Our Daily Mental Smackdown Cage Match

By Jeremy Meltingtallow

Each day I sit behind a drawing table and a Cintiq display way longer than is probably considered normal or healthy for your average 55-year-old male. You probably wouldn’t know it if you were to peek in the window and see me sitting there scratching my backside, but during most of my 10-hour days, I am pinned to the mat in a mental smackdown cage match — wrestling a tag-team of deadlines, the eternal verities, making four or more comic panels fun to look at, and how to onomatopoetically spell the exact sound an open-faced peanut butter sandwich makes when dropped on the floor (it’s papfft, BTW).

For me, contact with the outside world generally constitutes several phone calls, a few minutes on Facebook, some fan emails, my component stereo speakers gently oozing public radio, and a couple of minutes spent chatting with Ms. Marie, the FedEx driver, when she’s dropping off something urgent.

I like it this way. Hard to fathom, but this the life I’ve dreamed of all my life.

I am often amazed to find that people are genuinely interested in what cartoonists do for a living, and not only what they do, but how they go about doing it. I get a lot of “How do you come up with your ideas?” (beats me), and “I don’t know how you do that every day!” (neither do I). Drawing cartoons every day has been described as having a 30-page term paper due and not beginning work on it until the night before the due date. Sounds about right.

Believe it or not, drawing is the easier part, taking anywhere from three to four hours per strip, eight or so for Sundays. Steve has the more difficult end of “Dustin” — the writing.

Writing a comic strip is like feeding the yawning, bottomless metabolism of a teenage boy.

Each year, I probably write a few dozen gags for “Dustin.” I find it takes me far too long to hone the ones I come up with into something usable. So I leave most of the heavy lifting to Steve. He thinks I do the heavy lifting, so you can see, we’re a well matched team.

Every cartoonist will tell you, writing a good/funny cartoon is a lot like hitting in baseball… you’re not going to knock one out of the park every time you get up to bat. But boy does it feel good when you do hit one out.

I love that I get to spend more time concentrating on the art than on writing, and love it when I knock a decently drawn Sunday page out of the park.

Which is rare IMO, because I’m my own worse critic.

I constantly cringe at past strips and wonder why I didn’t do it this way, or play up this bit more. And what’s with Dustin’s hand there? — I particularly beat myself up if I feel I’ve deadened a good joke of Steve’s with a “meh” drawing.

It’s painful when that happens… Feels like RKO outta nowhere!