I’m off getting a magical new hip that will allow me to leap tall buildings in a single bound. While I’m recuperating in a place of dubious connection, here’s an interview I did in 2003 for the Post-Star of Glens Falls, NY. The cartoons were added in 2010 when I replayed the interview for Comic Strip of the Day.
It’s good that Rick Kirkman can chuckle about the way ‘Baby Blues” came about, because his partner, Jerry Scott, gets a very large laugh out of it.
The two longtime friends had decided to do a comic strip together, but couldn’t come up with a theme. Scott, who was about halfway through a 12-year stint drawing and writing “Nancy,” had just moved back to Arizona. And Kirkman, who had been doing cartoon illustrations for a variety of magazines including Redbook, Parents Magazine and various Children’s Television Workshop publications, was marking a milestone, too.
“My wife had just given birth to our second child,” he said. “I told Jerry, ‘I just can’t possibly do anything right now,’ because she was just impossibly high maintenance, She wouldn’t sleep, she wouldn’t eat, she cried all the time … “
New parents often feel dragged out by the pressures of a newborn, he acknowledges, but this was different.
“With the first one, all those sorts of colicky things went away, but with the second, not only did it not stop, but it got worse. It wasn’t just that she would only sleep for three and a half hours and then wake up once or twice during the night. She was up 10 times.
“Finally, I said to Jerry, ‘Okay, things aren’t changing, so let’s get together once a week and start talking about this.”’
They came up with what Kirkman admits were “a couple of lame ideas.”
“We had one that was about a guy who had two heads with different personalities. That one ran out after about a dozen strips,” he confesses. “And then we had one about two guys who would do anything for money, and we got even less possible material out of that one.”
These get-togethers were going nowhere, but they did have a sort of therapeutic effect. “Every session would end up with me unloading on him about all this stuff that was going on at home,” Kirkman explains. “I mean, you had to laugh or you’d just shoot yourself. And it went on like that for a year!”
When The Post-Star interviewed Scott in January, he gleefully described the moment of clarity: “There it was, right in front of us: Rick was just a mess, and I was fascinated by how this tiny little baby could so totally destroy this guy! And that was the birth of ‘Baby Blues.'”
That was a dozen years ago.
The strip began the day Zoe was born, and then, three years later, her little brother Hamish joined the family. In October of last year, Darryl and Wanda began to cope with a third child, newborn Wren.
This progression is not the result of a carefully strategized, “For Better or For Worse”-style master plan, Kirkman says. Adding Wren was simply a chance to keep chaos at the center of the strip.
“One day we realized they were getting pretty used to this parenting thing,” Kirkman says.”So we decided it was time to throw a monkey wrench into the works and see what happens.”
Kirkman’s artistic style helps to emphasize the frenetic atmosphere of the MacPherson household. Darryl and Wanda are often depicted not only stretched to their wits’ end but stretched beyond normal physical limitations as well.
“It’s the size of the noses: It makes it necessary for them to have a little extra stretchability to get things to work quite right,” he says .
Darryl and Wanda won’t ever stop stretching because their lives won’t ever slow down. They may be up to three children, but those kids will remain small, fast and hard to keep track of, Kirkman promises.
“We’ve kept (the pace of change) intentionally slow because we want to milk every possible joke about their lives for everything it’s got,” he says. “The strip was even slower at the beginning. Now maybe it moves at a pace of a ratio of about one to three.”
That pace not only works to keep the strip fresh, but it’s about right for its creators, too, Kirkman laughs.
“We don’t have to worry about them getting so old that they’re not funny anymore, because, by that time, we’ll be too old to write and draw it anymore.”