Michael Pohrer presenting original FIDDLESTIX© cartoon strips from 1991, for Library Archives. Accepting Susan M. Robison NBCT / Francis Howell Union School Librarian.
Michael Pohrer (MJ) is a St. Louis, Missouri animator, cartoonist and illustrator who has been spilling ink on drawing boards since 1979. Currently a member of CAPS, Comic Art Professional Society, I.C.C. International Cartoonist Conspiracy, and The St. Louis Gateway Arts, he has been delivering daily funnies to the masses since 1988 through the printed pages. He is the creator of the internationally syndicated cartoon strips FIDDLESTIX©, and Welcome To The Jungle©. Images produced by Michael Pohrer at PC Studios can be seen throughout various media sources internationally. The material created is featured on NBC, through Google News, in “Best Editorial Compilations“, Comic books (U.K., Britain), and Anthologies, newspapers, magazines, as well as featured in exhibitions through galleries, and museums across the United States.
Michael Pohrer initially created FIDDLESTIX© during 1979. The anthropomorphic strip always featured a core cast of three main characters. Grizzle and Irving, a misguided bear along with a sidekick snake respectively. The third character PINHEAD is rarely seen throughout the strips existence to date, (Due to an unknowing coincidence to the characters likeness with another syndicated feature. Referenced as Bill Griffith's Zippy the Pinhead at Mike Rhode's ComicsDC, coauthor of the Comics Research Bibliography, Editor of Exhibition and Media Reviews of the International Journal of Comic Art.) The first couple of digital examples that were provided for the article over at Mike Rhode's ComicsDC, were twenty plus years old and were from the time that the strip was originally being worked up through King Features Syndicate for its initial newspaper run. The strips eventually alternated story lines between the three main characters at its peak of dailies.
FIDDLESTIX© first appeared as a one-shot daily panel newspaper cartoon strip in June 1988 and has been syndicated to publications from California to Germany. The strip remained in this initial panel format through 1990. Pinhead never appeared during the first three years of the strips daily run. Here's a look at FIDDLESTIX© as it appeared during its first three years. (Image Courtesy The Paper Chase)
FIDDLESTIX© 1990 The Paper Chase
In 1991 the strip moved into a three panel horizontal format continuing with this daily feature format until 2007. Here's a look at one of the final strips from the daily run. These are the strips that alternated heavily between the three core characters which also featured PINHEAD. (Image Courtesy Spoon Magazine)
FIDDLESTIX© 2006 Spoon Magazine
In 2008 the dailies were pulled from publications and the feature moved to a Full Color Sunday Only format for the 20th Anniversary. Here's a look at how the syndicated full color funnies originally appeared. Gemstone Publishing, Inc. / Diamond International Galleries were the first to release the full color feature. During the strips run in this format Michael's daughter, Brittany debuted her work at the cartooning helm for the initial run. (Image Courtesy Gemstone Publishing, Inc.)
FIDDLESTIX© 2007 Gemstone Publishing
Here's a look at a Sunday formatted cartoon from the printed pages presented in B/W which was a rare occurrence, as all the strips were created in color. Sentinel Publishing presented the cartoons in B/W only. As a bonus a peek at the splash page art inks and colors created for the core characters exclusive strip work for Sentinel. The original art work from the splash pages eventually made it to exhibition at the Altered Esthetics Galleries located in Minnesota. (Image Courtesy Sentinel Publishing)
FIDDLESTIX© Alley Cat 2007 Sentinel Publishing
INKS / COLORS Splash Pages for published core characters FIDDLESTIX© Sunday Strip (Courtesy PC STUDIOS)
In 2011 the cartoon strip reverted back to its original roots as a one-shot panel format. This is how the feature currently appears as a single panel full color Sunday Only format. FIDDLESTIX© is currently syndicated internationally through Hill Communications Canada, Kingston, Ontario, Canada.
At what age did you start drawing?
I started approaching drawing avidly during the latter stages of my youth around the late 70’s. I have been a master of magnificent scribbles as far back as I can remember though. Unfortunately my parents never saved any wall sections I may have spruced up during the early years, masterpieces that are now lost forever (Probably for the better I have seen some of my childhood drawings.)
What was the turning point when you knew drawing was more than a hobby and would become your career?
I never really considered it as a career. It is just something that I have always done. I enjoy creating images and lucky enough to be able to share them with others that enjoy the art form. I never really had a Darwinian moment pointing to the profession. Memorable moments that contributed to following the path include “WOW! Look at this! My cartoons are in the newspapers!” (There is nothing better than actually holding newsprint to read the funnies. Admit it you remember that distinctive newspaper aroma.) Another was while appearing at a presentation on cartooning (Which probably should of been an indication of, “You know you’re a cartoonist, right?”) During the event it hit me all of a sudden like an ACME anvil. “Whoa, all of these people know about my cartoon and actually read it” DUN! DUN! DUN!
Who were some of your influences?
Childhood influences were Ernest Shepard, Maurice Sendak, Chuck Jones, and Isadore Freleng. Influences by the time I was really aware of drawing include “The Usual Gang of Idiots”, Will Eisner, John Romita Sr., Stan Lee, Mort Walker, and many others on an endless list.
How did you specifically get started in cartooning?
I actually started cartooning while still in school during 1978-1979. At that time most of all my classes were in the arts. During class I always opted to draw cartoons, illustrate album covers, or draw cartoon strips etc. instead of regular assignments. One assignment was to create an image for printmaking. That specific print image featured the first core character for FIDDLESTIX©. By 1981 I had already started illustrating images for various clientele locally in my area. During those four years 78-81 I created all the core characters for my first strip and continually produced the strip mainly for my personal enjoyment of the sequential art form. I ended up graduating early and set off into the world, It just so happened that I never stopped drawing.
How did you come up with the name FIDDLESTIX© for the strip?
I remember that I actually picked that up from an editor in the early 80’s. It just kind of stuck to the cartoon like stink on a monkey. Even though the fine folks that syndicated my strips at that time continually urged me to change the title, I refused to change it.
One of the characters from the strip is Pinhead. I read that when you created Pinhead you weren’t even aware of Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead. Where did your idea for Pinhead come from and how does he differ from Zippy?
The character was created just drawing cartoon faces in an art class. Most likely possibly picked up subconsciously from The Coneheads. A significant difference is my character is always set in the Gag-A-Day setting, and Pinhead is not quite the sharpest tool in the shed. Character wise the build, facial features of my character are very much original and very much unlike Mr. Griffith’s. (I will say that it is an amazing coincidence, I can see how others would possibly see a resemblance. I’m not blind over here!)
FIDDLESTIX© has run in different formats over the years. It premiered as a single panel cartoon in 1988, changed to a 3 panel strip in 1991, became a Sunday only full-color strip in 2007 and now has reverted back to the original single panel format. What prompted the different formats, and is there a format you prefer? If so, why?
During the strips initial print run I wanted to just create the feature as a single panel so I could create them quickly. Like every other creative individual you really need to expand your mind and explore other options. I changed the format in 1991 to a horizontal strip so I could create longer story arcs, instead of the quick punch line. Eventually after creating the strip for 20 years plus I wanted to do something different to break up the monotony. I moved the feature to a Sunday only strip for the 20th Anniversary. The current run has reverted back to its roots as a single panel format for the 25th Anniversary. I actually prefer doing the daily horizontal formats, but with all the other features I currently create FIDDLESTIX© has to be produced as a single panel due to time restrictions, plus it just seems right to end up full circle. (On a side note I have been creating special strips for the 25th Anniversary of the feature.)
Please describe your process in creating a FIDDLESTIX© strip.
Originally when I started out the entire feature was created “Old School”, or in simple terms everything was done with pencil to paper and then inked up and sent off via snail mail to the editors. That process continued through to the three-panel strips. During the early ‘90’s though I started to convert over to a digital process to make the production of them go a little quicker. The digital process carried over into the “Sunday Only”, and is still used on the single panel format that the feature has reverted back to.
That was the general basics - to answer the question in depth I will rundown the entire process that I am using to create the 25th Anniversary strips for you, and your readers. The entire process I use is still all digital. The strips are all created using a Wacom, Cintiq 21ux. Generally, I will write the scripts for an entire week’s worth of strips to dictate how many panels I will need for each strip. After the scripts are written I take each and create the various backgrounds for each panel first. (I found that using a preset panel works best to ensure a general same overall looking product.) Then I draw the characters on a separate layer while keeping in mind the dialogue that each character will be using in each panel. After merging the layers of background and characters I will go back over and fix any minor mistakes I may have overlooked. The final step of adding word balloons and dialogue usually goes quickly due to the digital process. POOF! Instant cartoon strip, now just do that same process for the rest of the weeks each strips. Usually it will take around 4 hours to create one strip. Sometimes less, sometimes more depending on how detailed I make the backgrounds. I just finished a few that only took about two hours from start to finish. Either because I’m in a great mood to be creative or the overall strip is just basic with not much going on in the backgrounds.
Are there any subjects that you wouldn’t address in FIDDLESTIX©?
FIDDLESTIX© is mainly geared as a family friendly feature. Specifically created that way to limit any rejections from interested editors/publishers in adding the feature to their printed pages.
Any plans to print an omnibus collection of FIDDLESTIX© strips?
To date there have been only two FIDDLESTIX© Comics Collections published. Volume 1 published in 2006 featured daily strips from the three panel formatted versions; Volume 2 published in 2008 featured the multi-panel Sunday funnies. Both issues featured the strips reformatted in a sequential order, and were only available in limited quantities at in-person appearances. At this time there are no plans to run second printings, or produce any other huge compendium. Although I have been working on pages for a possible expanded version of “The Collected Sunday Funnies”. That project is far from ever seeing light at the moment. Stay Tooned!
Of all the FIDDLESTIX© characters do you have a favorite?
It would probably be Pinhead, even though he rarely appeared in the strip. The writing comes easiest for this character. Just plain old stooge type nonsense in cartoon form. What a hoot!
Does FIDDLESTIX© still have a presence outside of the US?
The cartoons are very well received across the great pond. To date cartoons that were published overseas were a little challenging at times because I would often be responsible for translating the strips. So most of the FIDDLESTIX© cartoons published differed than those here in the states. I would often create an entirely different strip for some publications. (This is another reason why there are different formats for FIDDLESTIX©. The need to accommodate different proportions for different available space on the printed pages.) The fine folks that syndicate my features and I are currently restructuring so all overseas cartoons have been pulled from publications as of December, 2012. That’s right cartoon fans we are concentrating here on the North American market. Even with a dwindling print market we are still currently on a huge push to gain more readers.
When you first created FIDDLESTIX©, did you ever imagine reaching the 25 year benchmark?
Not even an inkling, the strip was initially created for my own amusement, plus I would often get to use the characters for assignments during my school years. Bam! Bonus A’s as a grade for drawing cartoons. Woo Hoo!
What does the future hold for FIDDLESTIX©?
Since this will hit before the excitement really gets geared up for the feature’s actual 25th Anniversary. We have some very cool things happening during the celebration. I would recommend hitting up my TOONED IN© Blog for the freshest funnies off the drawing boards. As for looking further ahead that might be an obsolete point. I saw a homeless gentleman on the street last week and he said there was a pending apocalypse.
In addition to your FIDDLESTIX© comic, you also create the strip Welcome to the Jungle© and editorial cartoons. Do you enjoy working on one subject more than another?
Welcome To The Jungle© is my newest feature that has been running since 2007. This is the strip that replaced the daily FIDDLESTIX© strips after those were pulled from publications. As for the political pontifications I am currently an editorial cartoonist for The Global Free Press. I have only been producing editorial one-shots since 2006. These appear in magazines, newspapers, editorial compilations, featured through Google News, as well as broadcast through NBC on the small screens. As for a preference I would rather work on the cartoon strips over the editorial cartoons. Being an editorial cartoonist can really wear you thin with the constant barrage of death, murder, mayhem. Seriously the news is always not that fantastic, turn on any channel and be amazed at the brilliance of the human species.
Many cartoonists use some of their own personality traits in their characters. Can you give any examples of where you might have done this?
I don’t do this consciously and never really noticed if there are any used. I just draw what I think is funny, hoping others might find it amusing.
How has your drawing style evolved over the years?
I don’t think I have a certain style. Can we classify funny as a style? The drawing is a little more refined now, or has become more fluid and easier with practice. It’s still difficult to get the funny flowing daily for the writing process. I tend to be able to adapt well to different styles, which might be a bonus. I had a fellow cartoonist once mention to me that my cartoons have an old school “MAD” kind of vibe. “Insert Eye Roll Here”
Do you prefer to work with paper and pen or digitally? Why?
I get the most enjoyment out of “Old School” pen and paper. Currently I use a digital process almost 100% of the time though. Digital is so much more of a convenient process for getting the features to the editors/publishers. I still do grab pen and paper on occasion though because that’s the way I find to be most comfortable while at the drawing boards.
Has your approach to cartooning changed from when you first began to now?
Quite drastically, still the same nonsense with a new improved flavor. I have had help with a few cartooning skills from great cartoonist friends including Sherm Cohen (Cartoonist Survey #120), and Guy Gilchrist. As well as gained a better grasp of the inner workings related to business and actual drawing processes. Other than that cartoons have always been used to sell products and most likely will continue to be a great sale motivator. There is always that factor of being able to continually grow as an illustrator/cartoonist through the constant learning of the art form. As long as you can create an appealing image that will grab an audience and retain it, you should be able to achieve any goals you set.
What does your average workday involve?
I am usually always the first to arrive and the last to leave at the studio. One of the first calls of duty at the studio is enough caffeine to power a daycare center. Then dive into daily news for an hour or so rummaging around for an idea relating to any possible editorial cartoons. Afterwards check correspondences from any and all fellow cartoonists, editors/publishers, fans, etc. Afternoon brings on work for other clientele projects as well as all other studio related cartooning projects. Later on in the evening hours checking for breaking news and working on the new feature Welcome To The Jungle©.
I read that your daughter, Brittany, has worked on the FIDDLESTIX© strips in the past. Does she still do any cartooning?
Yes my daughter debuted on FIDDLESTIX© in 2008 for the strips 20th Anniversary. She created the Sunday only multi-panel features along with me. She claims she has no huge desire to be a cartoonist so there are no set in stone plans for the strip when I am no longer able to produce the funnies. Once in a while she will create a strip for the new feature Welcome To The Jungle©. Since you asked I would like to say that I am grateful for my fabulous assistants who help out around the studio producing the funnies for the masses. Shout out to those that help make it happen. Beth Fischer, Brittany Pohrer your support is irreplaceable.
Many cartoonists have been negatively affected by the digital age and the subsequent demise of print. How has this impacted your work?
The inevitable question. It’s like a roller coaster ride you lose a few print subscribers, you pick up one. You lose a digital publication, you gain a different digital publication. I’m going to call it what it is, “It’s a real Dog Eat Dog world in cartooning”. Like I mentioned above I am currently restructuring the entire process I go through, to get the funnies to the masses. The print market is really in a dire situation, all involved with the medium knows it. There has been no clear cut answer that I have seen as to invigorate the future of the printed pages. All I know is cartoons are a viable selling tool being underrated and underused to full potential.
Do you feel that is it harder or easier to “break into the business” of cartooning in today’s market?
Because of the digital age the entire population has been presented with thousands of cartoonists, all trying to grab the golden ring. It is still a very competitive field and is not one of the easiest professions to attain. If you continually produce a consistently stellar product there is no reason why you should not stand out and be able to have some success. Especially if you continually strive to reach your goals and maintain a positive outlook.
What are some of the most important lessons you have learned as a professional cartoonist?
If you want to be published never take no for an answer, find out exactly what it is going to take to gain a yes. Never take your work for granted. Draw, Draw, Draw! There are more illustrators available right now that are producing material better than mine and yours. Always try to push your capabilities. Always take and use advice from editors and publishers.
I know that you are also passionate about music and even toured professionally as a drummer. Please tell us more about this.
Great Caesar’s Ghost! You really opened up a can of worms there! I’ll try to be as brief as possible here. Yes, I have strong bonds with many musicians, who I feel are some of the best friends a person could have. The additional bonus is I just so happen to have the pleasure of being onstage alongside some of the greatest musicians for over 44 years now. I am currently endorsed by C&C Custom Drums. You should be able to find artist pages at AllMusic, Billboard, Top 40 Charts, VH1 etc. This would probably be best answered directly from the fine folks over at Artistdirect.
What has been your proudest moment in your cartooning career?
I have had quite a few great memories and hopefully many more to come. Memorable moments naturally include the first syndicated newspaper print cartoon, first magazine print appearance, first television broadcast of the cartoons, first speaking cartoon presentation. The proudest moment though is still a tossup between two moments. With the landslide victory going to my daughter Brittany. Watching her at the drawing boards alongside me creating my cartoon strip, best moment ever! Close, but not close enough second was the very first Museum to install a permanent exhibit.
With so much work on your plate, do you ever get to draw just for fun, or is all of your drawing time devoted to work?
If you are a cartoonist or illustrator and you don’t find it any fun while creating you might be in the wrong profession. To answer the question specifically a majority of the material done at the drawing boards is work related. The best drawing for pleasure time is spent at in-person appearances where you can actually interact with the readers and create different images to suit each reader.
In rereading your answer to my Cartoonist Survey from back in 2010, you said you were a huge Spider-Man fan. Are you still as big a fan?
Have you seen any of the new movies and what’s your take on them? Yes, HUGE Spider-Man fan. The movies are mildly entertaining. I am no big fan of changing story lines from the original concepts and origins. Usually anything Spider-Man does end up in the studio. I always wait for the full length features to be released. To go out and throw money at a theater when it’s more monetarily feasible to own it and sit in the comfort of your own home theater setting seems like the best option. I do enjoy watching the newly released Ultimate Spider-Man Cartoons. By the way I’m still waiting for Stan Lee to send me an autograph. Come on man hit me up. “NUFF SAID”
You recently returned from doing promotional work for Evelyn Sciarratta’s “Rest in Peace:” novels, which you illustrated. Can you tell us a little more about your involvement in this project?
The market for cartooning currently dictates a need for expanding into other formats in order to survive. I created all the illustrations for the trilogy as well as helped edit very little on the novels. I also created all the graphics and pages available through the direct division source of Amazon. While finishing up this interview all three novels have been completed and are rolling out into wide distribution everywhere.
I see that you support many charitable organizations including The Ronald McDonald House, Wounded Warrior Project, Muscular Dystrophy Association and numerous others. Can you tell me a little bit more about your philanthropic efforts?
I really wished I could do more than I already do, I don’t have Charlie Sheen money sitting around here in the studio anywhere. I try to give back as much as possible through all different avenues. Whether through monetary support, or I am often asked to create a piece of art for auctions. Some previous examples include; Welcome To The Jungle© art created for The Fisher House/Wounded Warrior Project, editorial cartoon art and an autographed copy of the publication "Best Editorial Cartoons of The Year" that featured the published cartoon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and rare Pinhead FIDDLESTIX© art created for the National Marfan’s Foundation. These were all items auctioned off by the respective organisations.
What future projects do you have in the works?
There has been some banter focused around a children’s book. Currently there are no plans set in stone though. I am gearing up for a book signing tour concerning the “Rest In Peace” trilogy. I really do enjoy getting out there and meeting the fans that are interested in any material that rolls off the studio’s drawing boards.
Is there anything else you wanted to mention that I didn’t ask?
I would like to thank David Paccia for taking on the flagship characters and all the studio mayhem involved in presenting this retrospective feature." I have been doing FIDDLESTIX© for over thirty four years now, but for the 25th Anniversary celebration I'm counting from when the strip actually started appearing on the printed pages in 1988. The first three years were from a deal with Mr. Bill Yates. I'm forever grateful to Bill for giving the characters their humble beginnings. I never really was that much inspired to be a cartoonist. It is just something that I enjoy doing. So here we are thirty four years later and I'm still cartooning bringing the funny so you don't have to. I hope the strip has brought a little enjoyment to the masses on a daily basis. I really appreciate all the readers because cartoonists create the cartoons for others to read and share."
Michael Pohrer is also currently an Editorial Cartoonist for The Global Free Press. You can view his editorial cartoons over in the cartoonist bullpen Michael Pohrer Editorial Cartoon Gallery.
For more information or to read more cartoons from Michael Pohrer, such as his new feature strip Welcome To The Jungle© as well as FIDDLESTIX© please feel free to visit the spectacular TOONED IN© Blog your best place to connect with information directly from the artist studios.
Editors and Publishers: To Find out more about how you can get MJ cartoons and cartoon strips in your publication, write to Cartoon Syndication.
To go along with the FIDDLESTIX© 25th Anniversary Exclusive Retrospective, Michael was nice enough to to provide some wonderful items for me to giveaway to 3 lucky readers of David Wasting Paper.
The Ultimate FIDDLESTIX© 25th Anniversary Giveaway
1 Grand Prize
Michael Pohrer / Stephan Pastis - FIDDLESTIX© / Pearls Before Swine© Personally Autographed Artwork
Original FIDDLESTIX© sketch Personally Autographed
FIDDLESTIX© Splash Page Artwork
1 FIDDLESTIX© 25th Anniversary strip Personally Autographed
2 Runner Up Prizes
Original FIDDLESTIX© sketch Personally Autographed
FIDDLESTIX© Splash Page Artwork
1 FIDDLESTIX© 25th Anniversary strip Personally Autographed
To enter, simply leave a comment on this post and then share the link to this FIDDLESTIX© 25th Anniversary Retrospective on a social networking site, such as Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, your website, Google+ or any others. Contest is open to United States and Canadian residents only. Please note that I have to approve all comments so your information will not show up right away. One entry per person, contest closes at Midnight EST on Friday, November 23rd, 2012. Winners will be chosen at random, and announced here on the blog the week after the contest ends. Winners must email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your contact information by December 7th, 2012. In the event that I don't hear from a winner within that time frame, another will be chosen at random.
Please note that the FIDDLESTIX© strips in the Prize Packages are chosen randomly at the discretion of PC Studios, and Original FIDDLESTIX© Artwork will vary slightly from the shown items.
A huge thank you goes out to Michael Pohrer for not only giving me the FIDDLESTIX© 25th Anniversary Exclusive Interview, but also for providing the wonderful giveaways to go with the interview!
Don’t forget, if you know any kids in the 13 to 16 year age range who enjoy drawing, let them know about the David Wasting Paper Young Cartoonist Contest. The contest has over $600 in prizes and is free to enter.