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: Piers Baker of Ollie and Quentin.
My cartooning lightbulb moment came when I was about 8. I was reading Peanuts in the newspaper and I asked my dad if Charles Schulz earned a living drawing cartoons. He laughed and said that he did, and I thought, "Wow! THAT'S the job for me!"
I've always loved the feel of a pencil scratching over paper. I think drawing is in my blood. My granddad, George Baker, was an author/illustrator who spotted my interest at an early age. Although he died when I was 6, he dedicated one of his books to me on scale drawing, saying, "To my second grandson, Piers, who may or may not follow in his grandfather's footsteps." He wasn't far wrong. My dad, though choosing to become a lawyer, is a good artist himself. My dad's cousin draws beautifully detailed technical illustrations and has exhibited at The Royal Academy Summer Show in London. My daughter is a tattoo artist and has, thankfully, inherited the "Baker Line," which is our ability to produce a very neat line in our artwork.
I started out as a graphic designer, but knew it wasn't quite right for me. I was drawing every day, but it wasn't cartoons. In my late 30s I knew I had to get out, even though it was a huge financial gamble. I jumped, and have never earned as much again! But I have never regretted it, either.
The turning point in my cartooning career came when the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution - the UK's version of the U.S. Coastguard) asked me to create a comic strip for their kids club magazine about a lifeboat man called Stormy Stan the Lifeboatman. I created a seagull sidekick for him, and Ollie was born. The strip developed over the years into a weekly newspaper comic. Eventually, Ollie ventured out alone, but needed a companion, and as an homage to all the poor lugworms I'd used as bait in my sea fishing days, I created Quentin (named after my youngest brother), and the comic you see today is the result.
This may sound strange, but I'm not really a big comics fan. I simply love working with the comic strip format. I am never happier than when sitting in a coffee shop writing my comic and doodling in my sketchbook. Editing a long gag down into three short frames is very satisfying. It's a world I love to dive into and maybe even hide away in. I know my characters so well. I enjoy throwing situations at them to see how they respond. My technique is to write quickly and try to recreate the spontaneity that comes when we're talking with good friends. We are never funnier than when we're in a group, and it's those little funny comments that suddenly pop up out of nowhere that I try to recreate in my writing. I can often make myself laugh writing like this. It clears the coffee shop.
Aardman's "Wallace and Gromit" are my biggest inspiration. I love the subtle, gentle humor and the very Britishness of it. "The Wrong Trousers" is my favorite movie.
The best day of my career was getting a call from Brendan Burford at King Features to say he would like to syndicate Ollie and Quentin. I had achieved my one true ambition in life. I could die happy as my headstone could now read: Piers Baker. Dad and Syndicated Cartoonist. Another flattering highlight was the day Stephan Pastis of Pearls Before Swine fame told me he'd left a note on his desk for his wife saying if anything should happen to him on one of his trips to visit the troops in Iraq, she was to contact me to ask if I'd continue his comic. He's still alive, isn't he?
As a child I read Peanuts, Tintin and Asterix. I would copy Albert Uderzo's drawings as they were the best artworks I'd ever seen. I only discovered the brilliant Calvin and Hobbes a few years ago. That comic is the top of the pile for me. Cul de Sac is my favorite comic of recent times, although the one that makes me laugh out loud is Bewley by Anthony Blades, which I discovered on GoComics. Again, I love its British humor.
I now help run a whiteboard animation business called "Doodle Ads." Actually, I simply do the cartoons and let my business partner do all the hard work. They're speeded-up quick-draw cartoon videos where you see a hand drawing silly images whilst listening to a voiceover explaining about a business or selling you something. Mainly for websites and presentations. It's great fun "_ although my comic is where my heart is.
I was recently invited to my first ever Comic Con in Nottingham, which was great fun. Meeting fans and other cartoonists made a change from sitting at my computer all day. Cartoonists are the nicest people. I felt like a lost animal finding its herd after years of wandering alone in the forest. I plan to attend more.
As I write, I am surrounded by boxes, as I am moving to Manchester in the north of England. It's such a buzzing, creative and vibrant city, and I can't wait. I'll be sharing a super-cool studio space in a converted warehouse with other creatives half my age. I don't like working alone, preferring the buzz of activity around me.