Brian Crane, Creator of Pickles

11 January 2002

   Once in a while, a cartoonist is surprised to learn exactly how popular his comics creation has become. Brian Crane, creator of Pickles, found that his comic strip is hugely popular, just by asking for an opinion about a beard.

    Drawing the central character of his cartoon, over and over again for 8 ½ years, became somewhat humdrum for Crane. He decided to spice up Earl Pickles with a beard in 1998. The cartoonist then asked his fans for their opinions on Earl's transformation.
He was bombarded. In an interview with Tom Gardner of Associated Press *(1), he said, "I was just inundated with replies, thousands and thousands. People were very, very passionately either opposed or for. I didn't think people cared that much." in their 70s The emails totaled at least 8,000 plus several hundred letters.

    The Pickles comic strip is built around the lives of an older couple; Brian's in-laws were his inspiration.

   Earl Pickles and his wife, Opal, are seniors who are unimpressed with retirement. They celebrated their 50th anniversary a few years ago and are in their 70s. (Crane intends to keep them at this age, just as the characters of the "Peanuts" gang by Charles Schulz have never aged.) Their daughter Sylvia, her husband Dan, and her son, Nelson, reside with them. Neighbours make regular appearances. The family dog Roscoe and cat Muffin add more outlets for some truly funny cartoons.

    Brian Crane was born into a Mormon family in Twin Falls, Idaho in 1949. His family moved to San Francisco when he was two years old. As a small child, he drew and dreamed of having his own comic strip. He then put his dreams aside for many long years.

pickles 1

    Crane attended Brigham Young University, receiving an Art degree in 1973. He began his career designing advertising for the Hayward Daily Review in Oakland, California. Crane married Diana, a fellow student at Brigham. After graduation, he worked at advertising agencies around the country, finally making the Reno, Nevada area the family home for his wife and seven children. (Seven children!)

pickles 2

    The yearning to create his own cartoon never left Brian. He bravely tackled the comics world when he was in his 40s. He drew an older man and was intrigued by the possibilities for humour. Brian found there were few cartoons about older people. He found his niche.

   Three syndicates looked at the Pickles comic strip and three syndicates rejected the Pickles comic strip. Brian was ready to give up, but his wife insisted that he continue to submit his work. It was good advice. The Washington Post Writers Group picked up the cartoon for their comics line-up, and Pickles made its debut on April 01, 1990 in 24 newspapers. It now appears in 300 papers and is growing around the world.

   With his comic strip at last in syndication, Crane gradually eased his way out of his work as senior art director in the advertising business and into his own studio, built onto his garage at home in Sparks, Nevada. He found the first five years of working and doing the comic strip very difficult. Pleased to be a cartoonist now, "I wouldn't want to go back and do it again, though," he told Tom Gardner.

    Pickles is strictly the work of Crane's hands. He does all the art and lettering himself. He has a knack for clear lines and an uncluttered style, with just enough detail to appeal to the eye. Brian Crane does not directly mention Mormon religious issues in his cartoon, but adds background elements such as church magazines, and temple pictures on the walls. Crane is humble about his cartooning skills. "I don't know how you do it. I just started doing it. I don't know if it's the right way or not."

    Along with his wife's parents as inspiration, Brian finds humour in day-to-day events. For example, he finally noticed that his wife "couldn't put on her eye makeup without sticking out her tongue. And so I used it in the strip, much to her chagrin." *(2)

    Readers of the delightful cartoon find themselves and their families portrayed in the comic strip, as if Crane can see into their homes. Crane has found a way to portray the average family's quirks and produces knowing smiles from fans.   Pickles has developed a loyal following that included Charles Schulz. Schulz wrote the Forward for Crane's first book, "Pickles: A Cartoon Collection," by Longstreet Press, 1998. A second book of cartoons has been published, "Pickles, Too: The Older I Get, The Better I Was," by Longstreet Press, 1999.

    In 1995, Pickles was nominated for Best Comic Strip of the Year by the National Cartoonists Society. This endearing and popular comic strip should be a top winner on an awards list soon.

    Cartooning News:  Brian Crane won the award for Best Newspaper Comic Strip for Pickles at the National Cartoonists Society Awards ceremony, held on May 25, 2002.

*(1) Tom Gardner interview with Brian Crane: Click on Cartoonist Succeeds by Drawing himself under Additional Reading: http://lds.about.com/library/famousmormons/blbriancrane.htm

*(2) "Live" chat interview with The Washington Post: http://discuss.washingtonpost.com/zforum/01/cartoon_110901.htm

Get a daily bite of Pickles at: http://www.comics.com/wash/pickles/

© Susanna McLeod 2001
TheCartoonists.ca  
(Originally published in The Cartoonists on suite101.com.)