John Kerschbaum took some time to answer a few questions about his influences, his career, his involvement with the indie collection Act-i-Vate and his future plans.
MTVGeek: Tell us about the origin of Cartoon Boy. What’s the inspiration behind the strip?
John Kerschbaum: Back in the early 90’s I worked for one of the major newspaper comic strip syndicates. My job was to do the corrections the syndicate editors wanted on the strips that the cartoonists sent in. (At this time, all the art came delivered in the mail. So the corrections were done, for the most part, right on the artist’s original work prior to it being shot for reproduction. Nowadays, obviously, it’s all done digitally.) I learned a lot about the business of comics. Despite this, I decided to take a shot at doing a weekly feature but promised myself that I would try and break every “rule” the syndicates had at the time. So I had a main character that not only smoked but was, in effect, just a cigar. In addition to having a “gag a day” I also made it a continuity strip, another big no-no. While I knew I could not get away with profanity, I stuffed it with questionable puns and sexual innuendo. I just wanted to see the reaction it got. I wasn’t surprised there were no takers.
Geek: On your website it says that you submitted Cartoon Boy to newspapers. What was that process like?
JK: Well, I submitted it to the comic syndicates at the time. (Universal, King Features, Creators, etc.) Only Jay Kennedy at King had any interest, in fact, he really loved it, but he really couldn’t do anything with it. He believed that it was such a hard sell that the King sales team wouldn’t even bother trying. The other syndicates, including the one I worked for, sent standard rejections.
Geek: How did you get involved with Act-i-vate?
JK: I met Dean Haspiel many years ago. We lived in the same Brooklyn neighborhood for many years. He had given me an open invitation to submit to Act-i-vate when they first were launching the site. So when I decided to resurrect Cartoon Boy last year as an online weekly I approached him and asked if he still had some room there for me. I’m grateful he did as I’m sure the strip got a lot more exposure riding the coattails of all the talented folks there than it would have if I’d posted them on my own site or blog.
Geek: How did your style evolve. What are your influences?
JK: Ha! I’m not sure I’d call it “style!” My greatest influence growing up was MAD magazine, in particularly Don Martin. As a teen I subscribed to National Lampoon, Heavy Metal and The New Yorker. S.Gross, Gahan Wilson, B. Kliban, Charles Addams and William Steig were all big influences on me. I also watched a lot of cartoons on TV, especially Looney Toons. Oh, and Ziggy. I thought Ziggy was hysterical.
Geek: According to your website, you’ve worked for some large publications, how does that compare to dealing with the world of independent, online comics. What’s your take on the future of digital comics and digital distribution?
JK: The most obvious difference is the freedom you have. Generally speaking, when I take an illustration assignment, I know that my job is to please the editors and the art director. Sometimes they’ll tell you exactly what they want. Sometimes they only know what they want when they see it. They might ask for changes or make suggestions that will make you cringe. But you do it anyway. That’s the nature of the job. There’s a lot of give and take. Comics for me, whether online or traditionally published, is a more personal affair. That’s where I get to let my imagination run wild and answer only to myself. But I enjoy doing both. They each come with there own set of challenges and rewards.
Geek: What are you working on now? What’s next?
JK: I’m in the early stages of an all-age graphic novel that I think will be quite different from anything I’ve done before. It’s an action/adventure/mystery kind of thing. But it’s too early in the process to say much more than that. I’ve got two children’s books that I’m currently trying to find publishers for. And I have another Petey & Pussy book planned.
Geek: What are your thoughts on the future of digital comics?
JK: I’m not sure. I’m not all that knowledgeable about it. I mean I’m kind of old-school (that is, old). But it would appear that digital is the future. Certainly, you have to have some online presence if you’re going to try and be a cartoonist. And the web is an effective and inexpensive way for one to get their work seen by many people. Whether print will die out completely (or is already dead) I couldn’t say. But it’s not looking too healthy right now. I know that as a reader, I prefer print. But the internet is undeniably a great way to find out and sample someone’s work before you plunk down your hard-earned cash on it.
Geek: Is there any more Cartoon Boy on the horizon.
JK: Oh, yeah. There’s lots of Cartoon Boy in the works. Hopefully by the the end of this run on MTV Geek, I’ll have his next “adventure” (vs. The Fiddler!) ready to go online.
Read the first three Cartoon Boy adventures right here and check back over the next two weeks for parts 4 and 5!