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THE REAL LUANN NOW WRITES WITH HER DAD

Twenty-eight years after inspiring the title character in Greg Evans' long-running comic strip Luann, the cartoonist's daughter, Karen, is working by her father's side as the strip's co-author.

The comic strip started when Evans saw his five-year-old daughter dressed up in her mother’s clothing and jewelry. Until then, his career as a cartoonist had been somewhat irregular.

Greg and Karen Evans
Evans told Pam Kragen at San Diego’s Union-Tribune that he always dreamed of being a cartoonist, but couldn't sell his hand-drawn strips when in his 20s and early 30s, so he bounced around in a series of jobs — high school art teacher in El Centro, television news camera operator in Colorado Springs and talking-robot operator at the San Diego Zoo and Seaport Village. Then one day in 1984, beheld Karen, waltzing around their home, imitating her mother.

"I saw her and I got the idea for a strip about a little girl, and for once it struck a chord because it wasn't a contrived subject. It was drawn from real life," said Evans, who decided to name the character "Luann" and aged her to 13, because teen angst would provide more fodder for storylines. On March 17, 1985, Luann launched and now appears in 450 newspapers and websites (gocomics.com), and it is read by more than 600,000 online visitors each week, reported Kragen.

Luann Sunday teenIn 2003, Evans won the industry's highest accolade, the National Cartoonist Society's Reuben Award for Cartoonist of the Year. And in 2006, Evans premiered a musical based on the strip, "Luann: Scenes in a Teen's Life."

Evans told Kragen that in the early years of Luann, he drew plot ideas from teen magazines and, later, Karen's own experiences getting her ears pierced, wearing braces and entering high school. Evans’ wife Betty served as a constant sounding board for plot and character ideas. But Evans was careful to give his cartoon family lives of their own, separate from the lives of the cartoonist’s family.

For several years, Evans said he had wondered what would happen to Luann when he eventually retires. He has no immediate plans to do so, but he still wonders. Mort Walker’s sons are likely to inherit Beetle Bailey when their father decides to retire (although he protests that he never will), but none of Evans’ kids have inherited their father’s drawing talent.

Luann desk stripThen one day in June 2012, father and daughter hit on the idea of separating the writing and drawing of Luann and a partnership was born. Karen, who holds a degree in writing and literature, agreed to take an active hand in helping her father create the plots and character arcs in the story and he would carry on drawing the strip. On Sunday afternoons, they meet for story sessions, and, with Betty, they critique the drawn panels that Evans produces after each session.

Evans said he has found his wife and daughter's input invaluable to both long-term planning and character development.

"Before it was always just me and now it's three of us and two of them are women," he said. "They bring a whole other layer of detail, subtlety and nuance to the project. Luann has a lot more meat on her bones and complexity than she did before."

But fans who worry about change or the loss of Evans' signature jokes and style can rest at ease for now. The artist said he's not going anywhere for a while.

"I still enjoy it and I look forward to it every day," he said. "Until that changes, I'll keep at it."

Luann Sunday food

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

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