Insight on Cartoonists: An interview with Brad Anderson, creator of “Marmaduke”
Brad Anderson’s Marmaduke has graced the comic pages of newspapers since it went into syndication oodles of years ago. It has been so popular, in fact, that Wikipedia tells us, “attempts to cancel the strip have drawn protest by readers of the Chicago Sun-Times in 1986, The Toronto Star in 1999, and the Sarasota Herald Tribune in 2007.” It can happily still be seen in hundreds of publications.
Because of Anderson’s obvious longevity (born in 1924), we asked him a favorite question: What would he tell the assembled throng when, at the age of 150, he was ready to pack it in. The humor that has sustained both him and his hound came through when he responded with, “Don’t try to live to be 150. It’s tough enough just getting to 90.” He’s doing a great job, we’re happy to see.
Brad has a host of memories to share. Early high points came when his Marmaduke cartoon was picked up by The Saturday Evening Post and Collier’s. A low one arrived when The Post suspended publication with his contract going the same way.
Anderson believes that if former classmates or teachers could see him now, they’d be amazed and probably say, “Can you really make a living drawing funny pictures?” Well, he can and does, and though his early attempts in the field were met with some approval, they were, “treated as a temporary thing and discouraged.” We’re lucky he didn’t feel the same way.
Where does Brad get his ideas for Marmaduke? He confessed that he doesn’t know ( a refreshingly honest answer, I think). “I begin to draw and a cartoon idea appears, sometimes from out of the blue.” One of those ideas is still his personal all time favorite. It ran in The Saturday Evening Post and showed two young women walking past a house with a ‘For Sale’ sign. The caption read: “We had a small quiet wedding and a big noisy divorce.” Given America’s high divorce rate, Anderson says he hears this type of comment all the time today.
His adolescence was influenced by the giants of his day: Chester Gould (Dick Tracy), Milt Caniff (Terry and the Pirates) and E.C. Segar (Popeye) as well as strips with such long-gone names as Out Our Way, Caspar Milquetoast and Krazy Kat.
Of the aforementioned, Milt Caniff is an artist Brad would like to have had a chat with and learn how he became such a great artist and story teller. (I had my own meeting two hours with Mr. Caniff back in the 1960’s – he was a warm, splendid chap and Brad would have enjoyed him immensely). Another artist he would conjure for a get-together is Chester Gould. He calls him a “great illustrator and comic art story teller.”
The subject of the Internet and the Graphic Novel came up and were swiftly dismissed, with Anderson conceding he doesn’t, “know anything about this field” and that he considers himself “too old” for the internet, though a number of his cartoons can be enjoyed on line. He does suggest that with, “newspapers having a rough time,” he’d advise young artists to “go for animation and cartoon advertising.”
The ‘skin jump question,’ one of my occasionally provocative inquiries, found Anderson responding most emphatically with John Gallagher (I confess – I had to look him up and I’m glad I did). He not only wrote an influential column in Boys’ Life for aspiring cartoonists (Brad must have enjoyed that one), was a colleague of his on The Saturday Evening Post and Colliers and named by The National Cartoonists Society twice as best gag cartoonist of the year. Gallagher is a generous choice indeed, and Brad says of him , “He loved cartoons and was just so funny.”
Recent events in China and Russia show us that censorship can result in imprisonment and other harsh treatment for those who step over the lines set by the party in power. Even cartoonists working in such non-controversial arenas as Anderson has, have been brought up on the carpet by ultra-sensitive editors. “No teeth for Marmaduke,” he tells us. “He can use bathrooms, but no toilet.” Brad couldn’t use some words like “butcher shop.” In summation, he says, “In time, the censorship died – and so did the censors.”
With tickets to a trip to outer space on sale now, we asked our intrepid artist/cartoonist what book or books he’d take along with him on that first big voyage: “A book? How To Fly a Rocket If There’s an Emergency.”
Marma may be a Duke, but in the realm of comedic cartooning, Anderson remains a Prince.