I wake up early, 6-7. All I need is tea or coffee for a few hours. Eventually, I make oatmeal. With peanut butter, molasses and raisins. I can hear the groans, but it's fabulous.
How I start my day depends on where I am in my work week. If I'm out of material and need to write, I try to escape the house without checking email or doing any other mundane stuff that might take my mind in a direction I don't want it to go. The creative aspect of cartooning uses a very different part of the brain than things like marketing, blogging, etc. It's also easy to feel like you've accomplished something when you've answered a bunch of emails, checked a bunch of marketing stuff off your list, etc. But in fact, the most important part of the job has just been derailed. Your creative energy is lost for the day if you get down to deep in the details of life, or Facebook.
So, if it's a writing day, I head to a coffee shop where I don't know too many people, so I won't be tempted to chat. I take a ruled pad and write for 2-3 hours if I can manage to stay in my seat that long. If it's a good day, I'll get 14 or more good strip ideas. If it's a bad day, I try to recognize futility and might head off to work out or do some of that mundane stuff.
If it's a drawing day—the day after I write and now need to sketch up those hopefully fabulous ideas— I will check email first and then nail myself to the chair to draw. I find this day a bit painful (after all, I nailed myself to a chair) because I'm faced with the stuff I wrote, deciding if it's funny enough, editing it to make it funnier, staring at it and wondering why I thought it was funny in the first place, trying to read my own writing through the coffee rings, etc. Once I've sketched up the stuff I wrote, I let one, sometimes two, people read it (my husband, and or syndicate editor). For this I have a simple rating system of "3,2,1" — 3 being a gag that made the reader laugh, 2 being one that drew a smile and is therefore adequate, 1 for things that just lay there. I got this system from John McPherson (Close to Home) and I really like it. There's no complicated judgement or attempt by the reader to edit the gag... just a clean thumbs up or down. I run with the 3's, try to punch up the 2's, and set aside the 1's for another day when I might have a better idea for them. This slush pile can be invaluable when you are completely brain dead and need to start somewhere. You never know when you might be able to rework mediocre gag and be able to use it.
Once I have at least 6 good gags (a week of dailies), then it becomes the best day of all. Inking day. Inking day is a day of pure drawing pleasure, where all the kinks are worked out, I don't have to think, I just crank up the tunes and finish the toons. I can even talk on the phone, making inking day a day I sometimes return ignored calls. I work on a light table, on a fresh piece of paper over the sketch. The sketches are done on cheap bond paper, something I can get at a copy shop. I buy a ream and have them cut it in half the long way, proportional to a comic strip. My inking paper is unique to me, I think. It's a holdover from my graphic design days (pre-computer). I use a CIS (coated one side) board that is similar to what a book cover might be printed on. The coating can be shaved off with a sharp exacto, so I can easily correct typos and small inking errors. Even after scraping off an error, there's enough coating left to ink over the mistake with no spidering. I ink with a Gillott 303 dip pen, letter with a Staedler Pigment Liner 0.5, and do cross-hatching and other small details with a variety of Micron pens. I have a Kuretake brush pen (refillable) that I use for big black areas, plus Faber-Castell makes a nice brush pen for fills. The end result is hopefully a very clean drawing, a lovely sight to behold, especially with deadlines always looming.
Once all six dailies are inked, I mark that week off my deadline sheet and put the strips aside for the intern who comes on Wednesdays to scan them. I splurged on a big Epson scanner, since I draw large and for years had to piece two scans together. One day I just wondered "WHY?" and spent the dough on a big scanner that can take 12x18. Inked Sundays are shipped off to a former intern, now contract employee (and older sister of the current intern), who colors them from her college dorm. She's been doing all my color since she was about 13, and she's amazingly good at it. Hopefully, she'll always need the extra money. I have an IMac with a Wacom tablet, Photoshop, etc. The Wacom is great for coloring, because you can create color areas that are not bound by black if you want, and fix small errors in the drawing with a tool that is not shaped like a bar of soap. I rarely draw with it, however, preferring the quiet of my light table. I'm surrounded by much beloved technology, but I love the simplicity of basic ink and pen for drawing.
After all the inking, scanning, coloring, etc is done, the cartoons are posted to my syndicate's website and the cycle begins again. And again. And again. Want to be syndicated? I love it, but beware. The deadlines NEVER EVER END.
I eat breakfast late so I rarely eat lunch. With luck, I can end my day at 3 or 4 and go work out. Some days that works, some it doesn't. My husband generally cooks dinner. I don't work evenings or weekends, unless it's to do something like this interview, or write a blog entry, or some scanning/coloring when the student helpers are ill or swamped with midterms.
My only real hobby is travel. I work for plane tickets. I am miserable if I do not have a plane ticket in the drawer. I have travelled all over the world, some of it with Habitat for Humanity International. My characters are used by Habitat to promote some of their programs, and like me, Gramma has been to both Thailand and Haiti to build Habitat homes. I love travel with a purpose, and will be looking for longer volunteer opportunities overseas in the next few years. They have high-speed in Africa, right?