Do you really look like the character in your comic strip?

Yes. I'm often recognized on the street because of that. "Hey, are you the guy in that comic strip?" is something I hear more often than "Hi, handsome, are you single?". Unfortunately.
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Is "The Big Picture" really about your real life?

Fortunately or unfortunately depending on the circumstances. But, yes. Through better and worse, eighty percent of my strip is one hundred percent reality. The other twenty percent is reality with a twist for a half-decent dopey punch line.
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Where can I buy your book?

My book is called "The Big Picture, A Comic Strip Collection" published by Andrews/ McMeel and can be found right here. It's a collection of about 4 years of "The Big Picture" when it was a weekly, right up to the book deal itself.
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How can I get your book signed by you?

Just send the book in a postage paid self addressed envelope to:
THE BIG PICTURE
P.O. Box 729
Norwell, MA 02061
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How can I buy an original comic strip?

I do sell my originals and I'm always happy to check if the one or ones you're interested in are available. They range in price from $100.00 to $250.00 (plus $5.00 shipping) each depending on how much dough I think I can make for charity (hey...just being honest...).10% of all original Big Picture comic strip sales will be donated to "Why Me, Inc.", a Massachusetts based non-profit organization that provides emotional and financial support to children with cancer and thair families. An additional 5% will be donated to Greenpeace International and another 5% of proceeds will benefit The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Just e-mail me for availability and pricing for a specific strip and I'll tell you what to do from there.

I can only accept checks (bank or personal), We're not set up for credit cards (yet) and NEVER send cash. I'll just spend it on a coffee binge and forget you ever existed...
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Are prints available for purchase?

Yup. My syndicate, Universal Press Syndicate, makes those available at UComics.com. Check there for pricing and availability. They also have a free service to send e-postcards of favorite strips not only of The Big Picture but of every comic strip on their roster from Doonesbury to The Boondocks to The Duplex and all of 'em in between. It's a good site and they have all the cool strips. Needless to say...
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Why did you name it "The Big Picture"?

Honest to God, I've never seen the movie. Back when my strip was a one page format in underground comics, it was called "Daily Diary". When I started making attempts at syndication I changed the name for no other reason than to disassociate it from the underground comics I was doing for fear the mainstream syndicates (distributors of newspaper columns, features, and comic strips) would consider it too "racy". As it turned out, I didn't have to change the name 'cause they didn't know who the hell I was anyway. But "The Big Picture" stuck as a sort of representation of me having the freedom to go wherever I want in the strip. Sort of an overview of everyday "life in general" and a way to look at things. Life's Big Picture. Now that I've intellectuallized that to the point of vomiting, i can just plain say I like the name so I kept it. So there.
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What's your cat's name?

Ginger.
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Is she your real cat?

Yes.
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Are you a cat person?

I like all animals so I like to think of myself as an animal person.
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Can you tell me more about your cat?

Ginger is everything she is in the strip and more. She's about 14 years old (got her from the Animal Rescue League so I'm not 100% sure), pure white, VERY mellow except for about 30 seconds every afternoon (y'know, that cat thing where they all of a sudden get up and run around like mental patients? What IS that, anyway??), always hungry and as smart as any animal I've ever had the pleasure of having or knowing. Do a web search for "Princess" and there's a big-ass picture of Ginger.
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Why isn't your cat the main character in your comic strip?

Please stop reading now. i mean now. Good. Now go to garfield.com. Or heathcliff.com. Or something. Good. Good-bye.
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Why a comic strip about your life?

No reason except that it's my life. I come from reading a lot of underground comics and a lot of my favorites are autobiographical experiences from those cartoonists. That translated into my work eventually. Also, I submitted a few different comic strip proposals to all of the syndicates over a period of a few years (there are about 7 or 8 major syndicates out there) and finally, Jay Kennedy, a real nice guy who's the veepee of King Features Syndicate, told me he liked my stuff but I should write more about what I know. I took those words literally and made the strip about me. Like it or not, "The Big Picture" is the first ever purely autobiographical syndicated comic strip. In my opinion, in a perfect world, EVERYONE would have their very own purely autobiographical syndicated comic strip.
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What's so special about YOUR life?

Nothing (see last sentence above).
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Do you plan on introducing any new characters into the strip?

I have to be honest and say that this question drives me nuts only 'cause it's usually asked by people who aren't familiar with the strip at all. This is not one of those dopey comic strip/ sitcoms where there are 5 or 6 main characters locked into their own little personality traits. I have more depth and dimension than that and so do the people I hang out with (and so do you. I hope.). I don't do "characters". This is a real life thing and people come and go every day, week, month, and year, in and out of the strip as they do in life. Damn, that question pisses me off more than "why isn't your cat the main character in your comic strip?". Anyway, in answer to that question- no, I don't have a plan. For ANYthing.
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Are you single?

I'm divorced (my ex-wife, Louise, and I are "connected" and are best friends) . Am I "available"? As you know, if you read my comic strip, that seems to change, for one reason or another, every fifteen minutes or so.
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How old are you?

I'm 44 in years. Forever 20 in mind. 160 in wisdom. I haven't dated anyone over 28 years old in over 6 years. I'm 5 in spirit. I'm 30 in maturity. Okay, okay. You get the picture...
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Where do you live?

I live in a small town near the ocean in the Boston, Ma. area. I moved there in February of 2000 from Central Massachusetts (Worcester).
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Do you draw your comic strip for a living?

Yes. That along with the band and my free-lance trombone playing makes up my income. I draw by day, play music by night. Nice, huh?
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What and how long did you teach at Berklee College?

I graduated from Berklee in 1979. I was Assistant Professor teaching classes in music theory, ensembles and recording from 1984 to 1994 when I took my leave of absence to pursue art and playing the trombone full time.
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Where can I find more information about your band, Clutch Grabwell?

Check out our website at grabwell.com.
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Where can I buy your c.d.?

You can purchase the Clutch Grabwell c.d.s (our first one self titled and the second, "How Ya Gonna Be", as well as our single "Do It 4 You") at the "lennie mart" section of this website, at grabwell.com or through the usual internet markets such as cdbaby. They are also available at stores in the Northeast.
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Do you really answer all of your e-mails?

Yes! That aspect of this job is REALLY important to me. I feel that if people take the time to write to me, I want to write back. Even that stoopid hate mail that I hate. But I especially like hearing from KIDS who like "The Big Picture". They're really smart and sharp (and have great taste in comic strips). I'm into the whole "community" feel of this comic strip. I feel like people know me. Come to think of it, they do.
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How far in advance do you create your strips?

Syndicates generally require that you submit your daily strips (6 a week) 4 weeks in advance and the Sunday color strips 8 weeks in advance. I'm always on time, if not ahead. I generally wouldn't brag about this but I'm amazed at it myself seeing that I'm always late for EVERYthing in life other than that.
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Where do you get your ideas?

I'm usually somewhat insulted by this question (I get asked this question a LOT in cookie cutter media interviews where the interviewer won't take the time to think of GOOD questions) because it usually means whoever is asking it isn't familiar with the strip at all. But here goes- The strip is about me. Thank you.
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What is the process of creating a comic strip every day?

(those of you who aren't cartoonists or aspiring as such, please feel free to skip this section...) I can only speak for the process of how I create mine and it pretty much goes like this-

Something funny (or at least something I think is funny) happens in a daily experience and I write it down so I can use it later. Usually, if the idea is good enough, I'll remember it but I've found when I write the stuff down and I go back and look at it out of the context of when it happened, it's lost it's edge or it's humor. I keep a notebook of all that stuff so i can sort it out.

I work on the strip 2 days straight every week for a 48 hour stretch with a little sleep and food in between.

After a walk and gallons of coffee, the morning shower routine, and my daily meditation (none of that ever in the same order, by the way), I go to my notebook and choose the strips I want to develop for the week and choose all 6 dailies, including the featured "e-mail Monday" for the week (all of the E-mail Mondays are for real, by the way. I get asked that a lot, too) and the Sunday that I'll use for even further down the line. I sit down and write the strips out and try to tweak them the best I can both in my writing style and in attempting to give each word and phrase the most "bang for the buck". I also work hard on seeing which words can be replaced with a visual to minimize the dialogue in the strip. I care most about facial expressions of the strips characters. I work hard on that.

When I feel pretty comfortable with the writing panel by panel, I do a real quick thumbnail kind of sketch in the size the strip will appear in the papers. This is for me to have a general idea of what the layout will look like when it's published. I work larger (as most cartoonists do) in the original art work than what will be published so that can be deceiving at times while creating it.

I then sit down at my drawing board to do the pencil versions of each strip.

I work on the lettering first, copying the dialogue from my revised writing. This pencil work is done on a vellum tracing paper. When the pencil lettering and artwork is completed on all 7 strips, I move on to the inking which pretty much involves tracing everything onto my bristol board (bristol board is a high quality thick paper) from a light table. I place the tracing paper with my pencil work on it, onto the light board (which is built the same as a drawing table but it has lights in it which shine up from the table) and place the bristol board over that. The light shines up through the tracing paper and through the bristol so I can simply trace, in ink, what's showing through. This means no erasing or smudges or worrying about pencil lines on the final artwork.

Once the strips are all inked in, I laser photocopy each strip, reduced, and then color the Sunday strip using a color guide that is supplied to me by a color company, American Color. When that's done, I ship the photocopied strips to my editor, Lisa, at UPS via FedEx and they magically appear in the papers and on websites 4 weeks later.

This has pretty much been the process for ages now of most comic strip creators. I know that there are a lot of creators doing their strips electronically, straight into the computer which is cool but not really for me right now. I like the feel of working on paper and I like having the original art as a tangible thing if that makes sense (plus I sell 'em for lots of dough. I mean, let's be honest here). But I am looking forward to the day (that'll be soon) when I can at least e-mail my photocopied toons to the syndicate. Most EVERYbody's doing that 'cept me and I feel stuck in the eighties about that whole FedEx thing. Soon. Soon. Honest to God, Lisa. Soon.

By the way, the entire process you just read is about 40 hours worth of work give or take a few hours depending on how "involved" or complicated the drawing or writing is for that week.
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What equipment do you use?

Non-cartoonists DEFINITELY want to skip this section:

  • I use a light table that my brother-in-law, Bruce, made for my nephew, Todd (the nephew that's in the strip a lot), awhile back and I traded my smaller light box with my nephew for this actual light table. I had it through all my freelance-starving artist days and I'm pretty much cosmically "one" with the thing. Me, the table and my coffee pot have been through SOOO much together.
  • for a pencil, I use a mechanical pencil with .07 lead.
    for tracing paper I use a fairly heavy (so it doesn't rip when I erase) vellum trace.
  • I use a 2 ply bristol board (smooth surface) for the final, inked art.
  • and I use a calligraphy pen for lettering and the actual inking (I'm currently using Sanford permanent calligraphic pens), a Micron .08 mechanical pen for details (these are the same as rapidographs without the pain in the neck clotting) and Sharpies for large surfaces of black.
As a note, I used to work in brush when my strip was a weekly. I worked in brush because I know Bill Watterson and Mike Peters work in brush and I figured I should be doing what two great cartoonists are doing but then I realized I was only doing it 'cause they were and, oh, never mind. It's a long story. So now I use calligraphy pen.

At this writing, I've decided to go to a smaller original format so I might switch to those Microns for everything. I'm not sure yet. The strips of the week of July 17 '00 will definitely be done with a different pen and a smaller format and hopefully it won't change the look of the strip too much. I just want to try something different. Right now my original strips are huge (16"X5") and I think I'd like to work smaller which will mean a smaller pen point will need to be used. I'll keep you posted if you care.
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Why do you use upper and lower case lettering all mixed up?

There is no method or purpose to that and no master plan. I like how it looks in Nichole Hollander's strip, "Sylvia", and I ripped it off from her. I like it's funky look.
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Why do you spell the word "stupid" as "stoopid"?

That's my own little secret tribute to legendary underground cartoonist R. Crumb. He spells it that way too and everytime I write it I think of him. It's just one of life's little self indulgences.
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How did you get into doing a daily comic strip?

That's all laid out in my book but, long story sort of short, I started out doing underground comics for a very small publisher in Boston (I was still teaching at Berklee College at the time) as well as freelance commercial work, eventually quit teaching and 6 years of eating potatoes and ketchup and sleeping on the floor later, here I am. During those starving artist days, "The Big Picture" won Editorial Humor Magazine's "Best Unsigned Comic Strip" national competition. Lee Salem, veepee at Universal Press asked to see more and another VERY long story short, got me the book deal which led to the syndication.

Why do the drawings of you look so different in your book from the way you look now?

'Cause that's the way I used to look.
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Do you have any pointers for someone trying to get into the field of commercial art or trying to get syndicated?

I get asked this question a lot and I like it 'cause I get to preach. I address this throughout my book as well but the shorter answer is that-

1) You really should go into any field having to do with art (that goes for music and film as well) because you can't help it. PERIOD. Anything to do with the arts and entertainment is a long tough road of sacrifice, competition, rejections and thick skin. People are CONSTANTLY telling you that you either should get a "real job" for the security, or that you should "grow up and get a grip", or that you just plain suck. Don't listen. EVER. If you quit, it probably means you should have never been there in the first place.

2) You have to believe so strongly in what you're doing that NOTHING will discourage you from doing it. And if you're doing it soley because you want to be rich and famous, GET OUT NOW!!! It doesn't happen that way!! TRUST ME. Do what you do. What you were BORN to do. What you most naturally do. What you would STILL be doing if you had all the money and time in the world. The success will follow. And, by the way, no matter HOW hungry you are, consider yourself "successful" because you're doing what you love to do 365 days a year, 15 hours a day. That's Success and very very few people in the history of the world have been blessed with that discovery and that joy.

3)Don't try to second guess "public" likes and dis-likes. Carve your own road. Do what you love to do and the world will catch up to you.

4) Draw, draw, draw. Then, draw some more then take a break. And be sure to draw on your break.

5) In the words of Winston- Never, ever give up. At the point you want to give up once and for all because you're sick of eating potatoes and sleeping on the floor, that's when ANYone would give up. Try not to be just anyone.

6) "Like attracts like". You start to notice that you attract the people and things and circumstances around you that you truly expect or believe you'll attract. This is how all of nature works, no exceptions. It's a Universal Truth and it's deep and it's profound and I discovered it about 2 years ago and I try to live my life by it but I'll leave it at that because it's too much to go into here.

7) Did I mention draw?
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Who are your influences?

I'd have to say THE major influence growing up was MAD magazine and I think that's typical of many cartoonists 25 years and older. I used to read and study and worship MAD magazine cover to cover (especially Sergio Aragones, Mort Drucker, and Don Martin). I also remember, of course, wearing out the Peanuts book collections.

As far as current influences, I mourn the absence of Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes), Berk Breathed (Bloom County) and Gary Larson (The Far Side) daily. And I like Peter Bagge's "Hate" comics as well.

I feel fortunate to personally know Scott Getchell (a fellow musician in Boston) and Hilary Price (Rhymes With Orange). I stalked Hilary for awhile because I liked her work so much and then, come to find out, we have the same book publisher and it went from stalking to a friendship. Nice to hang out with your idols.

I also got to know a lot of great people at the cartoonists' convention this year. I'm really new at the whole syndication thing so it's been a little weird.

I read as many comic strips as I can on the web when I have the time. I go first to the ones I like (Mother Goose and Grimm, Close to Home, Rhymes With Orange, Boondocks, Mutts, Baldo, Heart of the City, Garfield [yes, I still like Garfield. Sue me.], For Better Or Worse, Dilbert, Zippy the Pinhead, Robotman, Bizarro, Foxtrot and a few others I'm forgetting to mention).

Then, I move on to some I dislike (I won't mention them here. You can probably guess) just to make sure they still suck. And they always do. I love the art form and I always wish I had more time to browse and enjoy.
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How can I get a newspaper or website to carry "The Big Picture" daily or both daily and Sunday?

The absolute best way is to simply call or e-mail your local newspaper and get your friends and family to do the same. This has been done a few times for "The Big Picture" and it works. They will listen and my syndicate's crack sales team (I said crack sales team, not sales team on crack) is out there on the road pushing it to these people all the time. A lot of newspaper editors and publishers don't really give a crap about the comics all that much (a lot of them seem to like comics that don't "make waves") until they know it will sell more newspapers and advertising or if a particular comic strip is causing some kind of ruckus ("ruckus". is that a word?). The key is persistence with them.
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How can I get a newspaper or website to DIScontinue "The Big Picture"?

Same exact way you can kiss my ass. Try it.
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What if "The Big Picture" gets dropped from my newspaper or a website?

When this happens the only thing I can say that helps is to start a revolution. Call, write, rally your friends and Loved Ones. It works. A lot of papers even do what's called a "test drop" (how RIDICULOUS!!) to see if people will respond or not. Revolt. Period. Revolt. Change your last name to Castro. And revolt.
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