Wiley Miller, Creator of Non Sequitur

2 May 2003

   Wiley Miller always wanted to be a cartoonist. He has transformed that yearning into a career that has filled his life with work he loves, including the development of innovative techniques in the process of colour cartooning and in the customized sizing of comics.

    From the time he was a child, Wiley Miller adored comics and was “always reading, tracing, and copying the work of my favourites.”*(1) Born in Burbank, California on April 15, 1951, Miller spent his early years in Hollywood then moved, attending high school in McLean, Virginia. Opportunity knocked on Miller’s door while in high school with the chance to meet Brant Parker, co-creator of “The Wizard of Id.” After conversing with the famed cartoonist, Miller realized he could make cartooning his profession. The seed was planted.

    Miller studied art at Virginia Commonwealth University. Upon graduation, he found work in Los Angeles film studio drawing educational material. In 1976, he took a position as staff artist/editorial cartoonist at the News & Record in Greensboro, North Carolina. Crossing the country once more, he moved two years later to the Press Democrat, the newspaper of Santa Rosa, California. His editorial cartoons began syndication under the Copley News Service syndicate in 1980. The recession of 1981 hit the newspapers hard and Miller lost his editorial cartoonist job with the Press Democrat.

    In 1982, while waiting for the economy to improve, Fenton sprouted from the pen of Wiley Miller. The strip was circulated under the North America Syndicate and ran in newspapers for three years. By 1986, Miller was back drawing editorial cartoons, this round for the San Francisco Examiner. The California Newspaper Publishers Association honoured Miller with their “Best Editorial Cartoonist” award in 1988. Also for editorial cartooning, he received the “Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award” in 1991.

    In a moment of genius in 1991, (and that moment has continued for more than two decades) Miller created Non Sequitur, his hugely popular comic strip with a theme of, um, well, no theme. The title gives away the secret of the strip – according to the Gage Dictionary the definition of non sequitur is “a statement or reply that has no direct relationship with what has just been said.”

    Miller noted, “That’s the whole point of Non Sequitur … Today’s cartoon has nothing to do with tomorrow’s.” *(3) Non Sequitur met with immediate success, and now has grown to an audience of almost 500 newspapers worldwide through Universal Syndicate.

    In the first year of Non Sequitur publication, the National Cartoonists Society awarded Miller the Reuben for “Best Comic Strip,” the only comic strip to have achieved this tribute in its first year. Non Sequitur scooped up NCS awards again for “Best Syndicated Panel” in 1995, 1996 and 1998.

    But hmm, you ask, how could a comic strip win both the comic strip and the panel award? Wiley Miller pioneered methods of creating his cartoon on his computer so that it can be realigned and sized to the space available. “The emphasis on drawing and composition,” as Miller described on ucomics.com, “brings back a quality of art that has been lost since the comics began to shrink.” *(2) The comic fits both square panel and strip forms, depending on the varying needs of the newspaper editors.

    Innovation by the dedicated cartoonist continued with his development of new colour techniques in 1994. The methods eliminated the colour-by-dot process used for decades. The new process uses a similar production as that for photographs for newspapers, giving the comics a life rich with shading and texture.

    Though the strip generally has no particular themes, there are a few recurring characters that show up in Non Sequitur every now and then. Danae, the astute little girl with a dry sense of humour, was modelled after one of Wiley Miller’s own daughters. The real Danae is now grown, but her childhood characteristics were used and exaggerated to provide the immensely popular character of Danae. Miller and his wife Victoria Coviello live in Santa Barbara, California. They have two daughters.

    Non Sequitur is available for continued chuckling in several books, “Dead Lawyers and Other Pleasant Thoughts,” “The Non Sequitur Survival Guide for the ‘90s”, “Non Sequitur’s Beastly Things” and Miller’s latest, “Legal Lampoon: A Biased, Unfair and Completely Accurate Law Review from Non Sequitur,”all published by Andrews McMeel Publishing.

    For several years beginning in 1994, Miller teamed with Canadian editorial cartoonist Susan Dewar to jointly create “Us & Them,” a delightful strip displaying the talents of both artists on opposite days. Unfortunately, it seems to have disappeared from print.

    On the subject of cartoonists, Wiley Miller said: “I’ve always been of the belief that cartoonists are born, just like musicians or any of the other artists. We’re not like ‘normal’ children. We weren’t just satisfied with reading the comics, we had to go off and draw them.” *(4)

We’re glad he did.

*(1) and *(2) from comics.com (article no longer available)

*(3) http://www.saintpetersburgtimes.com/2003/02/16/Floridian/There_s_no_explaining.shtml

*(4) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/liveonline/01/style/comics_051101.htm

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