Bob Scott on Comic Strips
Posted on 15 August 2009
Bob – Ha ha! Nice try. I’m the same body type as the dad in the strip, but I’ll stop exercising and see if I can put on a few hundred pounds for you. Seriously though, I think that all the characters are different aspects of my own personality. I’ve always been afraid of a lot of things in life. Let’s face it, life can be utterly terrifying if you only dwell on the negative aspects. When my children were little I was constantly worried about something bad happening to them. If my wife was home later than expected, my imagination would go wild with every worse case scenario possible. Lots of life experience and many years of therapy later, I’ve learned to not worry as much. But, it’s still an easy emotion for me to tap into.
A.C.W – Your drawings for the strip are awesome. They have a ton of appeal. Do you find yourself thinking like an animator when you’re drawing up the strip?
Bob – First of all thank you for the compliment. I guess I’m a product of my years as an animator. I approach drawing the strip the same way I would approach animating a scene. What is the emotion of the scene or setting? What sort of expression or pose will convey that emotion? One big difference in drawing the strip as opposed to animating it is having to think of compositions and backgrounds. As an animator someone else designs the background and I’m only concerned with the performance of the character. Drawing a strip is more like drawing a storyboard. I’m responsible for the whole thing. Although I’ve also worked in the story department on films , staging is not something that comes naturally for me. So that’s always challenging, which I like. I feel like the strip is a way for me to try to push myself. I want to keep growing as an artist.
A.C.W – As an animator you’re observing all the time, right? Do you find that coming in handy here?
Bob – Definitely. Instead of just observing movement I suppose I’m looking more at people’s quirks, thinking of different personality traits. Although that’s part of animation as well. It helps to have more life experience to pull from. I never could have written Molly and the Bear in my twenties.
A.C.W – Because you have a full time job, how do you fit in time for the strip?
Bob – I’ve always been drawing strips on the side. It’s important for me to have something I can have fun doing outside of work. I mostly work on a computer full-time so I don’t always get to draw as much as I used to during the day. I love to draw and a comic strip has always been the perfect outlet for me.
Over the years I’ve sent out dozens and dozens of submissions to the syndicates. They usually want to see at least six to eight weeks of daily strips. It’s always a huge undertaking because I never send all of the strips I draw. I whittle the submission down to the best ones. Consequently I would draw 3 or 4 times more strips than they would want to see. I literally have drawers full of strips that have never seen the light of day.
So for me, it’s not a matter of how do I fit in time for a comic strip, it’s how do I fit in time to take a break and NOT draw a comic strip. Other people have golf, I have comics.
A.C.W – Was it always Molly and a Bear or did she ever have other animals crawl into her house?
Bob – It was always Molly and the Bear. Although when I first submitted the strip to the syndicates I initially got some positive feedback from an editor that liked the strip but wanted me to change the bear to a dog. His reasoning was that children don’t keep bears for pets. I wasn’t crazy about the suggestion, but I ended up sending him a batch of new writing where I replaced bear with a bulldog. Needless to say the editor realized that “Molly and the Dog” wasn’t as strong. I changed him back to a bear and sent more samples, but the syndicate decided to pass on it anyway.
A.C.W – What is your process for drawing the strip? Do you draw it on paper?
Bob – I still draw everything on paper. I use Bristol board, blue pencil and back India ink. After I’ve drawn up the strip I hand letter it with a black felt pen and ink the drawings with a brush. I scan the finished strips into Photoshop and remove the blue pencil. The great thing about Photoshop is that I can easily make fixes to the artwork if I need to. For instance, if I’ve drawn a character’s head too large I can simply shrink that element down to the right size. Because I draw the strip much larger than the size it appears on the web there can be little surprises once I’ve reduced the art in the computer. I’ve done a few Sunday strips and for those I add color. I paint them in Photoshop.
I try to use the computer as little as possible and only as a way to get the art on the web.
A.C.W – Coming up with ideas on a daily basis must be tough. Do you have a process for generating the ideas? An idea machine perhaps?
Bob – I’m always thinking about the strip, if I’m at the grocery store or filling up my car, these activities can generate ideas. I’ll try to imagine what would happen to the characters if they were in a grocery store or gas station. How would Bear react to the cashier? The grocery cart? Those sorts of things can spark a single strip or an entire story line.
I like the humor to come from the character’s personality. Every character will react to the same situation in a different way. I’m not saying that I’m necessarily successful at it, but I do try to do it this way. I really try not to write a gag. A simple observation or dose of irony can be more interesting than just going for a huge belly laugh.
Sometimes doodling in a sketchbook will spark an idea. Drawing the characters in a humorous pose or interesting expression can be funny enough in itself.
A.C.W – Do you like writing from doodles because you are a visual person?
Bob – Sometimes the best ideas come from a doodle because the drawing speaks for itself and the strip is less wordy. When the strip is less wordy I feel that it lets the reader become more of a participant. Too many words can kill the joke by hammering the point home too strongly.
A.C.W – Are there days when you say to yourself, “Oh crap I didn’t draw the strip today. I can’t go to bed until I draw one!”?
Bob – Never. I’m always aware of the deadlines. I try to stay at least a week or two ahead. I like to have some time to rest on the idea to make sure it holds up. There’s not a single strip that I post that isn’t okayed by my family. My wife Vicki is an incredibly gifted artist/cartoonist in her own right and she is a great sounding board. When I’m finished penciling a strip I always run it by her for clarity. I’m far too close to my work and it’s so easy to miss things. She’s great at pointing out something that may be unclear or worded in a convoluted way.
I want to be sure that everything in the strip visually reads well and that the audience won’t be confused. They shouldn’t have to work at understanding the strip. If I draw a broom or a cup, I don’t want the reader to struggle to understand those objects, so I make sure that they are accurately drawn. Any little thing like that has the potential of taking the reader out of the strip.
If I can stay a few weeks ahead of deadline then I have the luxury of putting a finished strip on the shelf and revisiting it later with fresh eyes. If it holds up, I’ll post it, if not I’ll sit on it for months or longer until I can find a solution or a way of making it funny. I have dozens of “finished” strips that for one reason or another didn’t work out.
I’ve been posting the strip 5 times a week, however, over the last month I’ve only been producing 3 new strips a week and running repeats on Thursdays and Fridays. The nice thing is since I’m not syndicated I’m not obligated to post anything. I want to keep the pressure low.
A.C.W – Now that you are doing Molly and the Bear daily do you find yourself thinking differently?
Bob – Not at all, because drawing comic strips is something I have always done. When I was a teen-ager I would draw comic strips when I came home from school. In fact I even sent out some of my first submissions to syndicates back then. I believe I got my first rejection letter at age 15. I may have been younger. In ninth grade I drew a strip about an alcoholic cat. Larry Wright who was the local cartoonist for the Detroit News was kind enough to look at my work and give me some feedback. He told me that I needed to write about something I knew. Nobody in my family drank, I certainly had never touched alcohol, but for some reason I thought this would make a funny strip. I’ll blame it on youth I guess. I also drew cartoons for the high school newspaper and yearbook. I was the resident cartoonist.
While I was attending Cal Arts in the early 80s I drew a weekly strip about an angry kid called Myron for the Newhall Signal. They paid me 5 dollars a week. The money was nothing, but I didn’t mind because it was a great opportunity to see my cartoons in print. I had a strip called Spek about a suicidal dog. I worked on that for a number of years and got nothing but rejection letters. Looking back on it I wonder what the heck I was thinking?! It was a very dark and depressing strip. I can see why it was never picked up.
There have been other strips I’ve developed as well, many many strips, many many submissions.
Having a syndicated strip has been a lifelong passion of mine. So drawing, writing and thinking about a comic strip is nothing new for me.
A.C.W – Did you always want to be a cartoonist?
Bob – I’ve always loved cartoons as far back as I can remember. Whether it was in the newspaper or animation on television, I responded to the fun drawings.
A.C.W – What do you think brings appeal to a character? In drawing…
Bob – I’ve always gravitated to the types of cartoon drawings that are fun to look at. Disney, Warners, Rankin/ Bass, Tom and Jerry. I still love all of that stuff.
A.C.W – And in shaping the personality?
Bob – I think putting opposite personalities together can help strengthen characters. Seeing how two very different characters react to the same situation is a great source of comedy. Daffy Duck’s greed against Bugs Bunny’s cool nature is more interesting than two cool characters in that same situation.
A.C.W.- When you think of developing a character how do you approach it, through drawing or writing?
Bob – I usually sketch characters in my sketchbook first. I let the drawing tell me who the character is.
A.C.W. – Do you start with a design for the character and then find the personality that way? Or do you think of a personality and then find a design to emphasize that personality or contradict it?
Bob - Actually both. When I design characters for animated films, the characters’ personalities are already developed by the story team and the writers. It’s fun to come up with designs that look like they fit the personality of the character that’s been written.
In the case of Molly and the Bear I came up with all of the character designs before I had any idea of their personalities. I’d been doodling various bears in sketchbooks over the years and all of them usually had a worried expression. So, naturally Bear became a neurotic character. Molly was based on my daughter, and the dad and mom were just characters I drew in my sketchbook that I liked. The dad originally wasn’t angry at all. I still have the first sketch I drew of him and he has a pleasant expression. Through the course of writing the strip he somehow evolved into a grouchy guy. Actually, I think he became angrier to contrast Bear’s innocence. Putting the characters together in various situations helped me see who they were. I think a lot of comedy comes from contrasting personalities.
A.C.W – I remember a guy telling me once that he didn’t like Calvin and Hobbes. I of course was like, “Whahah….?!!!” When I asked why, he said he didn’t like it ‘cause he felt sorry for Calvin, because he had no friends only an imaginary tiger and his father was mean to him. I think the guy didn’t like it ‘cause it hit too close to home. I love how comics, these silly little drawings can touch people in psychological ways. Do you think the art form lends itself for more reflection since it lies between literature and graphic arts?
Bob – Oh definitely. Schulz was the master at conveying human emotions with a deceptively simple drawing style. When I was very young I remember feeling a lot of empathy for Charlie Brown. The other kids were so cruel towards him. Lucy could be particularly brutal.
A.C.W – Was there a specific moment in Peanuts that just stuck with you?
Bob – Linus’ crush on his Teacher Miss Othmar. Linus was such a sweet character and his childhood crush on his teacher was so innocent and pure. I had a huge crush on my third grade teacher Miss Cheney. Of course I never would have admitted to it at the time, but reading about Linus’s crush validated my own feelings. It was very relatable.
A.C.W – What were your favorite strips growing up?
Bob – I loved the Sunday comics. My favorites were Pogo, Peanuts and Dennis the Menace. The drawings were just so appealing. When I hit high school age I discovered Doonesbury and then Bloom County came along. They were both favorites of mine. I would check out the books in the library and pour over the writing and drawings for hours.
A.C.W – What comic strips do you like today?
Bob – My favorite is Chris Sanders’ “Kiskaloo”. It’s hands down the best strip being produced today. Chris is truly a genius! Richard Thompson’s “Cul de Sac” is one of the best comics to come out in a long time. Probably the best newspaper strip since Calvin and Hobbes. I also love Jim Meddick’s “Monty.” His writing is incredible! “Citizen Dog” was great too, but Mark O’Hare discontinued it many years ago.
A.C.W – Is someone still doing Marmaduke?
Bob – Yes! Believe it or not, Brad Anderson is still drawing it. I don’t think he uses any assistants either.
A.C.W – Do you think Ignatz will ever fall in love with Krazy? Poor Krazy.
Bob – I’m going to get a lot of cartoonists angry with me when I say this, but I’ve never been able to get into Krazy Kat. It’s beautifully drawn, but every time I’ve read it I don’t understand the humor. I guess I’m not smart enough. I know that it’s sort of a sacred cow amongst comic strip aficionados, and I desperately want to like it , but as I said, I just don’t get it.
A.C.W. – I don’t think people at that time got it either. Did you know William Randolph Hearst loved it though? His editors wanted to get rid of the strip but Hearst insisted it stay in. Maybe he liked hitting people with bricks. I don’t think you are supposed to get it, really. It is just absurd. If you just look at the backgrounds in the strips they change from panel to panel even if the characters didn’t change location.
Bob – That’s right, I had forgotten about Hearst keeping Krazy Kat alive. What a great ally for any cartoonist to have. Maybe I can find a lunatic billionaire to help syndicate my strip!
A.C.W – If only there were more lunatic billionaires around, alas. I guess you found it easier to establish a career in animation than as a comic strip artist. What led you to animation?
Bob – I don’t know if it was easy, but I do feel very lucky. I was accepted into Cal Arts my senior year of high school. I learned so much there and met so many extraordinarily talented artists. If it weren’t for that school I don’t know where I would have ended up. I even met my wife there.
I just loved animation since I was a kid and couldn’t stop drawing. I think the key to success in any field is a love for the particular craft and perseverance. You have to draw badly for many, many years just to get to the point where you’re halfway decent. If you don’t have some kind of love for it you’ll never get past all the bad stages. Getting good at anything means you have to fail a lot.
A.C.W – Do you recommend people pursue a career as a comic strip cartoonist? Or an animator?
Bob – I think people should pursue the thing that they are most passionate about. Right now there’s certainly a lot more stability in animation than newspaper comics, but I wouldn’t recommend choosing animation just for that reason. Anything can change and maybe online comics will be huge one day and animation will be struggling. You want to go with what makes you happy, because ultimately that will be the thing that you’ll excel at.
A.C.W – Do you think the internet provides comic strips with a whole new life?
Bob – Yes. Newspapers are slowly dying and consequently there are less and less new strips getting syndicated these days. A lot of the strips in the papers today are either reprints (Classic Peanuts) or older strips drawn by second and third generation cartoonists (Dennis the Menace, Blondie, B.C., Shoe). Newspapers are not willing to drop these older features and take chances on new cartoonists very often.
The internet has become the place to discover newer talent. Some great strips are syndicated only online. Plus, anyone can post their work on the internet without going through the old channels of newspaper syndication.
A.C.W – You told me some people actually get syndicated from being on Comics Sherpa . I can’t believe people are still getting syndicated.
Bob – Comic strips are not being picked up for newspaper syndication as much, but some strips have become syndicated as online strips. Comics Sherpa has had strips (Imagine This, 2 Cows and a Chicken and Rabbits Against Magic) that have moved over to Go Comics which is run by Universal Press Syndicate. Maybe some of these will eventually be syndicated in the newspapers. I don’t know. They certainly deserve to be.
A.C.W. – What are you reading now?
Bob – I just finished “Was This Man a Genius? Talks with Andy Kaufman” by Julie Hecht. I really enjoyed it. Andy Kaufman has always been a favorite of mine. I’m reading a collection of short stories by Woody Allen entitled “Mere Anarchy”. Before that I was reading Craig Ferguson’s book “Between the Bridge and the River”. I think he’s the funniest guy on TV right now.
A.C.W -What are your plans for Molly and the Bear? Any book in the works?
Bob – I want to just keep having fun. If it starts to feel like a job, I won’t want to do it anymore. I hope to put a book together next year and start a website. Molly and the Bear will be part of Afterworks 3 next year if that gets off the ground. Afterworks 1 and 2 were books that were put together by various Pixar artists. They’re basically filled with comics that were drawn by the artists after hours. Their own personal work so to speak. There is some really great stuff in the first two volumes and there will be more great work in the next one.
A.C.W – Thanks Bobby
To see more of Bob Scott’s comic go to Molly and the Bear at Comic Sherpa.com
You can even have them mailed to you everyday!
Also listen to two pod casts of Bob talking about Molly and the Bear, as well as animation
Bob Scott is a veteran animator of over twenty years. The Bay Area cartoonist’s work has been described as “fluid, funny, old fashioned cartoon artistry” (The Tulsa Tribune) and his drawings and illustrations have appeared in various books including “Your Friend the Rat”, “The Art of WALL-E” and “Animating the Looney Tune Way.” He also took first place in the 1994 “Boston Comic News” yearly best editorial cartoon contest. Bob’s animated short “Late Night with Myron” was called “Among the highlights” of the 1988 theatrical compilation film entitled “Outrageous Animation” by L.A. Weekly. His animation has been seen in numerous animated feature films such as Pixar’s “Ratatouille”, “WALL-E”, “The Incredibles” and Dreamworks Animation’s “The Prince of Egypt” among others. Bob also led the animation team on the Annie Award winning Pixar short ‘Your Friend the Rat’. His comic strip, “Molly and the Bear”, will be published the of summer 2010 in the graphic novel compilation “Afterworks 3.” A graduate of the California Institute of the Arts film animation program, he currently works full time as an artist and animator at Pixar animation studios, where he has been since 1999.