Bill Meddick, Creator of Monty

30 May 2003

   The comic strip Monty was not developed in a flash of inspiration or as a singular effort at designing a cartoon. Bill Meddick advanced his cartooning career by drawing a strip aimed at promoting Robotman toy merchandise on the request of the syndicate. The comic evolved in a twisted fashion, with all of the original robot and alien characters erased and the human nerd Monty now as the lead. Puzzling, isn’t it?

    Starting with submissions to his high school paper, Bill Meddick has been a cartoonist all of his life. He continued to successfully offer his cartoon work to his university newspaper at Washington University in St. Louis, MO, where he was a student of illustration. His work appeared twice weekly, enabling to develop an audience for his initial efforts. Bill’s first comics include "Temporary Insanity," "Paperback Writer" and, while taking a course in Roman history, "Toga."

    While on a visit to the student newspaper group at Washington University, Mike Peters – cartoonist of "Mother Goose and Grimm" – saw Bill’s work in the school newspaper. He recommended that the newspaper staff tell Bill to send him his cartoons and that he would forward them on to his syndicate. Bill took up Mike Peters’ offer but rejections were the response. Entering a cartooning contest by Tribune Media Services, Bill was chosen as one of 10 winners. As the prize, the group was flown to New York for presentations with the syndicate and a talk with cartoonist Jeff MacNelly, creator of "Shoe."

    Bill received an offer by United Features Syndicate to put his strip Paperback Writer into development. The promising cartoonist made the bold decision to refuse. He did not like giving up rights to his creation if the syndicate chose to publish it after the six month development period was up. And there was no offer of money for his efforts. Bill was confident that other syndicates would eventually show interest in his comic strips.

   A short time later, United Features contacted Bill about another development contract. This offer included a small income to create a strip entitled Robotman that would be aimed at young children. It was a cartoon geared to merchandise a licensed toy developed by a record producer. (Earlier, Bill Watterson, creator of "Calvin and Hobbes," had been asked to take on the task and declined.) Bill Meddick accepted the offer, thinking the idea would never fly. He had been told that similar themes were overdone and would not sell. To boost his income, he also accepted a job on-staff doing cartoon corrections by paste-up and spot illustrations.

    In the right spot at the right time at United Features, Bill was also asked to create a political cartoon for the NEA syndicate, a United affiliate. Having never done political cartooning, he learned the skills on the job. Shortly after, United Features took Bill by surprise when they decided the Robotman comic strip would go ahead.

   “I just didn’t see how the robot thing would work in the newspapers,” Bill said in an interview with Tom Heintjes in Hogan’s Alley in 1998, “so I just was not expecting the syndicate to move ahead with it,” but he also added, “I thought the gags were good and I was optimistic about my talent.” *(1) The syndicate requested adjustments with his original strip, changing the look of Robotman and adding new characters that would also come out as toy merchandise.

meddick

    The strip debuted in 1985 in the large number of 250 newspapers. The characters from Robotman appeared on store helves as plush toys, books and music records.

    Robotman was initially an alien from outer space living with the Mildes, a human family. Bill quickly tired of the domestic humour. He took creative liberties, changing the strip as the years passed. He had little contact with his fans and so thought no one would notice. When he had Robotman move into his own apartment, and then the Mildes family disappear from the strip, he found out that he had a lot of readers and they were concerned. Bill added another alien, the nerdy single Monty, as an irregular character, throwing a whole new theme into the comic strip. Before long, Monty became a regular. Several other characters were added, including Fleshy the hairless cat.

    Eventually, the syndicate asked that the Robotman character be dropped from the cartoon. The humour was becoming more adult, and Robotman still represented the younger set. Bill tied what seemed like a lot of incongruities together in the strip by changing Monty from an alien into “an amnesiac scientist who had built Robotman as part of a failed government robot soldier project.” *(2) That is a pretty imaginative wrap-up.

    Monty took over the Robotman strip in character and in name in 1998 and it continues with much success. It was nominated for the Newspaper Comic Strip award this year. Bill describes Monty as “a really ambitious character who achieves things, but he’s fundamentally stupid, awkward and unskilled.”

    Bill Meddick draws the Monty strip in finished-size roughs, then transfers the art onto two-ply Bristol Board using a lightbox. He uses a Hunt 108 nib for inking and a Rapidograph for lettering. He writes two dailies gags each day from Monday to Wednesday, then draws the strips in the afternoons. He creates the Sunday comics on Thursdays and uses Fridays for corrections and adjustments.

    More than the usual cartoons, Monty is an example of humour evolving from the demographic of children into the realm of adults. Now Bill Meddick only has to worry about entertaining his fans and making them laugh with an imaginative storyline, and not focussing on selling a range of kiddie merchandise.

*(1) and *(3) http://cagle.slate.msn.com

*(2) http://www.alumni.caltech.edu/~mjackson/comicsFAQ.txt

Enjoy Monty daily on the United Features website:
http://www.comics.com/comics/monty/index.html

© Susanna McLeod 2003
TheCartoonists.ca  
   
(Originally published in The Cartoonists on suite101.com.)