|November 14, 2015||Dogfella" will touch your heart....||0 comments|
|November 05, 2015||Clouds for Breakfast: Mom's Choice Awards Gold Medal Recipient||1 comments|
|October 17, 2015||Smaldone, the Untold Story of an American Crime Family||1 comments|
|December 29, 2014||From "Lost Side Of Suburbia" to "Poptropica," An Exclusive Interview with Artist Kory Merritt||no comments|
|December 08, 2014||In life, the glass is always half full! Exclusive interview with cartoonist Maria Scrivan||no comments|
|December 03, 2014||The World Seen Through a Dog’s Point of View. An Exclusive Interview with Paul Gilligan, author o...||no comments|
|August 03, 2014||AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH "BIG NATE" CREATOR, CARTOONIST LINCOLN PEIRCE||no comments|
|August 03, 2014||AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH VINCENT PIAZZA,OF "BOARDWALK EMPIRE" AND JERSEY BOYS" FAME||0 comments|
|August 03, 2014||AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH "HEART OF THE CITY" CREATOR, CARTOONIST, MARK TATULLI||no comments|
|August 03, 2014||AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH GUY GILCHRIST, CARTOONIST, OF "NANCY" AND " THE MUPPETS" FAME||no comments|
"Dogfella" is a book that will appeal to a lot of readers because it has the perfect ingredients for success: an interesting subject, emotional rollercoaster effects and a flawless writing style.
On the other hand, for some readers the language used by the protagonist of the story may be a bit offensive, so be aware that it was purposely kept as "real' as possible by the co-writer so as to fully reflect the true persona of the author and the environment in which he thrived.
James Guiliani is an ex-drug addict and alcoholic with previous ties to the Gotti family and to another Queens' gang in his youth, who changes his lifestyle thanks to a down-to-earth 'angel' who teaches him compassion toward animals and how to find a meaning for his existence. Because of her influence, he opens a pet store and subsequently rescues animals all over Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island.
It sounds as a fairy tale or a teenager's novel? Well, it's a true story and it's well told by the protagonist with the help of the valiant Charlie Stella, whose impeccable style is molded to fit Guiliani's personality to a 'T'.
The book presents all the emotional stress points that brought this 'gangster' to have an epiphany that changed his life and that of many others. It does it with a blunt approach, since Guiliani chooses to say things as they are and not as he would have wanted them to be. With time, his self-deprecating method of explaining events grows on the reader and one can't help to like this man, who confesses to the embarrassing low points of his life with the spontaneity of someone who is well aware of the ugliness of his own past but has been redeemed by some sort of miracle.
He declares: "I'd been warned more than once, and by more than one person, that former addicts often replace one addiction with another. Well, if my new addiction was saving animals and opening a rescue shelter, so be it. At least it would be doing something constructive."
Although the story of his addiction tends to permeate the texture of the book, what really makes the book invaluable are the many stories of rescues, some of which occurred during the Hurricane Sandy's aftermath, which will deeply touch the reader with their immediateness and the extreme passion that Guiliani is imbued with in carrying them out. As an example, here's part of the description of his first rescue, the one that started it all: "At first I thought it was a rug, but then I could see it was a dog, a sick dog. When I bent down for a closer look, I could see the dog's hair was tangled, flat, and knotted. His eyes looked dead, and his jaw seemed crooked. As a junkie and alcoholic, I'd left myself in similar situations more than a few times. The difference, of course, was I'd put myself into those situations. Nobody had abandoned me the way somebody had obviously left this dog to die on its own. It pissed me off. There were other choices they could have made, whoever left him like that. At the least they could have treated him with some dignity. People make choices, animals can't. Animals are voiceless…
Then we were at the vet's office to pick up the seven-pound shih tzu who'd been close to death just a few hours earlier. One of the technicians carried the dog out and handed him to e. He'd been cleaned and shaved. He was the spotted-color shih tzu he was meant to be. And more than anything else, I could see that his eyes were alive. He began licking my face and I reflexively kissed his head. I don't think I ever kissed a dog before in my life, but there wasn't a second thought."
Besides the many tales, there are numerous geographical references that may, if not add to the drama, render the flow of the narration even more interesting, especially for a New York reader. This is definitely a book that merits to be read, in particular by people who love animals.
Keno's Animal Rescue started with a dream of opening a Sanctuary. The rescue's opening aired on The Diamond Collar TV Show/Dogfellas on The Oprah Winfrey Network. Keno's Animal Rescue is a no kill, non-profit organization in Brooklyn that provides animal rescue and adoption services as well as long term housing and care for special needs animals who could not otherwise be placed ina forever home. We are currently raising funds to open an animal sanctuary. Keno's Animal Rescue is named in loving memory of my first rescue, Keno. My little man was found abused and neglected. Paralyzed from the hips down he'd suffered many health issues throughout his life. He was taken to many veterinarians, but they were unable to make him walk again and suggested he be put down. I never gave up on Keno and helped him live a beautiful life until his 19th year. In his memory we continue to help animals escape their abusive or abandoned existence. Currently Keno's Animal Rescue is a small but growing organization. Our goal is to expand our facilities, and open a sanctuary so we can give a home to abused or unwanted animals.
Keno's Animal Rescue accepts contributions through its Facebook page: http://www. Facebook.com/kenoanimalrescue/app_117708921611213
With a delightful language, directed at the younger children, Laura Eisen presents a simple but endearing story, which will certainly be appreciated both by children and their parents.
The initial concept presented by the author was for a child to have the opportunity to eat clouds for breakfast. In reality, to have clouds for breakfast reflects human fantasy at its most essential. Who among us has not observed clouds and thought they could recognize characters from fairytales or objects from our everyday life? Or maybe even an insect or a giant ship? Who did not get lost in these reveries? Drawing on this notion, Ms. Eisen presents us with a poetic and inviting view of a day in the life of a child.
Reading the story to a child, he (or she) will identify himself with the story, as if it was written exclusively for him. The magnificent illustrations, delicate and imaginative, by Kent Cissna not only help, but strengthen the author's idea, making this book both pleasant and useful to the parent or teacher who want to use it as a tool to stimulate their children's fantasy.
This book offers also the opportunity to read the book in Japanese or in Italian (other languages are on the way) besides the original in English, something quite unusual for children's books…
After seeing the title "Smaldone, The Untold Story of an American Crime Family," I had expectations regarding its contents that left me surprisingly disappointed after reading the book. I expected to read about the story of an American Crime Family, with all its idiosyncrasies and oddities, a story that would capture my attention and that would add some knowledge about its workings while entertaining me with possibly "juicy" details about their activities.
Well, I can't deny that Dick Kreck, the author, performed a pretty thorough job in assembling data regarding the Smaldone family, but what transpired is a two-dimensional description of their life, with little or no passion infused in the characters or the descriptions of the events. The Smaldones appear to be mild, lower middle class Americans who chose their profession by default, as most Americans did at the time (Depression Era), 'the job was there, I took it' kind of decision. The main characters lack the credibility of a mobster figure, assuming instead the appearance of small-time merchants who were casually involved with a life of crimes. Neither are they Robin Hoods or fiends, and their lives' events are described in such a 'dry' manner to make them appear as third-page newspaper column material, listing such occurrences without much passion or involvement.
Used as I was to reading powerful books about the Mob, such as "For the Sins of my Father" by Albert DeMeo, in which not only the characters come alive but you get goose bumps at every page, or by Tony Napoli, or "My Father, My Don," by Tony Napoli, where you get sucked in by the potent bond between father and son as much as by the intricate stories narrated in it, Smaldone was a true disappointment.
I believe, though, that it is impeccably researched and structured and its faults lie in the apparent attempt by the writer to please the remaining members of the family and portray a "smoother," version of the facts. In doing so, the characters flatten out and lose their attractiveness, making the essence of the book an academic attempt without emotional engagement.
If the reader is looking for information on Colorado and the mobster families during the Prohibition Era, the book may turn out to be interesting, but don't look for any thrills; it's not going to happen.
Written By: Tiziano Thomas Dossena
Kory Merritt started cartooning and illustrating while attending SUNY Brockport. His weekly comic strip, Brockport Chronicled, won the John Locher Memorial Award in 2007. He signed a comic strip development contract with Creators Syndicate in 2009, although that has since expired. LSoS, a step in a different direction, was largely influenced by folktales Kory learned as a counselor at Camp Kenan in Barker, New York. Kory illustrated the comic strip Poptropica, written by Paul Gilligan (click to see see Paul’s interview) Kory currently teaches K-6 Art in Hammondsport, New York.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: Were you always interested in becoming a cartoonist? Which ones were the strips that inspired you, impressed you and influenced you the most? KORY MERRITT: I’m currently much more interested in book illustration than cartooning, though I guess they’re related. As a kid, I loved illustrated books, particularly those of Bill Peet. I recently reread his illustrated autobiography – it’s very inspiring. When I was a little older, I found old collections of “Calvin and Hobbes” and “Bloom County” in my town’s used bookstore, so Watterson and Breathed would be my top cartooning idols, along with Wiley Miller and Pat Oliphant.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: Which ones are the contemporary comic strips you like the most and why? KORY MERRITT: I honestly don’t read comic strips regularly anymore. But since I love to talk about myself, I’ll mention some of my favorite authors. My current favorites are Terry Pratchett and George R.R. Martin. Pratchett is amazing – hilarious, insightful, witty, complex – he does it all. The only downside to reading Pratchett is knowing I could write for a century and never come close to his level of genius. He’s humbling. I started George R.R. Martin’s books about a year ago, and I totally devoured them. I’m anxious for the sixth book, but know such complicated and beautifully-written stories take time. I’m refusing to watch the “Game of Thrones” TV show until the books are done and I’ve read them. Other favorite authors include Stephen King and Brian Jacques (a childhood favorite).
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: Your comic strip Brockport Chronicled won the John Locher Memorial Award in 2007. What was the subject of this strip? How long did it last? (I will need a jpeg of the strip to put in the article) KORY MERRITT: Oh, that comic was terrible! My current stuff is far from perfect, but leaps and bounds better than my college comic. But at least my college comic allowed me to grow as an illustrator, and I was paid surprisingly well for my editorial cartoons. The comic revolved mostly around local issues, and it was pretty much a “Bloom County/Doonesbury” knock-off, but without recurring characters. Winning the Locher award was luck – I had maybe four cartoons that were slightly better than terrible, and those are what won me the award and the free trip to Washington. Dick and Mary Locher are wonderful people.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: Kory, how did you develop The Lost Side of Suburbia? Was it meant to be as a different type of comic strip or a graphic novel for children presented in installments? (Readers, note that an introduction to The Lost Side Of Suburbia states: “Welcome to a land of strange stories and weirdly-spun yarn, where oddities and unmentionables lurk behind every tale. Here you will witness the plight of the mysterious Heckbender, suffer the misadventures of Derring-Do Dan, learn the unsettling secret of the Slynderfell Ice Cream Cavalcade, and behold the unraveling of The Bogey. A word of caution: stay on the sidewalks, avoid shortcuts through Halfrock Swamp, and do NOT under any circumstances make business transactions with C. Percival Trullus”) KORY MERRITT: I wanted to write children’s books, so that’s essentially what Lost Side is supposed to be – just a collection of loosely-related stories. It was never a comic strip – I always intended prose narration, but I knew I’d need illustrations, for that’s my strength, I think. I had been doing cartoons for college and a short-lived newspaper for a few years, so I had developed a style that sort of resembled an editorial cartoon.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: Is the humor in The Lost Side of Suburbia something that you picked up from teaching young kids? KORY MERRITT: The stories in “Lost Side” are full of nasty little monsters. So yeah, that probably comes from working with young kids.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: In The Lost Side of Suburbia, which is the character you love the most and why? KORY MERRITT: I guess I like drawing the weird, creepy creatures the most – the things from the swamp and the deep ocean. I’m sort of a wildlife nut, especially when it comes to strange animals like squids and anglerfish and olms and hellbenders and such. Ever hear of a siren (the amphibian sort)? If not, look them up – they’re wild!
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: You are taking a break from TLSoS. When do you expect it to come back? What will the subjects be in this reborn TLSoS? KORY MERRITT: I probably won’t be working on “Lost Side” stories again until next spring or summer. Teaching and freelance illustration projects are consuming my schedule. When/if I do come back, I’m hoping to make the transition from web books to print books. All of my past “Lost Side Suburbia” stories need a lot of retooling, of course. I consider the online versions rough drafts.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: You are the illustrator of the comic strip Poptropica. How was this cooperation with Paul Gilligan started? KORY MERRITT: Poptropica is an online game. I’ve never played it, but knew of it due to it being popular with my elementary students. The Poptropica creators (author Jeff Kinney, author/editor Jess Brallier, etc.) had plans to bring Poptropica to other media. From what I understand, they were in touch with Universal editor John Glynn, who had seen my illustrations and recommended me. The Poptropica creators were actually already familiar with my stuff, since I have a story on Poptropica’s sister site, FunBrain. So after a trial stage in summer 2013, they officially picked me as the illustrator for the comic strip and the graphic novel. Paul was selected as the writer of the comic strip. He’s a cool guy, and I think his “Pooch Café” is one of the best modern newspaper comics.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: What is Poptropica about? (Please talk about content, characters, type of humor, etc…) KORY MERRITT: As I said, it’s based on the online game. The main characters in the comic series are Oliver, his sister Mya, and a goofy kid named Jorge. Only Oliver and Jorge appear in the strip, but they all share the spotlight in the upcoming graphic novel. They end up in a world composed of strange islands, each with its own theme. I like the constantly-changing settings – one week I’m drawing werewolves, the next they’re on the moon. I haven’t worked on the comic strip for a while. It was originally supposed to last only 26 weeks, which Paul and I finished last spring, but I just heard last week that they are planning to order another 26 weeks in 2015, so it will continue into next year at least.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: You are also writing a book. What is the topic? KORY MERRITT: Well, my books are just the “Lost Side” stories. Right now the only format I’ve been able to publish with is online. But the stories are self-contained and have a prose narrative, so I’d love them to become print books.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: You are illustrating a graphic novel for a famous author. Are you still keeping the details secret or are we ready for the revelation of this mysterious author? KORY MERRITT: Ah, that’s the Poptropica stuff. The famous author is Jeff Kinney, the Wimpy Kid himself – I think I’ve dropped that name a few times already. He created Poptropica and the characters from the Poptropica comics, along with author/editor Jess Brallier and some others. I’m presently drawing and coloring a 105-page graphic novel based on the Poptropica comic characters. It’s an original story from Jeff and Jess, and the script was written by Max Brallier, who has another illustrated series in the works. They’re really cool people. I’m lucky to be on board. I nearly geeked-out the first time I heard from Jeff, but luckily managed to keep it together (or at least that’s how I remember it).
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: Kory, you are a cartoonist, an illustrator, a writer, and you teach Art at an Elementary School. How do you manage to juggle so many responsibilities? KORY MERRITT: I guess staying busy keeps me out of trouble. But yes, I’m starting to have some difficulty juggling the teaching and the freelance illustration, and I’ve had to put my own stuff on hold this year.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: Do you have any new projects in the works at the moment? What about the near future? KORY MERRITT: Poptropica stuff, and my own stories I hope to get working on soon. Weirdly, I recently had a publisher recruit me to write and illustrate a book on the World Cup, but that seems to have fallen through.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: Do you expect to expand into novels or maybe another type of comics? KORY MERRITT: Yes, I’d love to move to print stories. Not comics, but illustrated novels. So far I’ve only had casual interest from publishers, but I haven’t had time to really get my stuff out there.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: Have you ever used people around you, such as friends or relatives, as characters (even though masked) in your books? KORY MERRITT:Sure! Especially people who drive me nuts.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: If you could be doing any jobs in the world, what would it be and why? KORY MERRITT: Writing/illustrating stories! Aside from that? Something with wildlife. I’m in awe of those teams that go out and film obscure creatures.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: Kory, if you could choose to meet a person, any person in history, regardless of time constrictions, who would that person be and why? KORY MERRITT: Awww, I don’t know. That’s too tough. But I’ll go with someone still living: Christopher Lee, because then I can go around telling everyone I’ve met Christopher Lee. Because he’s ninety-something and more awesome than ever.
Written By: Tiziano Thomas Dossena
19 November 2014
Maria Scrivan’s cartoons are published in MAD Magazine, Parade Magazine, Prospect Magazine (UK), on Mashable.com, Salon.com. Funny Times and many other publications. Maria licenses her work to Recycled Paper Greetings, NobleWorks Cards, RSVP Greetings, American Greetings, Oatmeal Studios, CheckAdvantage and Neat-O Shop. Her corporate clients include IBM, Deloitte, Emcor, Mastercard, AT&T, Avaya and many more. Her daily panel Half Full appears daily on GoComics and is syndicated online by Universal Uclick. It also appears daily in print in Hearst newspapers the Greenwich Time and Stamford Advocate. It is syndicated in Sweden by Content Central and is syndicated on GoComics in Spanish. Maria is a member of the National Cartoonists Society.
Maria, were you always interested in becoming a cartoonist? Which ones were the strips that inspired you, impressed you and influenced you the most?
MARIA SCRIVAN: I have always wanted to be a cartoonist. From early childhood, I was always drawing, doodling and reading the Sunday Comics start to finish. I had every Garfield book that existed and loved Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side. I was most influenced by Jim Davis (Garfield) and Sandra Boynton. My cartooning career started as a cartoonist for my high school and college newspapers. Whenever there was an opportunity for a creative essay I would draw it instead. In high school English, I created a cartoon mock “Cliff Notes” for my final project spoofing the books we were supposed to read all semester. As daring as that was, I got an A. Cartooning has always been my favorite form of communication. I love the immediacy and the shorthand of expression you can achieve with minimal language and just a few lines.
Maria, how did your strip “Half Full” develop? What is the theme of the strip? Was it always a one-panel comics or did you dabble with multiple-panels strip version?
MARIA SCRIVAN: I had been writing and drawing magazine gag cartoons so Half Full was a natural transition. I use a multi-panel format for some pieces and have done some experimenting with a character-based strip, but so far I seem to enjoy the single joke format. There are many different subjects in Half Full. Some of the recurring themes are animals, technology, pop culture and relationships. The most successful cartoons seem to be the ones based on human nature, and authentic universal human experiences. That authenticity is something people can relate to and laugh at.
Have you ever used people around you, such as friends or relatives, as characters in your strip, even if disguised as animals?
MARIA SCRIVAN: Absolutely. So many of my comics end up being somewhat of a self-portrait of something I experience or observe, so it’s inevitable that people I interact with might end up cartoonified. Plus, now they can look at my cartoons and try and figure out which ones they are.
Where do you find your inspiration for your strip?
MARIA SCRIVAN: Everywhere! I never know when an idea will strike, so I keep a sketchbook with me at all times. I always have my phone with me so I can jot down an idea or have Siri take dictation. Inspiration doesn’t always come from something I find funny—many of the jokes are derived from things that evoke strong emotions of any kind—frustration, anger, sadness. I think the world is in a really funny place right now with our obsession with technology, fascination with celebrities and the endless stream of over-the-top reality TV Shows. The good news is there is an endless source of material.
How much inspiration did you get from your two cats? Why do you assert that your cat Doski is your assistant?
MARIA SCRIVAN: In addition to the cats, we also have a little dog named Toby. They all have such quirky personalities and are a constant source of inspiration. Milo likes to hunt clothing and howls as he drags pants around the house, Toby is a miniature Dachshund and is comical no matter what he does thanks to his vertical challenges. I refer to Doski as my “assistant” because he likes to hang out in the studio and help out. By helping out, I mean sitting on my artwork, pushing my pens on the floor and taking naps…
You are involved in various activities: greeting cards design,cartoons, book writing, illustrations… Of these, which came first and how do they influence each other?
MARIA SCRIVAN: The cartoons translate very well into greeting cards and other licensable products. With my characters, I have so many possibilities. The books are separate projects entirely.
What is your children’s book “Dogi the Yogi” about?
MARIA SCRIVAN: “Dogi the Yogi” is a nonfiction children’s book about a dog who loves yoga. Dogi guides children through a series of yoga poses. The idea for the book came from a our family’s beloved Golden Retriever, Kevlar. When my husband and I stretched in front of him he would stretch along in a Downward Dog. Watching him inspired me to create the character. I have been practicing yoga for most of my adult life and it has done so many positive things for me, mentally and physically. I wanted to share those benefits with a younger generation.
Could you tell us something about your experience as substitute cartoonist for the strip Rhymes with Orange?
MARIA SCRIVAN: No one can substitute for Hilary Price, her work is brilliant! I was so honored and grateful for the opportunity to be a guest cartoonist for a week. The best part was seeing my comic in the Sunday Funnies for the first time.
The Reality Show Mashups that you created for Mad Magazine are very funny. Could you tell our readers how did the whole project start and what was it about?
MARIA SCRIVAN: I’m fascinated with outrageous reality television. I can’t believe the premise of some shows and often wonder how they came into existence. While I can barely watch them, I am especially fascinated with Toddlers and Tiaras, My Strange Addiction and Hoarders. I can only imagine that shows like that are successful because people watch them and think, “No matter how bad my life is, at least I’m not eating dry wall or hoarding rats.” I started doodling and thought—what if we mix this whole thing up—Real Housewives hoarding Birkin Bags, Swamp People in Tiaras, the Biggest Housewife… and then the whole thing came together. Once I got rolling the piece wrote itself. There is endless material in the fantasy land that is Reality TV.
Do you have any projects in the works at the moment? What about the near future? Do you expect to expand into graphic novels or maybe another type of comics?
MARIA SCRIVAN: I have am working on some humor and children’s books and am excited to announce that I just signed with terrific literary agents Gillian MacKenzie and Allison Devereux. I love the idea of graphic novels. I’m constantly experimenting with new ideas—who knows what the future will bring.
Do you have any writers who you would love to illustrate the books for, but you did not have the opportunity to? What about magazines that you would love to have your work appear in?
MARIA SCRIVAN: What I would really love is to see one of my characters as a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon.
A lot of people claim newspapers, and comics with them, are doomed and will be completely replaced by the Internet. Do you agree with this gloomy view of the world? What do you think is the future for cartoonists?
MARIA SCRIVAN: Things are changing and creating more opportunities in different formats. I was fortunate to work as an Art Director at an interactive advertising agency when the internet was just developing on a commercial level. People did not know where the internet was going or how to monetize it. I feel like we are at a similar crossroads in the tablet and mobile space with regards to publishing. People are experimenting to see what works. I think there are boundless opportunities and our content needs are even greater.
You are very devoted to exercise and have participated in various athletic benefits. How important is that in your life and why?
MARIA SCRIVAN: Exercise is essential for my creativity and happiness. I solve so many creative problems and get so many ideas while I’m on the road running or cycling. Exercise helps me stretch, literally and figuratively. I am a two-time Ironman Triathlon competitor which was a longtime goal. I had no idea how I would be able to swim 2.4 miles, ride 112 and then run a full 26.2 mile marathon. Getting through it was a matter of many months of training and taking one step at a time. Getting thorough those 140.6 miles has helped me in with many other life goals. Learning to break things into small tasks, staying consistent and pushing through even when I didn’t feel like it are skills that have translated into so many things that I do. I love adventures and challenging athletic endeavors. Some of my favorites were riding from Montreal to Maine to raise money for AIDS research, riding from San Francisco to Los Angeles for the same cause and a bicycle ride to the top of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. There are so many metaphors between exercise and life—there are uphills and downhills, headwinds and flats, but you need to just keep pedaling.
Maria, if you could meet a person, any person in history, regardless of time constrictions, who would that person be and why?
MARIA SCRIVAN: I would love to meet Stephen King. I love his work, which doesn’t really make sense because I can’t set a single toe into a haunted house (not even the innocuous one at Disney World with the friendly ghosts.) His stories and characters suck me right in. It will be 3 in the morning and I am trying to fit in just one more chapter. I’m blown away with how prolific he is, all the while maintaining unique stories and fascinating characters. Special note: don’t bring a horror book about a cabin in Maine to a cabin in Maine. I also learned so much from his non-fiction book “On Writing.”
Written By: Tiziano Thomas Dossena10 October 2014|
According to his website, www.poochcafe.com, Paul Gilligan’s affair with art began in 1970, in kindergarten, when he figured out that he stunk at sports and that art was his only other option for impressing chicks. Weaned on Mad magazine, super-hero comics and “Bloom County,” Paul attended Toronto’s Sheridan College for animation and illustration and took comedy writing at the Film Institute in Ottawa. He tested out other jobs over the years such as gas jockey, carnie, night watchman and florist, before joining the Ottawa Citizen newspaper as its on-staff illustrator, where he won awards in both illustration and design. He also found work in advertising, editorial cartooning, storyboarding, comic books and animation, and finally set up shop in downtown Toronto as a free-lancer, where his roster of illustration clients grew to include the likes of Entertainment Weekly, Time, The Wall Street Journal, Disney, and Wired. During this time he created a number of strips, the culmination of which was Pooch Cafe. Pooch was the first comic of the new millennium, debuting on Jan 1, 2000 with Copley News Syndicate. In 2003 it was picked up by Universal Press Syndicate, and since then it’s found its way into over 270 newspapers around the globe, including recent additions like London and Moscow. Paul does not currently own a dog, but he skulks around dog parks doing research, and is an avid viewer of “Dogs With Jobs” and “Scooby-Doo” reruns.
L’IDEA: Paul, was being a cartoonist always your desire and aspiration? PAUL GILLIGAN: I’m one of those lucky people who always knew what they wanted to do. I started copying Don Martin drawings out of MAD when I was in grade 3 and I was hooked. In grade 2 I said I wanted to be a baseball player or astronaut. In grade 3, artist.
L’IDEA: How did the comic strip Pooch Café came about and where does the name come from? PAUL GILLIGAN: I tried a few other strips before Pooch, and the feedback I got was that the work was okay but the subject matter wasn’t sellable enough, the concepts were more outlandish and didn’t have a target demo. So I went: “Hmm, I don’t have a family, I don’t have a teenager, I’m not a senior, I’ve never worked in an office….” You sort of have to write what you know, so it was either a strip about dogs or a strip about a failed superhero-comic artist. The premise of Pooch Café is that a dog’s happy relationship with his master is thrown into a tail spin when his master marries a “crazy cat lady” and they move into a house loaded with cats. The dog then finds solace at the local canine hangout where they discuss life among the humans and how to get rid of the “fuzzy virus”. The name “Pooch Café” was a sort of pun on the obscure mixed brandy cocktail, the “pousse café.” The first person I ever mentioned the name to connected it immediately. And not a single other person since.
L’IDEA: Do any of the human characters in Pooch Café carry any resemblance to people you know, whether as physical presence or as personality? PAUL GILLIGAN: Not intentionally, although friends have said they hear my voice when they read Poncho’s words. Probably because I’ve been known to spin off on rants.
L’IDEA: Has any of the main characters in Pooch Café changed their physical appearance from the early years? PAUL GILLIGAN: Nothing substantial. Chazz used to have a pony tail, because I first envisioned him having some kind of “rad” occupation that he would force Poncho to tag along on. But that morphed into a more standard job and home life. Boomer’s eye used to not have a pupil, but I found adding one gave him more soul. Poncho’s ears used to touch his body, now they sort of hover magically over his head.
L’IDEA: You have been publishing Pooch Café for over 14 years now. Do you find it difficult to come up with new ideas? PAUL GILLIGAN: The beauty of Poncho as a character is that he’s a dog when I need him to be, a buddy when I need him to be, a child when I need him to be. This helps facilitate a lot of material.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: Which character from your own strip do you identify yourself the most with? PAUL GILLIGAN: For some reason I really identify with Poo Poo’s plight of being a little dog trying to protect the fire hydrant on his front lawn from other dogs.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: There are four book on Pooch Café (Pooch Café: All Dogs Naturally Know How To Swim, Bark To Work Legislation, Poncho: Year One – A Puppy Life, and No Collar No Service.) Are they all collections of previously published strips? Will you in the future publish a graphic novel with Poncho as the main character? PAUL GILLIGAN: Three of the books you mentioned are straight up collections, but “Year One” is a cross between a collection and a graphic novel. There was a 15-month-long stretch of strips where I took Poncho literally back to the womb and re-envisioning his formative puppy years, including the meeting of Boomer and Chazz, his first introduction to this magical thing called “meat”, and learning what it is that makes him hate cats so much. I then edited these strips and supplemented them with about 100 new panels to make the read flow as a graphic novel. I’d love to have time to do another one, but the right concept hasn’t struck me yet. I have to say, there were times when doing such a long storyline was difficult, but it was important to me to reinvigorate both the strip and my enthusiasm.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: Did you ever expect Pooch Café would have been so popular and in such a relative amount of time? What is your fan base like? PAUL GILLIGAN: Like a lot of kids, I lay on the living room carpet reading the Sunday comics and dreaming of having my own strip one day. So pulling this off is the main reward by itself. It’s overall popularity is subjective, but I’m happy to be making a living. I think I have more of a cult following, which is code for a fanbase that’s small but fervent.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: In June of this year you debuted with another comic strip, Poptropica. Could you tell us how it came about and what is the storyline? PAUL GILLIGAN: Poptropica is a popular website where players can create avatars and travel through a plethora of interesting islands. The website’s creator, Jeff Kinney (of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” fame) wanted a comic strip to go with it, and so he hired me to do the writing. There were pre-existing templates for the two main characters of Oliver and Jorge. I fleshed them out and gave them the motivation that they’re searching for a way out of Poptropica by traveling from island to island, kinda like that show “Quantum Leap”, like each time they hop to the next island it will be the one that leads them home.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: In Poptropica you share the credits with Kory Merritt. How do you operate in the creation of the strip with him? PAUL GILLIGAN: I do the writing, accompanied by thumbnails if necessary, and Kory pencils out the strips and runs them by me. I bring up any alterations that might be necessary for clarity, etc, and then he inks and colors the work. It’s been a fairly seamless collaboration thus far; Kory’s a great artist and super easy to work with.
L’IDEA: Some media projects a gloom future for newspapers in general and for newspapers’ comics in particular. Do you agree with their view? PAUL GILLIGAN: I’m not really as up on this topic as perhaps I might be, considering my position in papers. But after the dip about 3-4 years back there seems to have been some stabilization. Perhaps this shows that papers will still be around in some form for a while yet.
L’IDEA: Are you at the moment working on any projects not involving Pooch Café or Poptropica? PAUL GILLIGAN: I have an animated show in development, but I don’t want to say too much about it at this point, as it’s a years-long process.
L’IDEA: You won several Studio Magazine and INMA Awards for illustration and a National Newspaper Award for design. Could you tell our readers something about that? PAUL GILLIGAN: I worked as an on-staff illustrator at the Ottawa Citizen newspaper for many years. During that time I was encouraged by the paper to submit the work in various contests, and I came out with a few awards from that. This was quite some time ago and I used styles that were painted. I haven’t used paints in illustrations in about 15 years. When I struck out on my own as a freelancer my style became more cartoony, black brush lines and colored electronically.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: What are the comic strips that you believe influenced you the most? Who are the comic strip artists you admire the most and why? PAUL GILLIGAN: I was influenced by the obvious guys, Larson, Watterson, Breathed and Shultz, but also by a lot of alternative comic book cartoonists, Peter Bagge, Daniel Clowes, Chester Brown, The Hernandez Brothers. Those guys really influenced my writing as well, and the marriage of the words and art on the page, which is really what it’s all about. I was also heavily influenced by superhero comics, which was a passion from about 12-17, and can probably be seen at times in Pooch.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: Is Pooch Café also becoming an animated cartoon, soon? PAUL GILLIGAN: Well, I sure wouldn’t mind if my animated show made it into production, I’d say that would be about as good as I can imagine.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: Paul, if you could choose to meet a person, any person in history, regardless of time constrictions, who would that person be and why? PAUL GILLIGAN: My father, as a twenty year old, in lower Manhattan, so we could go on an all night drinking binge together.
The Evolution of BIG NATE From Comic strips to Novels to Musical: An interview with Lincoln Peirce
Lincoln Peirce (pronounced “Purse”) is an American cartoonist, best known as the creator of the Big Nate comic strip. Peirce was born in Iowa, grew up in Durham, New Hampshire and attended Colby College in Maine. He earned a graduate degree from Brooklyn College and studied at The Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. He taught art and coached baseball at Xavier High School, a boys’ high school in New York City, for three years before moving to Maine in 1992. Big Nate debuted in 1991 and appears in 300 newspapers in the US and online daily at www.gocomics.com, and is featured on the website Poptropica, www.poptropica.com. A fan and collector of classic country music, Peirce also hosts a local radio show devoted to Honky Tonk and Western Swing music on local station WMPG. In addition to the Big Nate comic strip, Peirce is the author and illustrator of the New York Times bestselling Big Nate novel series. His Big Nate books have been featured on “Good Morning America” and in the “Boston Globe,” the “Los Angeles Times,” “USA Today,” and “The Washington Post.”
L’IDEA: Lincoln, was being a cartoonist always your aspiration? LINCOLN PEIRCE: I became very interested in comics, particularly newspaper comic strips, when I was about 7 or 8 years old. That’s not unusual; lots of kids like comics at that age. But only a handful of those kids take the next step and begin creating comics of their own. Once I began experimenting with inventing my own stories and characters, I started to consider the possibility of making cartooning my profession. When I look back on my trajectory, though, it’s clear to me that I didn’t devote as much time to developing my drawing skills as some of my peers did. I didn’t have the patience or the self-discipline to really practice my drawing; I just wanted to be able to draw well enough to tell the types of stories I was starting to write. If you split cartooning into a writing part and a drawing part, it’s always been the writing that’s come easier to me.
L’IDEA: How did the comic strip Big Nate came about and where does the name come from?
LINCOLN PEIRCE: First, the name: it’s the nickname I gave my brother, Jonathan, when we were boys. I’ve always liked the name Nate. The strip itself evolved from an earlier idea called “Neighborhood Comix.” It was a strip that was based on the little neighborhood in New Hampshire where I grew up, and it featured a large cast of characters, including two brothers, Nate and Marty. Nate was the quiet straight man and Marty, the younger brother, was the jokester. Their relationship was reminiscent of the one my brother and I shared as boys. I submitted “Neighborhood Comix” to all the major syndicates and got some very nice feedback from Sarah Gillespie, the comics editor at United Media. She was to become my first editor. Her suggestion was that I choose one character and make that character the focal point of the strip. Well, I wanted to somehow keep both Nate AND Marty. So I kept the name Nate, but gave him a personality more like Marty’s – energetic, wisecracking, and occasionally troublemaking. And because Nate was now clearly the star, I renamed the strip “Big Nate.”
L’IDEA: Could you tell our readers about the Longest Cartoon Strip by a Team World Record that Big Nate has just set?
LINCOLN PEIRCE: That was an idea proposed by HarperCollins, the publisher of the Big Nate novels. A lot of kids have discovered Big Nate in recent years through those novels, and they learn only later that Big Nate has been a comic strip character for 23 years. With Nate’s comic strip roots, it seemed that trying to break the world record for the Longest Comic Strip by a Team was a great fit. HarperCollins reached out to schools via the Big Nate website and invited them to create individual panels for what would be a record-setting comic strip based on the first two Big Nate novels. And it worked beautifully. We assembled all the panels on the “Today” show in New York City in April, and the completed strip was something like 4,000 feet long. It was a great way to involve a lot of Big Nate readers in the process, and now kids all around the world can say they were part of setting a world record.
L’IDEA: Besides the continuous appearance of Big Nate strip on newspapers since 1991 and a series of its collections as books, you also have published six New York Times bestselling novels with him as the main character. What made you go into novel writing? How different is for you the process of creation of one (the novel) versus the other (the strip)?
LINCOLN PEIRCE: For many years, Big Nate was what I’d call a moderate success as a comic strip. It was in about two hundred newspapers and it had a small, loyal readership. But it wasn’t widely known. I always thought that if I could just find a way to reach more readers, especially young readers, they’d like Big Nate. But I never considered writing novels; I was just looking for ways to get my comic strip into more newspapers. Then Jeff Kinney started writing his “Wimpy Kid” books, and suddenly every publisher in the world was looking for books that combined text and comics. Well, Jeff and I have known each other for many years, and he was kind enough to open some doors for me in the publishing world. I submitted proposals to about eight publishing houses, I guess, and HarperCollins made the best offer. I’d never written a novel, but since I’d been doing the comic strip for almost twenty years at that point, I felt confident that I could create longer stories for those same characters. I just had to get used to the pacing. A 4-panel comic strip has a real rhythm to it, and I’m very accustomed to writing jokes and dialogue that correspond to that rhythm. But a 216-page book has a completely different rhythm, obviously. I had to figure out when and where the story needed to speed up or slow down. I had to make sure I was timing everything correctly, so that all the story threads would be resolved by the end of the book. And, of course, I had to write a lot of text instead of just putting everything in speech bubbles. It took a lot of getting used to, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed writing novels.
L’IDEA: Nate Wright, the protagonist of your strip, is also an aspiring cartoonist. Did you somewhat model him on yourself and your early experiences as cartoonist?
LINCOLN PEIRCE: Oh, of course. Nate isn’t based on me – he’s not an autobiographical character, in other words – but he shares many of my enthusiasms, obsessions, and pet peeves. And, as you mentioned, he’s a cartoonist. Some of Nate’s cartoon inventions, like “Doctor Cesspool,” are actually characters I created myself when I was a child. Drawing Nate’s comics enable me to indulge that part of my sensibility that’s still firmly planted in middle school. I get to draw the way a 6th grader would draw, and write the kind of jokes a 6th grader might write.
L’IDEA: Do any of the characters in Big Nate carry any resemblance to people you know, whether as physical presence or as personality?
LINCOLN PEIRCE: There are plenty of connections. Nate’s pal, Francis, is based on a student I had when I was a high school art teacher. The dog next door, Spitsy, is a dead ringer for the dog that belonged to my best friend when we were growing up. Other characters are amalgams: Coach John looks a bit like my high school gym teacher and acts a lot like a baseball coach I played for. Mr. Rosa is a combination of several teachers I had over the years – guys whose hearts were in the right place, but who were starting to get burned out after spending 10 or 20 or 30 years in the classroom. There have only been one or two times when I’ve made a concerted effort to create a character who looks like a real life counterpart. The most successful was a substitute teacher who was modeled on my friend and fellow cartoonist, Corey Pandolph. It actually looked quite a bit like him. But I’m no caricaturist.
L’IDEA: Has Nate Wright changed his physical appearance from his first entrance into the world of comics?
LINCOLN PEIRCE: All comic strip characters change over time, because the cartoonist’s drawing style inevitably evolves as the years roll by. In my case, I couldn’t draw very well when I started the comic strip in 1991. At the time, I didn’t realize how weak my drawing skills were, but now it’s difficult for me to look at the strips I did in the early and mid 90’s without feeling kind of embarrassed. In 1991, Nate was skinnier and lankier than he is now. Over the years, without really realizing that I was doing it, I gradually made him shorter and more compact. I’m much happier with the way he looks now – he’s more expressive, and I can draw him more consistently – but height-wise, he’s not as tall as a sixth-grader would be in real life. He looks younger than he is. But I can live with it.
L’IDEA: Did your experience as a teacher help you a lot in creating the school environment in which this cartoon strip thrives?
LINCOLN PEIRCE: I’m sure it didn’t hurt. But I taught in an all-boys high school, so the students were several years older than Nate and his classmates. I rely much more on my own memories of sixth grade than on my experiences as a teacher. For whatever reason, I have almost total recall of events that happened when I was 10, 11, 12 years old. I remember those times more vividly than I do my teens or my twenties. Schools are funny places, and middle schools – which where I grew up meant 6th, 7th, and 8th grade – are especially hilarious. Nate’s in 6th grade, which is a time of major transition. As a 5th grader, you have only one teacher, you hang your coat and put your lunch box in a little cubbyhole…you’re in a sort of bubble. Then you go to 6th grade, and you’ve got a different teacher for each subject. You’re sharing a locker with some kid you don’t even know. You’re surrounded by 7th and 8th graders who, in many cases, are much bigger and stronger than you are. You go to school dances. You play intramural sports. Each and every day, there’s the possibility of experiencing soaring triumphs or crushing humiliations. There’s a lot of comedic fodder there.
L’IDEA: Nate’s father is a divorced, single parent. Where is Nate’s mother? Has she appeared in any strip at all? Do you believe that her obvious absence from his everyday life influencing his behavior? Would he be any different if he lived in a two parents’ household?
LINCOLN PEIRCE: Nate’s mother has never appeared in the strip. When I launched the strip in 1991, I made a couple of early references to the fact that Nate’s parents were divorced. I envisioned the strip as a “domestic humor” strip when I started it, and I imagined that at some point I’d bring Nate’s mom in as a character. But very early on, I realized that the stories and jokes I enjoyed the most all revolved around Nate’s school life, his classmates, his teachers, and so on. With Nate’s dad and sister assuming somewhat diminished roles, I decided that it wouldn’t make much sense to introduce an estranged mom character. I can’t say how it might change Nate’s behavior to be living with two parents. Nate’s dad is somewhat hapless at times, and it’s hard to imagine Nate’s mother being equally inept as a parent. So the dynamic would change, even if I didn’t intend it to. That’s why I have no plans to bring Nate’s mom into the strip, or to create a “significant other” for Nate’s father.
L’IDEA: What is the next project involving Big Nate? LINCOLN PEIRCE: I’m working on the seventh novel right now. It’s going to be called Big Nate Lives It Up. All the writing is done, and I’m doing the finished drawings. There’s also a Big Nate musical that will be touring this fall. The show was originally staged at Adventure Theater in Glen Echo Maryland in the spring of 2013, and it was so well received that a touring company is being assembled. There are occasional rumblings about a Big Nate TV show or movie, but nothing has come together yet. And that’s fine with me. I’m very content with the way things are.
L’IDEA: You have been publishing Big Nate for over 23 years now. Do you find it difficult to come up with new ideas?
LINCOLN PEIRCE: I still haven’t run into a prolonged case of writer’s cramp on the comic strip, but there’s no doubt that the novels are becoming more challenging. There are only so many themes involving a 6th grade boy that are substantial enough to carry a whole book. When you write a book series, it’s a real challenge not to repeat yourself. Your readers, who are kids, expect certain elements. There’s got to be conflict, either with teachers or with other kids, because conflict is what makes a story interesting. There’s got to be a lot of physical humor, because slapstick is a huge part of comic storytelling. And there’s got to be a happy ending. I’m finding it increasingly challenging to meet those criteria in a fresh way in each book.
L’IDEA: You created animated shorts for the Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon. What was the subject? How different is that process from your strip creation? LINCOLN PEIRCE: I wrote three shorts under the title “Uncle Gus” featuring a cast of eccentric characters: a middle-aged loser, his loyal horse, his overly theatrical nephew, and a mysterious tiny con man named Ali Ali. In retrospect, I think they worked much better as long-format comic books than as animation. I also wrote a short called “Super John Doe Jr.,” about a kid who’s the son of a famous superhero but who’s inherited none of his father’s super powers. The best shorts I wrote were a series of 2-minute pieces for a short-lived Cartoon Network show, “Sunday Pants.” They were called “The Brothers Pistov.” They were two very angry Russian dogs. Gregor was completely deadpan but very passive-aggressive. The other, Anton, was insanely volatile and violent. Writing for TV is a completely different style of writing from what I usually do. Think about your basic 3- or 4-panel comic strip. It might be extremely funny on the page, but it can become much less funny if you read it out loud, or try to act it out. I thought the first “Uncle Gus” short I wrote was hilarious on the page, but it just didn’t translate to animation the way I hoped it would.
L’IDEA: In 2003, “Big Nate” the musical debuted, with great success. Was that your idea? How involved were you in that project?
LINCOLN PEIRCE: Adventure Theater, one of the oldest and most respected children’s theaters in the country, approached us and inquired about the stage rights to Big Nate. I was initially skeptical, simply because so many things can go wrong when you put something you’ve created in someone else’s hands. I’d never collaborated on Big Nate before; I don’t have a partner or an assistant, I don’t buy jokes from free-lance gag writers. So I had to get used to the idea. But once the writers submitted their story synopsis to me, I was on board. There was a good story there. I was grateful to the writers, because they let me re-write most of the dialogue. I didn’t touch the songs, except to suggest that one song needed to be more upbeat. But it was important to me that when the characters spoke, they sounded like the characters I’ve been writing for all these years. My family and I went to the premiere last spring, and it was wonderful. They did a great job.
L’IDEA: You were a pen pal with Jeff Kinney, the author of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” How did that come about?
LINCOLN PEIRCE: Jeff was an undergraduate – and an aspiring cartoonist – at the University of Maryland. He read “Big Nate” in the Washington Post and enjoyed it, so he sent me what I guess you’d call fan mail. He had a lot of questions about cartooning, syndication, etc., and he sent me examples of the strip he did for his college paper. It was called “Igdoof.” He was clearly very talented, earnest, and ambitious. I wrote him back – this was before the days of email, so we really were pen pals in the old-fashioned sense – and we kept a correspondence going for a couple of years. We lost touch after he graduated, but found each other again after his first “Wimpy Kid” book was published. I read about his success, tracked him down to congratulate him, and as I mentioned in one of my earlier answers, he’s been enormously helpful to me.
L’IDEA: Are you working on any projects not involving Big Nate?
LINCOLN PEIRCE: At some point, I am definitely planning to write other books for kids that are not Big Nate-related. But there’s still one more novel to write after the one I’m working on now. That will make a total of 8 Big Nate novels, and at that point I’ll be ready to try some other things.
As Boardwalk Empire Meets its Final Season, Vincent Piazza Shines as Lucky Luciano
HBO recently announced that it was closing down Boardwalk Empire, its tribute to Prohibition-era Atlantic City, making this upcoming fifth season its last; the show will be sorely missed by its fans. Vincent Piazza, who is a series regular on Boardwalk Empire as real life Italian mobster Charlie Lucky Luciano, has kindly agreed on an interview with our magazine. Vincent Piazza was born and raised in Queens, New York. His father is Italian, having immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1960s. Piazza played Division I ice hockey for Villanova University in Pennsylvania, until a shoulder injury forced him to quit playing and leave the university. His ending in hockey brought him to a career in acting.
He appeared in various New York Off Broadway productions (Baby Steps, A Match Made in Manhattan and Much Ado About Nothing among them), after which he made his feature film debut in 2006 with Stephanie Daley, followed by a series of successful movies (Rocket Science, Goodbye Baby, Tie a Yellow Ribbon, Apology, Assassination of a High School President). Piazza has appeared in three episodes of the television series The Sopranos, as well as guest-starring in an episode of Law & Order, before he landed the recurring role of Tony in Rescue Me’s fourth season. In 2013 Piazza took the role of Tommy DeVito, one of the founding members of the band The Four Seasons, in the Clint Eastwood directed adaptation of the Broadway musical Jersey Boys.
L’IDEA: You have recently played two very different Italian Americans roles: the singer Tommy DeVito from The Four Seasons in the movie Jersey Boys, and Lucky Luciano in Boardwalk Empire. How much did your own New Yorker and Italian American background help you in portraying these characters?
VINCENT PIAZZA:I think some of my own heritage, along with growing up a New Yorker, was a big help in understanding where these characters might be coming from. I grew up around a number of people from Italy that searched for an identity here in the United States. These characters just went about it in very different ways.
L’IDEA: Being that you were the only actor in the movie version of Jersey Boys who was not an original member of the Broadway cast, was preparing for this movie a big challenge?
VINCENT PIAZZA:It was a great challenge to overcome. I had to work hard on the singing, dancing and guitar so I could get to a place where I could fit in with the guys. Ultimately I was in great hands, so they gave me a lot of confidence in the process.
L’IDEA: You worked with the legendary Clint Eastwood; how was it? VINCENT PIAZZA:It was an experience I’ll always have with me. I learned quite a bit working with him and hope to carry that forward throughout my career. He’s a very generous man.
L’IDEA: Did you get to meet the remaining members of the Four Seasons? If so, how were they? VINCENT PIAZZA:Of the original Four Seasons, I only met Mr. Valli on the set of Jersey Boys. I really enjoyed the time I got to spend with him. He has a great sense of humor, so we had fun.
L’IDEA: Boardwalk Empire is starting a new season and you are back with the infamous Charles Lucky Luciano. His history within Cosa Nostra was unmatched, even by Al Capone, and he is considered the father of modern crime in United States, an ominous title. How do you feel about this character? Has it been hard to characterize such an important personality of the crime world?
VINCENT PIAZZA:I’ve always felt fortunate to get to portray such a famous historical figure. He obviously was involved in plenty of criminal activity but I was really interested in his hunger. He ran a marathon where most of these guys sprinted. It definitely has been a fun challenge to work on in the world of Boardwalk Empire.
L’IDEA: Could you describe the difference in experience in working on Boardwalk Empire versus The Sopranos?
VINCENT PIAZZA:Very different experiences for me as an actor. The characters are worlds apart. When I was lucky enough to be a guest on The Sopranos, it was well into its run and it really felt like stepping into the Soprano’s home. With Boardwalk, I’ve been on it from the beginning so I’ve gotten to know many of the people quite well. Sad to see it end in that way.
L’IDEA: Will this season of Boardwalk Empire bring forth new shocks? VINCENT PIAZZA:Yes! I think there’s so much happening in this final season. And now that it’s ending, each episode feels like a finale in some ways.
L’IDEA: How is it working with Steve Buscemi? Is he as great as a guy as everyone says? Did he mentor you at all?
VINCENT PIAZZA:He’s a wonderful guy and a great leader on the show! Every time I get to work with him it’s always fun. We have some good laughs.
L’IDEA: You have appeared in many TV series, besides Boardwalk Empire and The Sopranos, and in quite a few movies. In your opinion, how dissimilar and alike are these two worlds?
VINCENT PIAZZA:I think TV and film are as different as they are similar. As an actor, TV requires a different kind of patience, trust and endurance. Because movies tell a finite story, in some ways (the preparation being one) it may have more in common with the theatre.
L’IDEA: Do you have any new projects in the making for the near future?
VINCENT PIAZZA:I’m spending most of my free time now writing a few ideas that I hope to see come to life in the future. It’s been a bountiful few years so when Boardwalk winds down, I’ll take some time to digest.
Mark Tatulli: Successful animator, illustrator, writer, artist, filmmaker, producer… and of course, cartoonist. An Exclusive interview.
Mark Tatulli is an internationally syndicated cartoonist. He was awarded the National Cartoonists Society’s Best Newspaper Comic Strip award in 2008 for Lio, after three nominations, and is also known for his popular comic strip Heart of the City, both syndicated by Universal Press Syndicate. Mark is also an animator and television producer, known for his work on the cable reality television series Trading Spaces and A Wedding Story, for which he has won three Emmy Awards. His dark humor is confirmed in a cover for a Lio collection, as described by Washington Post’s Michael Cavna: “The front cover features Lio excavating a “Calvin” skull while his pet cephalopod examines a stuffed Hobbes. The back cover features a photo (taken by the creator’s son) of Tatulli mimicking the iconic Watterson image — one of the very few publicity stills of Watterson actually known to exist.” In the same article, Tatulli comments on his cover creation: “Well, “Calvin and Hobbes” is sort of this sacred cow among comic strips that others dare not touch — although you do see spoofs online…but print people tend to stay away. And there’s nothing I like skewering more than a sacred cow. It’s a perversity that harks back to my childhood … knowing I shouldn’t do something makes me want to do it all the more.” Although traveling, he kindly consented to an interview with L’Idea Magazine, which follows…
L’IDEA: You stated on “Humor Times” that you were “always a cartoonist.” Could you explain that statement to our readers?
MARK TATULLI: I drew comics for all my school newspapers: elementary school, middle school, and high school. I always was a huge fan of cartoons, animated and printed, since I was a little kid. But it was studying Disney that taught me that, in addition to being funny, cartoons could have deep, believable characters and stories with real emotional depth.
L’IDEA: Which are the comic strips that had the biggest influence on you personally and on your work?
MARK TATULLI: Gosh, there are so many. I would probably say BLOOM COUNTY, DOONESBURY, MAD Magazine, and CALVIN AND HOBBES influenced me most as a writer. Artwork-wise, I took something from all the cartoonists that I’ve examined at length over the years.
L’IDEA: “Bent Halos” was your first syndicated comic strip. What was it about? Do you plan to ever revive it?
MARK TATULLI: It was a strip about two ne’er-do-well guardian angels, doing the best to positively influence their human wards and rarely succeeding. I have no plans to revive it.
L’IDEA: “Heart of the City” debuted in 1998 and has been a success from day one. The main character is Heart, a resolute, fun-loving, precocious young girl who makes Philadelphia her world of adventures, mostly lived with her friend Dean. Did you have any references for your characters in that strip, that is people who you knew and modeled the characters after, or are they completely a creation of your mind?
MARK TATULLI: All of my characters are a reflection of my collective experience over the years. I had little kids at home when I starting writing HEART, so it was just a matter of listening to them to get ideas for stories and gags. It’s a bit harder now, 15 years later, to continue to come up with new stories and situations. But I know these characters so well, it sort of writes itself.
L’IDEA: Your comic strip “Lio” has been a major accomplishment in your field, receiving positive responses for both its daily strips and its book collections, besides the National Cartoonists Society’s divisional award for Best Newspaper Strip in 2008. What do you think is the reason for its success?
MARK TATULLI: If I could answer that, I would rule the world. I have no idea how to achieve success in comics. It’s hit or miss. With LIO, I wanted to create something like nothing else on the current comics page. As long as you write honestly and from your heart, you can maintain a comic strip for years to come. Success and acceptance is completely in the hands of the readers. The cartoonist must entertainment himself first, and hopefully readers will like what you do.
L’IDEA: Both your characters Heart and Lio live in a fantasy world, although Lio definitely beats Heart hands down with its imaginary view of the world. What other similarities and differences these two characters have?
MARK TATULLI: HEART’s humor is primarily script driven, and LIO (being a wordless “pantomime” strip) is almost entirely physical humor. It makes it easier to separate the two worlds, which is essential.
L’IDEA: Your new book “Desmond Pucket and the Mountain Full of Monsters” is going on sale on August 5th and it carries with it a lot of surprises; there is, for example, a dedicated website with downloadable assets, such as teachers’ guides, printable posters, activities, and much more. The children will surely appreciate all these extras that your book offers. This is the second adventure for Desmond (the first was in the book Desmond Pucket Makes Monster Magic and it had a great success) and both contain monsters. Why this topic? What are the main traits of Desmond? Do you believe kids identify with the main character?
MARK TATULLI: The first rule of any writing: write what you know. Desmond is a lot like I was in Jr. High…I loved monsters and special effects and monster makeup and haunted house rides. It seemed logical to give these traits to Desmond, though he takes more chances than I ever did. Desmond’s world is more settled in reality than my comics, and I think this makes him relatable for kids. At least I hope so!
L’IDEA: Do you expect to continue with Desmond’s adventures in more books? MARK TATULLI: As long as kids want to keep reading them, I’ll keep writing them!
NOTE: Children can meet Desmond Pucket on its dedicated web site (www.desmondpucket.com), where they can find comments about the main character, news and reviews by readers, various activities and games, and a blog by the author!
L’IDEA: You also are an accomplished filmmaker and animator, and you have received three Emmy Awards for your work. Could you tell us more about that? (the programs, what you did, etcetera)
MARK TATULLI: I was the creative director at a Philadelphia video post-production facility. I designed, art directed and produced animated opens and graphic packages. We did a lot of TV shows and commercials. I won three Emmys for Production design on three different TV shows that are no longer on the air. My last job was supervising a graphics department with 10 animators. In addition to that, I did a lot of design and storyboards. As of August 2013, I’ve been a cartoonist/author full time. But I did graphics and animation for 31 years professionally.
L’IDEA: You are an illustrator, a writer, an artist, a filmmaker, a producer… how did you get involved in so many different activities?
MARK TATULLI: I like all those jobs for different reasons. I miss the post-production business now that I do comics/books full time. Doing TV can be exhausting, but was always exciting to me to start a new challenge, especially of we have a limited budget. That’s when the real creativity has to kick in. I look at work in all these fields as building creative muscles. The more you work, the stronger you get. I still watch TV commercials and wonder how they did something and how can I replicate it. It’s a hard habit to break!
L’IDEA: If, hypothetically, you could be working in any job position in the world, what would you be and why?
MARK TATULLI: I’m doing exactly what I want to do. Making comics and books is a lonely occupation, but it’s a control freak’s dream. I am totally in charge of the worlds I’ve created and that’s just the way I like it!
GUY GILCHRIST: FROM THE MUPPETS TO NANCY, A SUCCESS STORY.
Guy Gilchrist is a renowned writer and illustrator of children’s books (42 titles to his name, of which the acclaimed“Night Lights & Pillow Fights” also appears in comics and games versions) and a celebrated, syndicated cartoonist, with strips such as “Mudpie,” “Screams,” “The Poetry Guy,” “The Rock Channel,” “Today’s Dogg,” and, since 1995, the classic “Nancy.” Guy won the prestigious Reuben Award from the National Cartoonists Society in the Best Book Illustrator category in both 1998 and 1999, and 3 Children’s Choice Awards by the International Reading Council for best books of the year. His work has appeared in newspapers and magazines across the globe and is permanently preserved at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. In 1981 he created the daily comic strip “The Muppets” with his brother Brad Gilchrist, which was printed worldwide in over 660 newspapers from 1981 to 1986. In 1997, Guy founded his own international publishing company, Gilchrist Publishing.
L’IDEA: Guy, you have been drawing “Nancy” for 19 years now; it has probably become part of you, almost as if you created it, although the strip appeared for the first time in 1938 and the Nancy as a character was first drawn in 1933. How different is the experience of creating a strip from scratch, creating a strip based on someone else’s characters, as you did for “The Muppets,” and drawing a strip that has been around already so many years, as “Nancy” is?
GUY GILCHRIST: Nancy really has become a part of my life and a part of my heart; you know, writing and drawing something for 19 years, every single day of your life, has that effect. I’m certainly not the same person I was when I began or anywhere in the middle. And I look back now at 19 years and can see the effects of the different things that were going on in my life at the time. When I was writing and drawing for Jim Henson and the Muppets I was trying to please Jim. Also, I was very scared; I was just a kid starting out and I was given a worldwide stage to either succeed on or fail. No pressure, you know. The Muppets definitely all had incredibly wonderful personalities, which were already very well evolved. Basically, my job was to take these wonderful, crazy characters with all of this life and color and music and warmth and try to find a way to translate that into a daily comic strip. Sometimes it felt like I was trying to get a 100 piece orchestra into a phone booth! When you’re doing your own comic strip, characters that you’ve created all by yourself, then it really is a totally different thing. You truly are like an eagle flying endless skies with no barriers to your creativity but your own mind and talents.
These days, of course, I have the little panel, Today’s Dogg, which is very fun and free, but also, after 19 years really and truly Nancy and Aunt Fritzi and the entire group are really and truly mine. Now, the characters will always be the creations of the great Ernie Bushmiller, and he is always my inspiration, it’s really important for me to be honest and funny in my own way in the comic strip each day. The best way to honor Ernie Bushmiller and his wonderful characters is to keep them alive and romping through the newspapers and the Internet for as long as it is my blessing to do so!
L’IDEA: Do you believe that the continuing success of classic strips, such as “Blondie,” Gasoline Alley” and “Nancy,” which seem to live well beyond their expected natural life, is tied to the “nostalgia” factor, with its simpler times and situations?
GUY GILCHRIST: I believe it is a combination of two things. I believe that nostalgia of course is extremely important in our continuing success. Many of our readers have been Nancy Fans their entire lives, since this trip is been around for over 80 years! They may remember it from when they were children, and now as parents they are reading it to their children! There has always been the Stasia, that longing to touch something from my past that has touched our hearts. My job as the Cartoonist is really twofold. I want to present our readers with a product that will please them and remind them of the characters that they so loved when they were children, but also breathe life into these characters and make them viable and entertaining and engaging to today’s generation!
L’IDEA: Do you feel that the messages and the humor in “Nancy” are as valid today as they were in 1938? Has she been modernized, both in thinking and/or communicating, or is she still the same mischievous 8 year old? GUY GILCHRIST: That’s really my job, isn’t it?! I certainly hope I’m doing that! While the cars and machines and electronics around Nancy and her gang have changed, she really hasn’t! She may live in a slightly smaller town then perhaps she did early on in the 1930s, since her author these days lives in a slightly smaller town… but that is probably about it. I think the small-town feeling of Nancy is one of the things that make her so successful around the world. You know, little children still pretty much act and react the same way that little children acted in the decades before. They are both angels and brats. One moment you want to scold them, the next moment you want to hug them and hold on for dear life! These are the fundamentals of human emotions. They will never change.
L’IDEA: I used to read “Nancy” when I was a little kid (I read it in Italian as “Arturo e Zoe,” which appeared as full stories in the comics magazines “Il Monello” and “L’Intrepido”), and I am sure most of our readers have been exposed to it one way or the other. What do you feel are the most appealing characteristics of this strip?
GUY GILCHRIST: Nancy is still very popular not only in America but all around the world. Our COM X are read in over 80 different countries and by 57 million people. That’s a pretty scary thought. It makes me want to check my spelling a hundred times before I send things out. I wouldn’t want to make a mistake in front of that many people in that many languages! Honestly, what I have always tried to do is keep Nancy’s wants and desires and her daily life simple. By that I mean that if you read the comic strip for a little while you will realize that the characters never do anything that would be expensive. They do things that really don’t cost any money. They go for walks they play in the park they climb trees they ride bicycles and skateboards. The most expensive things they ever buy are ice cream cones and comic books. They spend a lot of time outside, playing. They have television sets and computers, but I don’t have the children sitting in front of them all that much. I keep them also away from too many video games. I do this because no matter what generation you are from, and where you are in this world, these are common things that we all can enjoy and can remember. I was poor growing up and the comics were something that were a thrill for me. When I would see those two or three pages each day of the funnies, they were really a treasure to me! I want the same feeling for children who cannot afford much around the world, that if they see the funnies in the paper with Nancy and Sluggo in them, they will be able to identify with them and to smile.
L’IDEA: If you had any suggestions for Nancy, the little girl who is main character of that strip, what would it be?
GUY GILCHRIST: She wouldn’t listen to be! I’m a grown-up! Believe me, I’ve had daughters and a granddaughter and I know! That’s what’s so much fun about Nancy! We see our own children in her and her friends!
L’IDEA: When you started drawing “Nancy,” the person in charge of the stories was your brother Brad, and that went on until last year. What made you take over completely the strip?
GUY GILCHRIST: When I started drawing Nancy, my brother Brad and I shared the writing duties; after about seven or eight years, my brother Brad began to work on another project. He’s always been very involved with the environment, recycling and ecology; that is his passion. It was then that Brad backed away from the Nancy comic and I began to work on it on my own. And so, I have actually been writing and drawing the strip on my own for quite a few years. I consider myself a writer first, And an illustrator second, so the transition was not a difficult one for me. Brad’s name had been left on the byline by the publishers! That was okay with me and still is! A terrific way to honor my brother!
L’IDEA: What is the illustration work you are the most proud of and why?
GUY GILCHRIST: That is a really difficult question. You know, I’ve had a very long and very blessed career. My favorite project is always the exact thing that I am working on at this moment. That is the way you must always be as a writer and artist. You don’t look toward the future and you do not look toward the past. You concentrate all you have on that scary blank white piece of paper in front of you and pray you have something to offer! In regard to highlights of my career, certainly the artwork that I did for Pres. Reagan and the White House back in 1984 that was preserved in the Smithsonian would be a blessing. I have been so blessed also to have met many people who have been touched by my story books as well as my comics. And when they share with me how much a certain book or a certain character meant to them, that becomes a very important work for me. I thank my Father in heaven every single day for the blessing that He has given me to be a writer and an artist and to be able to reach out to people in the ways that I am privileged to do so.
L’IDEA: You are also a popular children’s book’s author and illustrator. Are your books all independent of each other, as stories and characters go, or do they carry common themes, locations and characters? Which one is the character of your stories that you like the most and why?
GUY GILCHRIST: There have been common themes and common characters throughout many of my books. However, each book can be read independently and enjoyed on its own, apart from whatever series it may be a part of. The Tiny Dinos Series with Warner Books still seems to be very popular with many, many people. My Mudpie character Has been published by several different publishing houses and was also of course a comic strip. Then there are the Night Lights and Pillow Fights and Just Imagine books . Those were full of poems and pictures and brand-new little fairytales that I concocted! I’ve written so many, and each one of them is a wonderful memory!
L’IDEA: Were you always interested to be an illustrator? How did you get to where you are now? If, hypothetically, you could be working in any job position in the world, what would you be?
GUY GILCHRIST: I don’t consider myself to be an illustrator. I consider myself first to be a writer. You see, whether it is a storybook, a comic book, a comic strip, or a song or a speech… the idea and the story always comes first. Even as a little child when I was drawing cartoons, while I was copying Superman and Mickey Mouse and Woody Woodpecker and Popeye, I was making up stories for them! How did I get to be where I am now? First you have to tell me where that is! I hope I’m still right in the middle of a wonderful adventure! I hope I’m not near the end! I hope I’m right in the middle. I feel like I’m learning every single day. I certainly feel like the comic strip and the songs and the stories that I am writing now are the best of my career. Really, the success that I have had is not based on talent. I know that there have always been more talented artist and writers than me applying for the projects that I’ve had over the years. I believe that the secret to success is to stick to it. To never quit and always keep your promises. Be a person of your word who can be counted on to get the project finished. If you stay busy, you will eventually get better and better and better at everything that you do. Repetition helps to pull the genius out of you and put it down on paper! It also helps if you remember that you are a professional, and therefore it is your job. A mortgage and a lovely spouse and children are wonderful igniters for your muse!!! And never forget the power of prayer. Don’t ever forget to thank God every single day for all that you have. Oh, and hypothetically, if I could have any job in the world, I’ve got it!
L’IDEA: You founded the Guy Gilchrist Studios, and opened also a branch in Tokyo. What is their function?
GUY GILCHRIST: Back in the early 1990s, I was exploring the market for my cartoons and writing in Tokyo. We opened a branch office at that time and were quite successful with it! We were able to produce some Japanese versions of some of my children’s books and also work with the Japanese baseball clubs and the national soccer league on some cartoon mascot projects! My agent over there, Maseo Maruyama, keeps a desk there for me, although I have not been back in quite a few years. This now Nashville cat is looking forward to getting back over to Tokyo sometime soon.
L’IDEA: What are your projects for the near future? And for the long run? GUY GILCHRIST: We’ve got some fantastic projects going right now! By the way, everything that I’m working on and I can show you is over at www.NancyandSluggo.com. For instance the brand-new Nancy comic book that we just published! It’s the first brand-new Nancy book in 20 years! We plan on putting out an entire line of all of the cartoons that I have done I’ve Nancy over the last 19 years. Also there’s a figurine line called Bearly Angels. They are sweet little statuettes of angel bears that have sayings to motivate you and to fill you with God’s love. We are working on a set of children’s books featuring these characters. We also have a Nancy Broadway show and a project with Dreamworks in development. It’s a very exciting time! My incredible wife, Teresa, is my partner in Nancy Entertainment LLC. I have a full engagement calendar as a touring Motivational speaker. Traveling all over this country and being able to connect with people of all ages is probably my favorite thing to do! It is such an incredible joy to be able to share stories of my life with the Muppets and Nancy and all the cartoon characters that I have worked on, as well as tell the personal side of my life and how I started out as a poor child without a college education and eventually wound up as a guest of honor at the White House and beyond. It is always a great honor and blessing to be able to speak in front of audiences and connect that way. I am so, so lucky; so, so blessed. I’m hoping for a very long run.