Today we get a chance to talk with Roger Langridge, the talent behind the new Popeye comic book series and Snarked (SNARKED: Forks and Hope on Amazon)
What was your first paid job in comics?
There are a few different answers to that question. The first time I got paid anything for drawing comics was when I was 13, still living in New Zealand, and I sent in a dopey four-part strip to a children’s page in our local Sunday paper. They printed it; I think you got $2 if your contribution was published, so for the whole four parts I got the princely sum of $8. Then there was my first paid work as an adult (or nearly so) when I did a few illustrations and a couple of strips for the AucklandUniversity student paper in 1988 (I must have been 21 years old), and they were experimenting that year with paying a token amount to their contributors. I made something like $50 there. My first actual paying comics work outside New Zealand was the advance my brother Andrew and I got for our work on Art d’Ecco #1, in 1989, from Fantagraphics – I think it was $100 in (highly optimistic) anticipation of future royalties or something, I forget exactly. Then finally – and I suspect this was what you were really asking – I received my first actual page rate, no royalties or token payments, for a single-tier strip I did in Deadline magazine in 1990, after I moved to the UK in order to pursue my dream of becoming a professional cartoonist. They paid £100 a page, so that third-of-a-page got me £33. Woo-hoo! I’d made it!
Are there any lessons you learned from that job that you think every Comic Book creator should know?
Only the way I got the job in the first place, which was by sheer bloody-minded persistence. I think my mindset at that point helped me enormously – in my own head, I’d crossed some kind of line from being “wannabe-cartoonist” to “cartoonist who is temporarily unemployed”. It wasn’t something I wanted to be any more, it was somethng I already was. I think you have to have that mindset to get anywhere.
You’ve been attached to projects like the Muppet Show comics, Popeye comics, and even Dr. Who comics. When you work on an owned property, do they give you guidelines to follow?
There are usually guidelines of some sort, although an awful lot of it comes down to having some familiarity with the property to begin with and using a little common sense. I haven’t been inundated with style guides and what-have-you, if that’s what you’re asking. There’s always somebody (or, in the case of anything related to Disney, several dozen somebodies) scrutinising what you do and telling you if you get something wrong, so it’s best not to worry too much about it – somebody will pull you up if you cross a line.
A new Popeye comic book, which you wrote, is going to be released soon. Did you have to do any research prior to writing the series?
I was already pretty familiar with the entirety of E.C. Segar’s work on the character, which was the approach IDW asked me to take, so no, not really. Looking up the odd character name here and there is about the extent of it. The rest is already rattling around my noggin. I’ve been a huge Segar fan since I was a kid, and his work has been a significant influence on my own, so to a degree it was already in my blood.
In a Daily Cross Hatch interview, you said that “A lot of the comedians I’m influenced by got their start in vaudeville and musicals.” ( http://thedailycrosshatch.com/2010/11/17/interview-roger-lanridge-pt-1-of-2/ ) For you, what is the appeal of these comedians?
The appeal works on a number of levels. First, there’s the individual styles of a number of those comedians. I wouldn’t defend every vaudeville comedian as great, I’m sure some of them were absolutely dire, but the really good ones that background produced – Chaplin, Arbuckle, Stan Laurel, the Marx Brothers, Buster Keaton, W.C. Fields – are among the finest comedians the world has ever known. So there’s the artists themselves. Beyond that, there’s something about that atmosphere, the slightly shabby, everybody-mucking-in world of the theatre, and especially the beautiful old theatres that existed during the vaudeville era, that seems incredibly romantic to me. (Wrongly so, probably; there was plenty of exploitation and unpleasantness going on, but I’m speaking as somebody looking at it from a century’s distance, of course. And, to no small degree, through the filter of The Muppet Show,which was probably my first exposure to that world – or at least a version of it.)
Do you have a favorite?
Oh, yeah. Buster Keaton. Definitely Keaton. He did it all – when he hit Hollywood, he didn’t just act, he came up with his own stories, he directed, he was involved in the technical effects, he did all his own stunts – a complete renaissance man. And funnier than six Chaplins put together. His films are still incredibly funny today, and don’t lag for long stretches like those of a lot of his contemporaries – they were tight, tight, tight. And his sense of comic timing can still make modern audiences actually stand up in the cinema and burst into a spontaneous round of applause. I’ve seen it with my own eyes, more than once. What a genius.
What inspired your series, Fred the Clown?
Buster Keaton! Oh, and a bunch of other stuff. But Keaton’s definitely in there. It’s really a soup of influences – old newspaper strips, that vaudeville/music hall thing, romantic comedies, a desire to play with comics’ formal properties, filtering my youthful romantic misadventures through my older, more jaded eyes… but I suppose the lightning rod moment was when I did a silent Fred the Clown story for L’Association’s Comix 2000 anthology, their big, wordless 2000-page book to celebrate the millennium, and – paradoxically enough – I found that making him silent gave him his own unique voice. Strange alchemy sometimes, comics. Anyway, that breakthrough gave me the confidence to turn the strip into a weekly webcomic and, eventually, a self-published comic book series.
What are your thoughts on webcomics/digital comics?
Well, I’d be nowhere without them. Everything I’ve done for the past decade has been as a result of Fred the Clown in one way or another, and that was a webcomic, so I consider my career to be proof that webcomics are an effective way to get your work seen. And even as a reader I’m finding I’m reading a lot more stuff digitally, particularly since I picked up a second-hand iPad off eBay a few months ago – not just new stuff, either; I’ve got a hard drive full of old scanned newspaper strips from the 1920s which, for the first time, I have an easy method of reading. So, yeah, I’m in favour of digital comics, although I imagine I’ll still want to have books around as well. Some things work just fine digitally while others really demand to be read on paper. No reason we can’t have both. I think setting up print and digital against one another is a false dichotomy, really. Options, that’s what we want!