As written up on the Brew yesterday, Dumm Comics is a new daily comic site launched by some of the today’s top talents working in TV animation. All of the Dumm artists recently worked on Nickelodeon’s El Tigre!, and prior to that, their combined credits include The Buzz on Maggie, Ren & Stimpy: Adult Party Cartoon, Mucha Lucha!, Coconut Fred’s Fruit Salad Island, Brandy & Mr. Whiskers, Dexter’s Laboratory, The Ripping Friends and Teamo Supremo, to name just a few.
This past Tuesday, May 20, I conducted an online chat via instant messaging with all the comic artists involved in Dumm Comics: Luke Cormican, Ricky Garduno, Fred Osmond, Katie Rice, Gabe Swarr and Sean Szeles. Our conversation touches on a wide range of subjects: why a group of successful animation artists would choose to branch into comics, artistic influences, Cintiqs, their working process, and what’s wrong with the TV animation biz. To maintain the flavor of our rapid-fire anything-goes IM exchange, I’m presenting the discussion largely in its original form and with minimal edits.
Discussion follows after the jump.
Cartoon Brew: I was telling a friend that a bunch of people I know have started doing webcomics and I have to write about their Dumm Comics. She said, “Well they can’t all be dumb.” And I said, “No, their comics aren’t dumb, they’re called Dumm Comics.” Very Abbott and Costello. So why the name Dumm?
Gabe Swarr: Well, when I was in high school, i self published a comic book with my friend Steve Wheeler and we came up with the name then. Then when I published BPM, I used the name because I thought it was well suited
Luke Cormican: The name is totally ironic, though. Our comics are only meant for the intellectual elite.
Sean Szeles: and perhaps it works well because we’re all just doing this for fun and not trying to take ourselves too seriously
Cartoon Brew: Well let me ask a bigger why? Why’d you launch the site. You all have jobs in animation…and seem to be content…is it for fun or are there bigger objectives?
Ricky Garduno: not content
Katie Rice: it’s kind of for both reasons
Gabe Swarr: yeah we are always wandering from job to job
Fred Osmond: Having El Tigre canceled was a big motivator for me
Ricky Garduno: this is the first time in my life i feel i’m really doing something for myself…along with my best friends of course
Sean Szeles: I think it’s a small step to becoming more independent, and less reliant on the studio system for producing content
Katie Rice: Me too- it’s way too rare to get a job you really LOVE in animation. Being unhappy in your job makes it really hard to be entertaining or creative or productive.
Cartoon Brew: Do you view these comics as a launching pad to animated series or syndicated strips?
Ricky Garduno: I don’t see it as a launching pad. it’s kind of for the sake of itself.
Luke Cormican: It’s a possibility, but I don’t see that as the sole reason behind Dumm Comics. It’s more just to do our own thing and see if people like it.
Gabe Swarr: I’ve always loved comics too and always have some kind of project and teaming up was the best way
Katie Rice: yeah, it’s great having like-minded people to bouce ideas off of
Fred Osmond: that doesn’t mean we don’t plan on eventually doing some animation in the future though
Gabe Swarr: we just wanna have fun
Ricky Garduno: a lot of us have already had opportunities to come up with a show idea or pilot, this is more rewarding
Katie Rice: For sure!
Cartoon Brew: Is there a financial model supporting this or is it done without profit in mind?
Sean Szeles: I think it’s also a way to get more exposure for ourselves as artists so that more possibilites could possible arise in the future
Ricky Garduno: this actually gets done, and seen
Sean Szeles: yeah, we’ve all worked on too many projects that we’ve poured so much work and love into that eventually get canned or are not given the chance to get off the ground
Luke Cormican: I’d say it’s mostly a labor of love, with no clear financial model in mind. But a lot of webcomics do make money some how. But I don’t think it’s something we’re very focused on at the moment
Gabe Swarr: We are going to sell goods
Sean Szeles: yeah, money’s nice, but it’s not the be all end all
Big Pants Mouse by Gabe Swarr
Cartoon Brew: I want to go back to this idea of how it differs from the work you do in animation. While there’s nothing overtly outrageous in your comics, I noticed that a lot of the content in the comics couldn’t be done in your day jobs – the weapons in Skadi, the cartoon violence in 1930 Nitemare Theatre, the drinking in Through the Port-Hole…
Ricky Garduno: haha yeah
Katie Rice: That’s exactly it!
Ricky Garduno: yeah it’s like basic aspects of human life that are forbidden in kid’s cartoons nowadays
Katie Rice: There are so many rules when you work for a studio. It’s impossible to just go out and give your all. There’s always some sort of compromise.
Sean Szeles: it’s refreshing not to have to censor yourself
Katie Rice: We’re not out to shock anyone, we just want to be ourselves.
Ricky Garduno: exactly
Fred Osmond: There’s so much stuff on the internet that is “adult content” just because you can get away with it. so let’s not focus on that and just make something we like and are proud of
Luke Cormican: That’s a big part of the excitement of doing a personal project with no interference from “outside” sources. I don’t think any of use want to go overboard with the sex and violence. But it’s very refreshing not to have to censor ourselves.
Fred Osmond: yup
Gabe Swarr: we do have a loosely based rating though…
Sean Szeles: people have been drinkin, smokin, and fighting since the beginning of cartoons
Fred Osmond: something as innocent as a kid holding a “sparkler” I can do in my comic, but it’s something you can be sure would get noted on at one of the big studios
Luke Cormican: Yeah, our self-imposed rating system is roughly what’s seen in PG-13….or, what can been seen in Mad Magazine.
Katie Rice: right, we do have a loose PG-13 rule, because we want everyone to be able to read the comics, kids and adults alike
Gabe Swarr: …mostly because when we started forming the site we all talked about it and it did influence who we asked.
Ricky Garduno: we don’t want it to be super obscene or raunchy
Sean Szeles: well, i had to restrain myself
Katie Rice: none of us are really into doing hardcore porn comics or whatever…at least as far as I know…
Cartoon Brew: damn, i was wondering when the hardcore cartoon porn would show up
Fred Osmond: look for that in Cumm Comics launching next spring
Ricky Garduno: that’s the pay site
Katie Rice: it should be called Cumm Domics
Through the Port-Hole by Sean Szeles
Cartoon Brew: Getting serious again, I want to hear your perspective on this because you all work for the major TV studios. Why don’t we see anything that looks as cool or as funny in these comics in TV animation. In other words, why is there generally such a disconnect between the talent working in the art form, like yourselves, and the bland and unfunny cartoons that end up on TV?
Fred Osmond: we don’t have to worry about offending sponsors for one
Sean Szeles: too many cooks? too many people in the approval process?
Ricky Garduno: If anything, I hope this project gains us credibility as competent storytellers
Katie Rice: No artist WANTS bland cartoons on TV…I’m sure lots of tv cartoons start out as good ideas, but even with a crazy talented crew there are just too many restrictions. People aren’t allowed to do what they do best because the higher ups get too scared to take risks.
Gabe Swarr: Well, you might of heard it a thousand times, but if there are 40+ people you have to please, nothing stands out…
Ricky Garduno: I feel that the artists are nearly forbidden to come up with any ideas
Cartoon Brew: TV is cartoons by committee, Dumm Comics are cartoons by individuals…
Gabe Swarr: straight from my brain to their eyes
Luke Cormican: pretty much. and they’re not toned down for mass appeal.
Katie Rice: yeah, like what Luke said…each of our comics are SO different…none of us are trying to please anyone but ourselves, and hopefuly if we have fun making them people will have fun reading them
Ricky Garduno: they think that we are completely illiterate people
Gabe Swarr: the best part is the storytelling problems that exist
Cartoon Brew: To continue this thought, if each of you could do one thing to ‘fix’ tv animation, what would it be?
Sean Szeles: changing only one thing wouldn’t fix it I don’t think
Katie Rice: Sean’s right, but if I could get rid of the idea of a “creative executive.” There’s nothing wrong with executives and people to help manage budgets and all that, but when a non-creative person has the ability to overrule REAL creative people, that ends up horribly.
Fred Osmond: take animation off tv
Ricky Garduno: Take more chances. these cookie cutter shows come and go
Gabe Swarr: I would change the way they are made, first no corporations, next no unions, next no network execs, no ratings, etc.
Luke Cormican: I think getting rid of the committee system would be good. I’d love it if a studio was so bold to choose one leader with a vision to run the place. I think that’s how the best cartoons in history were produced.
Fred Osmond: I don’t think you can fix tv animation without first fixing tv
Ricky Garduno: the reason so many old shows get mined for movies remakes etc. is that back then people took creative chances. not any more
Katie Rice: Entertainment in general is a bit disappointing nowdays. being creative nowdays is knowing what old shows to take references out of
Gabe Swarr: I understand that the networks need to make money, but it seems that even when they are on top and making plenty, they won’t take any risks or stand behind a show–even if they love it
Katie Rice: like “oh, this is a mix between ferris bueller and pee-wees playhouse” or whatever
Ricky Garduno: and the reason for that is because the old shows were good and they were original. that’s why everything is a retread
Gabe Swarr: if you have a spongbob that has crazy ratings and you can’t beat those ratings with your next show, that next show is a failure to the shareholders…
Ricky Garduno: I say make a bunch of different stuff, air it and see what sticks. Don’t hide it away for years and show it only in little tiny test rooms.
Earthward-Ho! by Fred Osmond
Cartoon Brew: Let’s talk comics now. I was going to ask you to each provide a brief summary of your projects, but then I found this webpage that already did that. So let me ask you this instead? Can each of you talk things that influenced you in coming up with these ideas? These could either be artistic or thematic/narative influences. And please don’t say Drabble or Marmaduke.
Gabe Swarr: “Cathy”
Katie Rice: mine is “family circus”
Gabe Swarr: Amid, Big Pants wouldn’t even exist now if you didn’t ask me to do a comic in Animation Blast!
Ricky Garduno: 1930 Nitemare Theatre is just all my favorite things rolled into one. speaking of retreads I hope no one sees it as a flat out Fleischer ripoff, which it is.
Luke Cormican: Well, Katie and I are both huge fantasy nerds. We like everything for Lord of the Ring to Conan to ancient mythology….plus, we love cartoony cartoons….the type that were made from the 30s thru to the 60s. So, Skadi was a natural combination of those two loves.
Cartoon Brew: I felt some Aragones in Skadi. true?
Katie Rice: For sure. I love Groo!
Luke Cormican: Groo was definitely a big influence…the barbarian thing has been done to death, in a million different ways. But I think we’ve really got something unique with Skadi. Her personality, and her quest are something somewhat new to the world of fantasy…..at least I’d like to think so, anyway.
Cartoon Brew: that’s the thing, you could say Fleischer for Ricky’s or Groo for Luke and Katie’s, but they’re original at the same time.
Katie Rice: (phew)
Ricky Garduno: sure, thanks. I’m not out to ape it completely. My fondest wish is that people find something in my strip that truly disturbs them, like The Exorcist.
Katie Rice: I think you’ve succeeded Ricky
Fred Osmond: Earthward Ho is sort of a combination of a bunch of things I love. Sci Fi like X-Files and Battlestar Galactica and Ward Kimball’s Space cartoons mixed with a lot cartoon influences like Ed Benedict and Rod Scribner.
Cartoon Brew: fred, i noticed on your blog that you’re trying to travel to space?
Fred Osmond: ha ha, yup. that would be great, and if anyone has 200,000 bucks they wanna dish out I’ll be there!
Katie Rice: Fred will make it to space some day.
Gabe Swarr: Well, I always approach everything as a cartoon even comics. I really love a lot of illogical cartoons like the Fleishers and early Felix, and even Gumby. A thing like magic pants is perfect for that. I also always wanted to explore my mean side-Small Hats, my obsessive side, Big Pants and my girly side, Suzy Sunshine. I want people to be surprised.
Sean Szeles: Through the Port-Hole is a combination of trying to be cinematic and gag oriented at the same time. Also, all my strips are basically events and emotions that happened to me, so I guess it’s pretty personal. For artistic influences for my comics, I look to Hank Ketcham, Ronald Searle, Edward Gorey, Kurtzman, and all the animation greats.
1930 Nitemare Theatre by Ricky Garduno
Cartoon Brew: A question about technique. Are you all roughing ideas on paper and doing the finals digitally? Describe your processes.
Ricky Garduno: all digital. I’ll sketch one or two ideas on paper but I usually lose them
Katie Rice: Luke and I do both. If we are in a restaurant and an idea pops up, we’ll draw it on paper real quick. Same goes for if we are working on a computer–we’ll doodle it right into photoshop or flash. it’s all finished on the computer though.
Fred Osmond: I do all my ruffs on paper, scan em in then do all the inking and assembling in flash, after that I take it into photshop for textures
Sean Szeles: I usually thumbnail in a sketchbook, then roughly layout the comic on paper (if it’s a long page), then ink in photoshop
Luke Cormican: Nearly all of us have Cintiq’s now….so, I think we’re all doing most of this digitally….if not all of it.
Cartoon Brew: i want to marry a cintiq
Fred Osmond: ha ha
Sean Szeles: they are very loving
Katie Rice: and warm
Fred Osmond: they’re hot
Katie Rice: you can sleep on them
Luke Cormican: Theyre the best invention since mail order brides.
Ricky Garduno: cintiq has changed my life in every respect.
Gabe Swarr: Big Pants starts as a rough with Photoshop and a Cintiq. I export and ink everything using a library system in Flash. Then back to Photoshop for textures. The reason I use a library system is because I eventually want to use the art for shorts…
Sean Szeles: gasp! ulterior motive gabe!
Skadi by Katie Rice and Luke Cormican
Cartoon Brew: A question for Luke and Katie, can you talk a bit about the creative conflicts that you run into when two people do a comic together.
Katie Rice: ha ha. so far it’s worked out way better than you’d expect. we both do rough layouts and come up with ideas, and we both help with the layouts and color, but Luke does ALL the backgrounds, and is a lot better at color and composition than I am. I do all the character stuff and add unnecessary expressions and details.
Luke Cormican: Well, we’ve been working together both professional and on our own project for 7 years now. So we’ve worked out most of the kinks. Sorry to not be interesting, but we really don’t have very many problems. We make a pretty good team.
Ricky Garduno: Katie and Luke had a vote-off once
Sean Szeles: oh yeah, they presented two rough ideas for the same strip to us dummies
Luke Cormican: Oh yeah…..we do disagree sometimes….but then she realizes that I’m right. I mean…we have a vote ;)
Katie Rice: -__-
Cartoon Brew: do you ever help one another out with ideas on each other’s comics?
Ricky Garduno: we run stuff by each other, to see if it is funny or makes sense
Gabe Swarr: We all give compliments and critiques
Fred Osmond: yup, everyone is really good at suggesting ways to improve our strips.
Gabe Swarr: the emails pile up quickly
Cartoon Brew: After production ended on Nickelodeon’s El Tigre, a show that all of you worked on, a lot of you have begun freelancing from home. Is doing comics as a group a way to help keep you motivated?
Sean Szeles: i miss having an office mate to bounce ideas off of. we’re all so lonely since tigre got cancelled.
Ricky Garduno: I’m motivated, just desperate for more time to work on my strip. Working on my strip is my reward for getting my payed work done
Luke Cormican: We have gabe with a bull whip, standing behind us.
Fred Osmond: naked
Sean Szeles: i think working together as a group is a huge motivator
Gabe Swarr: No, seriously, I ALWAYS wanted to do a daily strip and I thought this is the best way to start. Weekly first and if I can keep up with that, then daily…
Katie Rice: if I am unmotivated, just looking at the other comics makes me wanna work harder
Sean Szeles: i see the awesome work that these guys do, and it makes me want to do something awesome as well
Fred Osmond: I feel like I’m in control of my career as opposed to a network being in control
Ricky Garduno: I feel like I’m in control of my LIFE
Sean Szeles: I don’t want to dissapoint the dummies
Gabe Swarr: The other reason I think Dumm works well is because of that. We are all doing our part and support each other.
Katie Rice: the dumm family is a close knit one
Ricky Garduno: well, the whole point is that by joining forces we can have daily content
Luke Cormican: like captain planet
Gabe Swarr: or the Littles…
Fred Osmond: I know if everyone wasn’t counting on me to get my days strip in I wouldn’t have done as much as I already have.