erasing clouds

Marmadukeís Brad Anderson: Thinking Like a Dog

interview by matthew webber

Week 1: Monsters, Inc.'s Pete Docter: Telling Stories
Week 2: Ziggy's Tom Wilson Jr.: Thinking Like a Greeting Card
Week 3: Luann's Greg Evans: Thinking Like a Teenager
Week 4: Fox Trot's Bill Amend: Thinking Like a Math Geek
Week 5: Marmaduke's Brad Anderson: Thinking Like a Dog

Nationally syndicated cartoonists and Hollywood animators visited Marceline, Mo., Sept. 18 to speak and draw for the sixth annual Toonfest. At this all-day festival, the artists discussed their craft, as well as the legacy of Walt Disney, who lived in this small town from 1906 to 1911. In individual interviews, the artists shared their ideas on art, creativity, and dreams while acknowledging Disney's influence.

50 years old (350 in dog years), Brad Andersonís Great Dane single-panel comic Marmaduke is one of the longest running features on the comics page. In the fifth and final interview, Anderson contrasts cartooningís past with its probable future and explains how the work of retired or dead cartoonists can still continue. He also gives away the origins of Marmaduke.

How are you able to stay fresh after 50 years of drawing Marmaduke?

Brad Anderson: Well, I think like a dog, and that helps a lot. And, of course, dogs do the same thing over and over, but if you follow them around, they do it a little bit differently every time. So thatís what I try to do.

Is Marmaduke based on any particular dog?

I used my motherís boxer for a model at that time, which was a long time ago. But I changed it and made it a little bigger than that, because I wanted a large dog. I thought a large dog would be funnier. Because a big dog doesnít know that theyíre big. They want to sit in your lap like a little dog does. A little dog will run them off, ďYap, yap, yap,Ē at the big dog and scare them away. It makes for many different situations. So, over time, people began to associate the dog with a Great Dane. I said it was like a Heinz 57; it was a little bit of everything. So itís been more or less taking on those characteristics over the years, but itís still just a cartoon dog; itís a comics dog. But I incorporated some of the characteristics of a Great Dane, like the pointed ears, the clipped ears. I had a Great Dane. We never had the ears clipped. They hung down. She was a real sweet dog. She was real big. And her name was Marmaladee. And she was 170 pounds, so she was quite large. But she was just real gentle and sweet. So Marmaduke gets into a lot of trouble, but I always think of him as being a good boy.

Why do you think people need to read the comics? What do they get out of it?

Well, I hope they get some relief from those terrible headlines in the paper every morning and the local section where they have all the bad accidents and the deaths on the highways, and you can turn to the comic pages. And nowadays, theyíre mostly all a gag a day, something to try to make you laugh.

When I was growing up many years ago, and up until in the Ď50s, I think it was, there were a lot of adventure strips, story strips, but a lot of them were pretty sensational. We had Dick Tracy, who was always taking down all these horrible criminals. All you have to do now is watch the TV or read the front pages on a newspaper and weíll get those same stories. So he was ahead of himself.

But the comics pages now are mostly all Hagar the Horrible, Baby Blues, oh so many of them, and they have a good gag situation, something to try to make you at least smile. And you need that, you need that break, after all the bad news. Right now there are about four story strips, and theyíre all kind of like soap operas, but they donít have the Steve Canyon, or Dick Tracy, or those that had real novel stories, like a novelist would write, with good illustrations. So thatís the way the comics have changed. And Iím in the middle of that right now and hopefully surviving.

What do you see as the future of comics?

I donít know, because right now almost every major city is down to one newspaper. There was a time not long ago when every city had at least two, a morning and afternoon. The afternoon papers are almost all gone; theyíre all morning papers. Thereís just a very few cities now that have more than one. ...And people are getting so much of their information from the TV and the Internet that itís tough on the newspapers. I donít want to be too pessimistic, but itís going to be hard on cartoonists, because you donít have a number of newspapers to carry all the comics we wish were out there.

I know itís hard for a new writer to break in, because there are all those old favorites like Marmaduke.

Even when a cartoonist dies sometimes, they will reprint the old ones, like Schulz with Peanuts.

Or keep going. Like Dennis the Menace.

Yeah. Hank Ketcham died a couple years ago, but he had two guys in training, and you canít tell the difference. And he always had writers. He had quite a big staff. I donít have any staff, except my wife, who takes care of the office. And I have a son now retired from the Air Force, and heís doing some work for me, computerizing everything. Weíre getting a computer library put together. We try to stay with this age if we can, as much as possible...

Everything has changed so much in the last 10 years, just 10 years. And if youíre a kid and youíre 10 years old, this is the way the world is right now, and you forget that 10 or 15 years ago, a lot of this stuff never even existed. I used to talk a lot with the kids in school, fourth and fifth grade mostly, and I told them one day, I said, ďYou know, when I started drawing Marmaduke, we just had radios. Some people, a few people in our community had a television set, but it was a little, tiny set, with a very small screen.Ē And the kids were like, ďWe havenít always had television?Ē ďThatís right,Ē I said. Things keep progressing, but the progress is leap-frogging right now, in technology and communications, information.

So, itís an exciting time to be alive, but itís going to eliminate a lot of would-be cartoonists. There will always be some out there, and the Internet is picking up comic cartoonists now also. I donít know how it works. I have no idea. But I understand that my feature is on some Internet through the syndicate.

Issue 28, November 2004

this month's issue
about erasing clouds

Copyright (c) 2005 erasing clouds