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.
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.
KING FEATURES SYNDICATE
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!
KING FEATURES’S SYNDICATE
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.
KING FEATURES’S SYNDICATE
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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