Category: Blog

Weird One-Panel Strips for 25 Years.

If I had to guess, I think I’ve been drawing weird, one-panel strips for about 25 years. As memory serves, I first started drawing my one-panel strips when I was a sophomore in high school, which would’ve been sometime around 1991. Naturally, I’d been drawing comics and doodling in sketch books my entire life, but I think it wasn’t until high school that I finally came upon the idea that one-panel strips were the arena in which I felt most comfortable.

When I was growing up, there was such a lack of good information on what cartoonists did and how they did it, I really had no idea how large daily strips were actually drawn. Believe it or not, I used to cut full-sheets of poster board in half (24″ x 36″) and draw my one-panel comics on those. – They were enormous! Then, to see what they would actually look like in real “comic strip size,” I used to ride on the school bus to school with these giant comics wrapped in garbage bags and hide them in my locker until I could use the photocopier in the library to shrink them down at lunch time. The comics were so big, I actually had to tape the first round of reduced photocopies together, so I could fit both halves of the reduced strip on the copier for the second, final pass. I can’t remember how many quarters each strip actually took to shrink down, but when I finally got to see my giant strips in that magical, tiny newspaper-size it was truly wonderful. I think I used to stand there in the library trying to calculate how many more years of school and tests I would need to survive before I could actually become a “real” cartoonist. It seemed like so many years of awful impossibility it felt like trying to hit the bullseye on a dartboard that was on the wall of the moon. It was so far away I have no idea how I managed to keep from completely unraveling each and every day. It was sort of like waiting for a Christmas morning that wouldn’t happen for another fifteen years.

Naturally, there are a million other tiny stories in-between (some of them hopeful, many of them heart-squashing), but I’m not sure I can describe them all right here, right now. – For now, just know, that the story kind of has a happy(ish) ending, and it isn’t entirely over yet, either. – I’m still hopeful that a few special things will still happen, and they very well may. In truth, I really can’t believe that I’ve managed to stick with it for so many years, especially the one-panel thing. I have no one secret or insight other than the fact that I seem to be pretty good at forgetting how long it’s actually been. – What a long, long, very strange journey it’s been. —  I’m glad I’m still at it.  …I think.

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Early Education

As a kid, there was very little information for me out in the world on how to “become” a cartoonist.
Sure, you could look at comic collections to see how characters looked, but that was about it.
In 1988, CBS ran this Garfield 10th birthday special, which I taped on our VCR off the television.
In a matter on hours this TV show became my Bible.
I, literally, watched this show every day for weeks and weeks.
Not only did I get see Jim Davis drawing, but I also got to see the faces of the other professional cartoonists who were my heroes. Whenever I’m in the company of other cartoonists I always think back to this video and how lucky I am to be where I am. — Being a cartoonist was 110% my dream as a kid.
I wake up and feel lucky every day.

(You can see Mike Peters, Dik Browne, and Lynn Johnston by scrolling to 30:46 in the timeline)


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Jeff Goldblum is All Kinds of Silly

I think Jeff Goldblum is so fun to watch. He’s so erratic and funny, and just does the strangest things.
I think he’s too old to ever play me in a movie, but I would totally allow it to happen.
I have yet to meet Jeff in person, but it’s totally on my list.

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What You See is What You’re Getting

An interesting idea that I’ll never stop meditating upon, or twisting around like a Rubik’s cube, is the idea that when you see a comic strip you’re not just seeing the artist’s work, but you’re actually getting a print-out of the cartoonist’s philosophy on what a comic strip is. – THIS is how I think it should be done.
Now, clearly, there are a few circumstances under which this would not be the case.

1: The artist has a grander conception of his/her strip and is working to move the strip in that direction.
2. The artists is shackled to some awful contract and just has to draw the strip a certain way.
3. The artist is constantly forced to cut corners for any number of reasons.
4. Some other reason that I’m incapable of grasping, here, in this tiny list.

Assuming that none of the above reasons are at play in the said comic strips in question, then it’s fair to rightly assume the artist has taken great pains, and continues to do so, to show you what s/he thinks a comic strip should look like, and how best s/he chooses to execute that vision. – When you see a comic strip you’re not just getting “a strip.” You’re getting a lifetime’s worth of thought, art, and consideration about what elements are most essential. – This, I think, is fascinating.

In one strip, backgrounds aren’t important.
In one strip, it’s okay for characters to not have legs; maybe little squiggles are good enough.
In one strip, it doesn’t matter if the perspective is totally wacked. – The joke is most important.
And, the list goes on and on.

Where do these ideas come from?
How and when do cartoonists come to these realizations as they draw?

Well, based on my own experience these things happen very slowly.
Sometimes the decisions make themselves. Sometimes the artist is actively making choices.

If someone were to ask me to draw a coffee cup, mentally, there are 3-4 different styles in my mind to choose from.
I don’t have just one coffee cup.
But, again, how many coffee mugs does a comic strip really need?

So, the next time you read a strip look around at all the things.
You’re looking at jokes and squiggles, however, you’re also looking at a career’s worth of philosophy in-print.

“In this world, there’s only one style of easy-chair. There were others when I was younger, but none of them were funny.”

Yes, all of this is true.

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Musings on Comic Strips

A comic strip is a musing somewhere between a doodle and a letter. There’s no need for comic strip characters to be elaborate, animation-like images when all they really need to do is tell the truth.
Ideally, drawing a comic strip character should be no more difficult than signing one’s name. If an artist has put in his/her time, drawing should be next to effortless.
Children love to see grown-ups draw comics, especially on napkins, because the effect is always magical.
To take out a pen, doodle a line down, and have it look like a dog or spaceship is a trick second to none.
I’m glad there are so many young people interested in drawing comics now. It reaffirms my faith in the general use and goodness of comics as an art form.
The greatest thrills I’ve had in my career have had nothing to do with money or celebrity, and everything to do with smiles and good cheer. I have drawn rockets and dogs for children, and being of use in that way has been priceless.
I wish more aspiring cartoonists would have more faith in themselves and their abilities to “get there,” wherever there is.
If you can make your doodles and your doodles make others smile while making you smile, then that’s all the “there” you’ll truly ever need.
Being a cartoonist, or any kind of artist, is a godawful way to make money and pay the bills.
That said, it’s absolutely the most wonderful way to be alive and remind yourself what being human is all about.
I feel fortunate that I’ve been able to doodle as much as I have.

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Wow in the World

There was a great article I read over the weekend about a new push by broadcasters to create more (and better) kid-centered podcasts. Not only does this allow kids to use their imaginations more, but it also gets them away from the TV and their electronic screens. One of our new favorite shows here at home is a podcast called “Wow in the World” that teaches kids about Science through all kinds of exciting stories and tidbits. I’ve been a big fan of radio (and Old Time Radio shows) since I was in my early teens, and am glad there’s a new revitalized interest in people listening to well-produced stories on the radio. In addition to “Wow in the World” we also like the adventure mystery show “Eleanor Amplified,” which is something of a kids’ serial show. That, too, is also very fun and exciting. Hope some you looking for a little fun check them out.

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Stranger Things – Season 2

I’m very excited for the new season of “Stranger Things,” which will debut on October 27th. If you look down below to one of my previous posts, you’ll see I had lots of good things to say about the film “Super-8” and all the nostalgic goodness it brought. At the time, I remember thinking that the premise of “Super-8” was such a good one, “kids riding on bikes” would be the next “big thing” someone would grab a hold of because the thrill of it resonated in so many great ways, doubley so with people who grew up in the 80s. I’m so glad to see that “Stranger Things” is doing so well, and I hope the new season does even better than the first.

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I was a PBS kid

I was 110% a PBS kid growing up, and still am to this day. “Sesame Street” was my first exposure to the world of letters, imagination, and play, and watching Big Bird and Kermit absolutely supported the notion that children and adults could learn to love and share through the inspirational examples of kind hearted, imaginary friends. – Is there something of PBS in my comic strip today…? — YOU BET THERE IS…!

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Early Watson from 2007

Here’s an old Watson strip from 2007 that I recently posted online.
I’ve been drawing Watson regularly now for 10+ years.
I’m glad the look of the strip has improved to a degree.
My word balloons were a bit too small back then.

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Why It’s Good to “Hold the Press!”

I had a couple of ideas for the strip that I would run on Monday, and even had time over the weekend the I could’ve used to work on one of them, as well. In most cases (with time to spare) it would’ve been much easier to get to work and get one more strip “in the can” so I could work on other things, however, I knew there’s was a chance something funny-worthy would happen during The Oscars, so I waited.

I’m glad I did.

While I don’t wax too philosophical about the few minor benefits of publishing strips on the web (no boss, always poor, can’t find the cat), the ability to wait ’til the very last minute to deliver a topical punchline is always pretty great. Then again, there is that notion of trying to create a strip that will stand the test of time: something that will be funny in or out of context, tomorrow or twenty years from tomorrow. To that point, I feel an artist’s best work (mine at least) probably works a bit better when it best serves the readers and folks of my era while I’m here. I’m more than 110% sure that there’s work from centuries of other artists that rang “more true” in their time more so than it does in ours. I think that’s just the nature of culture and time. I think if I had to think about how my strips would age before drawing them, I’d never get anything done. I don’t think anyone would.

That said, in less than 9 months, I think the gag of the strip will be completely dead. Anyone reading it will have no idea what the heck it means. And, that’s just fine. 109 years from now, no one will have any idea who I was, or perhaps that I was even here. — That’s fine, as well.

With the time I have, with the time we ALL have, I think I’m just going to keep on writing jokes that we can all enjoy at our own party while we’re all here. They may not make sense to anyone else once we’re old or gone, but by then all those future-folks will have their new jokes and new toys, and will have their own fun to have. – It’s just as well. None of this (Jim points around) was ever meant to last. – Let’s just all have fun while it’s our party and leave the lights on for the next group in.

As soon as I picked up my pen I knew my drawing wasn’t going to look a thing like Warren Beatty.
That made it even better.

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Separate Ways

Something I’ve learned along the way is that you absolutely need to celebrate the success of others, especially your friends and your friends-of-friends. Everyone is on a separate journey and everyone has their different mountains to climb. There’s no sense in “poo-pooing” what you don’t have, or what others have, because what they have is for them. If something similar (in the same vein) comes to you: great, but putting bad energy into the world neither hurts them, nor helps you. It just makes you devalue the merits of your own journey and fills your heart with sludge. Celebrate the success of others and you, too, will feel success.

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Walk the Carpet

Every so often, as I venture out of my wee dungeon, I’m called upon to “mix it up” in public, do interviews, and zing out a few Watson-doodles on old ladies’ white leather purses. When it’s time for such things to happen, it’s always good to have a few publicity shots in the can, so everyone knows where to find you and what kind of shticky styling-gel you use in your hair.

Although I spend most days dressed like a hideous creature from “Planet Sweatpants from Dirty Hamper X,” I do own at least one blazer, and know to always insert my left leg first. The wonderful and stylish photo above was taken by my dear friend, Kyndell Harkness, who is a top-notch photo-journalist in my hometown. She does amazing things with her photos at every turn, and I’m so very glad she was the photographer on this wonderful photo-shoot.

Some day, you may even see one of these hanging in your local Dairy Queen…
“Loud Mouth Jerk: BANNED FOR LIFE.”

(Picture of the Dairy Queen in Wilmette, IL. – A  favorite hang-out for all kids.)

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Share the Love

People really seem to be enjoying this strip.
It’s nice when Watson can help.

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Calling Facebook! — Calling Facebook!

It’s always nice when the guy who draws the real strip you’re parodying (Dick Tracy) shares your strip on Facebook. — Cartoonists are a fine group, I tell ya.

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Studio Tricks

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Someday, I’ll discuss this further. — Not sure when, though.

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Make Monster Movies

Every time Summer rolls around I start thinking about movie cameras and flashlights, scary radio shows and drugstore candy, and I just go crazy. Not only do I want start making home-movies featuring $5-rubber masks, but I kinda wanna be a kid again. If you’re feeling the same way, then please enjoy some of the fun clips below. – It’s all great stuff!


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Interview with Dan Aykroyd

I love this interview with actor/musician Dan Aykroyd and continue to listen to it to this day. Here’s an excellent account of a creative person documenting his own early interests in the Arts and following them to a distinctive ends with writing and performing. I think this a super interesting, inspirational pick-me-up for any artist looking for a little juice.

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Steve and Sarah

A big Watsoneer shout-out to Steve and Sarah who drove from Washington D.C. to Portland, Oregon, and along the way took time to pay me a visit. Sarah and Steven are both long-time readers, and all around great people. When Sarah messaged me on Facebook to say they would be passing though Saint Paul, I told them to absolutely pay me a visit. We all went out to dinner, fumbled around in the Watson studio, and had a great time.

Steve and Sarah in the Watson studio rummaging through old strips. Charles Schulz had that same
Snoopy phone at his desk, too. I have a direct line to: Dan Piraro, Wayno, and my high school
guidance counselor, Mr. Warts, who said I was destined to be a “raging failure.”

 HOW CAN YOU VISIT ? Provided you’re not a total psycho and give me ample warning: If you’re a Watson fan passing though Minnesota, by all means hit me up for a visit. If I’m free and you’re picking up the tab (I like pancakes, martinis, and coffee. – IN THAT ORDER…!!!), then I’ll absolutely do my best to squeeze you in. If I do get a “psycho vibe” from you, I might not invite you back to the studio, but if you wanna go crazy while we’re at iHop or Starbucks, then you go right ahead. – Just let me slip out before you take out your chainsaw.

Thanks for visiting, Sarah and Steve!
I can’t remember who picked up the bill that night, but it sure was fun.
Hope you guys are diggin’ your new life in Portland.
You guys are absolutely super-star Watsoneers!

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My Slice of (The) Onion

(Oscar-nominated writer (then Editor-in-Cheif) Robert D. Siegel and  me at the office.

In the past few years, as Watson has become more popular, it’s inevitable that a few readers want to know what “funny writing” experience (if any) I’ve had in the past, and how did I get started drawing comics. Well, the drawing comics part is an ongoing story that started when I was around four-years old, but the funny writing part is a topic I can never fully steer through without mentioning The Onion. While I wasn’t at The Onion that long (just a few years), I definitely think it was a good experience, and taught me to think about writing for an audience I can’t see.

As many would agree, The Onion is still somewhat shrouded in mystery, and that’s always what made it fun. I was a headline writer for The Onion from late 2001-2004, and wrote a lot of very silly headlines. The Onion’s editorial board was always (and still is) super tough, so most or my worst (best) headlines never saw the light of day, but are still rattling around somewhere on my computer.

For your consideration, here are a few of my favorites, all of which were unpublished.

1. Typo Ruins “Farty” Invitations.

2. God Introduces “Sexy” New Gender.

3. Phonetic-Scientists Discover Missing 27th Letter of the Alphabet.

4. Stephen Hawking and Christoper Reeve Duke it out in Armored-Wheelchair Blitz.

5. Brittany Spears Annuls Marriage to Silver Surfer.

And, the list goes on an on.

Like my Watson strips, all my headlines were twinged with a strange, 80s/90s-brand nostalgia that was probably more funny to me than anyone else. – Of course, there are few headlines I wrote that did make it into print, but those are far less interesting.

Obviously, there’s more to tell, but that’s for another time.

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