The alarm clock in our house is my wife grinding coffee beans around 6:45 AM. I start off each day the same as most cartoonists, behind in my work. That's usually the first thought that enters my mind as I try to shake off the grogginess of interrupted sleep. By the time I can get both eyes open and focused, I've usually made it to the kitchen for the first of two cups of coffee. Then I pick which dragon I will slay first. After a light breakfast (if any), I go upstairs to my studio. I check my email. Thus ends the daily part of my routine that you can write in ink in a day planner. Each day is different from this point.
Checking my email quite often causes me to rearrange my dragon attack plans. I don't have to go search for these dragons, they circle my drawing board constantly. That's why when I have to write, I will often leave the studio and go to a coffee shop to focus.
When I was writing Cleats, I would usually start with a blank page and sketch characters in goofy situations to see if anything brilliant happened. That didn't always work. After all, you don't see bumper stickers that read, “Brilliance Happens.” My backup plan was to pick a theme or subject, like greed or after-soccer-game snacks and glean ideas from that. Usually, I would stick with one subject for a week in Cleats, making sure that each day wasn't just a rehash of the previous gag. I just imagined a timeline beginning with the first gag and follow what might naturally occur as the situation progressed. If you do this weekly storyline right, it's not beating a dead horse, it's squeezing all the juice out of the orange. Please get the image of squeezing all the juice out of a dead horse out of your mind right now.
When I would get a week's worth of daily gags or a Sunday gag written, I would leap to my feet and bolt out of the coffee shop yelling “Eureka!” It's a common occurrence in coffee shops. Try it.
The writing on the monthly Buzz Beamer page is a bit different than Cleats. The readers submit ideas as to what they think Buzz should do. “Paul A., of Flower Mound,Texas, thinks Buzz should skate the Great Wall of China” will be my email message from the Sports Illustrated Kids editor. So, I sketch out funny pictures of Buzz with his skateboard on the Great Wall of China. (Is this the greatest job in the world, or what?) After goofing around with doodling for awhile, I will think of a punchline, or more correctly a punch-situation. Buzz usually ends with an absurd sight gag rather than a clever line. Then I would think how this cartoon would begin and work a path to the last panel usually using the goofy sketches I had drawn earlier. The editor at SIKids likes to see a rough sketch of my Buzz idea, so I will draw the panels at whatever size I want, scan them (using Image Capture) into the computer (iMac), reduce them and arrange them as a page with Photoshop (CS5). I save that rough page as a jpeg and email it to the editor. We go back and forth with it for awhile, until we arrive at the acceptable gag.
I don't write Tank McNamara, Jeff Millar does. He emails me a week of daily copy, at a time. He'll send Sunday copy separately.
I have created a template for all of my features in Adobe Illustrator (CS5). The borders are already in place so all I have to do is add the text. My hand lettering was made into a font back in the 1990's. I haven't hand-lettered my work since then. This comes in really handy with Tank because Jeff will write a mountain of dialogue that I can just cut and paste from his email. I can move the text around however I need to leave room for a drawing. I print out these strips on legal size copy paper.
I sketch my cartoons on this with a soft lead (2B-4B) pencil.
I do the same with Buzz.
I adjust the text, if needed for Tank, on the Illustrator files and print them again on a nicer, heavier paper (Hammermill 28lb. Color Copy). Using a light board, I trace the sketch onto the nicer paper with a Copic Brush pen (either 110 or 100 Black).
I don't print anything out with Buzz. I just use blank paper and trace the borders along with my art to give them a loose feel. I add the text for Buzz later in Photoshop, and keep the text layers separate in case the magazine needs to make last-minute changes.
I'll scan the finished art onto the computer with my nifty Mustek large-document flatbed scanner.
I'll tweak the daily Tanks in Photoshop, and upload tiff files to the syndicate FTP site.
The Tank Sunday files I send are black & white. I use the computer to create a low-res, partially-colored jpeg duplicate of the strip as a guide for the colorists at the syndicate. These files are also uploaded to the FTP site.
I color Buzz Beamer myself on Photoshop. This can be very rewarding unless I'm pressed by the deadline. Coloring every brick on the Great Wall of China can be very annoying when you're rushed. I email the finished Buzz TIFF file (Stuffed) to the SI Kids editor.
I'm not doing animation right now. That involves everything above, plus making it move and talk.
After taking a break in late afternoon and early evening to visit with the family and have dinner, I'll get back to work and stop around 11PM. I usually will watch some mindless fare on TV for 30 minutes before I hit the hay. Otherwise, I can't stop thinking about work.
Outside of work, I occasionally get to have lunch with my wife. If I have time I'll go for a walk. I enjoy any time with my kids. I would like to have enough time to hit tennis balls with my younger daughter before she goes off to college. My second job is roadie for my son, the drummer, when his band Distorshun has a practice or a gig. Sometimes the band will turn our house into a recording studio for a weekend--very loud weekend.