Jan 16, 2014
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The "State of the Strips" Speech

Wednesday, January 15, 2014 - 06:06 PM

You may remember I wrote a long "State of the Strips" Speech in 2010, assessing how things were going when I reached the 3,000th SHELDON strip.

Well, we're now way past the 4,000th strip -- aaaand I've just turned 40 -- so it seems like an excellent time to take stock of how things are going. A new "State of the Strips" Speech for 2014, talking about where things stand, and what my five-year plan is for projects I'm working on:

In good news, I feel like the art -- especially the color and presentation -- of the SHELDON strips has begun to make a nice jump in aesthetics the last six months. One of those lovely breakthroughs that only happens every 5 or 10 years. So on that front, I'm feeling great about the strip.

In bad news, the film I've been working on has really, really limited my time for SHELDON these past two years. You've all been really kind about it, and no one's complained, but it's been driving me nuts. I hate to be so time-crunched that it's 2AM when I finish the day's work on the film, and then am too tired to get to the strip. It sucks. But thankfully, this should all start to turn around as the film makes its way into the world.

And happily, some great strips still managed to come out during this busy period. For example, I loved Totes McGoats, this Hobbit strip, this Lego strip, this ice cream strip, this coffee strip, this Klingon strip, and this "Cologne for New Parents" strip. These are some of my favorite Sheldon strips I've ever done, and they were all in the last few months. So the joy is still there, for sure: I just need more time to devote to the strip. And it's coming!

On a trickier front, I'm realizing it's time to explore new ways to "make a living" from SHELDON. The USPS rates have been ticking up, and show no signs of abating -- and it's having an impact on how many books you guys treat yourself to. And that's no good: Books and original art have been my bread 'n butter for the last 6 years. So it's time to explore new options. Don't be worried: I'm not going anywhere, and it's not like the light bill's not getting paid. I'm just letting you guys know that I can sense a change is coming in folks' comic-reading habits, and I've got to stay on top of it.

After years of work on it, and 70 interviews across the US and Canada, and thousands of hours of editing, and clearing 627 different pieces of art, photos and footage with different IP holders, our feature-length documentary on comics is finally ready to show to the world. It has been one of the highlights of my life to work on this film with my co-creator and co-director Fred Schroeder. Fred is such a talented dude, with a brilliant sense of humor, and I'm so happy to call him a friend.

I'll be talking more about it in a few weeks, but we're shortly going to be bringing STRIPPED out to the world. And I'm so excited for you to see it!

I don't know that I've ever been prouder of a project. It's come out REALLY GOOD. We've been invited to screen it for Dreamworks, and Pixar, and a few big video game companies -- and the feedback has been hugely positive. So I'm really happy about it.

It'll be interesting to see where the film goes, and how it does, and how it's received. All the stuff you can't anticipate. Not really. I mean, we've been planning for the release like mad…but these things sometimes take on a life of their own. So I'm excited to see where it goes.

Poor DRIVE has taken it on the chin while I finished the film. I started DRIVE as a personal passion project, but because of that, it was the one that had to be put on hold while the film was finished. But now that STRIPPED is wrapping up, I'm so excited to get back to it. I love, love, love this strip: I love the story, I love the characters, I love the whole thing. And we're about to get into a really interesting part of the tale. The war will become very real and up close for the main characters in the story.

And in the next 6-18 months, we'll be collecting the first three softcover DRIVE books into one hardcover collection (...of which there will eventually be three when the story's complete). I'm looking forward to making that: I've never done a hardcover before, and it'll be exciting to make a super classy one.

A few years from now, I'm also going to write a series of short stories set in the DRIVE universe, that I'll invite other cartoonists to illustrate. It'll be a fun thing to do, to hire my friends and peers…and even more fun to see what styles and approaches they bring to it. It'll be a fun collection of 10 or 15 short stories, in one bound volume. Some super serious, some super goofy. I think you'll like it.

On a recent trip to Ohio State's gorgeous new Cartoon Library -- which you should really see, btw -- I had a clear realization of a feeling I've been having. Looking through that museum, at some of the best cartoon art of the last 100 years, I realized I've grown very dissatisfied with the way I draw. "Bored," perhaps, is a better way of saying it. I like my style, but I'm searching for a way to bring more life into the drawings.

So I've been going back and looking at some of the artists whose art I respect the most: Low, Watterson, McManus, Thompson -- and seeing how they drew what they drew. And I've come to a decision: As time and life permits, I'm going to start incorporating a sable brush more and more into my drawing….and I'm going to teach myself watercolors.

I turn to both these techniques because they require the artist to, in some measure, give up control. If I look at my most "lifeless" drawings, I see they're lifeless because I tried too hard to control the line…to make it do exactly what I asked it to. That's great, but you end up with a technical drawing rather than a fun drawing. Sable brushes and watercolors will shake that tendency, real quick.

I may even bring the watercolors into SHELDON from time to time. Might be fun!

When STRIPPED has finished the bulk of it's life, there are a number of ways Fred and I would like to follow up on it. One, of course, is to edit and make available all the individual interviews. There's about 300 hours of them, in total. Another would be to pitch a longer, multi-part series on comic strips to PBS, A&E, Discovery, CBC or the like.

Another, and muuuuuch bigger project might also materialize. This one would also be a feature film, and also about comics, but would be a very different approach, and require a bigger budget. We find ourselves talking about it more and more as we wrap up STRIPPED, so we'll see! It would be a heckuva undertaking, if we do decide to do it, that's for sure.

In about 2-4 years, when things calm down a bit, I'm also going start on a new "mystery" project. I can't say much about it, other than to say... it'll channel a very different side of my creativity, it'll take me about a year to complete, and that it'll be super fun to do.


So that's it, friends. The "State of the Strips" on my 40th birthday!

Thank you for reading through this: I count myself lucky that I've gotten to meet so many of you, online and off, as the years have gone by. Even more lucky that my humble chicken-scratchins bring you a bit of joy. They bring me the greatest joy to create them, so I'm happy they find friendly faces out there in the world.

Please know how thankful I am, friends, that you continue to drop by. Your kindness, your means the world to me. And I don't ever take it for granted. You are awesome: Thank you!

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