Monday, May 26, 2008

Ars Gratia Lucre, Part One

There's almost no point to posting this, since I think everyone who reads the Rambler regularly has already seen these - but I finally got the thing approved and billed, and it's good to show process. Yes?

Again, this is the strip I do for the KPMG college recruitment magazine. Usually, they give me a couple of topics, I submit a couple of ideas, they pick one, I draw it, we're done. This time around, they chose Politics as the topic, and didn't waver from that choice. Which wouldn't have been a problem in most other circumstances, but KPMG is the dictionary definition of a company that doesn't want to rock any boats, anywhere. And I knew going in that it was going to be difficult. So I ended up doing six submissions altogether, trying to find some way to make a joke about the political process - they insist on the set-up and punchline structure, even though it's not my strong suit and there's no way I can do anything with teeth under the editorial restrictions of the publication.

To show how this works, here's the first strip I submitted, knowing even as I made it that it would be too aggressive for the magazine - but I wanted to see exactly where the boundaries were:

I figured, 'well, there's no way I can be pro or con either candidate or party platform, so I'll start by making fun of pundits.' At the same time, I also submitted a really (really!) soft piece, to hit the other end of the spectrum. This was done as a full page, because the art director likes my detailed pen and ink style, and the splash pages give me much more room to stretch out and draw:

So, nah. The pundit one was, as I suspected, too harsh, and the bookstore one was too lame.

Following that, the client requested that I try to make it more positive, to encourage the audience (college seniors) to 'vote and get informed about the issues,' and to use the characters I'd established in the first two published strips - which the bookstore strip already did, on both counts, but it was rejected for just not being funny, and I certainly can't argue with that.

Gotcha. Lightly humorous, character based propaganda:

To which the client responded, '[those are] more “social commentary” than plain humor, etc. Didn’t like the 2nd one in particular, the way it ended about having a coronary….'

At which point, I almost had a coronary, trying to figure out just what 'plain humor' is, and realizing that it meant I couldn't do anything that would have been appropriate in a Peanuts Sunday strip from 1962. So, make it funny, yet make it soft. Argh?

I never did get a definition of just what was meant by 'plain humor,' and a couple of different things happened. First, I tried to convince them that there was no way we were going to be able to do a strip on the subject for the magazine, so maybe I could have a different topic?

No, they really wanted it to be about the election.

Then one of the staff writers gave me a script, that I fleshed out a little:

But I wasn't too happy with that, so I decided to submit one more of my own - figuring that a), well, even though it is work-for-hire, the reason they hired me is to do the kind of work that I do, b) my name was going to go on it, and c) this one stood a strong chance of being rejected and I wanted the money. So I generated one more idea, literally from the depths of my subconscious as I was falling asleep one night - 'hey, Dave, how about something about a time machine?' The next day, I figured, what the hell, and drew it up:

I figured the idea was absurd enough to get around the problems with doing a strip on the election topic, and - some calculation involved here - gambling that the person who wanted 'just plain humor' might be meaning 'something like The Far Side, Calvin & Hobbes, or Dilbert.'

Thankfully, I figured right on all counts, and An Inexact Science was the one they accepted. Great. Then it was time to draw it - and you can tell from the visual progression of the strips that I was spending less and less time drawing each submission - so that by the last one, all sense of place, blocking, or even spatial relation was out the window.

Tomorrow: The Money Shots

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