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The Cartoonist’s Cartoonists: Rick Kirkman

This week’s featured cartoonist is Rick Kirkman. Rick started out in advertising, freelance illustration and selling gag cartoons to magazines. In 1987, he teamed up with friend Jerry Scott for their second attempt at syndication. This second feature, Baby Blues, was inspired by the recent births of his two children. Baby Blues launched in 1990 and is now one of a dozen features that appear in over 1,000 papers. Baby Blues was awarded the National Cartoonists Society’s Best Newspaper Comic Strip in 1995.

Let me preface this by apologizing for so much of this being repetitive from others’ lists. On reflection, it also looks pretty provincial, but what can I say, most of these people were childhood influences.

Charles Schulz – Sparky was my all-time hero. I love looking at his pen work. From reading Peanuts, I think I absorbed pathos, especially as expressed through the face. And simple staging.

Bill Watterson – More than anything, I learned from C&H was how you can imply so much within a drawing without having to actually draw it. I still can’t do it, but I aspire to it. I came to that realization once when I was enlarging one of his strips to give to my wife because it reminded me of a story from her childhood. When I saw the drawing so big, I realized that what I thought was detail, really wasn’t. It was only the merest suggestion of detail. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the magic of Bill Watterson.

Jerry Scott – He is the most innately talented cartoonist I know. He can draw anything and make it look funny and effortless. If only I could be as loose with my drawings and as disciplined in my work habits…(sigh)

Garry Trudeau – He’s more than a cartoonist hero to me, just as Doonesbury is more than a comic strip. Ranging from viciously funny to heartbreaking, Garry has created something that’s not only always relevant to its time, but important and necessary as impetus for debate. I also admire his ability to maintain his razor-thin deadline for such a long time and survive

Bill Mayer – A fantastic freelance illustrator who spawned dozens of imitators. He switched to an airbrush (now digital) style and had an influence on me by opening up my eyes to unconventional anatomy-sort of like a cartoonist’s Picasso to me.

Johnny Hart – I went through a long period of trying to channel his style of drawing-that wispy, spontaneous line. And I loved the snappy dialogue.

Bill Plympton – I think his animation is so inspiring. It’s like watching visual free association. His stuff looks like it just pumped out of his brain right onto the screen.

Walt Kelly – was a childhood (and come to think of it, adulthood) inspiration with drawings you can lose yourself in.

(cheating) Mad magazine: Sergio Aragones -just sheer fun of drawing and playfulness; Don Martin – crazy,crazy,crazy and dark; Paul Coker,Jr. – clean style and character shapes; and Al Jaffee – the whole package.

(cheating again) Jack Ziegler and George Booth – I group them together because my exposure to them was in the same period. They’re able to go that one step extra into goofiness, but still keep a foot in reality.

(cheating yet again-I can’t help it!) – three men who showed me that a guy like me could make it in this business: Chuck Vadun – who died too young; Jared Lee – who took me under his wing in NYC and showed me the possibilities in freelance illustration; and the late Irv Phillips – who showed me how to make a buck at this.

Unfortunately, this list has to leave out a bunch-like Jay Ward, Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, B. Kliban, Sam Gross, Theodor Geisel, Peter Arno, James Thurber, Al Capp, Tom K. Ryan, Roz Chast, John Caldwell, who all had a shot at the list, but I had to draw the line somewhere (and I’ve cheated so much already).

Community Comments

#1 Rich Diesslin
December/10/2007
@ 2:24 pm

Love your work and enjoyed meeting you at the FCA conference! Thanks for the list and the insights. It’s not too surprising that many of the same cartoonists come up often … we are products of our time. Whoever influenced you, your drawings crack me up … the expressions your get on dad (especially), mom and kids are great.

#2 Tom Racine
December/11/2007
@ 12:04 am

I’m thrilled that someone mentioned Bill Plympton finally…I’m a huge animation fan, and his work has always blown me away. “Your Face” is still one of my favorite animated shorts.

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