Saturday, April 3, 2010

Dave Blazek - Cartoonist Survey #105

Cartoonist, graphic artist, former stand-up comedian and film and audio director, Dave Blazek was born in March of 1957. He graduated from Pennsylvania State University with a Journalism degree. As a former stand-up comedian he performed at comedy clubs in and around the Philadelphia area. Dave has won over 130 creative awards for his work in advertising, writing and directing print, radio and television commercials for regional and national clients. While working in the advertising department at The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News in 1999, he collaborated with illustrator John Gilpin to create the single panel comic strip, "Loose Parts". At the same time he was writing for Comedy Central’s "Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist". In 2001 John Gilpin got sick and decided to stop drawing for “Loose Parts”. Dave took over drawing the strip and he still handles both duties of writing and drawing. “Loose Parts” is syndicated by Tribune Media Services and appears in newspapers worldwide. He also draws the comic “Biz” which appears in the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Sunday Business section. “Loose parts” has been nominated for this year's National Cartoonist Society, Best Newspaper Panel Cartoon award. The winner of the NCS awards will be announced on Memorial Day Weekend. Dave currently lives with his wife and two daughters near the Valley Forge National Park in Pennsylvania. Visit Dave’s “Loose Parts" website and his blog. To learn more about this year’s National Cartoonist Society awards click here.

What is your favorite pen to use?
I use Pigma Microns to ink. Of course, it took me years before I realized I was using the wrong ends. I just pressed really hard and filled in the grooves with color later.

Do you draw in pencil first and if so do you use a standard pencil or a mechanical one?
Yeah, I do draw in pencil first ... A mechanical pencil. Surprisingly, (or maybe not if you’ve seen my work) I don’t do much general sketching first unless it’s a really complicated scene I need to block out first. I just generally get an idea of the scene in my head and then I just plunge right in. The penciling is not the problem. The problem is, I’m a really bad eraser. I have to get better at erasing. I’m always leaving pencil lines everywhere. I tried to hire a professional eraser on Craigslist but the guy who showed up at 2 AM was not what I expected.

Do you do your coloring by hand or on the computer?
That’s a hard question to answer. Technically I do coloring on the computer. But I use a Wacom tablet and use colors in layers and in various opacities so it feels like I’m just doing hand washes of colors. So, yeah, I use a computer but I don’t think I could color the same cartoon the same way twice in a row. The whole crayon gambit was a total disaster.

If you do your coloring by hand, what do you use?
Other people’s hands. Again, you’d be surprised what you can get on Craigslist.

What type of paper do you use?
Believe it or not, I went years just drawing on whatever copier paper I could get cheapest. But after a decade or so I thought I’d step up and now I use a really nice 70 lb. drawing paper with great erasability.

What thing(s) do you hate to draw?
Cars. I just don’t get it right. From wheels to interiors to proportions. If you see a car in a Loose Parts cartoon you know I have real loyalty to that joke because I have gone out of my way to avoid drawing them in the past. The only reason for this I can think of is that maybe I was attacked by a car when I was a kid.

Do you buy your supplies from big chain art store catalogues/websites or a local one that you physically go to?
There’s a place called Utrecht that I use. Just hop online and boom the stuff shows up. Of course, I always have my eyes open as I walk around, especially for individual pens. I tend to use the .3 thickness of Microns more than others so those wear out fastest. Buying single pens is a bit uneconomical what with the shipping and all. So If I wander by an art supply store and they sell individual pens, I’ll grab a bunch. I’m also very active in the very secret Ducks for Art Supplies Barter Black Market.

Are there any rituals that you do before starting to draw?
Does beer count? If not, then not really. Since I also have another career, I do most of my drawing on Saturdays. I just wake up, brush my teeth and saunter over to the table before I’m too awake to realize what I’m doing with my life.

Do you listen to music while you draw and if so what genre?
Oh yeah, a lot. I have wide and various musical tastes. First, I always listen to music when I write. But I prefer music with either foreign lyrics or no words because they can be distracting. So, this week, for instance, I listened to some cello music – Yo Yo Ma – and another CD of a progressive Celtic group called Solis. Then when I draw I generally fire up the iPod. Again, wide ranging. For example, this past Saturday I listened to Nick Drake, The Decemberists and a great under-the-radar singer songwriter, David Berkeley. Then when I move to the computer, I generally fire up Pandora. Yesterday I listened to bossa nova music using the Joao Gilberto channel. I’m all over the place.

Did you read comics as a kid and if so what was your favorite?
Sure. Used to fight my brothers for the paper and lost. So they got the Sports and I started with the comics. I also recall my parents buying Peanuts compilations and using them to pacify us during long car trips. Well, that and ether.

What is or was your favorite comic strip?
Peanuts when I was young. Then Kliban rocked my world. Then Larson doubly rocked it.

What was your favorite book as a child and do you still own a copy of it?
I don’t recall having a favorite one but I recall reading a lot. Science fiction mostly. But now I’m all over the place with reading. I ride a train on my commute to my other job every day and that affords me daily reading time. So I get to put away 40 books a year or so. My college student daughter and I have an annual contest to see who can read more. She usually blows me away. But I try to alternate reading fiction and non-fiction to keep the raw fuel for jokes pumping into my brain. You can see what I’m reading at any given time on the Dave’s Brain page on my site

Did you have any formal art training and if so where did you receive it?
I have none. Like anyone with eyes needed to hear that. My degree is in Journalism and I have a side of my life where people have no idea I’m a cartoonist. They think I’m a writer and director. In fact, I’m 53 now and only learned to draw ten years ago. I should say only started to learn to draw ten years ago. I never in my life thought I would be a cartoonist. I fell into it. I had been a writer and ad guy and stand-up comedian. When Loose Parts was first created (way back in the last century) I wrote it but it was drawn by my friend John Gilpin. A year into it, John decided to drop out so I had to teach myself how to draw really fast or there would be holes in lots of newspapers. But now, after ten years and drawing 4,000 cartoons, I think I’m starting to get the hang of it.

Do you feel that the Internet is a blessing or a curse?
Does it have to be either?

Did either of your parents draw?
Nope. My dad was an accountant in a locomotive factory. My mom was a housewife. My siblings are in insurance. I’m the black sheep of the family.

Who in your life is/was the most supportive of your art?
My wonderful, patient, glorious wife Eileen. She actually knows how to draw and paint and in those early years she helped me immeasurably. (“Honey as you get further away the lines come closer together.”) But in those dark times when I was very close to chucking the whole cartooning thing, she’s never wavered and kept me going. I dedicated one of my books with the line “she believed in me even when I didn’t” and it’s as true today as it’s ever been.

Do you keep a sketchbook?
I keep a joke book. I have a leather day planner-size book I write all my jokes in. But since I come at this thing like a writer, all the cartoons start out as words. Oh, occasionally I sketch a little thumbnail if I think I’ll forget the idea, but it’s just page after page of words. When it’s full, I pop out the pages and insert a fresh set of blank pages. You can see it at I take a couple of cartoons, show how the idea looked in my joke book, then how I sketched it, then how I finished it. It’s in the Behind The Toons section of the site.

Have you ever taught cartooning/drawing and if so did you enjoy the experience?
I’ve never taught cartooning per se. But I love talking to students about how to turn creativity in general into a paying career. As a matter of fact, just last week, I spoke at Career Day at my daughter’s high school. Man, those kids can hurl fruit.

Do you feel that talent or passion is more important in drawing?
I’d have to add Mountain Dew to that list and say all of them are important. If you don’t have the passion, you won’t be able to put the hours in the chair. But if you don’t have talent, you won’t be rewarded for your efforts and will probably just give up. And Mountain Dew is just pure caffeinated nectar of the gods. Oh, and I would ad ‘Enjoyment’ to the list. I think passion is just enjoyment in sheep’s clothing. I keep doing this because, well, it’s pretty damn fun. I often say it’s the closest thing I’ve found to being able to tickle yourself.... next to that machine I invented.

Do you collect anything and if so what?
You know that waxy buildup on the inside of your nose? I collect that. And, literally, I mean your nose.

If you were an animated cartoon character who do you think you would be?
An obscure background character. One that turns to the guy next to me and says, “Hey, was that Bugs Bunny who just walked by?”

Are you a righty or lefty?
Righty. Though since I’ve come to your planet, I’ve kept my third arm under my shirt and tightly bound to my torso.

If you weren't an artist what would you want to do for work?
Well, I do other stuff. I’m an advertising creative and I do weirdly creative ads as well as write and direct radio and TV commercials. I just finished doing my first animation work. I’ve also written animated TV shows. I was a stand-up comedian for a few years. The only thing I haven’t done professionally yet that I’d like to is music. And being a ninja.

In one or two sentences describe your drawing area.
I can do it in four words: the dining room table. One, because not being a formally trained artist, I never used a drawing board. Two, though I have a lovely office, I wanted to be in the middle of family life so I prefer to work where my family can stroll by, look at my work and feel a little vomit rise in the back of their throats. Also, I’m blessed to have a really cool house in the woods and I can look out giant windows that way. My real office is below ground and has worms and mole people.

Do you play any musical instruments?
Absolutely, I started playing the piano at age 6 and have continued ever since. About three years ago, after hand surgery, I started playing the guitar and am now cranking away on that as well. I play an instrument probably 3-4 hours a week. The guitar and piano are just feet away from where I draw so it’s not unusual for me to stroll over and play a song or two as a break between drawing cartoons. And my wife (who started learning cello when I took up guitar) and I get together with friends and we all play music. Oh, and a year ago I started taking singing lessons. So, yeah, you could say music plays a pretty big role in my life. I believe people use recordings of my playing to scare geese away from ponds.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wants to pursue drawing as a career what would it be?
I tell people to think of it as creativity as a career maker and not a specific skill. It’s not as limiting that way. Artists can become graphic artists or animators or writers or musicians. It’s a much more stable support system that still can feed the one single thing you like to do most. Oh, and I tell them not to try to recharge a car battery by putting it in the microwave. That was a mistake.

Who is your favorite artist?
Any one who is better than me and that’s, well, everyone.

Thanks very much Dave and good luck at the Reuben Awards dinner.

Up next is the very talented cartoonist, Randy Glasbergen.

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