Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Reflections on Cartooning by Dick Kulpa
Ghost Story Club was, surprisingly, considered to be one of Tribune Media Service's more stable features during its 146 week run, as we held onto the papers that carried us, as compared to other new features. That being said, we'd continually get panned in surveys, primarily because the strip was written to an 8-year-old level, as compared to the more accepted 12-year-old level.
The actual prime directive behind the strip was to snag young readers through a "learn to read" setting, utilizing ghost stories to entice the kids. This was fine for youngsters, but because it shared a page with dozens of other strips written to standard levels, GSC came across at times as "lame" and so forth, to readers not in the "Learn to read" loop.
We never heard that we were two old guys trying to be hip. 8-year-olds aren't that discerning. Marvel Comics was seen as "hip" in the 1960s, but was driven by guys my age. In GSC's final year I often rewrote the Sunday recap, as the elementary writing format bugged me too.
There was also a code we had to follow: No Guts, No Gore, No Violence -- and no Dead Kids. I subsequently tagged it with "No Story." The "No Dead Kid" rule was occasionally ignored, especially when a strip featured a boy or girl ghost, obviously a dead kid!
However, TMS was not necessarily wrong. On one occasion, I managed to draw a half-assed monster showing brain entrails hanging out, and that week's club membershp signups doubled over the previous week. However, a 'little old lady' complained to one of our major papers, and nearly cost us the client. (I used to query as to how many kids joined the club each week, and soon after that event, how many little old ladies croaked over GSC.
Nonetheless, Zullo came up with some rather humorous and ingenius endarounds, and with some tweaking, the strip could re-emerge as a viable property today, though not necessarily as a newspaper strip. To that end, it's plenty irritating enough to start reading a strip, then to stop at "continued tomorrow."
Artists Claude St. Aubin, Florida caricaturist Rob Smith, and a third whose name escapes me, each drew a week's worth. (That was when health issues started surfacing.) I modified their work somewhat, which I'm sure pissed 'em off. But that was the Weekly World News way...artists there were regarded only as tools. When I helped launch GSC with Zullo, my then-stated goal was to present guest illustrators, since the series was originally intended to be anthological. That, and I knew I did not have the stamina to maintain artistic chores and handle my full time position at Weekly World News in the long haul, an entity hostile to my involvement with GSC during its entire run.
In one exception, however, I was able to secure permission from my then-editor Eddie Clontz (my nemesis), to "guest star" another major creation of mine, Weekly World News' "BatBoy", in GSC. That appeared as a special two week story. As the run date approached, Clontz tried to rescind permission, (which I had in writing). I purposely scheduled a vacation for the week BatBoy appeared, whereby Clontz took it to the then-owners in an attempt to fire me and was rebuffed. That's kinda the story there. Art in each week's strips reflected WWN stress levels at the time.
It should be noted: I drew Bruce Lee dailies and Sundays back in 1983 for 8 weeks, holding down two other jobs. When that ended, I said "never again without GOOD pay."
Years later, when GSC started, My body subconsciously reacted to the expected stress -- and I became painfully ill the very week production began, having to draw the first six months' worth standing up or often, on one knee. But for two and a half years, I was literally the only active mainstream tabloid guy in America to simultaneously be published in mainstream major media, and BatBoy was the pinnacle of that. (I plotted the story, btw). Sadly, no one noticed.
I wanted to steer GSC into themes such as witchcraft, dragons and the like, which is why Jasmine was often dressed in dark clothing. I could not get the powers that be to go along. Sadly, Harry Potter picked up that slack. (Then, of couirse, we had never heard of him.)
When GSC ended, as a result of our loss of two major papers to another "kids read" feature, the dominoes fell. I wound up in the ER with a busted gall bladder and bleeding ulcer, within five months of the ending. That told me why I fell ill earlier and had to hire help. Within a year I was also divorced, an indirect result of my GSC days. By then I was wide open for the CRACKED MagazIne debacle which would occur soon after.
Currently, I plan on repackaging GSC, with some artistic and editorial tweaking. Having drawn 25,000-some kids in real life since 2005, I am primed for it.
Now you know, as Paul Harvey once said, "the rest of the story."
To sum things up, after I graduated high school In 1971, my work suddenly morphed into an appearance of viability faster than my perception of it. Further, it appeared to reflect the work of two artists, one good, one not so good. I would not become aware of what "right brain" was until the mid 90s.
When I drew GSC during vacation time from Weekly World News, it elevated by about 25 percent.
Nonetheless, with no mentor to speak of, I learned to draw by sight, rather than by phonics. This past year I have worked to change this.
Some will say my stuff has a "hard edge," and that's because the great bulk of my work was done in hostile surroundings. My father threw out all the Double Eagle originals, business partners also dumped me over this same strip.
My capability was not in question. It was "if you get sick, we can't do the work."
When I drew Star Trek I had to find time after work, and between government council/committee meetings, which would occur two to three times a week at night, as I was a sitting councilman back then. In fact, I drew one week's worth of Star Trek overnight. My big mistake there was in trying to get the hometown daily to carry it, something they steadfastly refused to do. That frustration certainly impacted my work, as it denied me a direct audience (of critics), something I needed and thrived on through my regular political cartoons at the local weekly newspaper.
GSC did appear in a local Florida daily, however. But input came from fan mail, which, regrettably, I had neither time nor energy to read. But I did get TMS to Fedex me a Chicago-style pizza once!
Of all my work, Bruce Lee was seen as the overall best. At that time I worked for the family-owned (and friendly) Testor Corporation.
In comparison to the 300-some Double Eagle 1975-76 strips, however, everything else was drawn at half the original sizes. I regret that. That was to save time, and I shaved an hour off each strip, as compared to the Double Eagle.
When I joined Weekly World News/Enquirer, the hostility continued, as established artists there were, well, "not nice." I had doors slammed in my face, other things, etc...several years later they apologized, with an admission that they did not know where I "fit" in the system, since I was the only artist there with "editorial" responsibilities. Oddly enough, they also admitted they could not put a finger on as to why they were so nasty toward me. Go figure. I really am a nice guy. One does not get elected to small town government office three times in ten years, as a jerk.
The WWN editor, admittedly fearing a potential cartoon "cult hero" status for me, similar to what occurred with then-columnist Ed Anger, threw everything he had to break my art, including forcing me to write a "help wanted: illustrator" ad for the paper. Whereas I was hired to be that illustrator originally, he routed me to the "desk", i.e. headline writing and page design. It was a classic "bait and switch."
I eventually rose to art director, and designed the vast majority of "page 1's," the most important page of that circulation-driven paper.
But that's why you never saw a Kulpa comic strip in Weekly World News. It's not that I didn't try.)
As a direct result of all that, I hesitatingly accepted the GSC assignment, as my "hoped for escape" from that terrible place. I suspect many of my "adult heads" appearing in GSC (looking oddly narrow from the side) were a subconscious result of my perception of "narrow-mindedness"-- a mindset which I think permeates the newspaper biz.
Anatomically-speaking, I know better, and "narrow profiles" were never an issue in previous work. I am fixing those now.
WWN editor Ed Clontz died in 2004. I envision a guest appearance in a future GSC reincarnation, LOL. "The Boss From Hell!"
You can see GSC (these are holding pages) at http://www.ghoststoryclub.com.
I also maintain