Planning for Success: Brian Lord, Creator of Kick Irrational
9 July 2004
Drawing skills and a funny bone are the essence of being a cartoonist, but it takes so much more to reach the pinnacle of success: publication.
Brian Lord, creator of Kick Irrational has taken the task in hand, building a solid foundation through planning, marketing and networking to accomplish the goals he set for his comic strip. He generously gave an interview to The Cartoonists, sharing his story of determination and optimism.
Come on along as Brian Lord described how his comic has grown from an idea to having over a quarter million readers:
My cartooning career started on our family farm outside of Greentown, Indiana, at age four. My older sister Kelly started a family newspaper where she provided the articles, and I did sports and comics. We even had world-wide circulation! (We had a great uncle who worked for Habitat for Humanity in the Philippines.) At age six I made my own "Star Kid" comic books, and in high school I drew a lot of single panel cartoons.
Kick Irrational came about over Labor Day weekend while I was a senior at DePauw University. The school newspaper turned it down, so Kick just sat on the shelf for four or five years after graduation. I was blessed to marry a wonderful woman who also likes to make her dreams into reality, and she's been my biggest source of encouragement-and material. Krista's a professional singer (www.thedarins.com), and she loves having a character based on her. In fact, she chose Kricket's name, and when something silly happens to us, she'll say "That's a comic right there!"
A lot of people ask me where the name "Kick Irrational" comes from. The other names are much easier to explain. Lewis and Tolk are named after my two favorite authors, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien. Kricket is one of my wife Krista's nick-names, and Josie was suggested by a fan. But Kick was different. I sat down that Labor Day weekend, said to myself, "I'm going to start a comic strip today", and the name of it was Kick Irrational. I never thought of any other names, or questioned if I should change the name. Its just Kick Irrational. I do have a strip coming up where Kick gives his mother's explanation, but I haven't come up with one for me yet.
The strip has been fun to develop. Initially there were just three characters. Kick would have the good influence of Lewis pulling him one way and the bad influence of Tolk pulling him another. I also planned the strip to contain frequent flashbacks to childhood. The reason for that was the strips I loved growing up- primarily "Peanuts" and "Calvin & Hobbes" - were based on kids, so I thought I needed kids. But I soon realized that as much as I liked Charles Schulz and Bill Watterson's work, I wasn't them. I had to develop Kick Irrational as it came out of my head and hands, and hope that was good enough.
As I'm sure is the case with many beginning cartoonists, there's a mental incubation period where ideas are floating around in your head. The point where Kick Irrational was reborn from college strip to its current form interestingly took place on the way to the Miami airport in 2002. Krista and I stopped off at Borders on the way to the airport and I came across a book called "The Parables of the Peanuts" by Robert L. Short. It talked about how Charles Schulz not only wanted to make people laugh, he also wanted to make them think- about faith, love, the meaning of life- all sorts of things. It helped me crystallize what I wanted to accomplish with Kick Irrational. I decided I wanted people to be better off for having read Kick that day.
Whether it was thinking about their spouse, their faith, their job, or just having a good laugh, I wanted Kick to make a difference with people. One of my favorite comments from readers is "Your strip is the highlight of my Tuesday morning." Armed with a mission, I drew and emailed out my first strips that next Monday night.
I'm a big believer in setting yourself up for success, so when I started, I tried to find ways to do just that. I read several articles about cartoonists in publications like Susanna McLeod's column, Cagle, and the Washington Post to learn how top cartoonists got started. One of the common themes was dealing with rejection, so I decided to make sure I had firm supporters when I started. I emailed 50 friends and family and told them that because they'd been such an encouragement in the past, I needed their encouragement for something new. I promised them that I'd email them two new comics every Monday night. Of course, if you tell people they've encouraged you in the past, they're more likely to encourage you in the future. The first strips I emailed out were terrible, but the recipients were all kind and lied to me and said they were great. Also, since I'd promised to send out two new strips every Monday night, I had to write them whether I felt like it or not. This forced me to keep at it, which helped me get better.
Drawing the strip is very simple. I draw the comic, scan, and fill it in to make both a black and white version (for editors who print in black and white), and a color version for email subscribers. Krista proof-reads everything. She does provide helpful feedback like: "This is too wordy. If I wanted to read this much, I'd get a book." Then I figure out a way to make it shorter, and its usually better.
Since I knew I'd need to convince people who didn't know me that Kick Irrational was worth considering, I made sure to keep track of the city and state (and eventually country) of everyone who signed up to get Kick via email. There's a big difference between saying "a lot of people read it" and saying "I have email subscribers in 257 cities, 47 states, and 11 countries." I took a cartooning class from Watkins School of Design to improve the drawing side.
Eventually I thought Kick was good enough to be put in print, so I approached a nice local publication, "Nashville Christian Family Magazine." The publisher liked what I gave him, liked what he saw on the web, and agreed to run it. I wanted Kick to have a broad audience, so I pitched it to "Funrunner" (a local running magazine), and "The Mitensan" (a local Mensa publication.) All of them began running Kick as well, and soon I had a good enough resume to submit Kick to other news, sports, religious, and Mensa publications. Now, just 10 months after it was first published, Kick Irrational can be read by over 250,000 people in 43 publications in 22 states and 2 countries.
I've also been amazed at how incredibly helpful and humble the cartoonists I've met have been. Several members of the Southeast Chapter of the National Cartoonist Society patiently looked through my work to give me tips on anything from drawing 'talk' balloons to chin shadows. Fellow DePauw alum and creator of "Big Top" Rob Harrell has given me a ton of advice and even advised me on the best strips to include in my syndicate submission. Editorial cartoonist Wayne Stayskal was the first to encourage me to send in syndicate submissions.
I even took a class from former AAEC president Sandy Campbell, whose favorite saying seemed to be "let's give a little weight to that line." The response from most professional cartoonists to Kick is that they really like the writing ("which is the hard part," they say) and that the drawing is good but could be better.
The character who has been most affected by cartoonist comments has been Lewis. Sandy Campbell told me all of my characters had the same body type. Lewis suddenly gained weight. Rob Harrell said he always gets a lot of reader feedback when he does strips on diets. Suddenly Lewis has to deal with his cravings for sweet tea and barbecue. From feedback, many more readers can now relate to Lewis.
So what's the plan for Kick Irrational now? In short, it's in the submission stage. I'm waiting it out like other cartoonists, checking the mail box for a response, just hoping that the right editor will take a liking to the strip, and help it get in 1,000 newspapers. But that's just the business side of things. I also hope that Kick is already achieving its goal of making people laugh and think. On the "Calvin and Hobbes" website (www.calvinandhobbes.com), one can read letters people wrote when they found out Bill Watterson was ending the strip. Whenever it is that I finish this strip, I want to get responses like that, where people are sad and grateful and see themselves in the characters. Not that I want people to be sad, but I want them to connect with Kick and Kricket and Lewis and Tolk. Because if they do, it means I'll have made a small little difference in their lives, and that's all that I ask for.
To sign up to get Kick Irrational free every week via email, just send your City, State/Province, and email address to email@example.com, or go to www.KickComics.com.
Good luck for a successful future with Kick Irrational, Brian, and thank you for sharing your inspiring story with The Cartoonists.
The home page of Brian Lord and Kick Irrational:
An interview with Brian Lord in the DePauw University newspaper:
|© Susanna McLeod 2004
(Originally published in The Cartoonists on suite101.com.)