Ollie & Quentin Book

Ollie & Quentin Book
125 pages in full colour!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Year Three

Ollie and Quentin hit it's third anniversary in syndication on January 8th which also means it's about 100 comics past it's thousandth strip!
So, what of this third year? I have accepted that O&Q haven't exactly set the US comic industry alight but I'm convinced my work is better than ever and it will only be a matter of time before it gets the foothold it so deserves. I wouldn't say this if I thought my work stank. At O&Q's launch in 2008 I was asked if I thought there was a difference between the US and UK senses of humor. At the time I thought there was very little difference, I loved Calvin and Hobbes, Friends, Malcolm in the Middle, Scrubs etc so we must share the same sense of humor... I was wrong. I underestimated the differences between us... big time. I get a far better reaction to my work here in the UK than in the US. Ah well, let's hope the US sense of humor catches up with that of us Brits before my contract runs out! ;o)
Here's the Good, Bad and Ugly of Year Three then: The highlight? Talking to Stephan Pastis on Skype and being told (jokingly, I know) that if he died on one of his Iraq/Afghanistan trips to visit the soldiers he had told his wife to contact me to take over his comic! Now he may say this to every cartoonist he talks to but I'm taking him on face value and I'm very flattered. It actually got me thinking who would I like to take over mine if I died in some kind of horrible pencil or paper cut incident. As much as I'd love Richard Thompson to take over I think I'd like Stephan Pastis to write it and Alex Hallatt of 'Arctic Circle' fame to draw it.

Another highlight was being interviewed by the brilliant Tom Racine on Tall Tale Features. I made an ass of myself on the show but thought Tom and Jonathan Lemon of the fantastic comic 'Rabbits Against Magic' true gentlemen and very professional.

I have one last highlight that I can't reveal but King Features haven't given up on me and have an interesting plan in store. Watch this space.
Now the bit you really want to read. The lows. I've agonized over this and have decided to write a little about my terrible year in the hope that anyone else out there in a similar position to me may take some comfort and encouragement from it. Please, I am not looking for sympathy here. I am big and ugly enough to get through this.

Last summer my relationship of 27 years with the mother of my two children came to a very sudden end when she left the three of us. My world collapsed. Aside from the obvious emotional difficulties I was terrified that the career I had worked so hard for all my life was going to be pulled out from under me. Not because I was bad at it, not because it wasn't selling but because I couldn't see how I could be funny every day when my heart was broken. Of all the scenarios of failure I hadn't seen this one coming.

I immediately lost a week. What could I do to stop getting further behind? Many more weeks like the first and I'd be done for. My first decision was to go back to basics. Try to write one gag a day and draw it. That's all. Previously I wrote all my comics on one day but there was no way I could concentrate that long any more. So, I'd cycle into town, get a coffee and try and hide myself in Ollie and Quentin World for an hour or so. It worked. I could do it and I loved that escape from the torture I was going through. Still do. I had told my Editor at King's what had happened and I can't thank him enough for his encouragement through a very tough time. He was delighted with what I was producing. In fact I think I've done some of my best work since the summer and now stick with the one (or two) a day technique. There's a lot of truth in that old adage about creativity coming through suffering.

Drawing at home was driving me crazy as it was too depressing being on my own in the afternoons so I found a fantastic creative studio to work in. You may have seen my post about the converted chapel I now go to most days. I can't afford it but it was bankruptcy or insanity so I chose to be happy but broke.

Friends, family and my cartoonist friends have been fantastic. I have relied on their genuine kindness and it has helped me through some very dark days. You certainly learn who your real friends are. Don't be surprised if a few (a small few) go quiet on you. It happens. It's a difficult time for everyone.

Six months on I can't say I'm over it or a happy man yet but things are looking up. I have some really great days amongst the few awful ones. My recent skiing trip was one of the happiest weeks of my life. I never thought I could say something like that 6 months ago.

My kids are almost grown up but still need my support, the house takes a lot of running and there is a never ending pile of laundry, cooking, cleaning, shopping, home improvement etc to do. My working days are regularly 15-16 hours long as the comic work doesn't cover all my bills. I have to try and fit in extra cartoon illustration work where I can. My thanks here to the wonderful RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) for their support.
Bad news over, the last thing I've done is change the process by which I produce a comic. I've always produced very tight pencil roughs which I always saw as helping me speed up the final inking stage. I hate the inking stage so I've been experimenting with (and have now implemented) converting my pencil roughs into linework using the Live Trace feature in Adobe Illustrator. Any of you familiar with this process will know you simply place your pencil rough into an Illustrator document and in seconds it can be your line artwork. It saves me about an hour a day which is about a month a year! The added bonus is I prefer the look of these Live Traced files so it's a win win development. Can't show you these yet as they're not due out for a couple of weeks. I wonder if anyone will spot the change. I hope so 'cos they look darn good!

So I'm hoping for a Peachy 2011, let's be honest it can't possibly be worse than 2010.


J. Lemon said...

"King Features... have an interesting plan in store". Is it a book? Tell me it;s a book!

Kratik said...

Absolutely brilliant.
Well written :)
please also read my blog:


Cheers :)

hungrydog said...

Hey, that livetrace feature sounds cool (though my roughs are too loose for me to benefit).

Re: Taking over your strip if you die - it would be an honour.

PS. Don't die - it'd kill me...

Jonathan said...

Great post and glad to hear things are a bit brighter! It's amazing how these characters we doodle can help pull us out of bad patches.
BTW that movie theater strip is one of my favorites...a classic!

Tom Racine said...

Piers! Thanks for the shout out, amigo! You were brilliant on the show, and it was my pleasure. O&Q is consistently amazing to read. I am sorry about the rest of your year. I can only hope that 2011 is a vast, vast improvement.

dikki said...

Piers, trust me, out of pain comes great art...or at the very least, more focus. 2010 was challenging for me as well on a personal level and I think we really have to consider ourselves lucky that we have our self-created worlds to slink into. They can really envelope you and take you to another place and it can be a blissful distraction. Keep the faith, brother, you do great work!

Mark Tatulli

keith knight said...


I think we're having similar experiences! Love your work!
Keep it up! We'll break through!!


"the Knight Life" (launched in 2008!)

Mike Lynch said...

My God, yes -- a wrenching, life-changing year, Piers, to say the least. Reading about the challenges of producing "Ollie and Quentin" during the breakup -- I know you don't want sympathy, but, well, I was really concerned. I was relieved when you described your creative breakthrough.

Wishing you all the best from the frozen North of New England!

Peter Bangs said...

Tough choice, sanity or bankruptcy, and I'd say you ade the right one. Found you through Mike Lynch's site and boy am I glad I did. Having spent an hour reading old strips you're now in very select company as the second strip I follow on line. (The first is Cul De Sac)

And I may have isunderstood but you appear to be British and working as a US Strip cartoonist with Kings. You are living the dream man.

Piers Baker said...

Not sure you have this expression in the States but I'm quite 'choked' by these responses to my post. Overwhelmed. Thanks everyone. Should have written how lucky I am to belong to such a fantastic community.
I'm so sorry (but not surprised) to read I'm not the only one struggling emotionally to keep this agonising, terrifying, amazing, wonderful dream going. If you guys ever want to talk, shout, scream or just have a shoulder to cry on please get in touch: piers@ollieandquentin.com

Anne Hambrock said...

So glad to hear you still love the job! It seems to be the oddest of combinations for a career - hugely gratifying and soul sucking at the same time. And during times of great personal upheaval, I'm sure it feels more soul sucking than usual.

If it is any consolation, there has been absolutely no drop in the quality of your strip this year - your feature has been and remains so funny and always a highlight of my morning comics reading.

All our best!

ps - when are you coming over to visit? You know the door is open!

Piers Baker said...

Thanks Anne, as warm and generous as ever. Keep that door open, I'll make it over someday!