Comics: Meet the Artist
With Rick Kirkman
Artist, "Baby Blues"
Hosted by Suzanne Tobin
Washington Post Comics Editor
Friday, April 18, 2003; 1 p.m. ET
Welcome to the Washington Post Style section comics discussion, hosted by Comics page editor Suzanne Tobin. This week, Tobin is joined by Rick Kirkman, artist of the comic strip "Baby Blues," on which he collaborates with Jerry Scott.
Tobin and Kirkman were online Friday, April 18 at 1 p.m. ET to discuss "Baby Blues," and the art of cartooning.
The transcript follows.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control
over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
Greetings, comics fans and welcome to another edition of "Comics: Meet the Artist." Today our guest is Rick Kirkman, the co-creator of "Baby Blues." Rick is joining us today from his studio in the Phoenix area. Welcome, Rick, and thanks for joining us Live Online.
Rick Kirkman: Thanks for having me on the chat. I’ve been reading some of the early questions and want to thank everyone for such kind words about “Baby Blues.”
Is the father in your comic modeled after anyone? I ask because his personality is eerily similar to my own!
Rick Kirkman: Darryl is a combination of Jerry Scott, the writer, and me. Jerry’s got red hair, I wear glasses. And pretty much our sensibilities are very similar, so his personality is also a composite.
I don't have a question, but wanted to tell you I appreciate that you have Wanda staying home full-time with the children. You are to be commended for encouraging her role as a homemaker.
Rick Kirkman: Thanks. Having Wanda at home gave us a better opportunity for interaction with the kids. And brought up a lot of issues—like the conflicting feelings of leaving your career--that we otherwise wouldn’t have had.
You obviously have children, how many and what ages?
Rick Kirkman: My kids are 19 and 15 and Jerry now has a 9-year-old and an infant. So actually I should be doing the gags for “Zits.”
Do you know what happened to the animated series of "Baby Blues" that used to air on Cartoon Network, and why was it never given a chance? Why was it cancelled?
Rick Kirkman: The Cartoon Network actually gave “Baby Blues” a better chance than the WB. The WB only aired nine shows out of the original 26. Thirteen of those were about 95 percent complete and may never be completed. We heard the reason was that the WB got a big tax writeoff by not airing them.
Northwest Washington, D.C.:
Does the latest "Baby Blues" book include the storyline about her pregnancy with Wren? I have a friend who is pregnant with her first child and I wanted to get her one that had a lot of pregnancy material.
Rick Kirkman: Wanda’s pregnancy with Wren starts in the book, “Dad to the Bone,” and it finishes in the next book, “Never a Dry Moment,” which came out in March.
There are other books with Wanda being pregnant with Hammie, but I’m not sure which books they’re in. You could
Okay, what's the deal with Darryl's nose? Even Jimmy Durante didn't have a schozz that big?
Do you have a problem with that? I’m quite proud of it.
So is there some formula by which the kids age? Is it "real time" or what? And what are you going to do when they get to be teenagers? Won't that infringe on the territory covered by "Zits"?
Rick Kirkman: The kids age slower than real time, it's about a 3 to 1 ratio. And as far as them getting to be teenagers, we'll be too old to hold a pencil by the time they age to the teenage years.
I loved "Baby Blues." Until the new baby arrived. I felt like that was a gimmick -- and I've started to see the same old "new parent" jokes appearing.
I applaud you for trying to freshen-up the strip. But why not do more with the existing characters instead?
Rick Kirkman: Sorry you see it that way. I haven't noticed any repeats. When we see Darryl and Wanda getting too comfortable in their lives, we just like to shake things up a little.
College Park, Md.:
I read on your Web site that Wanda was a public relations executive before she had Zoe. I can't believe the kids' schools haven't roped her into doing publicity for their school fairs and other activities. Most stay-at-home moms are also volunteers too. Are there some other dimensions to Wanda we might see some day? I'd hate to see her turn into the equivalent of "Mommy" in "Family Circle."
Rick Kirkman: Hold on, I'm writing all this down for Jerry.
If you were not a cartoonist, what else do you think you might have done in life?
Rick Kirkman: I couldn't ever take anything seriously enough to do anything else.
I was, prior to this, an advertising art director, designer and freelance illustrator. When I was a kid in the '60s, I entertained the idea of being an astronaut, but that involved too much math.
Who inspired you the most to take up the seriously funny business of cartooning?
Rick Kirkman: I would say my biggest cartooning influence was Charles Schulz. I still have "Peanuts" comics that I cut out of the newspaper when I was a kid. Probably one of the most gratifying things about my career in the comics was the chance to finally get to know him. We met at this annual ice show that he used to put on for the city of Santa Rosa. It was around 1991 at the very beginning of my career with "Baby Blues." He had invited a lot of cartoonists to come up every year for the show. I think the first time I met him, a number of us cartoonists were sitting outside the arena, and he just walked up and sat down and we all starting talking shop. Of course, I kind of made a fool of myself, fumbling over how much his work meant to me, and I think I confessed to him that I made money as a kid copying Snoopy drawings for people at the Air Force base where my father was stationed. He replied that I'd be hearing from his attorney. I really miss him.
Juarez City, Chihuahua, Mexico:
1. Thanks for "Baby Blues," it's so great!
2. Thanks to you I became an aspiring cartoonist, and I love it. If I ever become a pro, I'll owe it to you. (Because when I saw your the picture of you working on the 10th anniversary book, I just knew I was going to be a cartoonist)
3. Are the characters (drawings) made after the image of someone? Or it just came to your head?
Thanks so much.
- AJ Martinez
Rick Kirkman: If you make it big, does this mean I get a percentage of your earnings?
No, the characters are not made after any particular person, there may be elements of people in my life here and there, but no one character is based on one person.
how did you think of "Baby Blues?"
Rick Kirkman: "Baby Blues" was inspired by the birth of my second child, so for that I have to thank my wife. Jerry and I started working on the idea about two years before it was syndicated. If you want all the gory details, you can look on babyblues.com under "A Brief History of the Strip."
During that process the only major change in the characters was that I added glasses on Darryl. However, over the years, my drawing style has changed as I got more comfortable with the characters. In the beginning the characters had a harsher look than they do today, maybe I can chalk that up to the sleep deprivation that I was experiencing at the time.
How about a week of strips as seen through Hammie's eyes? That would be a cartooning challenge, I bet.
Rick Kirkman: Are you offering to write them?
I'll pass your idea along to Jerry.
Seriously, we don't use outside writers, but occasionally if someone tell us a story that we can actually use (which isn't very often), we might make a strip and send that person the original.
Most of the time people write in with stories about something funny that happened at home, and those things almost never translate. It's almost like a you-had-to-be-there kind of thing.
Would you ever have Jeremy from "Zits" babysit for "Baby Blues?"
Rick Kirkman: No, he's too lazy.
What other current cartoonists' work do you admire?
Rick Kirkman: There are so many that if I left someone out I'd be in trouble when I run into them all next month at the National Cartoonists Society convention in San Francisco. So I take the fifth.
Who are your cartoonist heroes? Who's skill with words and art do you admire? What are your favorite current comics?
Rick Kirkman: As I mentioned earlier, Charles Schulz is No. 1. Then, in no particular order, Johnny Hart, Garry Trudeau, Walt Kelly, Berke Breathed, Gary Larsen, Bill Watterson, George Booth, Charles Adams, Jack Ziegler and Sam Gross.
How many kids are the McPhersons going to have? "Baby Blues" is the best comic strip. Thank you!
Rick Kirkman: I would say no more since we've given Darryl a cartoon vasectomy.
I often think up cartoons in my head, but don't draw them out. Here is one I just thought up and I can only picture it with the Baby Blues cast:
Panel 1: Darryl is sitting down at the table by himself with cereal bowl, ceral box and milk carton.
Panel 2: Darryl shakes the milk carton over the cereal, signifying that it is empty.
Panel 3: Empty table, cereal bowl is missing, Darryl's foot just caught in frame showing that he is exiting to the left.
Panel 4: Darryl is eating cereal at the table. Wanda is walking through the frame from left to right, carrying Wren.
Darryl's balloon: "Thanks."
Wanda's balloon: "Don't mention it."
What do you think?
Rick Kirkman: We've already done a strip that was on a similar theme and it got us in a lot of trouble with the Los Angeles Times.
San Diego, Calif.:
Rick, what do you draw with? On the Wisenheimer Bulletin Board some pencil crayola kind of tool was mentioned. Please elaborate on that.
Rick Kirkman: Welcome to a fellow Wisen. I draw with a Prismacolor colored pencil. The biggest thing about the pencil is that I tend to be more comfortable drawing with a pencil than with a pen or a brush and part of my style when I was doing freelance illustration was working in colored pencil because I liked the texture I get from it. So when we started doing the strip, I just continued using that. A decision I've regularly regret because it costs a small fortune to buy all those pencils.
I'm hoping to recoup some of that money by selling my pencil stubs online on our Web site.
For those of you that don't know the Wisenheimer Bulletin Board is a small online community of professional cartoonists, sort of virtual water cooler for all of us who work by ourselves.
Montgomery Village, Md. Mom:
Thank you for such a great comic strip. I have two kids, my oldest is Zoe and I have a younger son. So I relate to a lot of the strip. I just wanted to tell you how happy I am that you have Wanda breastfeeding her kids. It's so refreshing to see it on the comics pages!
Rick Kirkman: First of all I want to know why your younger son isn't named Hammie.
We feel very strongly about breastfeeding and we're glad to see that we get such good reaction to it.
We want to be realistic about our depiction of motherhood and we're not sure but we may be the first ones to depict breastfeeding in the comics.
The Comicstripper, Washington, D.C.:
Any advice for aspiring cartoonists (me)?
Thanks, love the strip.
Rick Kirkman: The two things that I usually tell aspiring cartoonists are: 1) read alot and 2) draw alot. You just have to practice, practice, practice. I think reading is a big key because you have to expose yourself to all kinds of things if you want to comment humorously on them. I don't generally recommend specific books on cartooning although there are a number of good ones out there. What I did when I was young was I spent alot of time in the library and checked out stacks of cartoon collection books, mostly New Yorker cartoons and studied those.
I think there is such a wealth of knowledge within those drawings if you can tap into it. There is so much you can learn from them about writing, comic timing, technique, composition...it's all right there. These are people at the top of their game.
I love Baby Blues because it echoes parts of my life (I am still nursing my baby, so I particularly identify with that!).
My big question is, do you have any plans for Wanda to return to work outside the home anytime soon?
Rick Kirkman: I'm glad that you can relate to our strip so well. We don't plan very far in advance although we have discussed it, we have no plans to do it in the near future.
Everyone in our family is a huge fan of "Baby Blues." (My 10-year-old daughter hoards them in her room, where she hides from her pesky 7-year-old brother.) Are there long-term plans for "Baby Blues" and how much longer you plan to continue creating it? As far as we're concerned, the longer, the better! Thanks!
Rick Kirkman: Well, I guess you need to get two subscriptions to the paper, so the pesky 7-year-old can have his own copy. As I just said, we don't plan very far in advance, but we'll keep creating the comic as long as you keep reading them. Between the two of us we have four college tuitions to pay, so that's plenty of incentive to continue.
Have loved your column for years. Can you tell me where I can find a particular strip on the Web? I am looking for the one where Zoe is chasing the baby with Barbie like Barbie is Godzilla.
It is a little dated, but it is my all time favorite comic strip.
Rick Kirkman: If you go to our Web site, babyblues.com, we have an archive that goes back to 1996, but we don't have a search feature. If you have a copy of it, there will be a date on it somewhere as well as a copyright line with the year, which would help you find it.
While I'm shamelessly promoting the Web site, let me also say that's where you can order all of our books, as well as a few nifty items with Baby Blues images on them.
Your cartoons are great and remind me of...:
"How to Eat Like a Child" by that New Yorker cartoonist whose name I forget.
Also, I have fond memories of a cardboard costume my mom made for me when I was a child, I was one of a pair of dice. Hammie's TV brought it all back.
Rick Kirkman: You know, I happen to love that book and it's by Delia Ephron. (Suzanne just looked on Amazon and you can buy it from them.)
As for the costume, we have a tradition in our family of underwieldy carboard costumes. My kids have been a container of McDonald's French Fries, a Hawaiian Punch Juice Box, an Energizer Bunny, to name a few. I wonder if that means we watch too much TV.
San Diego, Calif.:
What was your and Jerry's role in the making of the animated "Baby Blues," such as writing, approvals and so forth?
Rick Kirkman: Jerry and I were very involved. Jerry worked with the writing staff and I worked with the animators. Although we were involved closely in the production of the shows, we did not have final approval over them. We were invited to comment on all of the scripts and sat in on all of the recording sessions. Jerry sat in on all of the writing sessions and wrote one of the scripts himself. I did alot of the character designs and put in alot of time on storyboards.
Rick Kirkman: I want to thank everyone for their great questions. I really enjoyed hearing what you think about "Baby Blues" and thanks to Suzanne and The Washington Post for the opportunity to talk with you all.
Thanks, Rick, it was great fun talking to you. I hope you and Jerry have many more years of the success you so richly deserve. I remember Jerry saying in a chat we had earlier that "Baby Blues" is the most effective form of birth control.
I hope everyone will join us again in two weeks, when Bob Staake, of Style Invitational fame, will be our guest.
That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the
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