TDC Interview: ‘Jane’s World’ Creator Paige Braddock

“Jane’s World” was the first gay-themed work to receive online distribution by a national media syndicate (United Features/ Paige Braddock is the cartoonist behind the long-running comic strip and TDC interviewed Paige as she prepared for the August 21st launch of her 20th Anniversary “Jane’s World” book from Lion Forge.
TDC: Forgive the ignorance, did Jane’s World first debut in newspapers?
It tested in a couple of newspapers but when it debuted back in 2001 it was a bit too gay for mainstream newspapers. I’ve wondered if it would actually work in papers now… Jane’s World isn’t nearly as “gay” as some of the stuff on prime time TV these days 🙂
TDC: Your new 20th Anniversary “Jane’s World” book hits the shelves in a few weeks. How did you go about going through decades of work and decide what to include? 
It was very stressful… And at first I selected way too much material. I really only had 300 pages to work with, so it forced me to pick my favorites… you know, Jane’s greatest hits.
TDS: 300 pages is a lot of comics. How many comics in total did you have to pick from? 
Twenty years of material! It was a daunting task. Plus, I’m too close to the material so I had to get some help initially. I reached out to Joel Enos, an editor here in the Bay Area. He read through the whole run and made suggestions about what to include. His help to make the initial pitch was invaluable.
TDS: Forgive the naïveté, but was Jane the first out-of-the-closet-gay-women lead character in newspapers (alternative or otherwise)? 
Well, Alison Bechdel did her much-loved comic “Dykes to Watch Out For” in alternative papers. She was about ten years ahead of me. I think Jane’s World was probably considered “gay light” compared to Alison’s work… or as one comic shop owner, Joe Ferrara said: “’Jane’s World’ is like Disney Gay.” Which made it possibly a little easier to cross over into straight readership territory. It sounds weird to even talk about content in these terms today because there’s so much more diversity in comic books now, but you have to keep in mind that Jane launched in 1995 … There wasn’t much gay content in mainstream outlets back then, and especially not in newspapers.
TDS: You look like Jane … but how much of JW is auto-biographical? 
Not very much. I mean, I draw an androgynous female lead, who wears glasses and used to drive a Jeep… that’s about where the similarities end. Jane and the rest of the cast are more like “friends on paper” than autobiographical. Jane’s roommate, Ethan, is based on my good friend and former roommate, Dean. And a couple of other friends make cameos.
TDS: If it’s not based on you, how do you sustain your creative interest? 
I’m mostly entertaining myself. I used to say that readers could tell when my life was boring because Jane’s life would get more exciting or crazy… I was vicariously living through her. Jane’s World started appearing daily in 1999 about the time I moved to California. I think I was homesick and a bit lonesome for all my pals in Atlanta so I really, literally, created friends on paper with whom I’d visit each night after work. And then the comic just sort of took on a life of its own.
TDS: Any thoughts on why there hasn’t been a mainstream daily syndicated comic with a gay lead character? 
Newspaper editors worrying that their readerships are too conservative. This may be a valid concern given the average age of newspaper readers, but it’s hard to say. It seems content in Newspapers has lagged behind other media outlets. 
TDS: Early on, what was your process for selling to new clients? 
Selling to alternative weekly papers was pretty easy because there just weren’t that many lesbian cartoonists in the beginning. There were only a few of us. And then Jane’s World started getting picked up by Yahoo News online. That was really when the online syndication income increased. As weekly papers began to close I decided to transition to comic books. I began to collect the comics and even write longer stories that would work in comic book format. There are currently 26 single issues of JW and 11 volumes of the trade paperback collections. There are 3 volumes of Jane’s World in French, 1 volume of Jane’s World in Spanish and it’s been randomly translated into 3 other languages for a range of anthologies. The field for storytelling in comic books is wide open… it was a good move for Jane’s World. That move allowed me to experiment with different formats although, in the end, I think I’m a comic strip cartoonist at heart, so that’s what currently appears online.
TDS: Does JW still run in print newspapers?
It only runs in comic book or book form now. Occasionally I get approached by weeklies, but it’s hard to manage those sorts of requests given the requirements of my day job. I’m a lot busier than I used to be!
TDS: Do you run JW anywhere besides GoComics?
 Only GoComics online and then comic shops and bookstores. 
TDS: What are the pros and cons of working with GoComics?
Well, I like that the site loads more quickly now. I’ve heard from some readers that they don’t like that they have to click off the main feature page to see the full comic sometimes. I think the comments section works well and I think the tech team is quick to respond when there’s a problem. (Usually when things don’t load properly it’s user error… ME.) I find that I add white space around my comics to give them a little more of a visual buffer away from the ads and general business of the design. I’m not sure if other cartoonists are doing that or not.
TDS: Your day job is working as Chief Creative Officer at Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates. That sounds like a big job. What does it actually mean? 
It’s gotten much bigger over the years. Last night I was working on a JW comic around 11:30 and someone from our Sony (the agent) office in Japan thought I might be up late doing my own work and emailed me via that account to ask if I’d review a product design for Peanuts. The boundaries of work life are becoming more blurred because of all the different time zones and everyone’s ability to work remotely. But, the short version answer is that we, the studio team, review all licensed Peanuts product from all over the world before it gets produced and shipped to market. We work with the Peanuts Worldwide licensing office in NYC. I manage a staff of 18 people, there are several cartoonists who work here, and writers and a sculptor… In May we had the highest number of product reviews we’ve ever had: 14,000 for the month of May (Yes, one month.) And now Peanuts has a new content partner, DHX Media in Toronto and thanks to DHX there are all kinds of new animation content projects in the pipeline for Peanuts. So, in all likelihood the numbers of items we review will just keep going up. 
TDS: Thanks, Paige. The new Jane’s World 20th Anniversary book is available for pre-order here.
Additional info:
There are currently 11 volumes of the “Jane’s World” in print. Braddock published the first novel inspired by the comic series, JANE’S WORLD: THE CASE OF THE MAIL ORDER BRIDE, in June 2016 with Bold Strokes Books. By day, Braddock is the Chief Creative Officer at Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates and she has illustrated several “Peanuts” children’s books. The Snoopy U.S.P.S. stamp that was issued in April 2001 was designed by Braddock. In 2015, she began publishing her own line of graphic novels for children with Andrews McMeel Publishing. These include: STINKY CECIL IN OPERATION POND RESCUE (2015), STINKY CECIL IN TERRARIUM TERROR (2016) and STINKY CECIL IN MUDSLIDE MAYHEM (2018).
See more Paige Braddock info here