Justin Thompson, Creator of Mythtickle
October 7, 2005
Justin Thompson’s days are crammed with inventiveness and creativity, from his day job at Charles Schulz Museum, his skilled endeavours as an actor and a Medieval jouster and now as a dedicated cartoonist of the giggle-worthy MythTickle.
Setting his expert pen to paper, Justin came up with the distinctive MythTickle, a comic strip featuring a fair but surprisingly tough maiden, an adorable young dragon, an equally lovable knight in short but shining armour and many other delightful characters in the cast. MythTickle is packed with traditional and modern humour, making readers smile with every strip. (Justin's work at the Schulz studio involves examining licensing proposals for the Peanuts characters, designing Peanuts merchandise, art projects and teaching occasional cartooning classes.)
Hello Justin. Thanks so much for taking time to do an interview with The Cartoonists about your comic strip, MythTickle. Your strip is a truly funny, creative cartoon and deserves attention. It is delightful.
Thank you so much. I’m honored.
Justin, when and where were you born?
I was born and raised in the desert, north of Phoenix, Arizona. I absolutely love the desert and nearly melt whenever I see it in on film. It’s still very alive in my heart and I miss it very much.
Are other family members artistically talented also?
I was adopted, so I have no idea where my artistic abilities come from. My mom is pretty artistic though, and encouraged me a lot as a kid. She is more responsible than anyone else. I don’t buy into the whole ‘genetically handed-down talent’ thing really because I remember all kids loving to draw and color as a kid. Some kids tried harder to get better as they went on and just never stopped drawing. Others pursued different abilities. And cultivated their own specialties. Talent is just such a subjective thing, anyway. It’s really hard work, application, and selective focus that get you to the point where people call you ‘talented’. And even then, very few people are ‘talented’ to everybody.
In what city do you live? Are you married and have kids? What does your wife do?
I live in Santa Rosa, California. I have a 3-year old son and a brand new baby daughter who was born just last week.
My wife teaches High School English and Drama. We moved out here to California from the New York area in the summer of 2003.
Yep, I was working in Manhattan on 9/11. What an awful day. Kim and I moved to the
Jersey suburbs a few weeks after that. 9 months later, here came William, my son; the first person I ever met with whom I actually share
blood. I cannot adequately relate to you how profound this is to me.
Do you have a University degree?
Yes, I got my BFA degree in theater at Arizona State University and went on to get my Masters of Fine Arts degree in acting at Rutgers University in New Jersey. I have had no formal training in cartooning; I just learned it as I went along. I always loved comic books and cartoonists and started out tracing my favorite artists. After a while and tons of practice, I got so that I could look off of something and draw it. Later, when I started coming up with my own designs and cartoons, I saw that I was using bits and pieces of all of those other artists that I loved, in my drawings.
How do you make your living, Justin? How long have you been at these intriguing jobs?
I make my living now, as stated above: working for Peanuts. HA!
But while I was in New York, I worked at a licensing house in Manhattan for four years, designing bedding and bath products with every comic character from Bugs bunny to X-Men. Target still sells the Spider-Man bedding I designed four years ago. Before that job I was a struggling actor in New York, I did a lot of Shakespeare including Richard III in Central Park, and spent some time on a couple of Soap Operas, but wound up doing a lot of sword and stunt work to pay the bills. I’ve played Robin Hood, King Arthur, and even Batman. That was an amazing job; I was Batman in the Batman Stunt show for 3 years at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey. A total childhood dream come true. Stunt work pays great but you can’t do it forever. I’m a bit broken down now. Cartooning is much safer and hurts less.
Does your work give you inspiration for your cartooning? How did you get the idea for MythTickle?
Well, since I spent ten years of my life as a Knight, I’d have to say yes, there is some inspiration involved. I love the myths and religions of the world. I’m just fascinated by them. There is so much material for a strip there, so many myths, but I guess I zeroed in on the core characters being a knight and a dragon because I spent so much time under that helmet.
Your comic strip has a very professional feel to it. How do you create the strip?
I do the strip in my grey little cubicle here at work, surrounded by a miniature Zen garden, bamboo, and Captain America figurines. I get in about 3 hours or so before I have to start real work, and create the strip; that puts me here at around 4 AM most mornings. I often have to stay after hours to get things done, too. I won’t work at home if I can help it; home is for my family. I use the computer to make the frames and do the lettering. I print that on tabloid size paper and draw within the boxes.
After I ink with felt pen, I scan it in and put down the gray tones and clean up the messy mistakes in Photoshop. I would love to make beautiful, clean, art pieces on Bristol board so that I can be all impressive and professionaland stuff, but I simply do not have the time. Full time job and family come first.
Right now, I’m just rushing the art through as fast as I can, and I do regret that, but it’s more about the writing for me at this point. The writing and learning how to pace and map out my ideas. It’s all about the ideas.
I can always clean up the art later if I ever decide to put these in a book. But in every case the writing is the thing that gets a cartoonist published and respected, not the art. I’m not always happy about how the art comes out, and as an illustrator, I have to try and let go of that or I’ll just get obsessed with it looking perfect. If I get caught up with that, I’ll wind up with a nice looking strip with no substance at all.
I’m at a stage right now where I’m developing the strip, so shaping the characters, finding their voice, and paying attention to the comedy, outweighs the importance of the artwork. I’ve noticed that my characters tend to look a little different from week to week and if I were a syndicated strip this would be unacceptable, but for now that’s O.K. I’m also finding that the faster I draw the strip, the more the characters begin to lack complexity. I like that; I think it works better for the comic strip medium.
The ongoing story and gag lines in Mythtickle are truly funny. Does humour come naturally to you?
Like artistic ability, a comic sense is also cultivated and worked at early on. I attribute my comic sense to the Marx Brothers, Gilligan’s Island, and Wallace and Ladmo - an immensely popular kid’s show in Phoenix when I was growing up. They were silly and hilarious and played all of the really good Loony Tunes cartoons. All of that soaked into me as a kid and instilled a solid sense of comic timing. Then, as I was working as an improvisational actor for all those years, I got to try out all of those techniques that were imprinted upon me way back then. So when I up and decided to try my hand at a comic strip, I found that it was difficult at first to apply that performance timing to this very different medium but I’m starting to find it. It takes time, but if you keep at it you’ll get it. Rhythm becomes universal once you own it for yourself.
Have you found the cartooning business difficult to break in to? Have you attempted syndication and what were the responses?
I’ve shown a couple of professional people some strips but I haven’t really submitted to a syndicate directly, I don’t know if the strip is quite ready. Maybe that’s just me, I don’t know, but I haven’t heard anybody knocking on my door so I must be right about that somewhat. I do plan on submitting some strips someday; I think I’m almost getting close enough.
It seems monumentally difficult to be syndicated. Thousands of strips every year get submitted to these syndicates and maybe one or two get picked up. It seems as impossible to me as flying through space, or buying your own house. I don’t know how people do it.
What are your goals for MythTickle? Do you have other comic strip ideas brewing in mind? Any other comic ideas?
Oh no. This one’s hard enough to try and keep afloat. I would love to get MythTickle syndicated someday. I think kids and young adults would really respond to something different like this. I don’t want to take anything away from family oriented strips; I think they are the backbone of the comics industry, really. Ya got this family doin’ stuff here, ya got this family doin’ stuff over there, ya got this guy and his dog over here, ya got this kid and her pet over here, there’s this house and that house, and that’s all great stuff, everybody can relate to life at home. But I suspect that maybe, just maybe… there are people out there who would like to “get out of the house” once in a while, y’know?
Would you like to make any other comments?
I am so grateful for this chance to get interviewed. I really appreciate it.
Thanks for visiting The Cartoonists, Justin, and sharing your amazing story. Hope to see you in the Funny Pages soon.
Visit MythTickle on Comics Sherpa:
Justin Thompson's site:
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|© Susanna McLeod 2005
(Originally published in The Cartoonists on suite101.com.)