CSotD: Profile – Wiley Miller

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.

Wiley Miller has mixed feelings about “Non Sequitur’s” new position on the editorial page of The Post-Star.

“You really want to have a spot where people are going to find you,” he says. “Garry Trudeau (creator of “Doonesbury”) says he prefers to be on the comics page because more people will read you there. Not as many people get to the editorial page.”

If his feelings are mixed about his strip’s new placement, he’s mystified to learn that “Doonesbury” haters in a recent Post-Star poll identified “Non Sequitur” as a favorite strip.

“That’s ironic, because the only (negative) mail I get is from people who perceive themselves as conservative,” he laughs, adding that he considers “liberal” and “conservative” labels to be nonsensical anyway.

“Not one side or the other has all the answers. Most people say, ‘Well, I agree with this position on that issue, but I agree with that position on this other issue,'” Miller says. “I have a problem with people who stop thinking for themselves and simply take the official line. Conservatives are not always right and they’re not always wrong, and neither are liberals. Think for yourself!”

“Non Sequitur” frequently punctures foolish conformity and group-thought, and even features a recurring character named “Obviousman,” a dumpy superhero who points out the clear flaws in lazy thinking.

To keep himself from the traps he lampoons, Miller has structured his feature to avoid staleness. The strip’s name is Latin for “it does not follow,” a phrase normally used to attack poor logic, but which, in this case, also indicates a refusal to fall into a rut.

Although there are recurring characters like Obviousman and the sardonic little girl, Danae, who is patterned on his real-life daughter, the strip has no set format. If one theme doesn’t seem inspiring at the moment, he can go another direction entirely without departing from the pattern.

“Every comic strip has a creative lifespan, after which it is just repeating itself,” he says. “I created this format as a means of allowing it to continue to remain fresh longer.”

Not only can he leap from current events to history to domestic humor, he can also go from a single-panel to a multi-panel strip without upsetting readers.

His fans know that “Non Sequitur” is apt to be different every day, so there’s no sense of disorientation when he changes subjects, timing or format.

For that reason, the question of whether “Non Sequitur” is a gag strip or an editorial cartoon is largely irrelevant. It doesn’t even matter whether it is a horizontal strip or a vertical panel: Miller pioneered an artistic technique of producing each day’s comic in both formats, adding a flexibility that increased the number of newspapers that could fit it onto their pages.

His eagerness to challenge the obvious and established has earned Wiley Miller a reputation in syndicate circles for being brilliant but difficult to work with. Though he seems surprised at the notion, it isn’t one he rejects. Lack of creativity at the syndicate level is part of the business, he says.

“I’ve always told people trying to break into this business not to listen to what syndicate executives say they want,” Miller says. “If they were any good at figuring out what works, they’d do it themselves. They’d just hire someone to draw it. Instead, they try to follow the latest trends, which means they’re always behind the times. They fear new ideas because they’re afraid of making mistakes.”

It’s a formula for failure, he insists. “You have these cartoonists who want to get syndicated so badly that they’ll do whatever the syndicate wants, but, if it’s not your own vision, if it doesn’t flow naturally, you’re going to end up burning out quickly.”

Of course, following your own vision isn’t the easiest path to syndication and success, Miller admits. But, by his logic, the only way to succeed is to ignore the well-beaten path to commercial success.

Even if that seems a bit of a non-sequitur.

One thought on “CSotD: Profile – Wiley Miller

  1. Wiley Miller seems to have his finger (or toe or ear) on the “pulse of human hilarity/sarcasm” and he relates the results so perfectly. May “Non Sequitur” live forever (of course, that means Wiley’s gotta live forever, or else clone himself….).

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