November 8, 2007
When I was a young buck, my dream was to be a syndicated cartoonist. I spent 500 hours (I worked as a surveyor during the day, worked on my cartoons at night and kept a log) developing a strip about kids growing up on a farm. It was called "Lippo And Pagoona," and why it wasn't picked up on the name alone, I'll never know. Ha.
Anyway, I eagerly sent it out to big syndicates and small, and got rejected some 27 times.
Finally, while in Iowa for my cousin's wedding, in the summer of 1971, I worked on six additional colored Sunday strips of the idea, while I was staying on my grandpa's farm, and sent it all off to the Des Moines Register Syndicate (Hey, they're in farm country, they'll certainly get what I'm trying to do won't they?).
Two weeks later came the rejection letter with all my returned cartoons, but it wasn't the usual mimeographed to mush version, this was a real letter and they said the strip was good, "but not quite right." This drove me crazy! Did I miss by an inch or ten miles. I had to know.
On the bus ride home to Arizona, we had an hour layover in Des Moines. It was a strange city to me, but on the spur of the moment, I stuffed my bags in a rental locker and literally started running down the street asking people where the Des Moines Register is. Luckily, Des Moines is a small town, and ten minutes later, huffing and puffing, I walked in the massive building, and asked the receptionist where the syndicate was and she told me. I went upstairs, made a wrong turn and ended up in the press room, asked directions again, and finally staggered into the office and asked the woman at the desk by the door if I could talk to someone about my comic strip. She asked if I had an appointment. I said no. She walked away and was gone for about five minutes. The clock was ticking, and I'm sure I looked a nervous wreck, because I was.
She finally came back and said Mr. So-And-So would talk to me. He eyed me warily, as we went into a small conference room. I cut to the chase and asked about the fate of "Lippo And Pagoona." He gave me the usual, "Young man, we get hundreds of submissions every week. . ." but I kept pressing, describing scenes and punchlines. Finally, a light went off in his head and he said, "Oh, yes, that one. Well, you know, farm strips don't sell."
All the way back to Arizona I fumed and fretted about this. The strip was jinxed from the get go. The fix was in. There was evidently an industry belief that for whatever reason, farm strips don't sell (not long after, Jim Davis, of Garfield fame, launched a farm strip to big acclaim, but it didn't last, because, hey, farm strips don't sell). I could have called them before I spent one hour on the idea and asked them if they were interested in a farm strip.
It's been years, nay, decades, since I've looked at Lippo and Pagoona and this morning I found the original page of strips in the garage under a huge pile of other art I did for New Times, Playboy, National Lampoon and The Razz Revue, among others:
Maybe It's True Farm Strips Don't Sell, But Neither Does Bad Writing
Yes, the writing sucks. It's not funny or compelling and that is the real reason the strip didn't sell. The artwork is okay and has a nostalgic ring of, ah, something.
My former neighbor, Jerry Scott of Baby Blues and Zits fame knows how to write. In fact he writes two gags a day for every day of the year. Now that is a writer (and the Lake Havasu High School graduate Bastard can draw as well!). By the way, bugs have eaten away at the bottom of the Lippo page which gives it a sort of historical document patina. Ha.
So, I never got to be a syndicated cartoonist and, so far, have never got to be as commercially successful as Charlie Schultz, who, according to his new biography, made $65 million a year off "Peanuts" and assorted licensing. I suppose success isn't everything. Gee, I wonder if Virginia Woolf has anything to say about this?
"If people are highly successful in their professions they lose their senses. Sight goes. They have no time to look at pictures. Sound goes. They have no time to listen to music. Speech goes. They have no time for conversation. They lose their sense of proportion -- the relationship between one thing and another. Humanity goes."
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