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2014 Toronto Comics Art Festival: Part Three. Advice, Insults and Medicine

The third part is discussed below the cut.


Raina Telgemeier: Do either of you feel a sense of responsibility, like to future cartoonists, to be a role model or a spokesperson or…

Kate Beaton: Yeah.

Raina Telgemeier: Anything?

Kate Beaton: You were talking about sexism before and I said that a lot of the things…I ignore a lot that comes my way. But I do feel that that’s a disservice to a generation of girls who are coming into comics without any idea that there are dark sides too…Isn’t it right? But there are still for women in almost every industry. You’re like, “Wow, comics are really bad. And the people in the Tech industries are like, “Not. It’s bad here.” Or in the academic industries, they’re like, “No, it’s here, the academics.” Or anywhere, right? So it feels cowardly to not say anything all of the time, but you have to pick your battles I suppose and decide what you’re gonna comment on. Because it does no good to just be like, “That’s somebody else’s problem,” because then you meet these young readers at comic shows and they’re like. “I wanna be a cartoonist.” And they’re adorable and you’re like, “Oh, okay.” “I wanted to be beautiful for you.”

Lynn Johnston: I’ve tried to help other people by having them send me their work and I’ve gone through it all and edited and worked with them and made suggestions and some have been very, very close to being syndicated. And they give up. And I don’t know what it is, I don’t know what it is.

The idea that Lynn knew when an artist was close to being syndicated is silly. She doesn’t hire for the syndicate. She never went through the process herself. Back when she had her shared podcast with Jan Eliot, she seemed genuinely surprised when Jan told her it took 10 years of submitting before she was syndicated. However, it is clear Lynn is getting ready to launch into her usual tirade about the lazy artists of the younger generation and watch as Raina shuts her down.

Raina Telgemeier: It wasn’t you, I can tell you that much.

Kate Beaton: No, there’s a culture definitely in this Internet age of some instant gratification. You put something up and people are like “LOL.” And you’re like, “Job done.” Good night. And nobody’s asking you to work three years on something, and then maybe it’ll work out. That just doesn’t happen anymore. I could see why they burn out, but then… Or when they feel like… Why they can’t…It’s hard to see the long term in that sense. When you see people whose comics come up on Tumblr and like, what gets the most notes and re-blogs, whatever? It’s probably not your best work. It’s probably the one that references like Benedict Cumberbatch. And then some of them are like, “Oh, that’s the good stuff,” it’s just the Benedict Cumberbatch. It’s not the mark of good quality, it’s just Internet stuff. And it’s hard to discern what’s worth it, I suppose. I definitely think there’s so much information and static and noise coming in and the real addiction that you can get to an immediate response, that it’s hard to see a long game. So, difficult but I understand.

Lynn Johnston: Somebody asked me today or yesterday whether I would…If I was a young artist now with all of the Internet potential there, would I still do what I’m doing? And I don’t think so. I think I would run an advertising agency where I would make money, because I’m good at that. But I’m not very good at handling nastiness. And some of the people that send you messages with….Their anonymous messages are so horrible. And even though you know they’re assholes, you just say, “Why am I doing this for you?” “Where are the really nice people?”

I think this is first time I had heard that Lynn wants to run an advertising agency, but it is very close to the original retirement plan idea she used to talk about in 2005. Her Toon Team was going to set up a promotions business that would use Lynn’s work as an anchor and then pick up other businesses, so that when Lynn retired, they could keep working on this other business and Lynn would occasionally stop by to do illustrations they needed from promoting her own business. That all ended when Lynn fired the lot of them in 2007-08.

Kate Beaton: Oh, yeah, yeah.

Lynn Johnston: You want your hand held and your head patted once in a while.

Not once in a while. All the time. That’s what she wants and if she gets something other than that, those persons are called assholes and Lynn wonders where the really nice people that compliment her all the time are. You would think having a panel in her honor with two young prestigious artists doling out lavish compliments to her would be plenty.

I read a comment from the AVbyte brothers (youtube people), where they talked about how they initially would read snarky comments about their material and get all upset about it. Then eventually they realized that the people who wrote the snarky comments were very clever folks and often cared the most about the material they were presenting on the youtube than the people who just doled out meaningless compliments. Lynn has not reached that point. It reminds me of the story of when composer Jason Robert Brown (Parade) made the mistake of telling Stephen Sondheim his true opinions of his show on opening night, only to be told by Stephen Sondheim that on opening night, no composer wants to hear the truth because that is when they are the most sensitive about their work. Lynn is like opening night Stephen Sondheim, except she’s like that all the stinking time!

And now Kate Beaton changes the subject to get Lynn out of the self-pity and also proves that she has been given a little Lynn biography beforehand.


Kate Beaton: What were you doing before you wrote “David, We’re Having a Baby?”

Lynn Johnston: “David, We’re Pregnant!”?

Kate Beaton: “David, We’re Pregnant!” The…

Lynn Johnston: I was a medical artist.

Kate Beaton: Yeah. Oh, great. Yeah.

Lynn Johnston: Yeah, it was an interesting job.

Kate Beaton: The end.

Lynn Johnston: Well, I did a lot of cartoons for the university, even though I was a medical artist and my job was to do guts and grafts and…

Kate Beaton: Guts and grafts. That department.

Lynn Johnston: I was really good at the plastic surgery art. I was interested in that.

Kate Beaton: That’s why you didn’t thought of coming to university. That’s what I did in those…

Lynn Johnston: Well, universities want comic art. They’re doing poster and invitations to things and this was a medical centre, so they wanted comics for the kids to colour in the intensive care. And so you’re always…if you can draw comics, they want you to draw comics and eventually you’re drawing comic guts. And I did, and I… And some of the students that make McMasters are still using my cartoons in Epidemiology and Biostatistics. So…

Raina Telgemeier: Oh, that’s great.

Lynn Johnston: Boring, boring. But being statisticians, they did a check to see if the kids looking at the cartoons retain the information more than the kids looking at the black-and-white images and…

Kate Beaton: And that they did.

Lynn Johnston: Cartoons won, so…

Kate Beaton: Comics are an amazing mnemonic device, that’s a fact.

And now Raina changes the subject off medical art and not too soon.
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