Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Jenny Campbell - Cartoonist Survey #173

Jenny Campbell, cartoonist for the comic strip 'Flo and Friends', grew up in the Phoenix/Scottsdale, AZ area. She graduated from Arizona State University in 1979 with a BA in journalism. During college she worked full time at The Arizona Republic doing various jobs including picture editor, feature writer and cartoonist. After Jenny graduated she moved to California and worked for the Pasadena Star-News before spending three years at The Orange County Register. In her early 30’s she came to the conclusion that she really wanted to be a full time cartoonist and moved to Philadelphia to pursue her career. She created a thriving freelance illustration business illustrating “18 children’s picture books; more than 200 educational texts; a spaghetti jar label; several tattoos; two mobile spay-neuter vans; a line of yogurt; more than 600 drawings for a supermarket chain; a license plate for the state of Ohio; the Dear Highlights page in Highlights for Children magazine every month for the past seven years; and the wall of the cat community room at my local humane society.”

In 2002 Jenny was approached by John Gibel, who wanted her to help him with his idea for a comic strip about senior citizens. Together they created 'Flo and Friends'. Syndicated by Creators Syndicate, 'Flo and Friends' follows the life of an active and mentally youthful senior citizen. Regulars in the strip include Flo’s granddaughter Treggie, Treggie’s two uncles, a cast of Flo’s friends and Cleo the cat and Jasper the dog. Sadly, John Gibel passed away suddenly in 2005, but his family decided that they wanted Jenny to keep the strip going. Now living in Chagrin Falls, OH, Jenny shares her studio with “Theia, a 75-pound cross-eyed black lab mix with issues; Kip, a geriatric gray pound cat with the heart of a cheetah and no idea where the cat box is; and a big ‘ol black tom cat with diabetes named Matthew.” Visit
Jenny’s website to see many more examples of her work and read 'Flo and Friends' here at Creators Syndicate.

What is your favorite pen to use?
I use mostly Pigma Micron pens, although I like my Rapidographs, too. And occasionally, I still use my old quill and ink well. And, who doesn’t love a Sharpie?

Do you draw in pencil first and if so do you use a standard pencil or a mechanical one?
I do everything in pencil first; I have the same 0.5 Pentel technical pencil that I had when I started freelancing 22 years ago. It’s my lucky charm.

Do you do your coloring by hand or on the computer?
Both. For newspaper reproduction, I have to colorize my Sunday strip on the computer, so I do it in Photoshop, using a graphics tablet. But I also do a lot of commercial work and children’s book illustration, and for that type of work I apply color the old-fashioned way.

If you do your coloring by hand, what do you use?
My preference is watercolor, although I also use acrylics and sometimes colored pencil. I’ve even done a few jobs in crayon, using my old box of 64 Crayolas. I love that old paraffin smell. The colors don’t pop like watercolor when they’re reproduced, but it’s still cool.

What type of paper do you use?
I’m a Strathmore girl. I use Strathmore Bristol, Series 500, 2-ply plate surface for my strips. For some watercolor jobs I use Strathmore’s 3-ply vellum surface because it takes the pen and ink, but also handles the watercolor well if it’s not too wet. I’ve done several children’s books using watercolor and a black Prismacolor colored pencil for my black line, and for those jobs, I like 140-lb hot press watercolor paper (smooth surface).

What thing(s) do you hate to draw?
Cars and trucks, bicycles, machinery. Not wild about buildings, although I’ve done some that have turned out okay. I love drawing people and animals… mostly animals.

Do you buy your supplies from big chain art store catalogues/websites or a local one that you physically go to?
I’ve shopped around a lot… and if I need something specific I’ll sometimes order it online or compare prices online until I find the best. But I’ve never found better deals on the paper and supplies that I use everyday than at my local art store, which is independently owned – Prizm Art Supply. I don’t know how they do it… there are only two: one near Cleveland and one in Indianapolis, but it’s an awesome store and their prices for basic art supplies almost always beat the big chains and the online discount stores.

Are there any rituals that you do before starting to draw?
Besides procrastinating until it’s almost too late? Not really.

Do you listen to music while you draw and if so what genre?
When I’m sketching (and I have to really think about what I’m doing), I listen to music… all genres, from classical to rock to country to pop. But once my sketches have been approved, or I’ve finished lettering the text in my strips (and I don’t have to think anymore), then I switch to books on CD. If I’m working a big job, I can whip through several books a week. Mysteries are best when I’m working, because I get riveted and can completely lose myself in them.

Did you read comics as a kid and if so what was your favorite?
Always. But Peanuts was the hands-down favorite. I had all the Schulz books. Later, I got into comic books and became an Archie nut for awhile.

What is or was your favorite comic strip?
It was always Peanuts. And then Bloom County , back in the old days (sorry, wasn’t fond of the Opus rebirth), and Doonsebury. And of course, Calvin and Hobbes.

What was your favorite book as a child and do you still own a copy of it?
I was a huge fan of a British cartoonist named Norman Thelwell, who drew a lot of kids and horses. His book, “A Leg at Each Corner” was my favorite, and yes I still have it. My other two favorites were Dr. Seuss’ “If I Ran the Zoo” and my childhood copy of Aesop’s Fables. And yes, I have those, too.

Did you have any formal art training and if so where did you receive it?
I was an art major my first two years of college, at Arizona State University , until I realized I wasn’t really embracing the fine art curriculum, because all I wanted to do was cartoon. So, I switched my major to journalism and graduated with a BA in journalism.

Do you feel that the Internet is a blessing or a curse?

Did either of your parents draw?
My mom’s a fabulous artist – an oil painter and a wonderful sketch artist, even still at 84!

Who in your life is/was the most supportive of your art?
My dad was my biggest fan, as an artist and as a person. He died in 1991. My mom’s supportive, too, but not as overtly as my dad was. These days, my biggest supporter is my partner, who thinks what I do is awesome. She’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, and she thinks what I do is cool.

Do you keep a sketchbook?
Not really. I have a few, but rarely use them. Instead, I draw on napkins, spare scraps of paper, the backs of mail, and sometimes, people’s arms.

Have you ever taught cartooning/drawing and if so did you enjoy the experience?
I don’t actually teach it as a class, but because I’ve illustrated more than 18 children’s books, I visit schools all the time and talk about what I do, and during those sessions, I always give some drawing lessons. The coolest thing in the whole world is when I put my pen on a piece of paper in front of a roomful of second graders… and suddenly, I’m a rock star.

Do you feel that talent or passion is more important in drawing?
A little of both is optimum… but I’d have to say passion. I know a LOT of wildly talented people whose work is flat and uninteresting, and I know a few people who definitely do NOT have the natural talent, but who absolutely delight people with their artwork, and create wonderful work because of that passion.

Do you collect anything and if so what?
I have a pretty decent collection of Thelwell stuff, and I think I have almost all of Edward Gorey’s works, even a cool little out-of-print book called “The Beastly Baby” that is simply wonderful. When I win the lottery, I’m going to start collecting anything related to Walt Kelly’s “Pogo” series. I have a couple of early books, but I’d love to have more.

If you were an animated cartoon character who do you think you would be?
I think I’d be my own trademark dog that I always draw… he’s sometimes goofy and sometimes tenacious; sometimes painfully shy and neurotic, and sometimes brave; sometimes loud and obnoxious and sometimes sweet. I relate to him… I think he’s me.

Are you a righty or lefty?
Righty. My left can handle the left side of the keyboard and hold my paper down when I’m erasing. Beyond that, not much else.

If you weren't an artist what would you want to do for work?
I also write, and was a newspaper reporter for 13 years before I dipped my toe into the cartooning pool (22 years ago); I miss writing a lot, so there’s no question. If I weren’t cartoonist, I’d go back to being a feature writer. If I couldn’t do that either, I think it’d be fun to be a short-order cook or a bartender.

In one or two sentences describe your drawing area.
A couple of years ago, I bought a massive old antique wooden drawing table at a flea market. I love it. I try to keep it clean, but stacks seem to accumulate and it gets very cluttered. The table is 3’x5’ and when my drawing area is reduced to about 15”x15” of free space, I know it’s time to clean off the desk.

Do you play any musical instruments?
The clarinet, badly. It scares the dog, so I haven’t practiced in awhile.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wants to pursue drawing as a career what would it be?
Do it. And persevere. Find a way. You owe it to yourself to give it a shot, so give it a really good, honest one. And learn to sell yourself, because that’s really THE most important part if you want to be able to follow your muse AND pay your mortgage.

Who is your favorite artist?

I have a lot of favorite artists – some sculptors (I’m a Rodin freak); some painters (I love Jamie Wyeth’s “Portrait of Pig”); and some cartoonists (Watterson’s “Calvin and Hobbes” is truly beautiful artwork)… I can’t name a favorite one. Right now, my current favorite painter is a local artist who’s also a very good friend of mine, Betsy Somershield, who paints these very cool, wild, bright, funky acrylics of animals. I’m surreptitiously trying to collect as many of her paintings as I possibly can (including a couple of cool cow paintings that she did on stray pieces of cardboard).

Thank you very much Jenny!

Next up, cartoonist and illustrator Adrian Tomine.


Robin Cain said...

Wow, that was a great one too, David!!! So much I relate to in Jenny's answers... she really put thought and effort into her answers, which I appreciate being a budding cartoonist and wanting to learn everything I can! Your blog is one of my absolute favorites! Thank you so much.

David said...

Glad you enjoyed this one Robin.