The GoComics “Meet Your Creator” series brings you firsthand insight into the lives and careers of your favorite cartoonists. Each week, we hand over the keys to one of our talented creators, who share their inspirations, achievements, creative processes, studios and more! Read on to hear from this week’s featured cartoonist: Michael Jantze of The Norm and The Norm 4.0.
As I finish “Knocked Out Loaded,” a graphic novel featuring the characters from my (now-weekly) comic strip The Norm, I thought this might be an interesting time to reflect on the state of comics … well, MY comics. The rest of the creators and folks involved in comics publishing can be in charge of themselves, I suppose. Let’s start with an excerpt from the introduction I wrote to the “KOL” story in 2006:
"Charles Schulz said the only way a comic strip distinguishes itself from all other media, is that it intrinsically combines words and pictures into a wholly new and elevated sum. Without the intertwining pictures, it’s just radio, without the words it’s just pantomime. Sparky redefined the comic strip in the 1950s and perfected it in the 1960s. Many since have imitated it but rarely has anyone tried to create a new definition. In a way, we’re all drawing Peanuts redux. The modern comic strip is like a poem: short, repetitive and, yeah, no one reads it. But it could be more — maybe like an epic poem — without becoming a long-form comic book or graphic novel. A form of comic strip that’s neither gag-a-day nor serialized drama. Something that isn’t Schulz but also isn’t Caniff. And certainly not a television sitcom.”
To make something newer. That’s the good part. The weird part? This book spans my whole comic career. Not kidding. I wrote the theme for this story on the back of a notepad in 1986. Then, a few years later, DC Comics optioned three of my stories. After I walked away from DC three years later, I shelved it as no more than a treatment. It sat in a folder on a Zip disk for 12 years, and as a final experiment with The Norm, I thought it’d be fun to write “straight ahead” and let the comic strip pull Norm through the theme.
Boy, was I wrong. Nine months into the storyline, I’m pulled away by both good and bad fortune. So how is it nine years later that I’m finally getting the ePub versions out? I think I was knocked out loaded.
But that’s any creative’s career these days. You can plan for the future, but that doesn’t mean it’s planning anything with you. I think the thing I’ve learned the most as a cartoonist isn’t how to use a brush like Jack Davis or write a better gag like Sparky, but how to adapt, repeat and remember the mistakes. I tell my kids that failure is always an option and it’s perfectly all right to fail. But learn from it: Fail up.
The Norm is a comic strip about our struggle to understand, to adapt, repeat and remember and to enjoy the “now.” Norm is pretty much an unchangeable force in the strip, whether he’s single, in love with Star Wars, unrequited in love with a friend or 4.0 (family of four, not 40). Norm is always learning while playing. He’s the boy who did grow up.
I’ve mixed my background in film, animation and journalism into my comics over the years, and the latest iteration is the Comic Readeos of The Norm 4.0 on YouTube. The strip is released each Monday, the comic readeo (like video, but you have to read them, get it?) is released the day after. I like the idea that the "little snack that is comic strips" can be consumed on paper, desktops or mobile. And I like the idea that it’s not animated at all … that it reminds you more of the comic strip it came from than the 800-lb. gorilla that most folks think animation should be (like those awful motion comic books from a few years back – ugh).
Who my influences are may not be as important as where they were found. My influences were, of course, the cartoonists who came before me, but honestly, Leonardo da Vinci and the Apollo space program and Charlie Chaplin and Ralph Bakshi and Frank Lloyd Wright and Alfred Hitchcock and Monet and Kurt Vonnegut and the Disney Studios were just as important.
And I found most of that at the public library as a teenager. I used to redraw, page by page, art and anatomy books: that was my art school. I checked out 8mm silent movie reels of classic, even ancient, films like “The Gold Rush,” Batman serials, “Battleship Potempkin,” “Intolerance,” “Star Wars” (no sound!), Disney’s "Peter Pan" (studied every single frame of the cave sequence in my moviola) and “Snow White.”
But the ritual was most important. Riding my bike to the libraries all around my university hometown, with a notebook, some dimes for photocopies of old magazines or Hogarth books and the expectation that maybe I’d find something new. Wow. That’s where I found and fed my passion as much as the discoveries themselves.
And I’m still doing that: Riding my bike, that is, looking for new discoveries. As I finish this book that’s completely different from the book I started, I’m still looking for the next moment I find something. That’s why I write, it’s why I draw, it’s why I create words and pictures and keep looking for a new way to intertwine them. I enjoy writing and directing animated film, but to be honest, I have so many tools and options and technologies available in film, it’s such a different journey, and in some ways an easier journey.
That’s why I love books. It’s not the book itself, it’s knowing that someone else went through a journey to make it, and yes, sometimes even a journey to share the antiquated thing. Comics are the same thing, but with pictures! Where else but in comics can you hand someone a completed work and still ask them to do half the work to make up the voices, read the lines and set the pacing? The reader can go on their own journey to finish it, their way.
So comics? And books? Yeah, it’s what keeps me wanting to create more. What’s next for me isn’t as important as that there is more for me to do. As a book or a strip or a film, not as important as it’s what I do. I’m a cartoonist.
Read The Norm here and The Norm 4.0 here.