The day for me usually starts quite early each morning. And it's mainly because I have to surrender to the whines and barkings of my Basset Hound, whom I call Biscuit. Since I was a child I've always had some sort of pet animal around, ranging from the common to the exotic. He demands to be let out or walked, so I have to get up, get dressed (quickly!) and get him outside. Living in Connecticut, the mornings are usually quiet in my area and it feels good to start the day appreciating nature.
A rousing breakfast of fried or scrambled eggs, maybe bacon-even though my favorite is sausage, toast with jelly ( as I have a weakness for sweets) and a couple cups of coffee gets me started. I should actually slow down on the coffee because after showering, shaving and all I usually look forward to another cup. At this point, ideas began flowing in my mind although at this point I'm not writing anything down just mulling them over. If anything comes that I think may be worth developing all I have to do is remember a single panel or sight gag, and it'll stay with me until I write it down. It's a good and a bad thing, most times any idea I get will stay with me until I write it down. Then it's, like, released from my mind sort of to make room for the next new idea. Many times I get lucky and an entire weeks worth of ideas will come to me almost fully-formed. The idea can come so fast that I have a hard time writing it down. I think because I've been creating cartoons for so long that it comes kind of easy. I sit down in my easy chair to go over any ideas that I've written down the night before. Ideas float to me late at night, but they usually need a lot of polish. I'm get tough of myself in terms of editing my own work. For each seven days of work, I may come up with thirty ideas, some just gags others going off into storylines. That's a lot of ideas that never see the light of day.
Before I get to the practical application of measuring papers or putting pen to ink, I reach for my HP laptop, to check on any correspondence I may need to address before 10 am. On any given day I will receive some couple hundred emails a day. I have, I think at last count like 24 students that write almost everyday, seeking advice and sending their current work looking for critiques. There are requests of all types with junk mail and mail saying I'm the heir to twenty million dollars from relatives in Nigeria, Taiwan and now England. Some are easy and I can answer quickly, but that is only if I'm not itching to get to CURTIS. I personally answer all my mail so depending on how much of a response is necessary or how close I am to deadline, mail gets answered pretty quickly.
By now I'm ready to get to my chair at my drawing board. I work within a studio that is, to the plain observer, pretty messy. No matter how much I try to keep it together in a couple of days it'll be back to the mess. I think I actually work better this way. Since I was a kid I worked in a messy paper-strewn studio. Thank goodness I don't smoke. The whole place would go up in seconds! My mind begins to steel itself for the day's work while I file, and sort bills and letters. I get to reach for my paper (finally!) before noon and it's like I get into a different mindset. The ideas for the week have been selected, polished, and are just waiting for the hand to give them life on paper. I work on 2-ply Bristol Plate. I've always used it since I started my career many years ago. I like the smooth texture and how I can get my pen to slide over it. I'm sort of an traditionalist and I don't use the computer much when it come to my drawings. I like to use Staedtler non-photo blue pencils for sketching and lettering. With this technique I don't waste time erasing. I don't usually do a lot of sketches for any strip. In my mind I can see just how I want to present each panel. Will Eisner drilled the importance of panel construction into me as my art instructor at The School of Visual Arts and to this day I still draw upon his teachings. Most dailies consist of four panels and take about an hour to get to the point that I like it. I use a variety of Speedball penpoints, mostly the "B" series, and Higgins Black India Ink. Tell you how long I've been doing I've been using them-these penpoints used to be ten cents each! To find that now you'd need a time machine. Another hour and a half of inking, and a completed daily strip is put aside to wait for it's copyright sticker, date and signature. I work large on Sundays. It's the same size that my ol' friend Schulz used for PEANUTS. Gives me plenty of room to draw, but a single Sunday page takes several hours. I'll first pencil the entire strip and then take a break. By this time it's late afternoon and I need to move about and stretch. A brisk walk with Biscuit is in order and a regiment of stretching techniques help a lot.
I've always enjoyed classic movies and check to see if there's anything good on I can keep going on the background. If not, I can always rely on listening to music. The music of my youth are my favorites. I can literally listen to music for hours upon hours, and at times can actually make me more creative. Back to that Sunday page. It’ll take a good four to six hours, depending on how complex, to complete a Sunday. A "SuperCaptainCoolMan" page can take a full eight hours because it's out of my familiar CURTIS zone, and is more of a challenge. Plus, those color charts are killers. Whenever I'm working on any Sunday page, in the back of my mind I'm thinking of the colors I'll select. I like my characters to stand out against the background colors. Once the Sunday page is completed and dry, it's off my copy machine. On this copy I apply the colors with AD markers. They give such a beautiful tone and I can work fast. Then I write the necessary numbers from the color chart and it is now ready to be shipped.
I usually get so involved in the mechanics of my work that the day goes by pretty fast. before I know it the sun is going down. Once I finish my work it seems my body relaxes. I can become almost hypnotized when it comes to artwork and it's hard for my concentration to be broken.but now it's time to enjoy a little dinner. Not many people know it but I am an accomplished cook, so it's never a thing of fast food or anything like that for my dinner. I can whip up a stuffed cornish hen in no time. Since my kids are grown and out of the house with their own families I can truly take time to do what I want and I'm truly a slave to my passions. At this point of the day, phone calls are in order. Mom may call to nag me.
Not matter what, though, my mind always seems to turn down the next daily, or Sunday page or storyline. It's almost a constant. If I'm not actually doing it I'm thinking of the next CURTIS scenario. I'm glad that this cast of characters makes it somewhat easy to come up with ideas on a day to day basis. I'm always thinking of new avenues to take them to. through books and merchandising, but many of them get shot down by mainstream. But it never gets me down, I just think of new ways to get them done. I ought to thank those people for giving me even more incentive to succeed.
I don't have a lot of people around me yet I would call myself a recluse or anything. I do enjoy my own company and am quite a deep thinker, but there is usually some family coming in for at least a while every day. And I'm always busy helping others with their art. I'm glad I can inspire others to do and follow in the steps I've already put down in this career. I use to live in New York, but everyone I knew there was bad for to know. Now that I've been living in Connecticut I feel lucky because it has a lot to offer, natural beauty-wise. My roots are southern, from North Carolina and I've always enjoyed beautiful scenery. There are times I like to put Biscuit in the van and just drive, find a spot to watch the sunset and to think and dream. It's been a really busy life for me and I have few regrets how anything turned out. I still feel blessed that I was plucked from the mean streets of New York to accomplish as much as I have. It's finally night time and I turn on the TV as I get comfortable in my bed. Biscuit jumps up at the base and faces the door, as if to protect me from anything that might come through. At days end I'm usually exhausted, mentally and physically, but I don't think I actually drop off to sleep until the early morning hours. One of my many pads are nearby on my nightstand, just in case there is an inspiration at night. CURTIS came to me at about 3:30 am so I'm always prepared for an idea. I've been working very hard at cartooning ever since I was a pro at twelve so I'm used to all the pressure things like deadlines can put upon a person. There have been a lot of personal sacrifices but I don't feel like I missed that much. I've been fortunate in this industry and a lot of people I've admired are now my colleagues and friends. And I wouldn't trade that for the world.