August 27th, 2010
by Alex Hallatt
Arctic Circle was launched by King Features Syndicate on 27th August 2007. I had had a very short development period before that since my editors (Jay Kennedy who signed me up and Brendan Burford, who took me to launch and has been my sounding board, advisor and all-round ace editor ever since) felt that the comic strip was almost ready for launch when they signed me in November 2006.
I had no idea then that it wasn’t ready.
I picked up a few papers for launch and a few papers more in the following year, but felt like I was bumping along below the radar. Still, I was getting to know the characters and learning how to draw better.
So it was a bit of a shock when RC Harvey reviewed Arctic Circle about a year after launch and wrote
Although the clothes-pin penguins in their black tuxes are easy enough on the eyes, the stark simplicity of Hallatt’s style puts the strip’s visuals in the Dilbert school of non-art. Cartoonists who draw in this way doubtless believe they are producing highly stylized contemporary Art. And, of course, they are — the contemporary design of wallpaper, repeated over and over in an endless pattern. Still, penguins are penguins and forever cute. Hallatt’s comedy, however, is neither cute nor very funny. My way of assessing the comedy in a comic strip is to tally the number of strips over, say, three weeks in which the punchline is telegraphed by the setup panels…too many of the [strips] achieve their humor in this way, and because we are almost never surprised, the comedy is only ordinary.
I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. It wasn’t that I disagreed, it was that I thought he was right. My syndicate had been wrong, the people who had sent me nice emails and letters had been wrong and RC Harvey was completely, 100% right. I talked to Brendan and he dismissed the rant as being just that, but I was devastated and suffered one of my biggest crises of confidence in my ability as a cartoonist.
I continued to write and draw (those deadlines don’t go away) and the angst mellowed into determination. Determination to work on my areas of weakness. The wallpaper patterns of repeating penguins were to be avoided with more interesting panels. My drawing was gradually improving in any case, but now I gave more thought to how I composed the scenes (something I still do, though nasty deadlines tend to cause more Garfield-type bar set ups…). I did more continuing storylines to provide interest and take away the obvious punchlines.
The strip developed. I’d say it has been in development for 3 years and I’m only ever happy with my most recent work.
I hope this means I’m getting better – I’d like to be doing this for another three years at least.
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