When I wake up in the morning, one of the first things I do is go on my Facebook and look up the latest cartoons of Brad Diller. Brad’s first cartoons appeared in 1992 and ran continuously until 2000 when he left the newspaper business to pursue a career as a freelance illustrator. His comics have appeared in Funny Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, The Charleston Daily Mail (Charleston, WV), the now-defunct Nashville Banner, and the Reno Gazette Journal, as well as various other smaller papers. Brad has also been a bartender, baker, carpet layer, and a writer. Currently, Brad lives in Reno, NV with his wife and cat. He is a partner in a printing company that specializes in backstage passes, media and security credentials and pretty much any event that needs ID tags. You can look at more of his cartoons at Fundaymorning.com.
Thanks Brad for doing this interview. When you were growing up, were you a big fan of comic strips?
I was. Also, Looney Toons were heaven for me in large part because of Carl Stalling’s musical accompaniment.
What comics or cartoonists did you enjoy as a kid?
The ones I remember best are Peanuts, Andy Capp, Ferd’nan, Henry and The Phantom. I also loved comic books.
In 1992 you began to cartoon. What led you to become a cartoonist?
I was working at a newspaper (the Charleston Daily Mail in Charleston, WV). The paper had employed a political cartoonist in the past, so my first published pieces were political. I’ve never had much interest in politics and soon found my personal views at odds with the paper’s editorial stance. I also found the national talent pool really intimidating.
One weekend, I got the idea to create my own strip. It was a single panel that ‘borrowed heavily’ from “The Far Side” I called “One Brick Shy.” I took three finished drawings and another dozen roughs to the editor and he agreed to run it weekly. Although I wasn’t on the comics page, I was published right from the start.
What was the cartooning profession like back then?
It seemed very distant and mysterious. There was very little in the way of information available – the internet didn’t exist, so it was a lot of wandering in the dark. I didn’t know any cartoonists, or had contact with anyone who was interested in cartooning. I had a lot of misconceptions about the profession as a whole.
How is it compared to today?
My expectations have changed, so what I want from it is different. I don’t look to cartooning as my single source of income and that makes it a lot more fun.
When I look at your cartoons, I’m reminded of those great single panel comics I read when I was a kid, like Ziggy, Marmaduke, Dennis the Menace. Have any of these cartoons had an influence on you?
The single panel I remember most was in the Sunday paper my grandparents got. It was called, “Grin And Bear It.” The drawing style was very loose (nothing like my style). It looked like the artist had a lot of fun drawing the pictures.
What have been your major influences?
The single biggest influence I can name is George Booth from the New Yorker. Booth changed my world. I stumbled across a collection of his work in a bookstore and I distinctly remember thinking, “This is what I’m trying to do.” Not in a drawing sense, but the underlying tone I saw in his work. To quote jazz musicians, Booth had his own voice.
Why did you choose the single panel cartoon as your format?
The easy answer is, I can’t hand letter. Also, that was the frame I was given to work with when I first published, so it’s where I focused my practice. I really admire the brevity in a single panel format.
Your comic frequently features a slightly overweight man with a baseball cap and a woman in rollers. The humor frequently reminds me of those classic television sitcoms, like I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners and All In The Family. Are you influenced by them?
Perhaps in a subconscious way, but I’ve never watched a lot of television. The characters evolved from my second panel I did called, “Bumma Dude.” It was a very dark cartoon that revolved around a destitute family in a trailer park. The current design of the characters came from my attempts at drawing a multi-panel strip. I ‘flintstoned’ them to allow room for the dialog balloons.
You did cartoons from 1992 to 2000. Then you went through a 9 year period where you stopped cartooning. What happened during that time to make you stop?
The quick answer is burnout. I was tired of the newspaper business and hadn’t generated any interest from the major syndicates, despite years of pounding on the door. I wanted to take my career and my life in a different direction. It was scary at the time, but I’ve never regretted that decision.
What made you start cartooning again in 2009?
I showed a collection of my old cartoons to a business acquaintance who offered to put them on a website. It was a subscription-based site that updated automatically once a week. I didn’t pay much attention to either the website or cartooning until a couple of months later when I started posting them on Face Book. This was my first experience with an audience that could respond in real time and it was very rewarding.
I had a cache of about 500 cartoons and could calculate how quickly I was going to run out of material, so I sat down one weekend and drew up some new cartoons. That experience was enlightening. I’d long forgotten how wonderful the process of drawing was for me. I really loved simply drawing a cartoon and it’s been ongoing since then.
In 2002 you partnered with Seth Sheck and Frank Himler to form Access Pass & Design, a company that creates live-event credentials, backstage passes, sports team season credentials, and VIP passes for events, brands, entertainers and sports teams. What led you to go into this field?
I’d been freelancing for two years and was weary of the drudgery. I came in as an artist and my position in the company has evolved over the years. Currently, I’m the president and oversee all the day-to-day operations of the business. It’s been one of the great rewards of my life.
How do you find time to cartoon?
The hard part isn’t finding the time – I insist on that. What I have to pay attention to, is not ignoring the other people in my life. Drawing a cartoon isn’t a team activity and it’s tedious to watch me draw, as it takes a long time.
That said, I keep a rather odd schedule. I get up around 3 a.m. and draw until 5. After the gym, I’m in the office no later than 8 a.m. After dinner, I draw until 7:30 and I’m in bed around 8 p.m. Most of my weekend is spent hunched over the light box.
When I’ve talked to other cartoonists, there is a general pessimism about the future of the cartooning profession. As newspapers have cut back in the past decade or so, there are less avenues for cartoonists to be published. What do you see is the future of the cartooning profession?
The long term is anybody’s guess. Cartooning seems to be becoming more marginalized as far as the traditional outlets such as newspapers and magazines continue to shrink. It’s like being a jazz musician. A person can still make a living at their craft, but the responsibility is on their shoulders.
One thing that came to light in my early years pursuing this as a career was the awareness that a lot of cartoonists – syndicated or otherwise – struggled to make a living strictly from cartooning. There’s a big difference between the pleasure of creating comics and making money. The drudgery of finding clients, billing, etc., is entirely up to the creator.
As grim as that sounds, there are plenty of examples of people who are making a living and love what they’re doing. Randy Glasbergen and Mark Anderson immediately come to mind. The web has a lot of examples of people who are supporting themselves. Daniellle Corsetto, R.K. Stevens, Howard Tayler are great role models for web cartoonists.
The good news is there’s no longer a barrier to entry. When I started, syndicates were the be-all, end-all. Now, a person can set up their own website or Face Book page and post their work at a minimal expense. I really recommend this for anyone who is flirting with the idea of cartooning. There’s a huge difference between doing something as a hobby and the daily pressure of a deadline. It’s a great way to see if the tediousness of creating when you’re muse is on vacation is something you can tolerate.
What is your process for doing a comic? I’m especially curious to know what kind of pen do you use. Your artwork has this wonderful thin line that I really like. What materials do you use?
I sketch all my ideas in a legal pad with a ballpoint pen. Ideas always come to me with both the image and the gag line pretty much intact.
The next step is cropping the image to fit the final size. I blow this up on a copier and trace it again on vellum using a ballpoint pen. I’m old school, so it’s pen and ink on bristol board through a light box for the final drawing. I use a Micron .01 for stippling and details and a Micron .08 for outline. Blacks are Micron brush pens to cover large areas. The finished image is seven inches square.
I then scan the drawing, place it in a template and set the type. The last step is exporting for both the web and for print. I upload 12 cartoons every two weeks to an FTP sight for my syndicate clients.
You’ve been doing cartoons now for over 2 decades. What do you most enjoy about being a cartoonist?
Simply put – I love it! I’m not a frustrated painter or writer, so cartooning is a complete form of self-expression. I hope I’m still doing it when I’m 80 years old!
I’ve been asking this of all my recent interviewees about their home state. For a first time visitor to Nevada, what would you recommend that person to see?
If you’re in the Reno area, Lake Tahoe is a must. If you’re in Vegas, just keep your eyes open. The fun never stops.
Here is a youtube video of an interview with Brad Diller
Here are more interviews that I did for Everyday Citizen