Rina Piccolo, Creator of Tina's Groove and one of Six Chix

16 April 2004

   Recently, I picked up a big city newspaper to check out their weekend colour comics. The section held many of the same strips and panels as my small-city newspaper, but one that I rarely see caught my attention. The star character had big eyes with long lashes, a tray of dinner plates in one hand and a sassy restaurant customer looking for trouble on the other. Deciding to check further into this intriguing strip, I surfed to the King Features site to find Tina’s Groove, created by Rina Piccolo. The first strip in the archives made me smile, the next produced a chuckle and by the time I had read back a couple of weeks to March 19th’s installment, I was giggling out loud. Tina has her groove and Rina has found her niche.

    Raised in Italian family (“every one of them is born a comedian” she noted), Rina Piccolo was able to see the funny side of life. She drew on the walls at home and pored over the comics in her childhood home in Toronto, Ontario. She began her career in cartooning in 1989, her very first cartoon submission was accepted by “Now” magazine. “That early acceptance gave me a false sense of how hard the next years were going to be. It was followed by trillions of rejections,” said Rina on Washington Post’s Online Chat in June, 2003. *(1) But, she didn’t give up.

    Canadian publishers were unreceptive to Rina’s cartoons, finding them funny but never getting back to her. She turned to the US market and received a positive response.

    Rina’s next success came with “Comic Relief,” a magazine that published her cartoon work for several years in the early 1990s. In time, a small-press publisher reading “Comic Relief” noticed Rina’s distinctive wry and uproarious sense of humour. She was given opportunity to publish her comics in a book. Laugh Lines Press published “Stand Back, I Think I’m Gonna Laugh” in 1994. Following its success, Rina created two more books, “Kicking the Habit: A Collection of Cartoons on the Catholic Church,” published in 1996 and “Rina’s Big Book of Sex Cartoons” in 1997, also through Laugh Lines Press.

six chicks piccolo

    Along with the books, Rina’s cartoons have appeared on greeting cards and in a number of magazines. Her work made a big impression on King Features editor-in-chief, Jay Kennedy. He enlisted Rina along with five other talented cartooning women (Isabella Bannerman, Kathryn LeMieux, Ann Telnaes, Margaret Shulock and Stephanie Piro) to form Six Chix. The idea was to feature “the work of one cartoonist every day of the week,” said Kennedy. The women chosen “each have a strong voice coupled with a distinctive drawing style. They’re definitely contemporary cartoonists,” he said. Six Chix was a hit from the start, picking up 110 newspapers on its debut in January, 2000. According to Kennedy, it was the most successful launch since Scott and Borgman’s “Zits” debut. But Rina has too much of a funny bone to settle for making readers laugh only one day a week…

    While working on Six Chix, she began developing her own spirited comic strip, Tina’s Groove. Rina worked as a waitress to keep ends meeting. It was not her thing, trying to remember who ordered what and to balance the tray. “I was demoted to hostess… But I loved working in a restaurant, loved all the behind-the-scenes fun,” Rina told The Dallas Morning Press, April 11, 2004. *(2)

    Rina drew strips related to the restaurant work and her King Features editor encouraged her to make her new comic character a waitress. But, Rina said, “Unlike me, Tina is a great waitress – and she’s proud of it, which is a lot different from the usual notion.” Tina is the modern, empowered woman, able to take care of herself while being kind to others.

    After a year of cartoon development, Tina’s Groove debuted in March 2003. It has reached almost 100 newspapers and is growing in popularity. The comic strip is optimistic and joyful, not focused on the miserable grind of life but on the funny side. Rina finds the enjoyment in Tina’s Groove in the relationships Tina has with co- workers, with friends and with customers of all sorts, from complainers to the really weird. The cartoonist avoids any kind of “loser” attitudes.

    Creating two popular cartoons is a time-consuming effort, more than full-time work During the Online Chat, Rina commented on how she does her work. “I discover ‘Six Chix' gags when I’m fishing for ‘Tina’s Groove' gags… I do my writing for both strips at the same time, usually two to three days a week.” She draws the comics on separate days, working six days a week and occasionally more. *(1) She wouldn’t mind more days in the week.

Tina's Groove

    Aspiring cartoonists can learn valuable information from following Rina’s example. She suggested that new cartoonists show their work to strangers for unbiased opinions. “When you’re just beginning, it’s important to know if you can be competitive in the business.” She also noted, “Don’t write for other people; write for yourself because when you’re writing honestly, that’ll be your best work.” *(1)

    Rina Piccolo must have taken her own good advice and be writing for herself with Tina's Groove – we are seeing her best work and it certainly makes me laugh!

Read the chat with Rina Piccolo on WP’s Live Online from June 13, 2003:
*(1) http://discuss.washingtonpost.com/zforum/03/r_style_cartoon061303.htm

Tina’s Groove article in The Dallas Morning News:
*(2) canadianclub-ntx.com/rinapiccolo.htm (Link broken)

Tina’s Groove on King Features Syndicate:
http://www.kingfeatures.com/features/comics/tgroove/about.htm

Six Chix on King Features Syndicate:
http://www.kingfeatures.com/features/comics/sixchix/about.htm

Photo of Six Chix:
http://www.stephaniepiro.com/Six%20Chix.htm

An interview with Rina about her book, “Kicking the Habit: cartoons about the catholic church” published in:
http://www.brokenpencil.com/features/feature.php?featureid=10

© Susanna McLeod 2004
TheCartoonists.ca  
   
(Originally published in The Cartoonists on suite101.com.)