New Comic Alert: Mt. Pleasantby GoComics Team
Mt. Pleasant has joined the GoComics family! This new strip features Ella and Albie, two precocious city kids who move to their grandparents’ farm, affectionately known as Mt. Pleasant. Creators Rick McKee and Kent Sligh are both well known for their past and current work: McKee is a prolific editorial cartoonist and is the heir-creator of Pluggers; and Sligh has been a standup, comedy writer, and is a gag writer for Dustin. This is their first foray together, and we chatted about working together, the creative process, and the world they've created on Claude and Eunice Lutum's farm.
How did the two of you meet and hatch the idea for Mt. Pleasant?
Kent: In May 2019 I received an email from Jeff Parker—the genius cartoonist who draws Dustin—explaining that his friend Rick McKee had just been laid off from The Augusta Chronicle and was interested in collaborating with a writer/cartoonist on a new cartoon strip. Jeff said he thought we would be a good fit.
Rick and I talked on the phone and started brainstorming almost immediately. I had been toying with a comic strip about kids being raised by their grandparents. Rick had an idea about a little girl living on a farm who could talk to animals. We sort of merged our two ideas together and threw in a ferret. Everything is better with a ferret.
Rick: I've had this idea percolating in my brain for a few years. I had tried my hand at a couple of other strips and come very close, but no luck. In the summer of 2019, after I lost my job at The Augusta Chronicle as their staff editorial cartoonist, you could say the notion of drawing a strip took on more urgency! I contacted my buddy, Jeff Parker (of Dustin), to see if he knew of any writers looking to collaborate with on a strip to share the burden and he gave me Kent's name.
What’s your style of collaboration? How do each of the strips and/or story arcs come together?
Kent: I usually send Rick ten or twelve cartoon ideas each week, and Rick decides which ones he wants to draw. I send them in a sort of script format, with a description of each panel along with dialogue for each character. Rick often improves my jokes or thinks of his own jokes, which I appreciate, because he’s hilarious.
Rick won’t let me draw. I have been doodling cartoons since I was a kid, but Rick is a world-class artist. I sent Rick some strips early on and he subtly encouraged me to focus on writing, hinting something like, “Please stop drawing.”
Rick: We spent several weeks just talking about the characters, their possible backstories and how we envisioned the strip developing. We both agreed we wanted the strip to be able to tell any story and not just be a “farm” strip. The farm allows us to have fun with animals, but it's also a catalyst for the kids’ imaginations, since they have to create their own fun. Sometimes, Kent and I discuss potential stories and scenarios and then he runs with it and sometimes he just comes up with them. If I'm occasionally able to punch up a gag here and there in the drawing phase, I'll do that. Kent had ideas about how some of the characters should look, which I've incorporated. It's definitely a team effort.
Rick, you’re known for your work on Pluggers. Why start a second feature? Does this project fill a creative void?
Ha! Actually, Mt. Pleasant was well along in the works before Pluggers came along. In fact, after we had our Mt. Pleasant submission package ready to go, I sent it to a few cartoonist buddies for critiques and input, including Gary Brookins, a longtime friend of many years. Gary felt like it had a sort of Pluggers vibe to it and asked me if I'd be interested in taking over when he retired! This was totally unexpected, but of course I said yes. A few months later, Tribune expressed an interest in syndicating Mt. Pleasant, which we had pretty much given up on after several other rejections. It really does fill a creative void. It's a totally different creature from Pluggers. ...Sleep is overrated anyway!
Kent, as a comedy writer, how does joke-writing differ between standup and comic strips?
Standup comedy and cartoon strips are similar in the sense that ultimately you’re trying to make people laugh, but there are big differences. In standup, I need to make my audience laugh out loud, and I need them to laugh at least once every ten seconds. Some of my bits might be five minutes long and might contain as many as fifty jokes.
Comic strips, on the other hand, are by their nature very compact. There’s usually just room for one joke—a setup and a punchline. I think of a comic strip as a perfect little comedy haiku. I will often do a series of strips on one topic, and I can tell a story, but I know my audience might consume each strip 24 hours apart. So each strip needs to stand on its own.
Related, you’ve submitted content to Steve Kelley for Dustin, correct? Has this process been similar or different? In what ways?
I have known Steve Kelley since we were both doing standup at the Comedy Store in San Diego in the ’90s. Steve invited me to start writing for Dustin in 2013, and I’ve been a leading contributor ever since.
Steve has a handful of comedy writers who pitch him gags each week and he selects the funniest material from his own writing and our group to craft scripts for Jeff Parker to draw. Steve is one of the best pure joke writers I have ever met.
Writing for Mt. Pleasant is comparable to Dustin in that I’m submitting little comic strip scripts in a very similar format. It’s different because Steve Kelley generally prefers standalone strips with clear jokes and puts a premium on funny. While Rick and I also want Mt. Pleasant to be hilarious, we prefer narrative arcs that unfold over a week, tell a story, and emphasize great characters with attitude. Those types of strips also really give free rein to Rick’s artistic brilliance.
What is your favorite thing about Mt. Pleasant?
Kent: My favorite thing about Mt. Pleasant is Ella, the little girl, who I think is the star of the show. I love that she knows she’s perfect just the way she is, that she’s a fighter, and that she’s fearless.
Rick: My favorite thing about it is that I believe we've created a world where anything is possible. Through Ella's imagination and Albie's inventiveness and their interaction with the animals, I believe we can tell just about any story we want.
What drew you to this world and this story?
Kent: I’m interested in the relationships between the characters. I like the juxtaposition between the wisdom of the grandparents and the candor of the children. I’m often inspired by the different personalities embodied by the various farm animals.
Rick: They say write what you know and my other attempts at strips (aliens and bugs) didn't really have that element, so I was determined this time to make it happen. I was a city kid who moved to a farm when I was about 11, so I definitely know about that sort of culture shock. As kids in the middle of nowhere, my brothers and my friends really did have to create our own fun—and it was a little unincorporated area named Mt. Pleasant (which there are lots of all over the country). I thought the name evoked the kind of feeling we wanted the strip to have. It’s not autobiographical of either one of us by any means, but I have a son and a daughter and there are elements of them in there as well as elements of Kent’s experiences and his son.
Are there things that have resonated with the fans that surprised you?
Kent: We’re a new strip that’s just beginning to get our footing, so right now I’ve really just been surprised by how positive and supportive the fans are.
Rick: It seems to be very well-received and that alone is very encouraging! We're trying to make it very relatable and allow readers to see themselves in it and so far, that seems to be working.
What other comics inspire you?
Kent: I grew up loving cartoon strips and I’m inspired by them all. The wackiness of Bloom County. The jokes in The Wizard of Id and B.C. The existential angst of Charlie Brown from Peanuts. The imagination of Calvin and Hobbes. The art of Shoe. Get Fuzzy is hilarious. Foul Language is hilarious. I could go on and on.
Rick: So, so many! Calvin and Hobbes is the gold standard for me. I've also always loved Shoe and anything by Jeff MacNelly (which makes drawing Pluggers such an honor.) I'm a longtime fan of anything Jim Borgman touches, so Zits for sure. I'm also a huge, huge fan of Tom the Dancing Bug by Ruben Bolling. MAD magazine and The New Yorker cartoons. Dustin! Dilbert! Herman! Tumbleweeds! Peanuts! I could go on and on…
Be sure to follow Mt. Pleasant on GoComics, where it’s updated daily.