Cartooning Like You Mean It

Cartooning, Teaching & Living – by Tom Hart

Archive for the ‘Real Life Cartoonist’ Category

Greetings from Maui

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breakfastsAlright, this is where I gush like everyone else. Nothing original here. Leela and I have just returned from Maui where we taught in Makawao for 10 days and ravenously visited the rest of the island in our free time.

It’s paradise. Maui’s the first place for which I want to drag out that term, throw it around and see if it fits. It does.

The place is so full of life, of green and moisture and ocean and streams and lovely birds and wild-looking delicious fruits. It’s got wild chickens (see right (or is that one some sort of pheasant?)), lovely people, a defunct volcano (2 actually), hundreds of microclimates (including types of desert, tundra, rainforest, etc.), great coffee, silence, color, a love of art, the 4th best observatory on the planet (off-limits to the public), ranching, rodeos, plein-air art festivals, hula, keiki, craters, cattle, sugar cane everywhere, mangoes to die for, dragon fruit, glorious avocados,folk-art, giant trees, zen monks, taiko, pork-in-the-dirt, spam sushi, surfer car rental places, a long and fascinating history and tropical fish that will basically swim up to your cheek and kiss you in your pores, as if you needed one more reason to begin sobbing from the beauty of it all.

And the people are wonderful.

Hello to the fabulous Kelly McHugh, Caroline who runs the Hui, her wild and hugely interesting family, and to Maggie, Nathalie (Yay Nathalie), Keri, Miguel and Miguel, Lana, all the great students and the many others I’ve no doubt forgotten or whose names I can’t spell. I doubt anyone on Maui is so gauche as to google alert their own name, but in case Maggie Sutrov is listening, hello Maggie! Here is a link of her in the act painting her most recent splendid view of the island. (See bottom.)

And Travis Fristoe, if you go to Maui, you have a coffee waiting for you at HAZ BEANZ in Pai’a. They’re only open 7am – 1 pm so go early and then go sit with the sleepy dog next door.

Written by hutchowen

July 29, 2009 at 5:48 am

KGB Comix Reading

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Sarah at KGB ReadingWell, this year’s Post-Thanksgiving KGB Reading was a giant success, standing room only, IF THAT. We turned people away, the readers were mere inches from the audience. Here’s two photos, of Sarah Glidden and Matthew Thurber reading. With the depression looming, this will be a night we all remember as one of the best in recent years. A NIGHT TO REMEMBER!

Matthew Thurber at KGB

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December 4, 2008 at 3:16 am

presenting new and unused Hutch Owen strips

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For the next few weeks, I’m presenting strips that exist in my “Unused” folder. I think this one was a bit too strange and the Metro nixed it, or maybe I never submitted it. It was done as a present for Francois Ayroles, the great French author and Oubapian who created a terrific series of wordless comics, much better than this one. Here, I was trying to use his vernacular, but still stay with my own framework. Charming, a bit.

I present this one first as a celebration of nature and beauty as I am also flying to SUNNY and BEAUTIFUL , tomorrow, to stay the month of August.

These are also running on my webcomicsnation account.

Written by hutchowen

August 4, 2008 at 4:33 am

On Themes, Situations, and Characters in Cartooning.

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At the first day of our Hothouse class at SVA, Matt Madden, Jessica Abel and I offer our different strategies about creating stories and work. Jessica works from a character, plots out a story. Matt works from form. He looks at categories of rhythms and structure that he hasn’t created work in before, and creates characters and situations that relate to those forms. The story develops from there.

I’ve always gone next, discussing how I work from themes, first and foremost. This is changing and I want to explore that a little here.

I’ve first and foremost started with themes, especially when I knew what character I was using: Hutch Owen. From a starting point of a familiar character, themes would appear in the outside world that I would want to explore.

Here’s a quick list of Hutch Owen stories and the themes I had hoped to explore:

Road to Self – how we change or don’t change our ideals over time
Aristotle – what is freedom? creativity? as it relates to this character?
Emerging Markets – how have we colonized other cultures both through commerce and religion?

Mind you, a lot of these stories were also excuses to draw guys with sticks and bats pounding on a man dressed up as a sheep. But first came the idea to explore, the question, then the characters and situations. HOPEFULLY, at that point, those characters and situations developed organically, and became their own interesting narrative entities.


Since those stories, I’ve move into comic strips (for a host of reasons I’ll go into some other time), and this is changing how I start, where I work from.

I recently finished 2 1/2 years of working with Hutch Owen as a daily comic strip character. Working with a stable of 4-8 continuing characters, my method is still to work from theme.

Friendship loyalty, male/female handling of the environment to silly things like Spiderman’s effect on the culture are just a few of the themes I explored in the strip.

In another instance, a colleague eagerly asked me if I had done any work on the Dalai Lama or world peace, which he would like to feature in a show he was curating. I hadn’t, but it was easy to make happen. With my characters, which represent particular kinds of reactions, wrestling around with the character of the Dalai Lama and the idea of world peace made for a fun and robust series of strips.
One of the main values for this as a creator, and one of my many reasons for switching to comic strips was that inventing situations and themes for the characters to explore, greatly expanded the characters themselves. They began revealing themselves to me in constant, ongoing new ways, in ways that couldn’t happen with larger stories which tend to involve less invention and let’s say it: more depth of exploration. The quickness of the comic strip allowed me to alight frequently on the personalities of the characters and explore new facets of their behavior. This is incredibly fun. And the nimbleness needed requires me to live constantly in the present. I digress.

Lately, in my newest strip I find myself playing less with themes, and more with situations. The overarching themes of the strip are traditional ones: sibling rivalry, the love of one’s work, what does it mean to be new to a culture, plus what the heck is America about. Now I design situations to explore those themes: an Arab food stand in a mall, cousin’s traipsing the woods outside their back yard, immigrant grandparents with their Americanized grandkids at dinner, etc.

So it’s all about themes, situations, and invention. The invention comes from the initial thoughts, the hopeful power of the stories or strips comes from allowing invention and connection to flow without agenda.

Here’s a sneak peak of a secret series of strips I’m making with my good pal Margo Dabaie.

Written by hutchowen

June 1, 2008 at 4:18 pm

The problem with a common name

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I’ve been thinking, somewhat seriously, about changing my professional name for some time. It’s too damn common. ASIDE FROM ANOTHER CARTOONIST IN MY CITY with the same name, my Google Alerts is constantly throwing my way links for sportscasters, small-town politicians, and lately, a cowboy. Here’s a curious thing to wake up to:

I got an eyeful of Tom Hart, the cowboy on AMC’s Broken Trail, and I knew I wanted to do another western. The guy isn’t at all good looking. He’s not hero material in the sense of charm, but he had more grit than any hero I’d seen in

Click here for more at

And send ideas for what to change my name to my email address, which notably has no Tom or Hart in it, because they were all taken by the time I got there: hutchowen ( at ) gmail . com .

Written by hutchowen

May 3, 2008 at 5:44 pm

Posted in From Tom, Real Life Cartoonist

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Grover Norquist, 2008, with cartoons

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Well, my nemesis, Grover Norquist has published a book, “Leave Us Alone”.

To quote Bugs Bunny, “what a maroon”.

In fact, he is interviewed this week in The New York Times Magazine.

Read through this interview. Grover Norquist is the classic example of the walking baby-man, of which there is a surfeit in power in this society. A man, aged 40+ in body, 10+ in mind and emotion. My feelings about him are justified: he came up with his “no tax pledge” when he was 14. Grover’s problem, as I see it, is he never grew up.

Grover Norquist claims in his interview that private entities take care of their properties better than public ones. He claims parks as his example, but consider, let’s say, Okeefenokee Park. By all parameters, Okeefenokee should be a national park. It’s gigantic, a glorious national treasure, a unique ecosystem and living, wild environment. The park itself, for reasons you can read about elsewhere, is privately owned, pathetic- full of cardboard cut outs of Pogo and other swamp creatures. The goat stall, the train, the gift shop are all slight and embarrassing, and not one person knew anything about the “Walt Kelly Museum” on their grounds. Though everyone had a vague idea in which direction to point me. (Though let me say that everyone working their was very pleasant and charming.)

Your average National Park is run by dedicated rangers, and is full of scientists and other professionals dedicated to either the conservation of the park or the accurate education of the park goers. The parks are reasonably well taken care of, and are in equal service of the park and its patrons. Grover can keep his crappy little private parks.

Another example. The French trains (the SNCF), publicly owned, are clean, well-maintained, affordable, on time, efficient and fabulous. Compare to the London trains, mostly private and mostly shitty. Or any other number of competitive, penny pinching, profit-driven enterprises.

What GROVER NORQUIST, the jackass, doesn’t realize is that the same thing is true, private or public. Things are run best when they are run by responsible, intelligent, caring, well-trained people. Period. Whether they are private or public matters not.

Norquist, take a powder!

What a maroon! What an ignoranimous!

In honor of GROVER NORQUIST’S RIDICULOUS new book, I am running classic Norquist strips on Hutch Owen. Click here for the dailies. Click the image below for more Sunday Grover.

Written by hutchowen

April 14, 2008 at 4:09 am

My bookstack, Feb 29

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The new trend seems to be posting ones “BookStack.”

That’s Nabakov short stories, hidden by the glare. Leela is fond of being surprised that I’m not finished with it yet, as I’ve been reading it off and on for 8 or 9 years. Of course, that’s the way to read some short stories. On the bottom is a stack of short stories pulled from the New Yorker; that stack is the unread pile. I finished 100 Years of Solitude recently but it’s still reverberating around in my head so I include it here. And that’s Tsuge, above Marquez. Luckily, some of those are in the scanlations I’m reading, see below.

I realized posting this “BookStack” that A) it should also involve a shot of the folder of scanlations I’m trying to make it through (image below) and that B) what I really would need is a “CultureStack.” Said CultureStack would incorporate the Messiaen concert I went to with Jon Lewis, “Shortbus” by John Cameron Mitchell, the Lucien Freud exhibit at MOMA, my printmaking class with Bruce Waldman, the amazing Monica Hunken and Judith Malina at the Living Theater, and maybe even the obsessive games of Just A Minute I’ve been playing with Brendan Burford and other friends. Would it involve the conversation I had with Josh Bayer about Jack Kirby, dovetailing into our investigations into the neurosis of some processes of cartooning, dovetailing again into the Bayer’s description of “dangerous and farcical masculinity” in some films he’s been seeing?

All these wonderful things are keeping me from and feeding my work of cartooning and teaching. But who has time to blog about it?

Written by hutchowen

February 29, 2008 at 9:19 pm

Matt Madden’s Pantoum

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Matt Madden has been studying poetry forms for some time; he digests them and creates new sequential art forms with them, or creates their equivalent. Matt’s latest exercise in the arena is the “pantoum.” Matt describes:

The pantoum structure is one of interlocking quatrains where the first and third line of one stanza become the second and fourth lines of the following one. The last stanza ends with the very first line of the poem and has the third line in the third-to-last position.

Here, he takes a three page story I made in 2001 (written in Lynda Barry’s workshops, for what it’s worth) and turns it into a 6 page festival of mud lust and paranoia.

Take a look at his posting and read the full comic here.

On a related note, Gary Sullivan chimes in about “Poetry in Comics” on my comments page here, and on his own blog, here. This seems to be spurred by Austin English’s letter in The Comics Journal a few weeks back, and Bill Randall’s published response.

Written by hutchowen

February 24, 2008 at 10:58 pm

Comics as Poetry, Part 1

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I’ve been obsessing about “comics as poetry” for about 15 years. The topic came up on the Studygroup 12 message boards, so I chimed in with this:

It seems to me (despite there being academic definitions) that “poetry” or “poetic” is about a simple communion between author and reader, where the image and meaning making is a task largely given to the reader, through a deft handling of compositional elements by the artist/author. In perhaps one other simple way to word it: a lot left intentionally out.

So poetic is Ben Katchor (left out: specifics of reaction, sometimes, or specifics of internal thought, or exact explanations of dialogue) or Peter Blegvad or “Screw Style” (though to my Western eye that may border on surrealism) or Ben Jones or Kevin H.

There’s a line where a narrative crosses into the “poetic” under this description. Is “Poor Sailor” poetic? Probably, sure.

Poetic also sometimes (though I may disagree) can refer to a virtuosity of language (here: words, pics, etc.) but sometimes that virtuosity is about the dexterity in leaving things in and out. The difference between Blankets and Lynda Barry, maybe. Or Fun Home and Graffiti Kitchen.

Anyway, that’s what I think. Poetry is how much do you give the trusting reader to create a dialogue between her/him and the art? And how penetrating or powerful is that thing that then happens?

Austin English is right to crave it. Go Austin, but be articulate, man, and don’t get sucked in by that Devlinian rhetoric (“EC comics are the worst, man!”)

I was surprised to see people giving poems to cartoonists to draw (but glad some colleagues got good gigs) for this exact reason: you’re asking another artist to add more stuff. It’s probably going to clutter and cloud it and I think Randall hits on the points well. When I think of my favorite real poetry (ie all words), the idea of an illustrations at all is absolutely antithetical to enjoying and experiencing them.

Oh yeah, drawings alone can of course be “poetic”, but it gets hard and weird to define. Renee French and Gabrielle Bell have a poetry in their drawings. In Gabrielle’s case, I think I can almost find the words for it. What is left out is how she feels about what she is drawing. There’s attention and grace, but the absolute understatedness of emotion allows a lot to happen between the viewer and the drawing.

This isn’t true of say, Dave Cooper, a creator whose interest lies in the weird conflicts and tensions he creates between thought and emotion.

In Renee’s case, there’s such a vivid investment in the drawing that it’s hard to know what she’s feeling. Seems like everything: rage, joy love, fear. Her poetry lies in there somewhere, I think.

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February 21, 2008 at 2:27 pm

Kreider Draws Me Again

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Genius Tim Kreider draws me in The Pain- When Will it End again. Tim says in his artist’s statement that I’ve taken the place of some previous friends who act as a calm voice of reason (or something.) What we discuss in person is how my loving graceful, glowing personality is hard to get across by drawing the hard features of my otherwise charming face.

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February 2, 2008 at 5:01 am