Saturday, January 12, 2008

More perspective on "Housebroken"

I am SO geeked to see that our old classmate/colleague Steve Watkins has made it happen in the tough biz of comics syndication. So geeked, in fact, that I'm actually inspired to get off my butt (or on it, as the case may be) to actually post on this blog of Will's.

Crazy, huh?

Everything Will said about Steve jibes with my own memory of "the kid." I call him the kid because that is how he seemed to us, being the lone freshman (I think, anyway) of the crew. And yeah, I recall with great amusement his displeasure at his work being compared with "Curtis." That was perhaps the first time I saw the fire in his belly that motivated him to do comics, and that he wasn't to be taken lightly. 

It wasn't the last, either. During my tenure as the paper's head artist, I often delivered critiques of my fellow cartoonists, mostly constructive but occasionally* nit-picky to an extreme. My aim was that my own writing and artwork would be the weakest of the whole lot, so I pushed the others hard to step up their game. Steve, in particular, used to frustrate me because his ink line was scratchy and uncertain and at the time I was a total whore for smooooooth brush or mechanical pen inks. 

So of course, by that standard, some weeks my stuff was easily the best of the lot and I none-too-subtly let everyone know I thought so. After one such session, Steve figured he'd had enough of this condescension and was ready to pack his drawing tools and quit the staff. It wasn't that he thought his stuff was better than anyone else's on the crew (like some of his colleagues did, like me sometimes) -- it's that he knew his work was good and he wasn't getting any credit for it.

Well, I knew his work was good, too, and all but begged him to stick around. I don't remember what I said that persuaded him, but he didn't quit. Not then, and not even after I graduated that year.

And, I was delighted to discover as of this week, nearly 15 years later, he NEVER quit at all. He MADE it. And the strip is good. 

I don't take any credit for his success. He obviously had the fire in his belly all on his own -- that we discovered when we compared his stuff to "Curtis" and never let that passion die. 

Case in point: how I discovered "Housebroken." In addition to my graphic design job, I write semi-regular comic reviews for the newspaper and one of my cohorts forwarded me a link to a story of black cartoonists staging a Feb. 10 switcheroo stunt in a sort of protest on how black cartoonists and their strips get pigeonholed as interchangeable "black strips" when they're as unique as any other strip on the average comics page. The end result is that you're not likely at all to see more than one black creator's strip on any given comics page, because the "quota" has been filled. 

Or, to put it differently: Why carry "Housebroken" if you already have "Curtis?" 

Well, as I read the article to see if I knew any of the strips, I spotted Steve's name. And I thought: "Could it be?" and set aside my newspaper layout duties for the next 15 minutes as I dug up Tribune Media Service's strip archives and creator bio.

And so I find it bittersweetly ironic that I learned of Steve's success not on my local comics page, but as the result of him taking action to stop his work being compared with "Curtis" or "Boondocks" or whatever. Some things just don't change, it seems...

* "Occasionally" according to me. Will, Vlad, Steve and the rest probably remember differently. :)


Chyll Will said...

Wow, not only does Steve Watkins resurface as an accomplished cartoonist, but KJ actually posts for the first time! What a week!! Now all we need is for Aqua Boogie to start posting and we have a Howard Homecoming (of sorts). Life is good...

You could be nit-picky, my brotha. You're assessment is quite correct, you were often pretty hard with your critiques and Rodney at first had to remind you to be constructive. But I understood your motivation, and whatever you told Steve to convince him to stay (I never knew that happened) did the trick.

I'm very happy for Steve; I bought his two books on Amazon and I'm waiting for them to arrive so I can, heh-heh, critique them. (He's getting paid, so what difference would it make to him >;) Now, if you could only start picking up or returning phone calls, it'll be a slam dunk for YOU!

For others reading along, I wrote a stage/screenplay based on the comics page crew that we're speaking of, including characters based on all three of us. I'm looking for some backing to get this first on stage, then on screen, so if you're interested or know someone, leave a comment here or on my next post, which will go into more detail about it...

macedonia said...

khari's first post...that's fantastic. great to see his perspective on this as well.