the only old-school component I don’t use is candlelight. For light, I have transitioned to electricity.

Where the magic happens

Here is a photo of where I draw everything — note the chair that is only six inches off the ground. I use it because when I draw, I lean way over and draw with my head very close to the paper, which—in a normal chair—hurts my back. With this super-short chair, my head is naturally closer to the paper and I don’t have to lean forward. It is a process as strange as the characters I create.

TOM: Well, that process seems to work, you have millions of readers and fans. Where do you get the most readers – Instagram, Facebook, online at GoComics, etc. or is it still newspapers where most of the readers are?


Home Free with cartoonist Tom Toro

Cartoonist Tom Toro

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 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.

Blue line of Home Free

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?


Tauhid Bondia’s ‘Crabgrass’ – a trip back to the ’80s

Cartoonist Tauhid Bondia

One of my favorite online comic strips is coming to newspapers soon. “Crabgrass” by Tauhid Bondia, starts syndication in daily newspapers in June. And while it’s on hiatus until then, you can catch up by following the previous strips at Tauhid’s patreon page here: or at

Crabgrass follows the adventures of two best friends, Miles and Kevin, in the 1980s. There are no cell phones or electronics (well, maybe the beginning of video games), so it’s all about the boys’ imaginations and outdoor play. I had a chance to ask Tauhid my ten, “10 With Tom” questions:

TOM: Tell me about Kevin and Miles. Are they both a compilation of you at that age?

TAUHID: Kind of. They were initially based off of myself and my best friend growing up. But it didn’t take long for them to develop their own unique personalities. That said, the spirit of the strip is still grounded very much in my own childhood.

TOM: You grew up in Kentucky, is this where they live?

TAUHID: Yes it is. The street they live on is based on Greenway Drive the street I grew up in. It’s rarely a material element of the street but it’s an interesting bit of trivia.

Crabgrass courtesy

TOM: The stories area always elaborate, how far ahead do you work?

TAUHID: I usually keep a couple of months of strips in the bank, but I write my stories with woefully little planning. I’m working on that though.

TOM: Tell us about your studio or workspace. Do you work digitally or with pen and paper?

TAUHID: I do everything digitally. I don’t think there is a pen or pencil anywhere in my studio. I currently work on a Cintiq Pro hooked to an iMac. But I also have an iPad Pro for when I want to be less tethered.

Crabgrass courtesy

TOM: When did the first big break come that made you feel you were really a professional?

TAUHID: That would have to be when Crabgrass was selected for development by Andrews McMeel. I’d been making comics for years already but my idea of a pro was always based on the syndicated model. So it really felt like I’d become official.

TOM: I suppose the newspapers will bring you many new readers, but now, here do you get the most readers – Instagram, Facebook, etc.?

TAUHID: Instagram by far. That’s kind of my home base. I’ve got a healthy following on which is steadily growing but instagram is where almost all of my Patreon supporters come from and the majority of my daily likes and shares. I owe those readers a lot.

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?

TAUHID: My earliest memory was of copying a picture of Spiderman from my bed sheets when I was 4 or 5. I remember really concentrating and seeing if I could copy it exactly. I apparently got it close enough to impress my mother which I honestly believe sent me down the path I’m on.

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


Stephan Pastis; Pearls Before Swine

I got the chance to ask Stephan Pastis, creator of the comic strip, Pearls Before Swine, my Ten With Tom questions. Stephan has one of the most popular comic strips around, his tipping point was when Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strip, noticed his work and mentioned it in a blog post. The rest is history. His online readership went through the roof overnight.

He won the 2015 Reuben Award for best newspaper comic strip.

Do people mistake you for Seth Macfarlane?

I’ve heard that before, but the one I hear more is Robert Downey, Jr.  I even had a restaurant owner in Dublin, Ireland tell me what an honor it was to have Robert Downey, Jr. in her restaurant. I told her that I appreciated it, but that I didn’t like to be disturbed while dining.

Why do you create your comics seven months in advance, why so far ahead?
I’m anal retentive.  I need to relax.

Are you recognized on the street?
Almost never. Except as Robert Downey Jr. in Dublin.

What are a few of your favorite classic newspaper comics from your childhood?

Far Side
Calvin and Hobbes
Bloom County

Stephan at NY Comic Con, 2019

Flintstones or Scooby Do?
Scooby. There’s always someone trying to scare away prospective house buyers by filling it with fake ghosts and/or monsters. Knowing that the ghost thing is a sham, I could probably get a great deal on real estate.

Which comic strip would you like to crawl into and spend the day?
Krazy Kat. Lots of peyote and throwing bricks at others.

Dick Tracy or Little Orphan Annie?
It wouldn’t be Annie. Her lack of pupils would be disturbing, particularly if you fell in love. You could never look into her eyes.

What section of the printed daily newspaper today should be eliminated to add more comics?
Many of the comics.

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Jason Chatfield; cartoonists are his favorite people

Jason Chatfield and Ginger Meggs

I interviewed one of my favorite cartoonists, Jason Chatfield, who incidentally helped me immensely with my own cartooning, as I live by one of his statements: “Don’t curate your art to what gets likes. Curate it to what you like.” I live (and create) by that now.

I was interested in Jason’s schedule, technique and so much of his cartoons and comics work and work ethic.

TOM: You seem to do so much, TV, New Yorker cartoonist, daily comic strip (Ginger Meggs) and President of the National Cartoonists’ Society (NCS). What is the schedule like, for instance, when do you do the comic strip? When do you do New Yorker cartoons?

JASON: I have a pretty regular schedule — I work from a calendar instead of a to-do list — I tend to do 6 daily strips at-a-time, then the Sundays (weekend paper strips) on separate days.

I pitch a batch of 10 New Yorker cartoons each Tuesday; some roughs and some finished, and some of them re-submissions with new captions. 99% are rejected. Those are done in a 10-step process that I outline here.

The TV work is usually just a one or two-day shoot somewhere, then the show or commercial runs for years, so that’s not very time-heavy, and my NCS work is just constantly streaming in every day. Some days there is a lot to do, other days less so. Cartoonists are my favorite people, but trying to organize them can be like herding cats. 

It sounds like a lot, but I manage to sleep somewhere in there and take weekends off with my wife and pup.

TOM: I see that Ginger Meggs recently turned 100 — that’s quite a weight to bear — taking over such a well-known strip. How did that come about? How were you chosen to do this?

JASON: When I was a 23 year-old editorial cartoonist in my hometown of Perth, the fourth cartoonist on the strip, James Kemsley, asked me to take it over. That was few days before he died of ALS. He was a dear friend and mentor so it was a very bittersweet honor to inherit. I’d give up the strip tomorrow it it meant having Kems back; he was an impressive guy, always way ahead of his time and always helping other cartoonists. I’m glad I could carry the baton and keep Ginger going past 100 years. (Details on the centenary are at )

TOM: As President of the National Cartoonists Society, what is your take on webcomics or comics only published online? They seem to be the most read today, yet I have heard that cartoonists have a problem joining the society.

JASON: We have many webcomic cartoonists in the NCS, and under past President Tom Richmond’s tenure (around 2010/11) the NCS introduced two webcomic categories into our Divisional Reuben awards. (Long form and Short form).

Webcomics are a rich and diverse artform we’re really proud to promote — comics in newspapers are only a fraction of the make-up of NCS membership. Our biggest numbers of entries for the 2020 Reuben awards were for both webcomics categories. 

I think I read about 70% of my favorite comics online (the rest in magazines and printed book collections.)

TOM: Do you work digitally or with pen and paper?

JASON: I use both. I learned to draw traditionally before I learned to draw digitally, so the transition was very natural. I use a Wacom Cintiq with an Ergo Arm for most of my work, but I often spin around to my drawing board and use a Hunt 101 Imperial nib on my dip pen for a lot of my New Yorker finishes. (Mainly because people request to purchase the originals… And I like to get inky fingers so my wife thinks I’m doing actual work.)

TOM: What does your studio, workspace look like?

JASON: It changes all the time. I’ve moved so many times the past 15 years my studio has been every kind of room imaginable. You can get a glimpse of my current studio (June 2021) in this video just shot by Wacom for the production of a series of coins I designed for the Royal Australian Mint. They cut the part where my dog sits under my desk while I’m working and farts. Almost constantly.

TOM: What comics/cartoonists influenced you?

JASON: I was a big fan of MAD growing up, so all the Usual Gang of Idiots were my teachers — Sergio Aragonés was my favorite for his pantomime marginals, but Mort Drucker’s hand gestures and caricatured likenesses, Jack Davis’ movement, brushwork and shoes, Al Jaffee’s inventiveness (and snark) all contributed to my weird brain. And then the “newer” guys like Tom RichmondMark Frederickson and a slew of other talented idiots followed suit.

For comic strips, I loved Calvin & Hobbes and later, Cul de Sac.

TOM: If you could crawl into any strip or panel for the day, other than your own, which would it be, and why?

JASON: Cul de Sac. I would want to sit down and just pick the brain of Alice Otterloop. What a brilliant mind Richard Thompson had, to bring her into this universe. Wildly inventive, funny and smart character writing.

TOM: At what point did you realize you were famous?

JASON: Ha! I don’t think that’s true. I know it sounds silly considering all the things I do being so public-facing, but I now totally get people having a pseudonym. Fame isn’t something I aspire to — I just like to do my work and hopefully have people enjoy reading it. I think ‘actual’ fame comes with more downsides than upsides… unless we’re talking about my local diner naming a roast beef sandwich after me. That’s all upside. (And topside).

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

JASON: The theme to Curb Your Enthusiasm

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

JASON: Richard Thompson. Without question. 
One can dream.

TOM: Thanks, Jason! I learned a lot!

My daily cartoon is here.

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Ginger Meggs celebrates 100!


We’re ‘off the leash’ with cartoonist Rupert Fawcett

One of my favorite comics is “Off the Leash” by London-based cartoonist Rupert Fawcett. I first saw the comic on Facebook, where Rupert has almost 1 million followers. The comic can also be seen on Instagram and on its own website. But Rupert is also known for other comics work including Fred, a single panel comic which, like Off the Leash, has has been published all over from newspapers, to books and greeting cards.

TOM: Regarding “Off the Leash,” You seem to get into the dogs’ heads, do you study them? Tell me about your own pets.

RUPERT: I’ve never consciously studied dogs but I am a watcher by nature, a people watcher and I suppose, a dog watcher too. I’m someone who is never phased by delays at airports or anywhere else as I know I will be happily entertained watching the people around me, although I have to be careful not to get caught staring too intensely at anyone. We currently have a two year old whippet and two Burmese cats.

TOM: How often do you publish Off the Leash? Do you draw up a bunch at one time or post them as they are completed?

RUPERT: I had a very productive three years of producing Off the Leash cartoons at the beginning but as I have other commitments I now only draw new ones sporadically. As soon as I have finished one I post it which is the great thing about social media for a cartoonist, it is so instant, from the drawing board to the worldwide audience in seconds!

TOM: I totally agree with that, I almost feel social media was made for art and cartooning. I noticed you work in black and white, why that and not color?

RUPERT: Black and white line gives enough visual information for a cartoon. Coloring would be time consuming and add nothing to the joke.

TOM: I like the clean look of your black and white work, too. Who are your cartooning influences?

RUPERT: don’t have any specific ones but I’m probably influenced by everything I see.

TOM: What medium do you use? Digital? Pen and ink?

RUPERT: I use old fashioned ink pens – I’m a bit of a technophobe.

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?

RUPERT: As a boy growing up in the sixties I used to draw footballers quite a lot and soldiers. The comics I read as a child featured regular strips based on the war which was still very recent history. I also used to create my own strange characters. I used to get very absorbed and doodle for hours.

TOM: How did you begin your career as a cartoonist? When did you start cartooning? Tell me about Fred

RUPERT: Speaking of strange characters! I created Fred in 1989 and received over 80 rejection letters from publishers and newspapers. But when I had the greeting card range published by Paperlink it suddenly took off and became a big thing. Fred kept me fully occupied for about twelve years.

Fred was a combination of surrealism and suburban Englishness.

TOM: Tell us about your studio or workspace.

RUPERT: I work in a fairly small room at home in South West London, it’s my ‘garden shed’ and i have to be prised out of it by my family sometimes. I’m happiest when I’m drawing and in my private dreamworld, just as I was at six years old.

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

RUPERT: Lucien Freud (with my clothes on)

TOM: What comics/cartoons do you read/follow today?

RUPERT: I probably don’t look at cartoons any more than anyone else but I always appreciate a good one. Gary Larson is brilliant.

TOM: Thanks, Rupert!


Wallace the Brave is a little taste of classic comics from the past

Will Henry Wilson’s comic strip, “Wallace The Brave”  which is published at GoComics daily is now published in daily newspapers. It’s not only clever, but I love the drawing style. It reminds me a lot of Calvin and Hobbes and Cul de Sac. There’s not usually a gag each day, it’s more of a slice of life. I recently interviewed Will about Wallace the Brave.Will-Henry

Will Henry Wilson in his liquor store/studio.

TOM: You have two comic strips, Wallace The Brave and Ordinary Bill. Ordinary Bill was simple line drawing and black and white, Wallace is a masterpiece of art and color. How did that come about? The change in look, I mean?

WILL: Ha, “masterpiece”… made me laugh. I created Ordinary Bill when I was in college. It was an incredibly limiting strip and my style and ideas were still developing. Throughout the years I was writing Ordinary Bill I felt it was important to keep the original look, even though my style developed. Eventually I ended Ordinary Bill and thought I’d start a new comic that better represented where I was. That’s where Wallace came from.

TOM: How far ahead do you work before a comic is published?

WILL: Legitimate year, maybe more. I even have two years of unpublished Wallace Sunday strips….slacker.wallacethebrave

Wallace the Brave, courtesy GoComics

TOM: Do you draw digitally or the old fashioned way – pen and ink?

WILL: I’m a 32 year old dinosaur, it’s all pen, paper, ink and watercolor. I do color the comics digitally for the web, though…so yeah I’m hip.

TOM: Wallace is a “little maniac,” your words. Is he based on you?

WILL: I don’t believe I was THAT rambunctious as a kid. My mother may disagree.

TOM: There’s a lot of Cul de Sac and Calvin and Hobbes in your work, do you realize that?

WILL: Absolutely! I crafted Ordinary Bill to resemble the line work of Calvin and Hobbes and my original Submission to syndicates for Wallace the Brave had a heavy Cul de Sac influence. I’ve been drawing Wallace for a couple years and I think I’m just now developing a look that is distinctly me.

TOM: Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall?

WILL: Nothing beats summer in Rhode Island.

TOM: Friends or Seinfeld?

WILL: Honestly, neither. Arrested Development.

TOM: Other than cartooning, what talent would you like to have?

WILL: I’d love to be able to juggle. Not just balls, but chainsaws and torches.

TOM: What living person do you most admire?

WILL: Grandma Betty. You don’t know her, but she rocks.

TOM: What is your motto?

WILL: “Hold my beer”

Thanks, Will!


‘Next Door Neighbors’ comic strip reminds me of ‘70s sitcoms

The drawing is what first caught my attention when I saw Next Door Neighbors, the comic strip by Pat Sandy published at GoComics. From there, you can’t help but enjoy the writing and the Dewey family. It reminds me so much of All in the Family or Sanford and Son and sitcoms from that era. I had the opportunity to interview Pat.pat

Pat Sandy in his studio.

TOM: I notice that the first strips were just a few times a week, what made you start publishing daily (Monday thru Friday)?

PAT: I had a lot of story arc material backing up that on a 3 times a week cadence would have dragged out way too long – so once I got up to 3 times it was a moderate jump to 5. Sometimes I question that decision, though!

TOM: The strips have a 1970s tv sitcom feel to them. Did you realize this? What tv shows are your influences if any?

PAT: Nice – I’ve never heard that before but I love it…I did indeed grow up watching TV in that era though, so something must have rubbed off. I had tons of favorites – Mary Tyler Moore, The Brady Bunch, All In The Family, The Partridge Family, The Odd Couple…what a great era for TV.

TOM: Is “Next Door Neighbors” created digitally? Or do you draw with pen and ink? If digitally, what do you use to create?

PAT: Well, I handle NDN pretty old-school – I rough it up, go to a light table and ink and letter it on bristol board, and scan it into photoshop where I make corrections – no fonts, and no digital drawing. I like tactile. I like having something tangible to hold, but having said that, would I want to try a Cintiq or an iPad Pro? That would be a yes. I’m a bit behind the curve, but I do love having

Next Door Neighbors, courtesy GoComics

TOM: What’s the last thing you took a picture of?

PAT: An instagram photo of my guitar at a gig with my band, The Rhythm Syndicate. We do blues, swing and soul music and we’ve played all over northeast Ohio for about 18 years.


He’s blue and he’s awkward, and oh yes, he’s a Yeti!

Nick Seluk has millions of fans of his comic strip, “The Awkward Yeti.” The comic is often a clever commentary on the struggle between our hearts and our brains – it always hits home and many times provokes a belly laugh. The Yeti has a running dialogue many of his body’s organs. You can read The Awkward Yeti at here.Nick-HB-1-v2

Nick Seluk and friends.

TOM: Heart and Brain seem to have their own spin-off from “The Awkward Yeti” how did that come about?

NICK: Brain first joined Lars (the Yeti) to help me get deeper into the anxiety-driven inner dialogue of an introvert, but it wasn’t long before Heart joined as a counterbalance. Heart and Brain found a dynamic that worked well for me and for my audience, and before too long Lars was on the sidelines (although he stars in his own self-titled series online at Webtoons and still makes cameos). I found that through Heart and Brain I could express myself better, and in a way that many people could relate.

TOM: What did you do before you became a full time cartoonist?

NICK: Before going full time as a cartoonist I was a sort of graphic designer / art director type for several years. I worked in corporate America with tons of huge brands, a job I ended up hating enough to want to start my own business instead. I needed to do things my own way, but more than anything needed to escape the constant meaningless small talk.awkwardyeti1

Lars, the Awkward Yeti, courtesy

 At what point did you first realize you were famous?

NICK: There are over six billion people who have never even seen my work, so fame is pretty relative. But, having a line of people waiting, actually WAITING for me write my name on a book is very humbling. I guess you could say I was humbled first at San Diego comic con a couple years ago, when I was signing books with my publisher and they had to close off the line. But other than that, it’s not like people recognize me on the street or anything.

TOM: What bores you?

NICK: Conversations about sports. (but not the sports themselves).

TOM: Favorite tv show?

NICK: I have lot of favorites, but I think Louie is one I especially look forward to. I’m a sucker for most of the popular action-heavy shows, too (Marvel Netflix series, Game of Thrones, etc., etc., etc.).

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

NICK: Picasso, but during his blue period.

TOM: What are two things you would do if you woke up to find yourself completely invisible?

NICK: Hide from my responsibilities, then go back to bed.

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

NICK: Do You Realize by The Flaming Lips, but, like, in a good way.

TOM: Superpower if you had one?

NICK: The ability to make other people fly. Whether I would use this for good or for evil is TBD.

TOM: Other than your own, what comic strips are your favorites? Past and/or present?

NICK: I was always a big fan of Calvin and Hobbes, Garfield, Foxtrot and The Far Side as a kid, along with almost anything else in the newspapers at the time. I read every comic strip every day for many years, even continuing on through college with titles like Pearls Before Swine. When I first got into webcomics I enjoyed two groups: the first being the established comics like The Oatmeal, SMBC, and Cyanide and Happiness (all of which I still like to read); the second being comics that I happened to find early on, whether because we started at the same time, or just crossed paths online. That list is pretty long and includes a lot of people I see regularly at comic cons (a big group of us will be at Kansas City Planet Comicon this year).

Thanks, Nick!awkwardyeti2

Heart and Brain, courtesy


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


Jens K at work. (Photo by Agnese Zile)


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.


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.


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.


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.