Today, Steve Boreman’s new feature Little Dog Lost is launching nationally. I had the opportunity to speak with Steve while I was in Ohio for the comic symposium. He’s funny and witty in person and his new feature is impressive as well.
LDL is a deceptively subtle strip in almost every regard. The premise of a lost dog is simple yet affords Steve the opportunity to take his characters wherever a story-line might take him. The first month samples are spent laying the premise and introducing the cast of characters – a tortoise named Vernon, a beaver, a crow and vulture who are not-so patiently waiting for the dog to die, and lastly and a woodpecker to round out the cast. Each of these otherwise average animals allow Steve to use them to speak metaphorically on larger issues. For example, with the beaver character, Steve can write about living in a society that is constantly building and sprawling as the beaver is constantly building dams and tearing it down. In another strip, the beaver explains how much he loves to eat trees of every kind. In the last panel he walks away satisfied after eating a tree but Steve pulls the frame back and you see a bunch of trees gnawed down at the base leaving the trees susceptible to being blown over – perhaps symbolic of the danger we place ourselves because of our culture of consumerism.
LDL’s subtleness also applies to the writing (the above example would be a good one). The first time I read through LDL, I found little to get excited over and I wondered who was the star of the strip (the vulture often steals the show). But on a second read days later, I found myself enjoying the feature very much – even chuckling out loud. What might be the strip’s greatest strength (subtle gems of humorous insights), might also be its weakness. If one is inclined to read through the funny pages quickly expecting gags to be hand delivered without any required thought, then you might not find this feature funny. If you can slow down and enter into the feature’s world, you’ll quickly love this strip.
One last thing that I enjoyed about Steve’s new strip. The artwork is very loose and simple which adds a bit of charm and personality that enhances the premise of the strip.
If LDL is in your paper today, I highly recommend you give it a spin or look for it on the web.
Below is a few questions that I leveled toward Steve that he was nice enough to respond to. I thought perhaps you’d find them interesting as well.
1. How long have you been working on this strip?
I’ve been working on it steadily since May of 2004 but I was actually writing daily storylines as early as spring of ’03. My earliest sketches of the dog and even some gags that made it to finished strips go back to 2001.
2. Where did the concept of Little Dog Lost come from?
I’m not sure where the idea for a lost dog came from directly. I’m interested in telling little short funny tales, which are usually just reactions to my own surroundings. I tend to write a lot about differing points of view and how we don’t all see the world in the same way. I guess you could say the strip is about that. The lost dog seemed like a good everyman to use for the strip’s point of view.
The beginnings of the strip grew out of these great walks my wife and I would take after work. We’d talk about all sorts of topics. I found myself coming up with a lot of cartoon fodder from those conversations. The strip really gelled when the Vulture showed up. I had named the strip by that point and outlined a detailed story about how the dog got lost and even written several weeks worth of dailies. Then I watched a Donald Rumsfeld press conference. I had trouble understanding what he was saying. I wasn’t sure if he understood it, actually, or if he even meant was he was saying. So I turned off the TV and went out on the front porch to sketch this long story about the dog. Instead, I drew a vulture on a telephone pole advising the dog on when it’s safe to cross the street. At first, it seemed like I was just having a bad reaction to C-Span but I thought, what the heck, let’s see where this conversation goes. The Vulture had a lot more things to say to get the dog out into traffic and the dog, of course, wasn’t going to take a vulture at his word. So it just kept going. I thought I might come back to that original storyline I was working on but I haven’t yet.
3. Where do you envision the strip going?
Wherever it wants to. I don’t have a big story arc I’m following. I just write down what strikes me at a particular time and then follow the dog. I like to think of the strip as a collection of fables. Little Dog Lost isn’t only about a dog trying to cross the street while a vulture watches. It’s a traveling strip so the dog has lots of stories. And there are opportunities to bring in a lot of other animals down the road and to visit other locations. So it’s wide open. When I introduce different animals, I try to stay true to each one’s particular nature. I don’t want to just arbitrarily slap some human trait on something just for the sake of a gag. Setting up a scene and then asking how a real goose or crow or beaver might react to it really helps fuel the gags and characters. It’s a gag-a-day strip but I want the humor to come from the character relationships instead of one-liners.
4. What’s your cartooning background?
I tried to sell gag cartoons full-time when I first got out of college. I starved. I did some freelance illustration and greeting card work for a couple rough years. Then I met Lee Lorenz when he was still at The New Yorker and he invited me up to see his office. I left him a couple dozen cartoons which he promptly returned to me. But instead of a rejection slip, he had put sticky notes with a critique on every cartoon. That was invaluable. I looked at my work much differently and, lo and behold, started selling. Not to The New Yorker, mind you, but I’ve done okay freelancing. I’ve done a lot of newspaper work and some magazine ads and CD covers. Some limited animation too. And retail store design. You wouldn’t think there was a lot of cartooning involved in store design but I lucked into working at a firm called Chute Gerdeman which turned me loose on Walt Disney’s Polynesian resort and the M&M’S World stores in Orlando and Times Square. It seemed like those jobs were tailor-made for a cartoonist. I did the giant character work and graphics in those stores. A real treat to work on.
5. How are you adjusting to producing a daily comic strip?
It is amazing what a daily deadline does for your art and your writing. You learn very quickly that you have to tell your story concisely – not only in a few days or panels, but in few words and lines as well. I tend to be a pretty verbose guy so that’s not always natural for me. My editor’s a great help in that regard. I have a particular schedule that folds in around my family and my dayjob. I follow a to-do list that’s the same every week. I tick off the tasks as I complete them, then I erase the checkmarks every Monday and start up again. A gigantic calendar is a help too.
6. Your artwork looks appears to be spontaneous (loose â?? not computerized). What do you use to create your artwork?
I use two fountain pens and your basic copy paper. It makes me cringe to think about how cheap this paper is. I don’t even use the best copy paper – I go for the Staples brand because my ink doesn’t bleed on it. I did begin with finer papers but just knowing your paper is the good stuff can make your line timid. I had to find paper like my sketch book to keep the line spontaneous. So on this strip, the inexpensive materials have been really an important part of the development. I usually do very loose pencils to start, but often just begin with ink. I also do a lot of tracebacks because I screw up when I go right in with ink. But that’s all part of the personality of the strip. I do add color and set the type on a computer. I had to make a font of my own handwriting because my real-time handwriting is apparently illegible to anyone who isn’t me.
7. Do you have a dog upon which to draw inspiration?
We just lost our dog last summer. I knew him for 12 years and he was big and funny and just perfect. He showed up in my freelance work and sketchbooks but I never drew him in the strip. I think I’ve drawn a good deal from not having him around anymore, actually.