Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Bill Amend - Cartoonist Survey #240

(Click strips for larger size.)

Award-winning cartoonist Bill Amend was born in Northampton, Massachusetts in September of 1962. While in grade school he realized he had a knack for drawing cartoons and was soon creating his own comic books. He moved with his family to California in 1974 and attended high school in Burlingame where he contributed cartoons to various school publications. After high school Bill studied at Amherst College and was the editorial cartoonist for the twice-weekly college newspaper. He graduated from Amherst with honors in 1984 and received a Bachelor’s degree in Physics. He worked in the film and animation industry in San Francisco after college and in his spare time sent out cartoons trying to get syndicated. It took about three years of submissions before Universal Press Syndication offered him a contract in the fall of 1987.

On April 10, 1988 Bill’s strip, FoxTrot, debuted as a seven day a week strip. FoxTrot revolves around the daily lives of the Fox family, comprised of Roger and Andrea Fox, their three kids, Peter, Paige and Jason and Jason’s Iguana, Quincy. The strip covers a wide range of topics including nerd culture, popular consumer products and pop culture. As Bill puts it, “FoxTrot tends toward the geeky, with occasional forays into the super geeky.” When FoxTrot started in syndication it appeared in about 70 newspapers and grew to more than 1,000 newspapers worldwide at its peak. In January of 2007 Bill cut back the strip to Sundays only in order to “free up time for other things and to generally preserve what sanity I had left.” There have been well over 30 collections of FoxTrot strips published, with the most recent being last November’s “The Best of FoxTrot”.

Bill was presented with the National Cartoonists Society’s most prestigious award in May of 2007, the Reuben Award as Cartoonist of the Year for 2006. He also received an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Amherst College in 2000. He presently lives in Kansas City, MO with his wife Kristin and two children. Visit the official FoxTrot website to learn more about Bill, read the strips and also purchase prints. He also has a CafePress store where you can buy FoxTrot mugs, t-shirts, sweatshirts, mouse pads and even infant onesies.

What is your favorite pen to use?

For writing I like Uni-balls. For drawing on paper I use Pigma Microns (05 mostly). I draw the strip on a Cintiq now, though.

Do you draw in pencil first and if so do you use a standard pencil or a mechanical one?

I've never liked mechanical pencils. When I draw on paper, I always lightly pencil first with a 2H pencil.

Do you do your coloring by hand or on the computer?


What type of paper do you use?

Strathmore 400 series smooth finish bristol. The 11x14 pads usually (can chop in half for dailies, or use whole for Sundays).

What thing(s) do you hate to draw?

Trees in the winter.

Do you buy your supplies from big chain art store catalogues/websites or a local one that you physically go to?

Both. Depends how soon I need stuff.

Are there any rituals that you do before starting to draw?

Depends. Does procrastination count as a ritual?

Do you listen to music while you draw and if so what genre?

If I'm still fiddling with dialogue, I'll play music without words, such as movie soundtracks or classical stuff. If I'm just working on the art, I'll play whatever I'm in the mood for.

Did you read comics as a kid and if so what was your favorite?

MAD magazine was probably my favorite source of comic entertainment as a kid.

What is or was your favorite comic strip?

Calvin and Hobbes.

What was your favorite book as a child and do you still own a copy of it?

Richard Scarry's Busy, Busy World. It's out of print now, I think. I bought a copy off e-Bay to read to my kids when they were little.

Did you have any formal art training and if so where did you receive it?

No, I studied physics in college.

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

Huge time sink, but great way to research stuff quickly and connect with readers. Making the newspaper business a little iffy, which isn't fun for those of us who rely on it, but hopefully we'll adapt.

Did either of your parents draw?

Not often.

Who in your life is/was the most supportive of your art?

My parents were always really supportive, which was especially important during the years after college when I was mostly unemployed and trying to get syndicated.

Do you keep a sketchbook?


Have you ever taught cartooning/drawing and if so did you enjoy the experience?

I taught a one-week class over winter break once in college. Was fun, but I was pretty disorganized, so not sure how much they learned.

Do you feel that talent or passion is more important in drawing?

Well, with comic strips, I'd say having interesting/entertaining things to say is the most important thing. Talent is obviously important but some of us have succeeded with only a mild amount of it. Passion helps keep you going when it's 3am and stuff is due the next day or when rejection letter number 500 comes in the mail.

Do you collect anything and if so what?

Not really. My office collects clutter, but that's not intentional.

If you were an animated cartoon character who do you think you would be?

As a kid I always liked the smart alec types like Bugs Bunny and Top Cat. As I've grown more nerdy, I'd probably be pegged as more of a Dexter (the mad scientist, not the serial killer lol).

Are you a righty or lefty?

I'm right handed.

If you weren't an artist what would you want to do for work?

Program computers.

In one or two sentences describe your drawing area.

Sort of a U with my traditional drawing table and supplies on one side and my computer stuff on the other. Books and papers and a sea of coffee cups in the middle.

Do you play any musical instruments?

Piano, guitar, tuba. None well.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wants to pursue drawing as a career what would it be?

Well, if it's someone wanting to do a comic strip, I would advise not focusing purely on art. Drawing is only about 30% of the job. Learn/experience lots of other things so you'll have stuff to write about.

Who is your favorite artist?

N.C. Wyeth

Thank you very much for taking the time to participate Bill!

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