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Cartoonists offer insight on where they get their ideas

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By Bill Robbins

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Eight cartoonists walk into a room...

That’s not the start of a joke. It’s what happened Saturday afternoon at the Kenosha Public Museum.

Eight newspaper cartoonists who were part of last week’s Kenosha Festival of Cartooning participated in a panel discussion at the museum.

The title of the talk was “Cartooning and Society.”

A crowd packed the facility’s DaimlerChrysler Room for the free event, in which the cartoonists fielded questions from moderator Tom Racine, a graphic artist and cartoonist.

Audience members also asked several questions.

Topics ranged from the power of comics to satirize society to the decline of newspapers and the rise of the Internet — and how that threatens the economic survival of cartoonists.

Here are the cartoonists and a sample of what they said during the one-hour session.

Dave Coverly, creator of “Speed Bump”:

“I try to mull over the things we all take for granted (to get ideas). I really think that humor comes out of truth. I try to do things that are absurd. I try to get at things that we recognize in ourselves and things that we recognize in others. While I do that, I try to be gentle. ... I try to make fun of all of us together in a nice way.”

Michael Jantze, creator of “The Norm”:

“We don’t have a business model yet for profitability (using the Internet). Things really haven’t changed much for us as writers and artists. What is changing is this business model.

“What we have to look at eventually is what do you guys (readers) want. Where do you want us, when do you read us, what do you want to read us on? Will you pay or do you need it for free? We need to go to our audience.”

Greg Cravens, creator of “The Buckets”:

“My favorite aphorism is that assumptions you don’t know you’re making are doing you the most harm. The assumptions you don’t know you’re making are funniest when I can make you understand you are making them — and then break you out of them. ... I just want to make people laugh at what they do while thinking it’s only other people who do that.”

Hillary Price, creator of “Rhymes With Orange”:

“You will not see me in a cafe in a black turtleneck observing. I feel the way I get cartoons is by (realizing) I do this completely asinine thing that surely others do.

“I think we walk around with the idea that we are the only people in the world who are doing such stupid things, ... I think our adult selves realize and have empathy for the fact that we do these things and they are funny and other people probably do them.”

Stephan Pastis, creator of “Pearls Before Swine”:

“I believe when I do a comic, 50 percent of the end result — your experience — is me. But the other 50 percent is you. It’s what you bring to the table. It’s what you know; it’s what your assumptions and prejudices are.

“You bring that other half. So I can never predict how a strip will ever come out because I don’t necessarily know you.”

Norm Feuti, creator of “Retail” and “Gil”:

“We have to embrace the Web whether we want to or not. That’s where (readers) are going. The real challenge for us is how do we monetize that? We’ve existed so long for newspapers — and they pay for the comics...

“The same comics on the Web, when they are monetized, bring in a fraction of what even a small newspaper would pay. ... The challenge is, with all the millions and millions of websites out there, getting that many people to come to your site and keep coming back.”

John Hambrock, a Kenosha resident and creator of “The Brilliant Mind of Edison Lee”:

“I don’t look outward as much as I draw my ideas from things I live and experience — and come up with crazy little things that way...

“The Internet has been, for me, a problem. I work such a tight deadline, and then to have to go and be a presence on the Internet as well is a challenge.

“If you really want to get fans to come to your website and read your blog, you have to do it once or twice a day to get the numbers where they need to be.”

Phil Hands, political cartoonist for the Wisconsin State Journal:

“We have to be as good as we can be every day. On a bad day (political cartoonists ) are just commenting cleverly about the news. On a good day, we try and get to the truth of the matter and make people laugh — and maybe disarm our opponents with laughter.”

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