Ask A Cartoonist: Fan Fare

By Tea Fougner

Comics Kingdom reader Timothy Fisher asked: “What’s the weirdest question a fan has ever asked you?”

 Poor General Halftrack! 

Our cartoonists receive a ton of interesting fan mail, and field lots of zany questions from fans.  I extended the topic and asked cartoonists to tell us either about their favorite or weirdest fan mails or questions:

We did a Veteran’s Day page in which we quoted several soldiers, writers and poets. One of the quotes I used was “Freedom is not Free” by Lt. Col.Walter Hitchcock. After publication of the Sunday I received a letter and phone call from Lt. Col.Hitchcock thanking us for using the quote and attributing it to him.
Another was when I was looking for an interestingly designed house to use for the Wilsons. I googled some homes and found a unique one. After using it in a couple of Sundays, I received a letter from the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Connecticut. It turns out the house was one of the author’s homes and was now the location of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Museum.  Who knew? –Ron Ferdinand, Dennis the Menace

After explaining to a group how the opportunity to draw Dennis the Menace came along in an unusual way, one of the adults (not a child) asked me: “If you draw Dennis…who draws Mr. Wilson and the other characters?” –Marcus Hamilton, Dennis the Menace

Since I am an editorial cartoonist, some of my ‘fan mail’ is actually more like hate mail from readers who don’t like my point of view. So the one I am going to share dates back to 2005 when George W. Bush was president, and I did frequent cartoons which criticized him. Unlike a number of e-mails which use language that is unprintable, this one manages to express dislike for me in a more imaginative, but not less nasty way. And as such I often read it aloud when I do  public speaking engagement.
Subject:What Needs to Be Done
If I had my way, your hands would be bathed in Super Glue and then encased in concrete for the rest of your natural life and you would not be allowed near any method of communicating,
The local rag prints your lies called cartoons….The local rag that I am not renewing my subcription to  because of scoundrels like you…
Went to college to learn how to draw? An indictment of Carnegie-Mellon. Aptly named though. Andrew Carnegie was one of the most vicious men who ever lived. –Jimmy Margulies, Editorial Cartoonist
Favorite:  I once received a fan letter from Mike Judge, creator of “Beavis and Butt-Head” and “King of the Hill”. He told me, ” It would be great to be Zippy for a day–to give your mind a vacation from rational thought!”
Strangest:  A reader wrote to ask, “Where exactly is Dingburg (Zippy’s home town)? I’ve looked all over my map of Maryland–you said it was 17 miles west of Baltimore–but I can’t find it. Please help.” –Bill Griffith, Zippy the Pinhead
(Also on the subject of famous fans, Bill also sent along this great video of Zippy appearing in the Ramones’ video, “I Believe in Miracles”) 

This question may not be strange, but it was definitely unusual.  After a Snuffy Smith Chalk Talk I did in Bristol, Virginia a few years ago, I lady came up afterwards and asked if she could show me her purse.  Of course I said she could and she showed me a wooden purse on which she had decoupaged many of the characters and scenes right out of my Barney Google and Snuffy Smith comic strip!  I was honored when she asked me to sign it!  –John Rose, Barney Google and Snuffy Smith

The most interesting fan mail always starts with something like, “I’ve been reading the Phantom for 65 years and…” 

One that really made me smile came in last March, when the Sunday pages were running a story called “Revenge in Rhodia.” The Phantom was attempting to disarm Captain Savarna, the India-born lass who roams the world fighting pirates. He caught Savarna assassinating the Rhodian admirals who sank her ship because it had fired on Gravelines Prison, where minions of Chatu had jailed Diana Palmer Walker.
The reader was appalled that the Phantom would demand Savarna’s weapon.
Wha? Seriously? After following the Phantom for 65 years, you haven’t gathered that he might have a problem with death squad justice? That he wouldn’t exactly wink at extra-judicial homicide?
It’s always great fun for me when someone cares enough about the strip to write and make a case one way or the other. — Tony DePaul, The Phantom
Favorite:  I’ve received many nice letters from fans over the past ten years.  One time I put a correction in a Sunday page for a songwriter whose name I accidentally omitted in an earlier strip.  He emailed me back to thank me and said it’s cool to be mentioned in Mary Worth.  Another time I wrote a story about Jeff going to Vietnam to help Agent Orange victims.  A woman who actually works with those victims sent me a beautiful card to thank me.  And for the past year or so I’ve been exchanging letters with a fan in upstate New York who sends me words of encouragement from time to time.  I really appreciate it!

Strangest: Not a question, but from the realms of the strange…I killed off a character in a story one time.  He wasn’t a main character and he was annoying Mary.  But he was popular with readers because of his out-there antics.  I got a wacko letter from an international reader that was pretty out-there in his anger. –Karen Moy, Mary Worth

I did an editorial cartoon once that involved orange construction barrels absolutely everywhere because there was so much highway construction going on in town that summer. When I came into my office at the newspaper the next day, my office was full of orange construction barrels and cones. I couldn’t even get in the door. There was a note taped to my door saying, “That cartoon was a wild exaggeration!” and it was signed by dozens of the highway construction workers. –Jim Borgman, Zits

 Dear Ms. Piro,

I’ve been following Six Chix for a few years.  Good humor, with occasional food for thought.
Your offering this Saturday was especially interesting to me.  Fairy tales often have underlying messages or morals.  I like your twist on “Little Red Riding Hood,” especially since the original disturbs me.
What is the original story really about?  Well, what if we were to keep the story intact, word for word, but change one little detail — the gender of the wolf?  Everything else — the innocence of the girl, the threat of the wolf, the rescue by the (male) hunter, the removal of the threat, the resolution of the plot — remains the same.
Change that one little technicality, and some might argue that the story has been fundamentally changed.  So we have to ask what the real story is.  One of my psychology professors said the red riding hood symbolizes menstruation, and with it the young girl’s emerging sexual maturity.  The wolf as a male predator presents the message that males are not to be trusted, that they are actual or potential predators.
I can understand that women have to be cautious with men; actually, all of us have to be a little cautious around people we don’t know.  But in my adolescence and my young adulthood I was terribly shy around girls, and to be seen as primarily a sexual predator, and guilty until proven innocent, doesn’t help.  I’m 58 now, and have good women friends.  I’m unmarried, just ended a romance with a great gal with whom I’m still friends.  It takes some doing to get this far, and I still have growing up to do.  I do yoga and meditation, which helps spiritual evolution.
Thank you for presenting positive (and thought-provoking) messages in your comics.  Your work is appreciated.
Sincerely,  (Name Redacted)
p.s. Thank you for drawing guys so they look kind of cute.
–Stephanie Piro, Six Chix
Favorite:   A few years ago, there was an entire eighth-grade class in Lowell Massachusetts who were huge fans of my strip; reading it every day in the local paper. The teacher asked me to send them an original sketch of Marshall, my black sheep, to use for her arithmetic lessons (she used black sheep to show exceptions to mathematical theorems) (I know — you’re all like “Duh. of course.”). Anyway, the kids were so appreciative that they sat down and drew their own renditions of all the different characters of my strip, including some of me(!). The teacher then sent me their entire packet of artwork. 

I was crushed to discover that half of the class drew my strip better than me. 

In reality, it was one of the most amazing gifts I’ve ever received and one of my true career highlights in working on DeFlocked. Besides the groupies.

Strangest Question:  I got an email from a “fan” in Iowa once, who told me how much he and his wife enjoyed reading my strip each day in their paper. He went on to tell me how much they particularly liked a recent episode, which showed a toddler carrying a teddy bear, followed by a toddler carrying an ipad, and asked if I could send them a copy of that strip so they could share it with their grandchildren. Well, unfortunately, my strip has neither toddlers, teddy bears nor ipads. It occurred to me that he was reading the wrong title attached to his favorite strip (I understand. I still confuse “Catcher In The Rye” with episodes of Sanford and Son). 

I felt bad, as I was the unintended recipient of his very heartfelt gushing. Those who know me know that I’m the kind of person who never likes to disappoint people. So I sent him a “Marvin” strip with my signature on it. 

I’m still waiting for my thank you card from Tom Armstrong…  –Jeff Corriveau, DeFlocked

My favourite piece of fan mail came from a retired gentleman back in 1998.  I had just finished a series about my Susan character’s long road to adopting her daughter, Emma.  On the day Susan met her daughter for the first time (in the strip), I received quite a bit of heartfelt mail.  This particular reader sent me a sentimental and funny letter explaining how he and his wife had been unable to conceive and had subsequently adopted two children.  They thought their family was complete when… you guessed it…they became pregnant.  The final line in his letter said, “You know what? We can’t tell the difference in our relationships with the three. “Between Friends” had better do right by this child (meaning Emma) or I will be VERY upset.”  It was a very sweet letter and it was nice to know he connected to my characters and the story arc in such a personal way. –Sandra Bell-Lundy, Between Friends
I’m not sure if it can be classed as fan mail but it’s something I’ve remembered. 

LATS launched my comic strip ‘Meehan Streak’ in 1999.  Each day the strip switched themes and characters. From lawyers to cavemen, pirates to devils, cops to boxers. In 2003 I changed the title and concept to ‘Tribal’ which had regular characters and revolved around cavemen.
I received an email from a person (I do remember his name) who said he was very disappointed that there would no longer be any lawyers as these were his favorite strips.
Two years later ‘A Lawyer, a Doctor and a Cop’ (now Pros & Cons) was launched by King Features.  I received an email from the same person who said he was very disappointed that there would no longer be any cavemen as these were his favorite strips.
I know you can’t please all of the people all of the time but occasionally you only find out someone HAD been pleased when they feel the need to tell you that they no longer are.  –Kieran Meehan, Pros & Cons
Favorite: I got a letter from a teacher saying that she liked my cartoon, and that she puts them up in her classroom all the time. It made me feel great for those lucky kids who get to read comics in school.
Weirdest: I did a joke once equating a woman doing grocery shopping with a lioness hunting. The reader was very concerned with the accuracy of this comparison. It’s true – I am not a real biologist – I just play one in the funny pages.  –Isabella Bannerman, Six Chix
I once received a letter from a woman who said she had been inspired by a comic strip where Beetle received a package of cookies from his mother.  This woman had liked the comic so much that she formed a group that made cookies and mailed them overseas to different soldiers.  She’d been doing it for years.  –Mort Walker, Beetle Bailey
One of my favorite pieces of “fan” mail came from a gentleman in Mississippi, some 20 years ago. He took the time and effort to type “HA HA” over and over again, filling up an entire sheet of paper, attached to a cartoon of mine he had clipped from his local newspaper. I don’t recall the topic of the cartoon, but this man’s sublime sense for sarcasm has stayed with me all these years.  –David Hitch, Editorial Cartoonist
 I have received a countless numbers of fan letters over the years, but I think the most amazing one came from the office of Pope John Paul. I ran a story arc wherein Curtis and Barry went to see the pope on one of his papal tours. Bad little Barry pushed Curtis out into the street in front of the Pope. Then the Pope actually lifted him up to his feet and patted his hat. Thereafter, nuns came to Curtis’ home demanding the hat. And as we know Curtis would never part with his hat, so……..
The office asked to receive the originals and it was promptly sent. I can only wonder where those strips are now.
I think the strangest letter (s) that came were 1) a marriage proposal with a “very open” photo, and a letter from a woman who claimed to be my real mother. That was a real surprise, but all wrong. She said her name is Billingsley and that she gave a child up for adoption during the year I was born. However, what are the chances of someone named Billingsley adopting another person named Billingsley?? It didn’t make sense.   –Ray Billingsley, Curtis
I love the mail I get from younger readers who draw the Arctic Circle characters. It reminds me of when I was a kid and would try to draw Snoopy.
I wouldn’t say any questions I get are strange. Most new readers ask why there are penguins in the Arctic (they are immigrants).  –Alex Hallatt, Arctic Circle