The GoComics "Meet Your Creator" series brings you firsthand insight into the lives and careers of your favorite cartoonists. Each week, we hand over the keys to one of our talented creators, who share their inspirations, achievements, creative processes, studios and more! Read on to hear from this week's featured cartoonist: Michael Witmer of Pinkerton
When the fine folks at GoComics asked me to write a blog about myself and Pinkerton, my first thought was that every other creator on the roster was away on vacation. My second thought was "what the heck am I'm going to write about?"
I concocted a few neat revisionist histories about myself. Raised by badgers. Secret agent in the Cola Wars. Retired rodeo clown. Take your pick. Truth is, I'm pretty much a boring husband/father who learned at a very early age that making people laugh earned me lots of attention. It also kept me from getting beat up (unless I was using my sarcastic gifts against an adversary). When I realized that I could draw things that made people laugh, my reign of terror was amplified exponentially. Keep in mind, this was somewhere around second grade. So even if I did manage to draw a scathing diatribe against a neighborhood kid's oversized nose, most people had no idea what it was they were looking at anyway.
During my period of terrorizing the neighborhood with my cartoon satire carpet bombings, I kept my nose buried deep in the funny pages. Specifically, Peanuts and, later, Bloom County, Calvin and Hobbes and FoxTrot.
Who are you and what are you doing here?
Me? I'm a father of three beautiful girls. I live in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, with the Amish (seriously!).
My first real attempt at "comic stripping" came in 2001. As mentioned, I spent my amateur career making fun of friends and family, so I figured why not keep on truckin'! 44 Union Avenue was a semi-biographical look into the complexities of my family life. My sister and I grew up in a single-parent household. My mother struggled early on to make ends meet. Obviously, I must've found that fascinating. In my mind, there was so much available material that it was hard to ignore. Literally a GOLD MINE! So I put together about three weeks of poorly drawn, ghastly executed strips and sent them to my local newspaper.
To my horror, three days later, the phone rang.
Mr. Ernie Schreiber, editor of the Lancaster New Era, called to invite me to meet with him. I was sure I was walking into a den of public shaming. Much to my surprise, I soon found myself cranking out 44 Union Avenue comics seven days a week. Granted, I literally knew NOTHING about the process. It's a blessing that Ernie was patient and, for some unknown reason, wanted to help me develop my craft. That's pretty much how the ball started rolling. I had little to no expectations. But what I did have was a love for comics and a stockpile of readily-available caffeine to keep me going on those late nights.
Somehow, my goofy little comic strip caught the attention of David Stanford, editor of Universal Uclick's Comics Sherpa. Before I knew it, I was a Web cartoonist lost in a infinite sea of Webcomics.
44 Union Avenue ran for approximately five years, making its way into a handful of small newspapers and publications. I found myself running out of steam. I wanted to do something a little more outlandish. Plus, the struggles of creating a strip that mirrored real life tended to put a strain on certain relationships. Basically, I woke up one day and knew 44UA was done. Simple as that.
For all intents and purposes, I was out of the cartoon game. I pulled the ripcord. I was headed for dry land! And then one day while I was chatting on the phone, I doodled two little blockylooking characters on a yellow Post-it note. A fat-headed fox and an angry rabbit. I didn't know it at the time, but they would become the main characters, Buckley and Tucker, of Pinkerton.
What moves you to create?
I get inspiration from A TON of different sources. On any given day, it might come from my children or from a conversation with my wife (who is funnier than she gives herself credit for) or an interaction with a co-worker. I still get a ton of material from my mother. I'm smart enough these days to not attribute them to her. I've had comic ideas pop up in my sleep. I've had them while driving on the freeway. For all I know, I may have a tumor.
Truth is: Humor is subjective. Everyone has a different way of catching a giggle. For me, I love a comic strip that can make me laugh without even reading a word. Some jerks have had the audacity of accusing Pinkerton of being too over-the-top. That's just me going for a visual gag. In my worthless opinion, if a strip is not drawn well, it better be a slam-dunk in the writing department.
What tools do you use?
I started out doing everything on paper and scanning the strips to a digital format. I messed with every tool and medium looking for a good fit. I eventually settled on Rapidograph mechanical pens on Strathmore Bristol 400 boards.
Gradually, I made the move to all digital. It was a slow and painful process. It began with lettering the strips digitally. Then I started adding color and shading digitally as well. Eventually, I made the jump to a Wacom tablet. Since then I've been 100% digital. I love the freedom of digital. With the use of my trusty MacBook, I can take my "studio" anywhere. However, the hyper-critical side of me screams that my artwork was better back in the "old days."
These days, I'm doing all my sketching and line work in Manga Studio. I then jump over to Photoshop to letter and color my strips. Currently, I'm working on a 27" iMac. I'm feverishly hoping to someday purchase a Cintiq. Pay attention, Santa!
What does the future hold?
Hmmm. That's an interesting question. I'd like to think that Pinkerton will continue to evolve. It's never been a political strip and I don't ever see it going that way. It's more of a declaration of nonsense. I want readers to look at Pinkerton and say, "I could totally hang out with those nutcases."
All contributions go directly into the creation of the comic and comic merchandise (and to fuel my Funyuns addiction). Speaking of merchandise, I'm currently working on the logistics of a new Pinkerton collection. I'm chatting with a few printing companies, and if all goes well, a new book will be out in the beginning of 2016.
So you're obviously not a rich and famous cartoonist. Why do you do this?
Cause I like the punishment?
HA! No, seriously though "_ my answer might sound a little canned, but I do it because it's a lot of fun. I can't explain it. I find real joy in drawing these characters and diving deep into their personalities to find what makes them tick. There are strips that literally make me laugh out loud (which is why my wife has banished me to the basement). Those are usually the strips my readers hate the most, but what are you gonna do?
On top of that, my fan base is just an amazing group of individuals. I am lucky enough to have folks who have been hanging on since the day Pinkerton launched, and I can't thank them enough!
Thank you. Thank you. Thaaaaaank you.
Park Ranger, Pinkerton