Interview with ‘9 Chickweed Lane/Pibgorn’ comics creator Brooke McEldowney

Comic strips have the potential to make lives better. Connoisseurs of comics understand the unique pleasure associated with daily check-ins to see what nugget of joy the creators of this oft-underappreciated art form have in store for them.

Some strips rely on stand alone jokes or gag-a-day models, while others do either long, short or a combination of both story arcs. Arguably people read comics to be entertained, but the greats strike a much deeper tone.

Not all comics are meant to be funny, but if not humorous or entertaining they’re at least provocative. Some are set in reality, while others are more surreal and incorporate some fantastical elements. All of these components exist simultaneously within the work of Brooke McEldowney through syndicated strip 9 Chickweed Lane and webcomic Pibgorn. He also has been known to break the fourth wall and acknowledge the audience.

9 Chickweed Lane debuted in syndication in July of 1993 and Pibgorn began in December of 2001 with an initial run three-week run in 2001 called “A Fairy Merry Christmas.”Image result for brooke mceldowney

Not only does McEldowney entertain, he enlightens. His wit is incomparable, as is his ability to tell a beautiful story.  Even if he creates a sad or dark story, it is elegantly told without a hint of cynicism. His characters are complicated and rich, as are their inner fantasy lives. He knows his way around a love story (not to mention shapely women and well-built men–even the gangly ones are attractive in their own way). Passion and desire infiltrate much of his work, but it is the details of the relationships between the characters that keep his fans coming back. He has even adapted two Shakespearean plays to the comic strip realm.  He also occasionally succumbs artistic flights of fancy and turns his work into surreal designs where the art is the story.

Erudite McEldowney has an exceptional vocabulary that doesn’t feel pompous, even when one needs a dictionary to understand the literal meaning of some of his words. Also, possibly since he is a classically trained violist, which means he has the “artist personality” that makes his world view delightfully different from most, he celebrates the arts in his work. Many of his characters are involved in the arts in one way or another. His audience receives a welcome education to the worlds of ballet, music and performance.  He also knows his way around philosophy, religion, academia and the intricacies of family dynamics.

McEldowney took the time to speak with TheCelebrityCafe.com about his work, some details about his story lines, advice to aspiring cartoonists, as well as telling us what he says to people who ask him to dumb down his work.

TheCelebrityCafe.com:  Please tell me about your background and educational experience?

Brooke McEldowney: I have been a professional violist since I joined the union when I was 17.  My first professional gigs were with touring shows of Glen Campbell and Engelbert Humperdinck that same year.  I played my instrument with small groups of strings.  The fiddles and tuxes gave a certain visual luster to the shows, if nothing else.

I studied and performed at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria, and I received my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from the Juilliard School, where I studied with Paul Doktor.

TCC:  Is there any info about your personal life and family that you would like to add?

BM:  My wife was a student at The Juilliard School when I first espied her eating a bagel and laughing uproariously at somebody’s joke in the cafeteria.  The vagaries of class scheduling eventually threw us together in a course on baroque music where, whenever I heard her voice, I would eavesdrop discretely, hers being the kind of voice upon which one pleasurably eavesdropped.  In time, I overheard her questioning a teacher on string orchestra repertory, about which I fancied my knowledge to be encyclopedic, and barging in, I disgorged it on the spot.

Her hazel-blue gaze, which wheeled upon my interruption, spoke volumes.  ‘Buzz off, twerp,’ she seemed to say, without ever resorting to words.  Naturally, we married within the year.

We have two daughters, the younger intermingling her artistry and sardonic wit in the cartoon arts; the older is an actor and puppeteer fluent in French, and a creator of films.  Presently, she has just finished an episodic web odyssey entitled “Callie and Izzy,” and is at work on a bilingual French/English short film called Creative Block.

Note about Brooke’s daughter Nicola Rose:

In addition to working on bilingual French/English short film Creative Block, Nicola Rose is the creator of webseries Callie & Izzie.  This is about a woman who gets infected with a rare disease that caused a sociopathic puppet to grow out of her hand.  She is a playwright, puppeteer, producer, director and actress in New York City. She is a graduate of Columbia University and the Université Sorbonne-Nouvelle in Paris and is a member of New York Women in Film & Television. Check her out below.

We also have two cats who live in spates of peaceful coexistence punctuated by psychotic military actions that sound as if they are engaged in disemboweling each other.  Our dog, a blue-eyed husky-retriever cross emerging from puppyhood, finds the cat activity entirely daunting and backs away at their approach.

TCC:  Which jobs have you had in your life?

BM:  I taught music in a just frightfully, awfully, terribly upscale private school in Greenwich, Connecticut, worked at the Juilliard alumni office for a bit; acted as assistant editor at a music magazine in New York (all the while playing music freelance).  Then, as luck would have it, I sold my first cartoons to Punch (which I consider my shining moment).  From there, I sold cartoons to several magazines, then started sending strip ideas to various syndicates.  After lots of rejections, I was finally offered a syndication contract for a strip I called “Nod,” the name of which caused people at the syndicate to scratch their heads, so it was changed to 9 Chickweed Lane.

TCC:  When did you start drawing?

BM:  When I was a little kid, back in the mists of time, when the dinosaurs roamed the earth, and a cup of coffee cost a nickel …well, possibly a dime.

TCC:  Why do you like creating comic strips?

BM:  I love drawing and I love cobbling tales.

TCC:  What’s the best part about creating comic strips? The worst?

BM:  I think any cartoonist will tell you that the best thing about the profession is sitting at home all day in your night attire, unshaven, with a cat in your lap, whilst doodling.

The worst thing is the deadline.  It disturbs the cat.

TCC:  Do you think comic strips are in danger of extinction?

BM:  No, but the traditional substrate of the art – the newspaper – has been circling the drain for quite a few years, and there the threat of extinction lies.  The internet is where cartooning has migrated.  Journalism is going its own direction, which, apparently, is determined to be down.

TCC:  Why do you think comic strips are relevant?

BM:  Comic strips, in the U. S. and abroad, have always been pertinent to the human life swirling about it because they comment and entertain.  At its best, it is high art of the most remarkable sort.  I have received mail over the years from people in the military services in Afghanistan, working for the IRS in New York, in prison, in rehab, in hospital, stuffed into corporate cubicles, in retirement, holding down jobs, happy, sad, depressed, elated – all of whom wrote because something I drew gave them cause to care, to argue, to laugh, to feel buoyed, to tell me to go to hell.  In all cases, it sparked intense reactions, which is a good sign.

TCC:  What do you think of the future of comic strips?

BM:  I think it will be an interesting thing to watch evolve.  Bande dessinée is thoroughly entrenched in European and American culture.  It won’t go anywhere.  However, the pages upon which they appear will go the way of the dodo, or evolve.  Personally, although I like books, the glow of the digital medium is lovely to see.

TCC:  What would be your sentence or two description of both works for those who have never heard of them?

BM:  9 Chickweed Lane began as a story about the relationship between Edda Burber and her mother Juliette, added to which was Juliette’s mother, Gran.  When the story started, Juliette had just emerged from a very acrimonious divorce.  It has now greatly evolved.

Pibgorn is the magical story of the eponymous heroine, who is nearly always accompanied by a domineering succubus named Drusilla.  They can, and do, go anywhere.

Image result for Pibgorn by Brooke McEldowney

TCC:  How did you come up with 9 Chickweed Lane?

BM:  I had spent three years sending comic strip or comic panel submissions to the primary syndicates in this country.  They politely or mechanically turned me down until I came up with 9 Chickweed Lane.  Three syndicates showed interest.  United Media, parent company of United Feature Syndicate, was the first to offer me a contract.

I have no idea how the idea for the strip got going.  I just created it, sent it out and waited.

TCC:  Your strips were in black and white for a long time and that seems to have changed, how did that come about?

BM:  Newspapers began printing strips in color, and the pressure to provide something in color began to be applied.  I resisted it, because I believe the daily monochrome cartoon has a kind of artistic integrity, and nostalgia, which speaks to me in a way color can’t.  However, I was reminded by a syndicate chieftain that, like it or not, the newspaper clients wanted color, and I was going to have to provide it or be dropped in favor of strips that did.  So I started coloring them.  I still miss my black & white work.

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TCC:  Are you re-coloring old strips?

BM:  I haven’t gone back to older B&W strips to color them because it is a bigger job than one might imagine – rather like redrawing 20 years’ worth of cartoons.  I have a hungry deadline to think of.

TCC:  Tell us about Pibgorn?

BM:  One of my best friends, who is also my former editor at United Media, called me one time to ask if I would draw a two-week series of Christmas cartoons for the NEA syndicate (which United Media owned).  I had been toying with the idea of Pibgorn – a story of an arboreal fairy who yearns for a wild side on which to walk – and dished it up as a 2001 Christmas offering.  In March the following year I resurrected Pibgorn as an online strip, and have been doing it ever since.

TCC:  Are there specific benefits to both?

BM:  9 Chickweed Lane, because it runs in daily papers as well as online, is subject to the editorial oversight of features editors and their worries about their local readerships.  Pibgorn, being online only, has no such hand-wringing associated with it, and can be far more lubricious, violent, ensanguined and disrespectful.

Jekyll and Hyde.

TCC:  How often do they run?

BM:  9 Chickweed Lane runs every day of the week, and has done so since July of 1993.  Pibgorn runs, presently, five days a week.  It can change, however.

TCC:  What does your work week look like? What is your process?

BM:  I draw all the time, and try to keep ahead of that by weaving stories.  I very often have no idea what I’m doing next, nor what my characters next will say.  I just rely on a mental eruption to take place.

TCC:  What are some strips that you particularly admire?

BM:  I always admired Pat Brady’s work on Rose Is Rose, and still look at his anthologized work with great pleasure.  I think he is a genius of the most remarkable variety.  Although they are not strip creators, I have always admired Ronald Searle, Gerald Scarfe, J. J. Sempé.  I’m forgetting people as I write this.  All I can say is, the list goes on.

TCC:  What is your estimated audience?

BM:  I’m really not sure.  They pay well.

TCC:  Who is your typical audience?

BM:  I have no idea about the demographic.  As I say, they are far-flung, and engaged in everything from the maintenance of military conveyances in the mid-east, to doing time, to auditing your taxes, to teaching in universities (see: doing time).

TCC:  What do fans typically ask you?

BM:  Typically, they don’t ask anything.  They like to write just to tell what they particularly like about the story that is playing out at the moment.  When they ask about anything, they usually want to buy a giclée print of one of my drawings.

TCC:  One criticism people may have about your strips is a lack of diversity. Do you have something to add on this?

BM:  As a matter of principle, I pay no heed to whether a broad enough demographic is reflected in my characters’ lives, skeletal morphologies, their sexual bent or their adequacy as role models for the variegated wants, needs, morals, religions, ethics, conservatism, liberality, regional accents, pigmentation or golf handicaps of the general public.  My indifference, in short, is profound.

Cartooning is an art – not an audit.

The mere idea that all varieties of all peoples, all opinions, all creeds, all creatures great and small, should be, by fiat, force-fed into works of art, is obnoxious and scorns the spirit of individual liberty and sovereign speech.  This philosophy is fortified by the First Amendment – an amendment that, though only 45 words long, is crucial to the respiration of a free society.

My own cartooning contains characters who could earn political-correctitude brownie points, had the characters been created for that purpose.  However, they exist only to enhance the warp and weft of the narrative, not to appease the alien will of the dernier cri.

Therefore, I stick to my principles in plying my art.  And toward that end, the only hand on the tiller shall be mine.

TCC:  Do you do any other kind of art or graphic design other than comics?

BM:  I have designed scenery for plays.  I also, in recent times, have seen one of my plays, “Many Mansions,” performed in N. Y. C.  As part of an option to produce a film of “Edie Ernst, U.S.O. Singer – Allied Spy,” I wrote the screenplay.  I also created a concert season poster for violinist Hilary Hahn.

TCC:  Have you won any awards?

BM:  I received the National Cartoonists Society 2005 award for Best Newspaper Comic Strip.  It was awarded in Chicago at the NCS Reuben weekend in 2006, and I was entirely unprepared for it, so I gave the worst acceptance remarks ever.

TCC:  Your work utilizes an extensive vocabulary…what do you say to people who ask you to dumb down your work?

BM:  “Bug off.”

TCC:  Cats play an important part of your work…Are you a cat lover? How did you develop your “Hallmarks of Felinity?”

BM:  I have always liked cats.  I have found it helpful when they liked me.

“Hallmarks of Felinity” came about when I wanted some unifying rubric for cat cartoons as they evolved in my mind.

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TCC:  What about your characters’ rich fantasy lives?

BM:  Exploring a character’s fantasies seems the most direct way to drawing skin-tight Lycra costumes on individuals who, otherwise, would be patent lawyers.

TCC:  Who or what is Thorax?

BM:  Thorax is a retread and enlargement of Norman Thumber, the hero of my never-syndicated strip “Wahoo Terminal.”  Both hail from distant planets in distant-er galaxies, and perceive everything on a weird oblique that I only wish I could use in real life.  Amos van Hoesen also had some of that other-world way of dealing with, in particular, his nun overseers and Edda’s grandmother. Amos: Can we open this can of tuna? Gran: When you ask permission, you don’t say “can,” you say “may.” Amos: Can we open this may of tuna?

TCC:  You seem to have many references to God, specifically Catholicism, how does spirituality factor into your work?

BM:  The presence of “St. Godzilla,” the Catholic school run by “Sister Caligula,” got the whole spirituality thing off to a sputtering start, and I never looked back.  The anthropomorphic way humanity has of interpreting the universe – as run by naked, bearded gentlemen of the sky, surrounded by angels either singing or brandishing swords – pretty much begs for a lot of reasonable answers by proffering ideas devoid of reason.  Whatever may be spiritual, or wholly ghostly, about life is a rich area for reflection, and I see no reason not to reflect.

Image result for 9 chickweed lane monty

TCC:  Also, have you received any criticism or praise from Catholics regarding their portrayal?

BM:  Praise, yes, particularly from Catholic school alumni.  Everybody, it seems, has known a Sister Caligula.  I got a couple of worried letters from Catholic clergy, or seminary students, who fretted about Sister Aramus (Diane) and Father Durly (Francis) becoming lovers and parents.  I also got a letter from a very pleased former nun who was married to an equally pleased former priest.  She liked the story a lot and said it mirrored hers. I said I was glad for them.

TCC:  You had a love story between a priest and nun who eventually leave their orders to marry and start a family. How did that story line develop?

BM:  It began as a brief encounter between Father Durly, a visiting bishop’s secretary, and Sister Aramus at St. Godzilla’s.  They became quick friends, and sympathetic comrades, and even more quickly fell in love – which wasn’t on their dance card, but these things happen.  Then the story ended in a matter of a week or so and that was that.  However, over time I began to wonder what became of Sister Aramus, who couldn’t just ignore her stirred feelings, and the story came back with questions that had to be answered.  Sister Aramus left her order because she couldn’t shake off her ardor for the absent Father Durly, who likewise shed his vestments for a tweed jacket and a yen for a nun he assumed he’d never see again.

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TCC:  How do you use time in your work? How do characters age?

BM:  I never had a plan, but when I began 9 Chickweed Lane, I assumed Edda and Amos would always be 12-year-olds. Then they flouted me and started to age – about one year for every passing two – and they grew.

TCC:  What are some of the most controversial issues you have dealt with in your work?

BM:  School shooting:  Early on I began to think about a story in which some kid brought a pistol to school just to show it to another kid, and it accidentally fired, hitting Edda.  The purpose in telling the story was not to feed into political causes, but to show, through Juliette’s experience, what it must be like to open the door to a policeman bearing the news.

High heels: I drew a series of cartoons, rather fanciful ones, in which the male characters were depicted wearing women’s stiletto heels.  I thought nothing of the sequence until publication came, and I began to get utterly offended and angry e-mail from men who really, absolutely, without any doubt, thought I’d just gone way too far this time.  I don’t know if there was an actual controversy over the dailies, but those guys were hacked off.

Amos’s proposal to Edda:  In this story, I contrived a scene which I thought would be a riot; Amos, through various farcical contrivances, was thrown up onstage where Edda was finishing her final ballet performance.  He landed squarely atop her, in a missionary position, before an audience of about 5000 balletomanes.  Both characters were completely dressed.  Amos then asked, “Is this an inconvenient moment?”  Over the next few installments, he asked her to marry him and she agreed.

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The story ran, I heard nothing about it, and that was that.  However, I learned later that it had whipped up a kerfuffle in Los Angeles, where readers felt that they really ought to be offended by the overt, sexual position in which Amos and Edda found themselves.

Cockroaches born to Diane:  I wrote a story in which Monty (God) told Diane (formerly Sister Aramus) that her baby, instead of being human, would be born as a sentient cockroach.  His reason was that people commit so many horrid and disgusting acts, all the while as creatures in his image, that he felt they should look like cockroaches instead.  I got a lot of angry mail about that, even though no cockroach babies were born, and Diane’s ultimate baby was quite rosy and normal.

TCC:  Do you have a favorite storyline with both works?

BM:  In Chickweed:  Edie Ernst, U.S.O. Singer – Allied Spy

In Pibgorn:  A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet

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TCC:  Many of your characters are skilled musicians and dancers, what do you want people to know about the artist’s life?

BM:  I would like them to know that “What do you do for a real job?” is not an appropriate question.

TCC:  You adapted Shakespeare to comic strips, can you please explain how you decided to do that?

BM:  With great trepidation matched by desire.  When I began A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I remember the feeling that I was jumping off a cliff.  But I simply wanted to try.

TCC:  What was your process?

BM:  Using scripts from the First Folio, bolstered by referring to the quartos and reading the history behind how they were all assembled, botched, assembled again and botched again; I started eliding and assembling Shakespeare’s texts for cartoon presentation.  A great deal of what was actorly writing, or writing in poetic word pictures that would not benefit from cartooning, I would cut.  Everything else that I saw as belonging in a cartoon presentation I spliced together – a process that involved, among other things, dovetailing the pentameter to keep it whole.

I then cast my own characters, from both strips, into the parts, and called my little Shakespeare company of players “Pibgorn Rep”. So far, I’ve done A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet.  I’m thinking The Tempest would be good for the next one, inasmuch as I have a good fairy on hand.  I also want to do Twelfth Night, and make sense of how Orsino can switch his obsession for Olivia to Viola so abruptly.

TCC:  How did you decide who to cast for which part? How faithful were your adaptations?

BM:  In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I just threw Edda into the role of Helena, and plowed on.  Whatever seemed good was good enough for me.  I wanted Juliet to be impersonated by Pibgorn, and I pressed Roger, a nonce character from a Pibgorn tale, to be Romeo.  Looking back at Pibby as Juliet, I think about keeping her bobbed hair.  It looks good on a fairy.

My adaptations were all faithful to the words, to the poetry.  I was exceedingly careful about it, researching through the quartos and 1st Folio.  This is very moving stuff, as you don’t need me to tell you.  Making cuts was the only liberty I took with Shakespeare’s dialogue; but people make cuts all the time in the theater, so I don’t think Shakespeare would have been too appalled.

TCC:  Are you working on another Shakespearean adaptation? If so, will so share what it is?

I am not working on another adaptation, but I am deciding which one I’d like to work on.  When I did A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I couldn’t help but notice that the performance of Pyramus and Thisby (as I think it was spelled) was – when cleansed of the mechanicals’ comedy – a dry run for Romeo and Juliet; and that, in turn, made me want to go to fair Verona.

The plays I think about now are Love’s Labour’s Lost, Twelfth Night, The Tempest, A Winter’s Tale.  I’m very attracted to Twelfth Night (just to sort out Orsino).   I think Thorax is a natural for Sir Toby Belch.

Writing about this here makes me want to get right down to it, but I must temporize simply to get the script and start making cuts.

This reminds me that in an early Pibgorn story, Drusilla, as a younger succubus, had a love affair with Shakespeare.  Her first affair was as Scheherazade, spinning out stories so her calif would stop killing every girl he married.

Drusilla gets around.

TCC:  There are many love stories in your work–let’s start with Edda and Amos: from the childhood crush that turned into an adult relationship that was consummated in Brussels and led to an awkward engagement–how did that story evolve?

BM:  I didn’t plan ahead.  I white-knuckled it with the muse.  I like their love and their filial relationship; and the lingering storm on their mutual horizon.  One day they will marry, and I don’t expect it to happen without incident.

TCC:  How are each of your romantic relationships different?

BM:  They are intimate, deeply emotional, and character-driven.  And they always end in the sexual expression of love.  For all of them (except Isabel, who really doesn’t know love), sex is an ultimate expression of love.  It is never recreational.  This is the case with Juliette and Elliott, Edda and Amos, Fleurrie and Sven, Edie and Kiesl, Bill and Martine – I’m leaving some people out.  But you get my point.  Except for the characters and the incidentals of plot, they are no different.

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TCC:  You seem to showcase that grown-ups were once young and are also sexual beings, how did you decide to show that in your work?

BM:  As soon as I depicted Gran at age 19, singing to love-starved soldiers no older than she, it was very easy to remember that we were all that age once.  I’m 64 years old now, but underneath it all, I have never stopped feeling about 17.  A very gawky, awkward 17.  The idea of falling in love, especially for the first time, never drains away.

TCC:  Are there any storylines that you are dissatisfied with?

BM:  Well, I have some bones to pick with that Shakespeare guy.

TCC:  How do you come up with your stories? How do you conquer writer’s block?

BM:  I don’t know how I come up with stories.  Things happen as I write, little thoughts lead to big ones, incidentals become central events.  They just happen.  They are very fluid.

I had writer’s block only once, when a cartoonist friend of mine was suffering with it, and fearing each new cartoon as the deadline loomed.  I caught his bug, and started to do the same thing.  Ever since then, I have realized I can be confident that, somehow, every idea will work itself out the next day, or the day after that.  And to them I leave it.

TCC:  You have often been praised for your depiction of women in comics. How do you develop your characters?

BM:  I let them develop themselves.  Far fewer fights break out between us.

TCC:  Do you ever check in with the women in your life to see if you are accurate?

BM:  Most definitely.  Mainly, I make it a point to write nothing that I know I don’t know.  If I need to know something specific to women and what they experience that men don’t, I go ask a woman, nearly always my wife.

TCC:  Who is Monty and how did he come about?

BM:  Monty is God.  However, he likes to be called Monty…..like Field Marshal Montgomery.  If he could, he’d be Field Marshal Montgomery.  But he’s not.  He’s God.  Worse luck.

TCC:  Premarital chastity plays a role in some of your characters, but when it is broken, it is shattered in a great way. How do you decide when is the right time for your characters?

BM:  Oddly, my characters always decide.  They just seem to take over, and shatter away.

TCC:  How long do you plan to keep the strips coming? Would you ever pass the reins off to someone else?

BM:  I plan to keep them coming until the crack of doom.  When I die, the strips die with me.

TCC:  Your work sometimes does flashbacks in order to tell a story of long ago. Some of your most powerful stories are about Gran (Edie) and her life as an OSS operative, and Bill in WWII in France. How did you research their storylines?

BM:  I had learned over the years various stories from primary sources; and I read a great deal about (for instance) the organization of enemy POW camps in Britain, the kinds of rifles carried by the British soldier as well as the Karabiners and Lugers issued to the Germans, the landing plans for Operation Overlord, the experiences of the combatants on Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword beaches in Normandy.  I wish, in a way, that I had had the chance while composing these stories to travel to Normandy and see directly what I had been writing about.

TCC:  Did you start at the end and work your way back?

BM:  I knew where I was going with both stories, so I started at the beginning, and allowed my characters to take the lead and make changes as they went along.  They often do that, and I just scurry along behind them and draw.  I know that sounds preposterous, but it is the way things go.

TCC:  How have people received these stories?

BM:  The reaction has been surprisingly avid.  I didn’t expect it.  I just thought I was sitting in my little, monk’s cell, illuminating manuscripts, and that was that.  People, however, seemed to be hanging on each installment; and the viewer numbers online were huge.  I was glad to come back, after telling Edie’s story, and fill in what happened to Bill – especially, I was happy to find out how Juliette got her name (another thing that popped out of the characters unplanned).

TCC:  You don’t shy away from violence, how do you decide what to show?

BM:  I show, in the wartime stories, what would have been seen.  In Pibgorn, I show quite a bit more, because it has no fundament in reality.  If any readers mind, they neglected to write and tell me.

TCC:  Please tell me more about Juliette’s role as a tough college professor.

BM:  It is my view that college professors have been seeing their authority and respect erode into contempt and intimidation.  Juliette is probably an individual who would be regarded as intolerable in the hypersensitive air of academe now, especially considering how little she cares for pre-meds who want to sail into medical school and get a free pass to an M. D.  She sees her students as people who will be performing surgery on her or someone dear to her in the future, and if the bastards can’t stand the rigor, they shouldn’t be holding scalpels.

TCC:  I’m having a fan-girl moment:  Will we see Diane again? What about Sven and Fleurrie? Will Seth become a fashion designer? I loved the story line of Seth and the ballet dancer, I think her name was Fernanda.

BM:  Yes, Diane will emerge again.  Usually, I neglect characters until it occurs to me that I haven’t seen them in a while, then I start pushing people aside to find them.  Diane and Francis are a couple I haven’t given proper consideration of late.  Their time approaches.

Sven and Fluerrie likewise.  I always imagine that Seth will become a couturier of some sort; and his days as a dancer have to be numbered.  It’s a rough profession.  Seth’s romantic outburst for a girl – his one lovely moment of falling off the homosexual wagon – was dangerously nice.  I tend to imagine that he secretly recognizes a kind of atavistic tendency to fall, in his own way, for certain women – and Fernanda was one of those women.  I also think, somewhere waaaaaaaaaay down deep, he suppresses little, guilty yens for Edda.  It probably has to do with her combative, screw-up nature, and his urge to protect her.  More horrible than that thought, is his awareness that Edda has always had a crush on him simmering quietly on the back burner of her id.  This suggests stories that, I think, might be too destructive to her own happiness with Amos; so she won’t go there.  Amos is her eternal love and her paladin.  Transgressions must remain reveries, nothing more.  But she savors the reveries.

TCC:  Have you been approached to adapt any of your work to TV or movies?

BM:  Years ago I was blandished in the hope that I might vouchsafe the Wayne Rogers Company a free option to produce, should they decide to, a series based on 9 Chickweed Lane.  When it was suggested, rather heavily, that it would be improved with a soupçon of T & A, I declined.

The Edie Ernst, U.S.O Singer story has, as mentioned before, been under option for cinematic treatment; although discussions also wandered into the possibility of a short series, say, with the BBC.  I think it would be rather good that way.

TCC:  What kind of software or equipment do you use to make your strips?

BM:  I use a Wacom Cintiq tablet, Photoshop and an Apple computer. 

TCC:  Do you keep a notepad nearby for ideas?

BM: If not a notepad, I reach out for envelopes, napkins, a stick scrawled in the sand, blood if handy.

TCC:  What advice would you give to aspiring cartoonists?

BM:  My advice for aspirant cartoonists:  Never listen to anybody, ever, about cartooning.  And never give up.  Never never never never never never never … Never.  As with nearly everything else in the arts, adamant resolute dogged foolhardy patience, and being deaf to entreaties to consider a career in spot welding, are absolute virtues.  Spot welding’s loss will be cartooning’s gain.

TCC:  Where can people find your work?

BM:  Other than in the newspaper, if your local one carries it, you can see it at gocomics.com (both Chickweed and Pibgorn).

TCC:  If someone wanted to start following your work from the beginning, how would they do that?

To see my work on 9 Chickweed Lane from the beginning, we have been anthologizing it from the beginning.  The complete oeuvre has yet to be assembled, but if you go to pibpress.blogspot.com, you can see what we have published so far.  As of this writing, we have released 14 books.

TCC:  How do you connect with your fans?

BM:  They write to me, when they are inclined.  I also attend the San Diego Comic Con International, where I sign drawings, and chat.  I also go to the zoo there, which can be taken as a redundant statement.

TCC:  How can fans connect with you via social media? 

BM:  I don’t use Facebook, Twitter, nor any other social medium.  There is no comments board attached to my strips online, nor will there ever be.  I maintain an email account for anybody who wishes to contact me.  That’s about it.  The address is: chickweedpibgorn@gmail.com.

If you are a fan of pen and paper, you may also write to me c/o Pib Press, P. O. Box 942, Kennebunk, ME 04043.

Brooke McEldowney’s work 9 Chickweed Lane and Pibgorn may be seen on Go Comics, he is often on-hand at the San Diego Comic Con and there is a fun, unofficial fan page that can help guide a newbie through the work here.

Here’s a sketch he did at Comic Con in 2015:

Image result for brooke mceldowney comic con

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Michelle Tompkins

Michelle Tompkins is an award-winning media, PR and crisis communications professional with more than ten years experience with coverage in virtually every traditional and new media outlet. She is currently a communications and media strategist and writer, as well as the author of College Prowler: Guidebook for Columbia University. She served as the Media Relations Manager for the Girl Scouts of the USA where she managed all media and talking points, created social media strategy, trained executives and donors and served as the organization’s primary spokesperson, participating in daily interviews with local, regional, and national media outlets. She managed the media for the Let Me Know internet safety and Cyberbullying prevention campaign with Microsoft, as well as Girl Scouts’ centennial Year of the Girl To Get Her There celebration in 2012, which yielded more than 800 million earned media impressions. In addition to her extensive media experience, Michelle worked as a talent agent in Los Angeles, California, as well contracting as a digital content developer and her writing has appeared in newspapers and online. She is passionate about television, theater, classic movies, all things food and in-home entertaining. While she has lived and worked in NYC for more than a decade, she is from suburban Sacramento and gets back there often to watch the San Francisco Giants on TV with her family.

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