Creating comics with Dawn Griffin
Junior Dispatch had an opportunity to chat with Dawn Griffin, artist for the “Zorphbert & Fred” comic about her work. You can actually win some of her comics and books by attending a “Your First Comic” session. Find out more about that here.
Griffin, 33, majored in Graphic Design/Illustration at Tyler School of Art (of Temple University) in Elkins Park, Pa. She lives in Havertown, Pa., with her husband and has a Lab/Rottweiler mix. Some favorite things: ice cream, Cleveland sports, “Thundercats” (new and old TV series), Pixar movies, video games, “Big Bang Theory,” and she says “my favorite season is autumn!”
Read some of her comics at ZFComics.com. (The comic is currently on a break, but you can enjoy the old ones.)
How did your interest in art and comics begin?
I’ve always been drawing, making up stories and telling jokes, since as far back as I can remember. It took me a while to find the perfect outlet for all these creative endeavors— the combination of the 3 is called “sequential art”, also known as comics! Around 12 or so I was drawing and writing comics with consistent characters and at 14, I submitted to syndicates for the first time.
How did you get your first piece of art published?
Technically speaking, my first piece of art that was published was in my middle school student-made newsletter. I followed suit in high school and college, sending in comics to the school newspaper. All I really had to do was ask! However, my first professionally (meaning, I was paid for it) published piece was an illustration for a magazine. I was just about to graduate from college, and working a graphic design internship. My supervisor knew of my illustration talent, and put me in contact with a friend of hers who worked for a magazine called Philadelphia Style. Next thing I knew, I was drawing a caricature of four top chefs in Philadelphia, and got paid for it!
You told Junior Dispatch that you tried for a long time to get a comic syndicated. What does that mean and what happened to your comic?
The comics that are published in the newspaper on the “funnies” page are syndicated comics, for the most part. Much like an actor may get an agent to help him or her find acting jobs, a syndicate will help get a cartoonist’s comic into different newspapers, across the country, or even across the world — for a share of the profit, usually 50/50! The tricky part is that not just anyone can be syndicated. The big syndicates will receive 10,000 or more submissions a year and only select 1 cartoonist to be offered a contract. Also, sometimes pure talent won’t earn you that spot; a lot of the reasoning behind whom they chose has to do with a right-time-right-place luck of the draw. It’s a really hard field to get into, and be successful. That said, I submitted my first comic, called “Leftovers,” to syndicates for almost 10 years. After getting 10 years worth of rejection letters, I decided maybe “Leftovers” just wasn’t the right comic for the “funny pages”… And decided to retire it around 2004.
But you didn’t give up drawing comics! Now you’ve got Zorphbert and Fred. What can you tell us about these two aliens?
Nope, I will never give up drawing comics, I love it too much! Zorphbert and Fred were “born” maybe a year after retiring “Leftovers”, and it truly was like meeting new friends. In the beginning, I had an idea of their personalities, but it took 100s of comics to fully grown to know them- they seems to take on qualities all on their own. Zorphbert is the Lead Research Cadet, and is in charge of collecting the research data and reporting back to the manager. Fred is his partner Research Cadet, helping Zorphbert understand this crazy planet we call Earth. They are very much polar opposites in terms of personality- Zorphbert is smart, grumpy, and high-strung. Fred is a roll-with-the-punches type guy, who wishes he could have been disguised as a cat instead of a dog — he really likes kitty cats! It’s a classic combination, you have probably seen the same dynamic before, in characters like Garfield & Odie, or Bucky & Satchel, or Ren & Stimpy, or Laurel and Hardy!
How many Z&F comics have you created so far? Will you be doing them for a long time?
“Zorphbert & Fred” are approaching 600 comics, enough for 3 whole books of 200 comics each! The comic itself is about 5 years old now, and since I am my own boss, my rule of thumb is to keep drawing Z&F until I don’t feel passion for the story or the characters anymore. I would love to say I’ll be drawing Z&F comics forever, but part of the glory of being an independent creator is that if I am inspired to work on a new comic, I am don’t contractually obligated to keep drawing a comic I feel I have grown beyond. However, I don’t see myself giving up this comic easily at all!
Is it hard to make so many comics? Do you ever get tired of drawing them?
The issue isn’t so much that I tire of drawing comics, it’s that my regular day job and other projects may tire me out and some days I really just need a break. In fact, recently, I have decided to run Z&F on a “Seasonal Schedule”, meaning I’ll post consistently for 4 months straight, and then take a 2 month “hiatus”, or break. This helps me recharge, rest up and be ready for the next season… And helps me create BETTER comics! Hey, if TV shows can do it, so can I!
What tools do you use to make your comics?
Long ago I would use a pencil for sketching, and then a fountain pen & black India ink to draw the lines. Then, I would scan the comic, and make some more adjustments on the computer. However, now I own a “Tablet PC Laptop”, which looks like a regular laptop, but you can flip the screen around and fold it down, like a tablet. I sketch, ink, color, and add the words all on the computer now! The screen is pressure-sensitive, meaning the harder you press down, the thicker the line.. So it’s a lot like drawing with a fountain pen! It’s nice not to have to scan in the original, and there’s no more ink spills!
Wow, that laptop sounds expensive… and hard to use! What kind of materials do you think a kid needs to make comics?
As much as kids are into technology today, I would suggest starting with the classic tools and really trying new and different things to see what you like! It doesn’t matter WHAT you use when you’re first starting out, just that you DRAW all the time! Practice, practice, practice! Try new tools; markers, pencils, pens, erasers, colored pencils, pastels, watercolor… See what you like! It’s just like when I went to Art School for college— we tried every medium, and learned how to do it RIGHT, at first. Then, slowly, we discovered what we really excelled at, and perfected that medium, that style. If you want to make comics, use that time to be away from the computer and just draw and try new things. It’s a lot of fun, and relaxing. Worry about buying expensive equipment later!
Do you have any advice for young artists and writers?
Just keep at it. Don’t let a few negative words bring you down. Even the best artists will hear negative feedback from critics — it’s all apart of the business. All creative mediums are “subjective” — meaning some will like it and some will not — and THAT is the beauty of it! If it was simply “right” or “wrong”, it would be MATH, not ART! Draw because you WANT to draw, not because you want to impress anyone, or earn money, or be the best. The most wonderful artwork, stories, music, poems, or comics comes from people who REALLY love what they do! Just keep at it, and you’ll see yourself improving over the years. You’ll look back at old artwork and be amazed at how far you have come!