Roy Schneider, An Update on the Creator of The Humble Stumble

19 January 2006

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   Roy Schneider is a wonderful cartoonist with great amount of determination. The talented creator of the delightful The Humble Stumble comic strip reached the golden prize of cartooning, syndication, in August 2005. Profiled in The Cartoonists in 2004 (see August 20, 2004 story), he has generously agreed to an interview with The Cartoonists to give an update on his life as a successful syndicated cartoonist.

1.    When and where were you born, Roy? What type of work do/did your parents do? Are you married? Do you still make your home in Florida?

    Hey, no fair... That's four questions in one! OK... I was born in Toledo, Ohio in 1969. Back then, my dad worked for Dow Corning and my mom was a homemaker, raising my sister and myself. They divorced before I was a year old, and since then my dad has been a musical entertainer, an owner of a waterbed chain, an Amway salesman, and is now an insurance salesman. My mom sold Avon, did some secretarial work, and eventually became a dog groomer. She has since gone on to win International awards in that field, and is now a respected show judge, endorsing “Andis” pet clippers and writing a monthly column in "Groomer to Groomer" magazine.

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    I am not married, but my girlfriend Kim and I are going on three years together now. She's wonderful. We live in Southwest Florida with my fifteen-year-old daughter and her four-year-old son.

2.    Were you interested in cartooning as a child? Are any other family members in the art field?

    As a small child, I was fascinated by comic strips. Among my earliest recollections is a stack of "Peanuts" paperbacks my older sister had been given by a friend, which I would regularly sneak into her room and steal. I always liked drawing, but didn't think I was very good and never imagined I could ever actually produce my own comic strip... You had to be a magician to do that!

    My daughter is in the only high school in our area with any real emphasis on the arts, which she had to audition for. She draws, paints, sculpts, and is getting really into black-and-white photography. She's really good, and I'm so proud.

3.    Did you attend art school or start down another career path? Did you have jobs related to cartooning as a teenager?

    I got my first cartooning job by accident in 1992, drawing a really bad comic strip called "Tommy Flashback," for a small music magazine in Wilmington, NC, as a result of an interview for a graphic design position I didn't get. "Tommy" was about the misadventures of a sleazy ticket scalper and was written by the editor, and while I thought he was a pretty nice guy, I didn't care for the gags because they were extremely wordy and confusing. One month, he told me he had no gags together, so we'd have to skip the strip this month. Well, I wasn't about to give up that whopping $25 they paid me, so I said "I have some ideas." I was lying, of course, but this was just the push I needed to actually come up with gags on my own. When I discovered that I could, I got excited and began to think right away that I should come up with my own strip and try to get it syndicated. I must admit that my own gags weren't very good either... But it was a start, and I was thrilled to be published.

4.     What was your inspiration for The Humble Stumble ? Are the characters and humour drawn from real life?

    The Humble Stumble came about after I'd gone through a very emotionally painful divorce and was now the sole custodial parent of my daughter, who had just turned ten. I was scared to death of bearing all this responsibility, but I learned. I had no choice! Until that point, I had scarcely paid a bill, cooked a meal or taken care of matters of school, medical, mortgage, insurance, etc etc... I was at work all day while my wife took care of all the important homefront stuff. I was not feeling very funny through the turmoil of divorce (naturally), but once the smoke cleared a bit and the itch returned to come up with a new strip idea, this concept popped up pretty naturally. I didn't even know how to pack a school lunch properly. I was an easy target.

5.     Congratulations on reaching the golden prize of syndication for The Humble Stumble in August, 2005. Was it difficult to get syndicated – did you face rejection? How did you approach the syndicates? Were you encouraged by editors or was it sheer determination that kept you trying?

    Ohhh, let me tell you about determination! There are those who have been syndicated on the first try... I admire and applaud them, the slimy worms they are (Tony Cochran of "Agnes" is one of them, and a friend of mine - Hi Tony!)... As for myself, I submitted strips diligently with no decent reaction from 1992 until 2001 (at least 15 different concepts), when The Humble Stumble was first picked up for development with The Washington Post Writers Group. It seemed they were going to keep me waiting in the wings forever for a launch, and since three syndicates had shown serious interest in it early on, I decided to shop it around to them again. They all said no!! This was heartbreaking, because here was the only strip that had ever received serious attention, and now they didn't want it. Talk about frustrating! I didn't know what to do for several months. Should I continue working on the one that they once liked but have now rejected, or should I start from scratch yet again? The good news is, I finally got a phone call from Jake Morrissey at United Media about nine months after being told "no," asking if I'd like to put The Humble Stumble on their website, comics.com. It ran on their website exclusively for about a year, then I finally got the call in April of 2005 offering me syndication. I can't express how happy I was. And it only took 13 years!

6.    Let’s discuss techniques: How do you create your cartoons? Do you use a favourite pen or brand of pencil? What type of paper or board do you draw on? Is the computer one of your tools? Do you have assistants or family members to help? Your artwork and in particular, the faces of your characters, are distinctive.

    I draw my strips on bristol board with pen and ink, the old-fashioned way. Light pencil first, then ink using a speedball pen nib dipped into an inkwell, then erase the underlying pencil. I'm glad to say I use a WHOOOLE lot less white-out than I used to, but I still keep it handy. I have this very bad habit of erasing one part of the art's underlying pencil lines while the ink in another area is still wet, then swiping away the eraser crumbs, resulting in a huge smear across the artwork. I could slap myself silly for this practice (in fact, I have once or twice), yet I still find myself doing it when I get in too much of a hurry. Very counter-productive, to say the least. I scan the black-and-white strips into the computer and do any final editing, cleanup and Sunday color in PhotoShop. I do all the work on the strip myself, though we've toyed with the idea of Kim (my sweetheart) doing the Sunday color. That hasn't happened because I just like doing it too much and I'm not willing to share just yet :)

    I do like to focus on facial expressions, as I find it hard to believe what a character is saying when they have one or two standard expressions and words emanating from their heads. I do my best to make their face fit what they are saying.

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7.    Do you use particular methods to keep inspired? Do you wake up in the middle of the night with ideas that you just have to write down?

    I've often woken up with ideas dangling from my frontal lobe. Sometimes they turn out to be good, and other times I think they're ingenius until I have my coffee, and then realize that nobody would get this unless they just had the exact same weird dream I had. And I don't know how many people dream about feet arguing with one another, or dogs casually walking around in the bottom of filled swimming pools.

8.     Which is more important for you – the writing or the art? Is there a philosophy to your work?

    As most professionals in this business have learned, good writing can often carry weak art, but good art cannot carry weak writing. If you are fortunate enough to be able to write and draw well, then bonus for you! I have never thought of my own drawing as being fantastic, but I think it fits the writing and gets the ideas across. I'm glad I've never been 100% satisfied with my work, because it keeps me constantly striving to improve. I think once you decide that you are so wonderful that you're beyond improvement, your work will get flabby.

9.    Has it been challenging to juggle cartooning and raise a family? Do you still have time for music? Is your daughter Maya interested following her father’s footsteps in art or cartooning?

    Hehe... Yes, it is challenging finding time to keep a good family life going while juggling dual art careers. I still play music a few nights a week, and am just wrapping up studio sessions on my first real album of original songs, which I'm very excited about. I'm also planning on entering some more songwriting contests this year. Last Spring, I attended my first such contest at Suwannee SpringFest, where I took third place... And subsequently did a storyline based on it with Joe in The Humble Stumble. As for Maya's art, she is very talented, but her style is much different. She can draw you and it looks like you. But then she might place you in a field of singing papayas or something, you never know. She seems to be into realism and surrealism in the fine arts, but not so much cartooning. And that's good, because who wants more competition?

10.    Have you continued to do freelance work, Roy? Has syndication boosted that side of your work or has the pressure of deadlines changed your life?

    I continue to draw two "Murphy's World" cartoons each month for "Over the Road" and "Pro Trucker," and pick up occasional freelance work, but I don't really have the time to hunt for new clients. Self-promotion and drumming up the work often takes more time than the work itself! I do get requests from time to time through word of mouth or my website, and as long as it is a fair arrangement I'll almost always do the job. I enjoy the challenge of doing something completely different.

11.    What goals do you have for The Humble Stumble ? Do you have other comic strip ideas in mind?

    There are cartoonists out there who work on more than one strip, but I prefer the idea of really focusing my energy on the one that I have, and making it the very best it can be. My goals for the strip are simply to strengthen and improve it a day at a time for many years to come, and build as large a client list as possible. I'd specifically like to see it in The Boston Globe, as that's the paper I delivered on my bike when I was a kid, sneaking peeks at the Sunday funnies at any opportunity. I'd also love to see book collections, and while I'm not bent on the idea of merchandising, I'm not opposed to it either, depending on what it is. I don't think I'd like to see Joe or Molly's image on a jockstrap or blackhead cream.

    Has there been a moment in cartooning that has surprised you? Any that brought you sadness or joy?

    Well... Though I knew the comic strip business had changed as a direct result of the newspaper business' ever-increasing challenges, what with cable TV and internet news as fierce competitors, I was still a bit dismayed to learn first-hand just how much it had changed. The days of a comic strip launching in several hundred papers seem to be gone forever, but there's still hope for a strong strip to grow and succeed, and I hope mine is considered to be among them. I still have high hopes for the strip's long-term success. I was ecstatic to find out recently that The Humble Stumble has been picked up by some respectable West coast papers.

13.    Are you a member of any cartooning society or professional group?

    Yes, I was accepted into the National Cartoonists Society in 1999, mainly due to my published magazine cartoon work and toy design job at the time. This was a wonderful step, as it allowed me personal access not only to other cartoonists I admired, but to these syndicate editors I'd been submitting comic strips to for so many years. A strip must speak for itself, naturally, but it doesn't hurt to make that personal connection. I have also had the wonderful fortune to get to know Jeannie Schulz, widow of Charles "Sparky" Schulz, over the years. She is a fantastic human being, which comes as no surprise. I am a member of the Charles Schulz museum in Santa Rosa, CA, and the Cartoon Art museum in San Francisco. I go to the NCS' Reuben Awards weekend every year (except this past one), and 2006 will be the first time that I'll finally be allowed to enter an actual comic strip for division judging! I've always wished I could enter my strip work, but it must be published in newspapers to be eligible for the category.

14.    What advice would you give to aspiring cartoonists?

    Well, I would let them know that the newspaper comic strip biz "ain't what it used to be," and that they might be better aiming their creative cartooning energy toward tv or animated features. Of course, I was told about the state of the business all along myself, but was so entirely attracted to doing my very own strip where I could conceive, write, draw and orchestrate everything myself that it didn't matter. I wanted a strip, and only a strip would do... My own "Peanuts" or "Calvin and Hobbes." The syndicates only accept a few strips each year out of the thousands of packages they receive, but if that is really, truly where your heart lies and the only thing that will satisfy you as a cartoonist, then go for it! There are a lot of strips on the web, too, and only a fistful that are really worth their salt (in this cartoonist's opinion, anyway). Those that have merit and are marketed properly on the web seem to have become a profitable venture for those cartoonists. Whichever way you go, the arts are an extremely competitive field, and you must be able to take rejection over and over and over again without it beating you down.

SM:  Thank you very much for your time, Roy, and for allowing us to peek into your fascinating life. Congratulations on the fantastic accomplishment of Syndication. You and your wonderful creation have earned it!

RS:   Thank you for your interest, and the time and opportunity to appear in your column. I sincerely appreciate it.

Read The Humble Stumble daily at:
http://www.comics.com/comics/humblestumble/

Visit Roy Schneider's home page and check out his freelance work:
http://www.royschneider.com

© Susanna McLeod 2006
TheCartoonists.ca