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2014 Toronto Comics Art Festival: Part Six. Questions and Worship from the Audience

The sixth and final part is discussed below the cut.


Raina Telgemeier: If we could open it up to questions from the audience, we have a few minutes. And so, questions for Kate and Lynn? Or? And/Or? Yes?

Questioner: Lynn, we’re animation students, so I was wondering how the transition of having your comic strip turn into an animated series took. And for Kate, I’m actually at Nova Scotia as well, so I can relate to the thing, just having the one artist in your town, and I was wondering if that had an effect on your strips or just going home, like your environment?

Kate Beaton: Definitely. Do you want to go first?

Lynn Johnston: That was the most wonderful thing ever because you’re working with such a fabulous team of people. The background artists, the writers, the… And you do work with writers, you can’t just do it all yourself. The musicians, the…It was just the best thing and I remember when we did the very first show, walking down the hallway at Atkinson Film Arts and these rooms are filled with young people drawing my characters, and in the background I can hear the soundtrack going back and forth as they’re editing, and all of the storyboard is pasted up and down the hallway, and I stood in the hallway and I said, “Lynn, if you don’t stop right now and say this is the best time in your life, you’re crazy.” Because it really, really was. I loved working with all those talented, wonderful people. And the laughs we had. And people would go out of their way to get something right. Including one time we needed the sound of the head… Farley is sniffing the ground underneath a fire hydrant and when a cute dog goes by, he lifts his head up and hits his head on part of the fire hydrant, we needed that ‘pung’ sound. One of the guys even went into the basement of the studio and bonked his head on a pipe to see if he could get the right sound.

At this point, I have to find “The Bestest Present” on the youtube to see if the sound effect of Farley knocking his head on the fire hydrant because he sees the solid blue poodle does sound like a guy hitting his head on a pipe. After checking it, the answer is a definite “No.” However, to go on a tangent of my own, I noticed in the credits that Ralph Johnston got credit for directing the kids in their singing. That’s quite surprising because Lynn does not say one word about Ralph in Treasury #4 when she talks about “The Bestest Present.” She must really not like the guy.

Kate Beaton: And then I have a... I can’t believe I’m gonna tell you this, but you know when the Christmas specials come on and you live for the Christmas animated specials that come on then? Your Christmas Angel was one of the For Better or For Worse cartoons. And it was on late and I was supposed to go to bed and I threw a tantrum.

Lynn Johnston: Well!

Kate Beaton: And I was like way too old to throw a tantrum. I wanted to see it! Anyway, here we are.

Raina Telgemeier: Hey, did you get the second part of the question of do you need to…

Kate Beaton: You didn’t say, I heard it but… The question was about…

Raina Telgemeier: Going home.

Kate Beaton: Yeah, going home and the influence of having one artists, if you wanna repeat, if you want.

Questioner: I just think I can relate to the sentiment of being in a small Nova Scotian town that just one artist, it wasn’t a very artistic. So I just wondered, going back to that after being thrown into this world, is it different? How does it feel?

Kate Beaton: Oh, they’re all really proud, and that’s great. I remember being in the guidance counsellor’s office and I was like, “I wanna go into animation.” And they were like, “Do you mean science?” I had no idea what to do. They’re like, “You mean nursing? Teaching? Yes? Fishing?” And… No, but they are really proud but they don’t…It’s just a small place that they don’t understand…I remember like, “I was in the Comics Journal,” and they’d be like, “I have no idea.” But I was on the Rolling Stone… The Rolling Stone made like a list of like 50 comics and you could tell I think that when you look at that you’re like, “Oh, some intern made that list.” And it didn’t register as a big deal for me but I posted it to my mom’s Facebook wall because she likes to be proud, but she won’t ever be like, “This is what my daughter did.” So you have to do it for her. So I was like, “Look at this, mom” And then everyone’s like, “Oh my God, congratulations to both of you.” They’re so… They just heard of that before, and that’s why it’s a big deal to them but… Oh year, I was in the New Yorker, and I told that to someone who was doing like a shuttle bus driving through my village, and I was like, ”Yeah, the New Yorker.” And he was like, “Ah, that must be some kind of like New York magazine, is it?” It is. You’re not wrong. Anyway, the painter, though, he always… His name is Peter Rankin, and he paints a lot of rural imagery type stuff. And he was always very supportive because he picked me up from an early age, and we went to some art classes that he taught. And he was like, “You’re good at this.” And I was like, [excited breath]. And he sort of kept up with it and that’s fantastic. And I catch up with him when I go home now. And it means a lot because you don’t take that kind of thing lightly, it’s someone telling you that it’s worth it when you’re really young to do the thing that you love best. Because being an artist, there’s all kinds of people who be like, “Why? It’s not a good idea.” And having people believe in you is a huge thing. So it’s great. Where are you from?”

I really liked this answer. She hits it on the head that kids need encouragement from people they respect and often those people are not their parents.

Questioner: Bridgewater.

Kate Beaton: Oh, right on. With the three churches. Yeah. Cool.

Raina Telgemeier: Alright. Another question? Oh, there’s a microphone. Should we form a line behind the microphone?

Kate Beaton: I thought that was part of the…

Raina Telgemeier: Yeah. That would be…Okay cool.

Lynn Johnston: Really, really useful.

Questioner: Hi.

Raina Telgemeier: Wow, it works.

Questioner: Miss Johnston, your comics are legendary, wonderful, and I’m just so glad I get to thank you right now.

Lynn Johnston: Thank you.

Questioner: And, Miss Beaton, I’ve not read your work before but, I think after this, I most certainly will. Miss Johnston, my name is David. And what always struck me about your comics were that they were so much more detailed and better illustrated than all the other comics including Jim Davis’ stuff. Was it something you set out, said, “I want to be the most detailed,” or was it just the world you had to create had to be that detailed?

At this point, I suspect the questioner is just talking about humour comic strips, because if you want detail in drawing, any of the dramatic strips like Mary Worth, Judge Parker, Prince Valiant, etc. have it all over Lynn for detail.

Lynn Johnston: It became more and more detailed as time went on. And it started with the animation because they actually have to have floor plans of the houses. And they have to have an aerial view of the streets and the towns that you live in. If you were in animation, you know how detailed these things have to be. If somebody turns right from the kitchen to go to the living room, it has to be that way all the time. And so that started me with the detail. And I wanted to do it so that I could see it myself in every dimension and also show others how real it was to me.

Questioner: And in addition to that, your level of background detail, say, compared to Peanuts, where essentially it’s a white background, or Garfield where you have just one colour in the back, you have quite a few… You have a picture also of plants, also a glass of water. That verisimilitude is remarkable. Was that something conscious as well?

Lynn Johnston: Well, that actually was a tip of the hat to Len Norris who was the Vancouver Sun illustrator. And also… Well, I don’t know Doug Wright, there’s a lot of people who put extra things in the background so that you can…It’s really a home, it’s really a table with glassware on it and… Yeah, I enjoyed that. Yeah. But thanks for noticing. Actually, the people who helped me with the art, the inker, and I have a wonderful friend who does all the colouring, they hated comic book shops and drug stores and anything that had rows and rows and rows of things. They all had to be little coloured in. You know like at the grocery stores, all that stuff, they hated that.

Lynn got close to answering the question. The detailed work the guy is talking about is actually the work of her inker and her colourist/grayscaler. In the early days when it was just Lynn, sometimes she barely had anything more than talking heads. What happened to the art was Lynn’s success. She made enough money where she could hire people to help her do the art and with each person she added, the more detailed and complex the art got, to the point where Lynn eventually started complaining her art was too sophisticated.

Questioner: I’m a doctor and I also hate drug stores, too. Thank you.

Questioner: I have a question for Lynn. Out of all the comics that you did for For Better or For worse, which one was your favourite? The one that you liked the most out of all of them?

Lynn Johnston: Well, there was only one that I ever framed of my own and it was done right away at the very beginning. And it’s Elizabeth outside wearing her snowsuit and the snow is coming down and she’s saying, “Look at this, it’s snowing. God made this happen just for me.” Nothing really that you would write home about. But for some reason, that one is the only one that I ever framed but it’s not by far my favourite. But, thanks for asking it. I mean, if you have a favourite, then you shouldn’t be in the business, because it means you’re never going to come up with anything else.

Lynn gets harsh on favourites. I think since she is done drawing, she doesn’t have to throw out this pretentious nonsense line anymore. This is the strip from 1986 and it’s angels and not God.



Questioner: Thank you.

Lynn Johnston: Thank you.

Raina Telgemeier: Thank you.

Questioner: I wanted to know, it’s a question for both of you, which was the name of the very first comic that you made?

Kate Beaton: I used to make comics with my sister. And it was a weird process where we would draw the pictures and not write any words and then trade and see if the other one could figure it out. Actually, it didn’t have a name. The main characters had names. And we would work together on that and laugh our heads off. And it was probably the best time I ever had making comics. Yeah.

Lynn Johnston: I used to draw comics when I was young. And the problem when you’re young is that your brains go faster than your hands can go. And so, in your head, you will have finished the story but your hands will only have drawn maybe three panels. And it’s very, very difficult when you’re young to do comics that other people can read the way you do. Because your mind is going so much faster, just because that’s the genius of being young and being able to imagine so clearly that….And it’s really difficult. But I drew… I guess…We had budgie birds, and I drew budgie birds and people, and budgies in clothes and budgies with feet and high heels. They were weird. So my head was going somewhere and my hands were going somewhere else.

The snarky comment is that Lynn never actually got past that point. After all, we readers were supposed to read between the lines to understand what Lynn failed to put in the story. However, I get what she means. You have to go back through your material and proofread to make sure the story in your head is the story on the page.

Raina Telgemeier: Thank you.

Questioner: I had a question for Ms. Beaton, which I hope doesn’t sound stupid in light of the “You shouldn’t have favourites,” thing that Ms. Johnston said. But I noticed in Hark! A Vagrant, you write a lot of comics based on real historical events or real historical people.

Kate Beaton: Yeah. Yeah.

Questioner: And I just wondered if you had a favourite real event in history that is just so ridiculous, you were like, “I have to draw this right now.”

Kate Beaton: Yeah, but I can’t draw it because it’s already too ridiculous.

And Lynn is about to prove that the Rob Ford scandal actually managed to make it to her ears.

Lynn Johnston: It’s Rob Ford?

Raina Telgemeier: We have to hear about that.

Here is a link to the story Kate Beaton is about to tell. She gets many details wrong, but being a fan of her work I know that she researches all of her historic stuff, so if she were to ever do a strip on this, it would be accurate.

https://journals.lib.unb.ca/index.php/acadiensis/article/view/10845/11667

Kate Beaton: No. No. It might be surpassed by Rob Ford, but no. When St. John’s Newfoundland was a brand new city and didn’t have any people living in it, there was a ship full of convicts coming from Dublin or somewhere called the Charming Nancy. And it was bound for New England which was still… Had penal colonies at the time. But there was an outbreak of typhoid or something on the ship, the convicts were all sick, so the captain was like, “No, we’re just gonna dump them in Newfoundland instead. We’re not gonna tell anyone.” They just dumped all of these convicts on a shore within walking distance of St. John’s. And there’s not phone or… They’re just like… St. John people were just eating their breakfast and all these convicts….Came out of the woodwork and were just drinking their liquor and causing havoc. And people were like, “Oh, it’s winter, maybe you want a coat.” But then they would sell the coat for more liquor. And all the… They turned around, all the convicts and all the women disappeared because there were not that many women in St. John’s at the time. And….

Lynn Johnston: You should do it.

Kate Beaton: I know, I know. It was the first time that St. John’s as a city had to get its stuff together and write to London and be like, “Excuse me, all these convicts are here.” And London was like, “That doesn’t sound like it’s our problem.” And then they figured it out eventually, but it’s just an amazing story. And if I try to make that into a comic, it would just be that, it’d be a thing that happened. So I haven’t done it. It’s pretty great.

Lynn Johnston: I see where you made about how it’s already so ridiculous. How do you write that letter as a city, “Excuse me…”

Kate Beaton: Yeah, exactly.

Lynn Johnston: “You dropped a bunch of convicts on our front door.”

Kate Beaton: How do I parody that? You don’t.

Questioner: Thank you.

Kate Beaton: No problem.

Raina Telgemeier: And this will be our last question.

Kate Beaton: Yay! Okay.

Questioner: Pressure. Well, you both have a very distinctive illustrative thought style that is just kind of… It’s unforgettably your style, and I’m just wondering as an illustrator, who do you credit…Who or what do you credit most with the development of that visual style? And do you ever feel that in the course of coming to the style that it is today, it ever changed really drastically? And if it did, was that a conscious decision or just something that came out of practice?

Kate Beaton: I feel like if I have a personal style, it came into sort of relative isolation because I didn’t have access to too many types of art or comics or things, I guess. You just sort of… I spoke with Jillian Tamaki about this once before and there’s kind of a really good style that people seem to have these days, and it’s amazing but it’s all kind of the same style because they’re all just sort of cliff-noting each other.

Lynn Johnston: Like Manga?

Lynn wants to launch into her usual tirade about Manga, but Kate cuts her off.

Kate Beaton: No, no, more like a certain illustration type, and everybody’s got the same Photoshop tricks and everybody’s got the same sort of shorthand for expression and that kind of thing. And I drew by myself all the time and that’s kind of how I would attribute the style coming in. It’s really hard to say where you get it from because everybody has influences. But I’ve often thought about that because that question of how you develop the style comes up as though it was a conscious choice. It was never really for me, but it has been for other people who say, “I’m going to change what I’m doing right now.”

Lynn Johnston: I think if you are young, you copy quite a bit.

Kate Beaton: Yeah, definitely.

Lynn Johnston: I was influenced by Mad Magazine and a lot of other stuff that I read and saw, but by the time you’re putting work out there with your name on it, it has to be uniquely yours.

Kate Beaton: Yeah. It’s… Copy, yeah.

And around this point, Kate Beaton loses respect for Lynn’s artwork and just says, “Yeah.”

Copying to learn art. This is definitely what Lynn did. When you look at the art she did for her first book “David, We’re Pregnant!” you can see that her art style was definitely not the Schulz-influenced art that permeated her art when she began “For Better or For Worse”. I was the same way in drawing when I was young. I wanted to draw pictures that looked like Jack Kirby or Neal Adams, and so I imitated the way they drew things. And then I heard a presentation by a comic book artist named Jim Starlin, who told all the art geeks in the room that if they wanted to be a real artist, they needed to stop imitating other artists and spend time drawing what they saw in real life. I thought it was pretty good advice.

Kate Beaton talks about the standard style of comic art and she does have that right. Lynn Johnston’s style of using drawing shorthand is the same as her predecessors. Likewise, if you look at Manga, you can see there is a shorthand used by those artists that is common to that art, but different from the stuff Lynn does.


Lynn Johnston: Well, that’s how you learn right at the very beginning.

Kate Beaton: Yeah. Oh yeah, definitely.

Lynn Johnston: Or you absorb what you love in other people’s work and then it rolls around in your lottery balls and out comes your own set of numbers.

Kate Beaton: Yeah.

Questioner: Thanks very much.

Kate Beaton: No problem.

Raina Telgemeier: Please, thank me…. Or join me in thanking Kate and Lynn.

Kate Beaton: No, thank you, Raina.

Raina Telgemeier: And thank you all for being here tonight.
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  • 13 comments

  • Tuesday, August 21

    ... Panel one: "Candace, why are you being so negative?" Snork. I think the word we're looking for is "realistic", Liz. And Candace is forced to…

  • Wednesday, June 6

    Panel 1: Well, wow! Liz showing an interest in someone besides herself! And Candace is still a free spirit. Good for her. And look how relaxed…

  • Sunday, April 15

    Panel 1: Great. Those Wacky Pets. What is it with Pattersons, that they can't accept the fact that animals are the way they are, and do the things…