Norm Feuti talks about his Gil comic strip reboot

Back in 2008, Retail creator Norm Feuti began posting a webcomic called Gill – a strip developed for syndication that didn’t get any takers. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one that found the strip well written and in a polished state. It was sad to see a strip that had a likable and relatable center character (kind of reminded me of Charlie Brown) being passed up because its humor about a kid in a less than ideal family was a bit too honest for a family paper.

Fast forward a couple of years and Norm is getting a second shot at taking Gil nationally. After it was announced on Monday, I dashed off a few questions to Norm about this go-around.

Here’s his responses:

AG: Okay an obvious questions. Gil or Gill? Why the name change?

NF: I originally chose the odd “Gill” spelling as a way to give an otherwise mundane name a bit of a unique quality, but during the web run of the strip the spelling just confused people. Fans would often ask why I spelled it that way, and the truth (just for the hell of it) felt like a dumb explanation. It turned into one of those things I always imagined I would change if I had it to do over again, and well … now I do.

AG: Is there any character change from the original strip? New characters, characters that were dumped?

NF: No characters were added. The only character that will be missing in the initial launch of the strip is Troy. Troy was mom’s boyfriend in the web version of the strip. I do plan on reintroducing him somewhere down the line, but I want the new audience for GIL to become familiar with the core characters in the strip before I add that dynamic.

AG: What was the impetus for resurrecting the feature and trying to get it into newspapers again? and when did you start the process in earnest?

NF: I set a personal goal for myself back in 2008 to get a second comic strip syndicated within 5 years. “Gil” was my first attempt at that. I followed that up with a strip called “Nelson,” and another called “Mr. Zimby” – you can see samples of both on my website. In mid 2010, I was creating yet another submission called “Fiona,” when I found myself trying to rework a lot of the same themes from “Gil”. It felt like a wasted effort before I got too far into it, so instead of trying to recapture that magic, I decided to make one last attempt with “Gil” instead. I created a new “Gil” submission, mostly using the best samples from the web run, and sent it to my editor, Brendan Burford, at King Features. He gave it the green light this time around, and I signed the contract with them in December 2010.

AG: Gil was well received as a webcomic – did you ever think about taking it down the webcomic path this time?

NF: No. Gil was designed as a newspaper comic. I went a little edgy with it on the web because I could, but ultimately I don’t see this particular strip becoming profitable within that business model – not inside a timeframe I consider reasonable at any rate.

AG: If I remember the reason cited that syndicates passed on it the first time was that it was too dark (maybe honest is the right word?) for the family newspaper. Did you have to change anything in order for it to be picked up this time?

NF: There were various reasons why the syndicates passed on the original “Gill” submission, but I got encouraging, constructive feedback from four different syndicate editors at the time. The consensus was that the tone of the strip was a bit harsh, and judging “Gil” only by those original samples I can see why it came across that way. Developing the strip further online was the best thing I could have done in retrospect. In doing so, I was far better equipped to show the potential of the characters and the strip as a whole this second time around.

As far as changing anything? Yes and no. This is a reboot of sorts. The characters and the premises are the same, but I’m reintroducing them with all new strips. I have to be mindful that I’m presenting the strip (dad in particular) to a general audience now, but the characters and the dynamics between them haven’t changed. I’m very happy with what I’ve come up with. I feel like this new incarnation of “Gil” is closer to its ideal form.

AG: Did you send this submission to other syndicates other than King Features? If so, what was the response?

NF: I sent the second “Gil” submission to King Features first as a professional courtesy. They said yes, so I didn’t submit it elsewhere. They gave me my start as a professional cartoonist, and I’ve enjoyed producing “Retail” for them for the last six years. I’m very happy it turned out this way.

AG: You have a blog now to chronicle the development process of the strip, but with a launch in January 2012, I’ve got think most of the development is done. What are the plans for the blog in the future once it launches?

NF: Yes, the development process is really finished at this stage. Our goal for the blog is to recreate some of our more interesting conversations from the development period as best as we can remember them. As cool as it would be to do such a thing in real time, it wouldn’t be very practical.

We haven’t settled on the form the site will take post-launch. We suspect it will be similar to the “Retail” site, but it’s still up in the air.

AG: You’re now going to be doing two strips. How are you going to balance the workload between the two?

NF: I’ve been taking notes from interviews with cartoonists like Bill Holbrook, Rina Piccolo, Mark Tatulli, and Corey Pandolph, who all produce two or more comics. The secret seems to be “routine.” I’m going to take that to heart and make sure I stick to one.

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