Ollie & Quentin Book

Ollie & Quentin Book
125 pages in full colour!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Interview with The Bangor Daily News

"Ollie and Quentin," a new comic strip about a sea gull and a lugworm, made its American debut last Monday, Jan. 7, in the comics pages of the Bangor Daily News and across the country, with the Sunday color strip launching yesterday.

British cartoonist Piers Baker, the strip’s creator, sat down for an across-the-pond e-mail interview with Janine Pineo of the Bangor Daily News last month to talk about the process of becoming a syndicated cartoonist and the process of an artist creating a unique world filled with sea gulls and lugworms and next-door neighbors named Cadaver.

BDN:How did the whole thing come about with King Features? I’ve read the info about how many strips are submitted, but what was the process you went through? How long did it take?

Baker:I’m going to upset a lot of cartoonists here because this was the first time I’d submitted any strip to King Features. That said, I’ve been working on ‘Ollie and Quentin’ for many years and didn’t want to submit it until I felt it was strong enough. I know they receive 6,000 submissions a year and only launch three or four so I could only send them something I was really happy with. I decided a long time ago to take the slow, steady approach. My plan was to get a weekly strip running in a few small U.K. papers and then see if a daily version was possible. I’d say it took three years or 150 strips before I felt I was ready. We don’t have cartoon syndicates in the U.K. so as King Features is the world’s premier cartoon syndication company, I thought I’d start there. I sent a submission in the summer of 2006 and heard back in October that same year when I’d completely forgotten about it. From then until now I have been in ‘development,’ speaking to my brilliant editor, Brendan Burford, once a week to go through the rough strips I’ve sent him.

BDN: You’ve been doing the strip since 2002 for a U.K. audience. How is the strip changing for an American audience?

Baker:Not a great deal. We share a common language and our humor is pretty similar. I’ve had to change the odd word and some of the spelling but I’d say 99 percent of what you’ll see in the North Woods is as it would appear in the U.K.

BDN:In my extensive research, I got a wee bit confused because it seems "Ollie and Quentin" wasn’t that to begin with. Ollie was Eric, there seemed to be a Stan, the title name was briefly "FlopFlip" and so on. Can you explain how Eric became Ollie, Stan became ?, etc.

Baker:You have done your homework.

The strip started life as a comic about a lifeboat man called Stormy Stan who is the kids mascot for the U.K.’s Lifeboat charity (The Royal National Lifeboat Institution or RNLI). I introduced a seagull character called Eric as his sidekick. This pairing graced the pages of their Kids Club magazine for a number of years. The magazine only needed four jokes a year but I was writing many more so I decided to try and sell the feature to weekly newspapers. This would give the RNLI some great publicity and me the incentive to develop the strip to a point where I might one day approach the syndicates. The feature’s content was very "lifeboat-heavy" which is fine for papers with lifeboat stations in their circulation area but not of much interest to papers without one. So I developed a second strip using the same seagull character but introducing a lugworm as his sidekick. Stormy Stan the lifeboat man got phased out as the strip moved from the sea onto dry land.

When King Features showed an interest in the strip, I had to sever ties with the RNLI for legal reasons. All very amicable but it meant that I couldn’t use the name Eric and I wasn’t permitted to make reference to anything "lifeboat" including Stormy Stan. So Eric became Ollie (a name I much prefer), his white cap became blue and Stan was replaced by Nobby (the dreadful nickname my parents gave me as a child!).

"FlopFlip" was the lovely working title for the strip whilst in development only. It’s the punchline to one of my earlier strips. I love this name but we all got a bit scared of having the word "Flop" in the title. A great shame.

BDN:Where does your inspiration come from? How does life in Guildford (England) influence you?

Baker:Inspiration? Everything and anything. I carry a notebook everywhere and jot down ideas all the time. They might be things I’ve seen, heard or simply dreamed up. Quite often I might find myself doing something and I’ll think "How would Quentin do this?" or "What would Ollie say here?" I have Ollie and Quentin’s whole world in my head now so quite often I just throw them into a situation and see what they do. They have their own voices. (Now I’m sounding a little crazy …"It’s the voices that made me do it officer!")

I like people-watching and find the best place to get ideas is by sitting in a coffee shop and just listening to the world go by. That, or in the shower. I think it must be that massaging of my head.

Guildford is a beautiful town, I have a wonderfully supportive family and live in a nice house. I think Ollie and Quentin reflect this. They live in a pretty town, keep each other company and are very content, happy, non-political characters. With a roof over their heads, a hot meal, some TV and a warm bed, they’re content. Just like me, this means they can spend all day doing something daft. In my case, this would be drawing a cartoon strip. In theirs, it could be firing their "SuperSoaker" in the library, building a teleporting machine or pretending to be superheroes.

BDN:I read somewhere that the strip will be starting off at the "beginning" with, for example, Quentin looking at himself in the mirror for the first time (very funny, by the way). Talk about what we’ll be seeing in these first few weeks.

Baker:The first few weeks are a good introduction to the feature. We pick it up in the days following Quentin’s decision to leave his boring, cold, wet, sandy, hole on the beach to head for the bright lights of a nearby fishing village. The first thing he met was Ollie, a seagull and you’d expect his story to end somewhat gruesomely there. But Ollie is no ordinary gull. He too has sought out an alternative existence and taken up residence in an artist’s house in the town. Not that the artist called Nobby had any say in the matter. Ollie invites Quentin to join him and seeing as this strange creature is the coolest thing Quentin has ever seen he enthusiastically accepts and a great friendship is born.

So the early days see Quentin trying to get to grips with life outside of his sandy hole. Ollie tries to teach him the ways of our world but he’s not always sure himself. Their daily antics often end in disaster especially for thumb-sized Quentin who has the knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He gets squashed, stretched, swallowed, chewed, inflated, frozen, even trapped in a waffle iron, but our plucky little hero takes it all in his stride, never letting his small size deter him from having fun with his feathered friend.

It never occurs to Ollie that Quentin might make a tasty little snack.

BDN:What kind of adventures are in store for O & Q? Tell me about (pick however many you’d like): dating, parallel universes, SuperGull and WonderWorm, the Eggs and the evil Mrs. Cadaver.

Baker:One of my favorite characters is one we never actually see. She’s the Evil Mrs. Cadaver who lives next door. Ollie and Quentin are a bit freaked out by her (which they secretly enjoy) and have created this whole scary persona for her that isn’t anything like the truth. Mrs. Caduggan (real name) is quite a sweet, old dear that wouldn’t harm a fly, but as far as our guys are concerned, she’s a Monstrous Vampire Werewolf Frankenstein-type Ogre that would scalp them if they dared set foot in her backyard to retrieve their football. Of course our guys can’t resist doing just that with disastrous consequences.

Ollie’s sister has two mischievous kids. They are two unhatched eggs so we don’t ever know if they are Ollie’s nephews or nieces. Consequently they have no names. They come to stay when their mum has had enough of them but cause no end of trouble. They get banned from everywhere they visit. One day they hope to hatch into something huge and scary with sharp claws and teeth, something cool like a dinosaur or … or a chicken. They do NOT want to be gulls.

Quentin has a lughood sweetheart called Rosie but, sadly, the feeling’s not mutual. He has blind dates but these are often failures, too. He goes to great lengths to get a girlfriend, including having antlers surgically attached to his head and even having a six pack painted on his belly. Ollie has no trouble getting a gullfriend.

They like to pretend to be Superheroes "SuperGull and WonderWorm," after all they do have superpowers of a sort. Ollie can fly (which Quentin is very jealous of) and Quentin is extremely stretchy, though not always intentionally. They’ve never quite figured out what they would actually do if they ever had to perform any heroic deeds.

Quentin tires of everything trying to eat him all the time so he employs a Venus Fly Trap called Rex as a Body Guard/Guard Dog. Quentin wears him on his head. Rex is a humorless thug who can hardly string two words together. He’s forever spoiling for a fight which means Quentin has to take him to obedience classes to try and train him not to attack everything in sight.

Quentin is one of hundreds, if not thousands, of brothers and sisters, not to mention all his uncles and aunts. We get to meet a lot of them along the way.

In the first six months there won’t be any stories that run over more than one day. Eventually there will, including the story of Quentin accidentally creating a gateway to a parallel universe whilst cooking in the kitchen. There we’ll meet Quentin and Ollie from the Universe ‘Jeremy’.

BDN:You’ve created one of the most charming, whimsical buddy stories I’ve ever read. Who are Ollie and Quentin to you?

Baker:That’s a lovely thing to say, thanks. This is a very interesting question and one that I hadn’t really thought about. I suppose they are both me. Ollie is the older brother like me (I’m the eldest of five) and Quentin is the younger brother that I often feel like. You see, in real life my two younger brothers are very successful, grown up businessmen with REAL jobs. They talk on the phone, wear suits, have proper salaries and jet off to important meetings. I sit around in my scruffy clothes drawing funny pictures all day. As my two teenage kids once joked "How come we got the duff one!"

Now I’m a syndicated cartoonist … I’ll show them who’s duff!

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