Matt Janz, Creator of Out of the Gene Pool

17 October 2003

   Bulbous nosed, large ringed spots and a hairy back – a very furry, fuzzy, hairy back. Doesn’t sound particularly appealing, does it? Pot bellied and ugly, yet interesting, kind and sweet, this unlikely creature is Rufus, one of the star characters in Out of the Gene Pool. The innovative comic strip was created by Matt Janz, the first FineToon Fellowship winner.

    Out of the Gene Pool caught the attention of the Washington Post Writers Group’s panel of judges for the FineToon Fellowship in 2000. The strip was selected, along with two others, from hundreds of entrants. As their prizes, the aspiring cartoonists signed on with the Writers Group for a one-year to develop their cartoons and cartooning skills, with a $5000 US stipend to ease the process. The prize also included three seminars with cartoonists and business mentors in the comics field. The only requirement of the finalists was to give the Washington Post Writers Group the right of first refusal on syndication at the end of the year.

    After successfully completing the year of development work, Matt Janz, with his cast of peculiar, loveable characters, was chosen as the winner. Out of the Gene Pool was ushered into syndication under the Washington Post Writers Group umbrella in January of 2002. The witty comic has caught on quickly and already has a strong fan base that eagerly awaits the daily installments.

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    While several characters in Out of the Gene Pool are of usual human form, others, if not beautiful, are distinctive, captivating and full of personality. “The reason they look so strange is that humans are so boring to draw and I wanted something to stand out on the comics page, something that was different and that would catch the reader’s eye,” Matt Janz said in the Live Online Chat in March, 2002. “I’ve always felt that cartoons should be fun to look at as well as fun to read.”

    Matt Janz was a cartooning kid. “I started drawing cartoons when I was 8 after a friend of my mom’s brought a whole box of “Peanuts” books to me.” He thought cartooning would be a great job. In 1981, his local library published a collection of his cartoons entitled “Dumbells.” [sic] It was serious stuff for the youngster: His work was published in a 50 page book and had a theme similar to "Family Circus" by cartoonist Bil Keane, and were also drawn in a circle. Janz noted that he has since matured. Creating curious original characters in 1994, his efforts eventually grew into the strip that he entered in the FineToon Fellowship contest.

    Along with creating daily and Sunday comics, Matt Janz also holds down a four-day-a-week job at an advertising agency. Graciously, his employers are supportive of the cartooning work that takes a big chunk out of every day. Though it may vary, “the average time from conception to final drawing for a daily strip is between four and five hours. Sunday strips are an all-day affair,” Janz said of his work on Out of the Gene Pool. “I haven’t actually had an entire day off from both jobs since the strip hit the newspapers.”

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    By entering the FineToon Fellowship, Matt Janz won his way into syndication with solid drawing and a firm grip on humour. The cartoonist from Chicago made a lasting impression on tough comics editors - even if it took a big hairy character to do it.

Cartooning News: in 2007, Matt Janz' Out of the Gene Pool was renamed "Single and Looking".

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© Susanna McLeod 2003  
(Originally published in The Cartoonists on