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Passionate About Comics? Ask Me Anything.

Rina Piccolo
Jan 12, 2018

My name is Rina Piccolo. I am a syndicated cartoonist with King Features Syndicate. I write and draw cartoons and comics for newspapers, websites, and magazines. My comic strip "Tina's Groove" ran for 15 years, and I am now working on the comic "Rhymes With Orange." I'm also the co-author and illustrator of the book "Quirky Quarks: A Cartoon Guide to the Fascinating Realm of Physics." Ask Me Anything.

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How long did it take for you to get syndicated? What was the hardest obstacle to getting syndicated?

Jan 19, 1:36AM EST0

It took me around 4 years. The hardest obstacle was trying to create a comic strip that the syndicate could sell. No one really knows what will sell and what will flop, but the syndicate editorial and sales staff have a pretty excellent grasp on what they are looking for. They know from experience, and knowledge of the markets what tends to be sell-worthy. However, the cartoonist creator knows nothing of this (what is marketable and what's not), and so it's difficult to know what the editors want from you. They try to teach you, but sometimes that takes years. So as a creator, you're just doing what you like, but they're looking at your work from another perspective -- and oftentimes, what you're doing (whether it's good, or not) is just not what they're looking for. For me, at times, it felt like I was just throwing things against a wall to see if they stuck or not. And of course, there's the competition. Syndication only has so many spots (less now), and it's a highly competitive field.

Jan 19, 8:49AM EST1

Do you get annoyed with your creations? As in do you always look at them spotting little imperfections or you get to a point where they look complete, perfect and finshed to you?

Jan 18, 9:04PM EST0

All the time. I often hate the stuff I make. Even some of my single panel cartoons. Often when I'm working on something, I am loving the process-- or "being in the zone"-- but then when I'm done, the final result is always somehow not good enough. But here's the thing -- if you're a professional, and this is what you do as a job, then you can't afford to be a perfectionist. You really do have to say, at some point, okay, this is done, this is complete-- I've done my very best, and I can't do better. ....  If this makes any sense: you strive for perfection, but are often stopped by your limitations. I've known great artists who never end up finishing anything. They have more skills than they need, but they're just incapable of letting go. Hope that answers your question :)

Jan 19, 9:02AM EST0

What is your favorite instrument in making those drawings?

Jan 15, 3:00PM EST0

I really can't say I have a favourite instrument because I like using a variety of tools for different pieces. Sometimes I get the craving to draw with a brush, and sometimes with a pen. Sometimes I want to do something with crayons, or pastels. For the Rhymes With Orange comic  I use a tablet to draw. And for my other work (sketchbook drawings, comic stories) I use a wide range of traditional tools. Lately, I've been getting a kick out of a vintage silver-plated mechanical pencil from the 1920s that's quite a beauty. I also love my Carbon ink fountain pen.  Check them out...

Jan 18, 4:35PM EST0
Show all 3 replies

How do you decide the storylines for your comic strips? Should it be based on what is popular in the news or just random story?

Jan 14, 7:13AM EST0

Basically, I write storylines based on themes/subjects that I find interesting, or funny, or something that I want to make fun of (in a satirical way). A lot of my Tina's Groove storylines were completely random because of this. There are no rules. Personally I believe that basing your comic, or story on what's "hot" in the news solely because you think it'll get more hits is probably not very good practice. It should really come from what you really want to write about. That said, oftentimes current events are what's on your mind, and therefore it's natural to have those things in your head when coming up with ideas. And of course if you feel very strongly about what's happening in the world, it will come out in your writing. But again, unforced -- and not solely because it's a popular topic. For single panel gags it's a little different because there are no storylines, and so brainstorming ideas is a little different, and you do tend to write about current trends. Hope that makes sense!

Jan 18, 4:21PM EST1

I admire the willingness to take risks and the leap of faith to get to where you have gotten in your career. In your path to your current place, did you ever have doubts and how did you overcome them? Though late to the party, I've enjoyed your work.

Jan 13, 7:38PM EST0

*wink*... a great question from an old friend! ;)  First, thank you for saying that, I appreciate it. To answer your question about doubts-- yes! I have always had doubts-- still to this day. I think doubt is something that plagues every artist, at least to some degree, and at some point in their life. I mean, what you say about taking risks is true for a lot of people. For me personally, I didn't see them so much as risks (early on).  The reason for that is that i'm not a person who needs a whole lot of money and possesions to live a happy life. So very early on when I was literally making no money, and literally had nothing to lose, I got by with outside jobs on the side, lived frugally, and worked on my comics on my free time. My original plan was to live my whole life that way. I mean, when you think about it, there really is not a whole lot of risk when you look at it that way. Plenty of successful artists and authors have "day jobs" to help compensate whatever money they earn from their art. That's the way I've always looked at it. Today, I feel immensely grateful to have my comics be my day-job -- that said, I was plagued with doubts years ago when I had a plan to get syndicated. Creative doubts, and financial ones too. Those years were hard! I actually doubted so much that I actually "quit" cartooning once! It came after several months of work to create a comic strip and characters for King Features Syndicate. After pouring my heart and soul into the project my editor turned it down, and I doubted my abilities as a cartoonist. I was so emotionally distraught that I quit. (Discloser: I quit for one day,  in the morning I was like, well..... back to the drawing board. (literally) ha ha!) ... you ask how I overcome (and overcame) doubt? Sheer bullheadedness-- I love the work so much, that not doing it would make me so unhappy. I can't not do comics. It's just not an option for me. So I guess I just dealt with doubt by telling myself to just pull forward and get working because even if you're not financially stable, or you doubt that the work you're doing is not professional enough, at least you're doing what you love. Today, I'm older, and it's different because I now do own things, I have a mortgage, and therefore if I don't play my cards right, I do have a lot to lose. But again, I'd rather be making art than making money, and if I can manage to do both, then that's a very fortunate thing that I don't take lightly. If you're interested in reading a blog article I wrote on the topic of creative doubt, please check it out here: What Kills Creativity? (It's Nearer To You Than You Think.)

Thanks for asking such an important question!

Jan 14, 12:11PM EST0

Any plans on compiling all your work into a book and selling it?

Jan 13, 4:11PM EST0

That would be a huge project! I've compiled so many different types of things: comic stories, comic strips, gag cartoons, graphic stories and essays, flash fiction (very short fiction), sketchbook art, illustrations for my animated Gif art, and doodle art. It would be a challenge to curate a collection, and I most likely would not take steps to do that myself. If a publisher came along someday -- like when I'm 93 -- and offered to publish something like that, then absolutely, i'd do it! . ... But I should let you know that i am planning to publish a collection of new comics, drawings, and stories in either late 2018, or in 2019. I'm actually working on those pieces right now, and so far it's coming along nicely. Stay tuned :) I'll be announcing it, and blogging about it at: rinapiccolo.com  I will also be posting bite-size selections from the collection starting this summer.

Jan 14, 11:22AM EST0

Can you recommend any good app which you've been using since you first employed technology on your drawing?

Jan 13, 4:07PM EST0

One of the funnest, and uniqued apps I use is Sketchbook Motion by Autodesk. I actually was one of the Beta testers for it. Anyway, it's an app that uses "kinetic" motion to static drawings. You should totally check it out in the app store. Here's a link: itunes.apple.com/ca/app/sketchbook-motion/id1061224933?mt=8 Basically you can give specific motions and animations to still drawings/images. It has its limitations, but there is no other app that can do what this app does: animate without frame-by-frame drawing. .... another app I like is Procreate, but maybe you already know about that one since it's so popular. It's great if you have an iPad with iPad pencil. I highly recomment these two apps.Sketchbook Motion 

Last edited @ Jan 14, 10:05AM EST.
Jan 13, 7:13PM EST0

Where did you base the contents of the "A Cartoon Guide to the Fascinating Realm of Physics"? Are you working with an expert on this?

Jan 13, 2:28PM EST0

Yes, in fact, 2 experts. My co-authors are Boris Lemmer and Benjamin Bahr, both physicists. Boris and Benjamin wrote the science text, and I wrote and drew the comics; and I also wrote some of the non-scientific text in the book. By the way, the full title is "Quirky Quarks: A Cartoon Guide to the Fascinating Realm of Physics." It's published by Springer Publishing, in Germany. Here's a link to the book on Amazon: Quirky Quarks book  There are 2 editions, English, and German. It's also available as an ebook.

Last edited @ Jan 18, 4:38PM EST.
Jan 14, 9:19AM EST0

How can we access the "A Cartoon Guide to the Fascinating Realm of Physics"? Can you give us the link to the page?

Jan 13, 12:59PM EST0

sure, here's a link to the book on Amazon: Quirky Quarks: A Cartoon Guide to the Fascinating Realm of Physics

It's available as an ebook as well.

Jan 14, 9:21AM EST0

Tell us more about Rhymes With Orange? What is this basically about?

Jan 13, 12:32PM EST0

Yes, sure -- someone asked about Rhymes With Orange, and so I've cut and pasted some part of my answer here:

 Rhymes With Orange is an internationally syndicated daily comic panel that appears in newspapers, and online. It's syndicated by King Features Syndicate. The comic's creator, Hilary Price, started drawing and writing it in 1995. It's a single panel -- so there are no ongoing story lines, or regular characters (at least, not like in comic strips). Everyday is a one-shot gag cartoon-- and oh, did i mention it's got a big following, in print, and online.... because it's smart and funny! Last summer, Rhymes With Orange got a collaborator (me ;) )... and so I hope readers continue to see it as smart, and funny :)

Jan 18, 4:59PM EST0

How did you approach reaching out to people in the industry early on in your career? Any advice on making more contacts with publishers, magazines, syndication etc? Thank you! 

Jan 12, 3:36PM EST0

This is a tricky question because "reaching out" and "making contact" with publishers, etc., is a very different game today than in pre-web days. I reached out by first doing research at the Toronto Reference library to get names, addresses of cartoon editors, and magazines that publish cartoons (as well as the contact people for the big 4 syndicates at the time). Then I'd just write letters, make photocopies of my stuff, and submit material. I also got information from my cartoonist friends. I did this for years. But today you have the advantage of doing all of that stuff online. You don't even have to leave your house, ha ha ! Add to that the helping hand of your social media networks -- today it's relatively easy to reach out. And submitting work is also easier as most magazines have either Submittable, or some online portal for creators to submit material. The thing to do is post your work where people will see it, and submit your work to the magazines that you think are a good fit for your style/voice. Don't be shy. The web is all about reaching out. You'd be surprised how nice people are when you express interest in something that they also have an interest in. Hope that helps :)

Jan 12, 5:39PM EST0

Thank you so very much for your thoughtful response, I really appreciate it. 

Jan 12, 5:47PM EST0

What program(s) do you use for drawing with the Wacom tablet and when are we going to get together for a coffee?

Jan 12, 3:20PM EST0

*wink* ... another question from a friend! Hello, there, Chris! my answer is: photoshop, and when the weather gets better. You have my email :)

Jan 12, 5:10PM EST0

Have any of your cartoons been censored. If so, were they subsequently, “allowed” into a later publication?

Jan 12, 2:10PM EST0

Yes! Many times! I'm a bad girl, ha ha! Seriously, though-- it's not too difficult to be censored in the markets where i've had most of my stuff published. Namely, newspaper comics pages, and family-friendly magazines like Parade (RIP), and The Reader's Digest, to name a couple. And no, they never do get past the censors for a later publication-- unless the cartoon or strip was ammended in some way to make it less likely to offend anyone. (But that's not saying much, even the ammended ones -- and the "safe" ones,  always manage to get someone angry. I've had my share of hate mail!)

Jan 12, 5:23PM EST0

Is there any plan, or at least a wish, to publish another Tina's Groove collection?

Jan 12, 12:50PM EST0

I'm going to answer no-- I've really moved on from the Tina's Groove project. It lasted 15+ years, and I call it my baby, but I really have moved on in terms of wanting new projects --especially ones where I can develop/improve my craft/skills.  However, having said that, if a publisher were to approach me to do a collection of existing works, with no legwork on my part, then I would consider it. But as for me taking that step, no. It's a lot of work, and my time is divided already. Thanks for asking!

Last edited @ Jan 12, 5:40PM EST.
Jan 12, 5:16PM EST0

Do you rely on feedback from your contemporaries or from your audience more? I would like constructive criticism of my work but I don't know how to broach it with other cartoonists. What do you suggest?

Jan 12, 12:42PM EST0

I consider feedback from professionals differently than I consider feedback from the audience. I love hearing from readers, especially when they praise me, ha ha! but readers that I've never met are complete strangers, and so if I get negative comments I really can't spend too much time or energy on them (unless they make a good point!) But feedback from my peers is a different thing altogether-- those bits of input I take seriously because I know I can trust the professional opinion of another artist in the business. Especially if they are friends. The second part of your question: don't be afraid to send your work to other cartoonists. We don't bite, and generally cartoonists love it when they are asked for their pro opinion (we are truly a self-indulgent lot , ha ha!) So just go for it. Have you tried putting examples of your work on Twitter, say, and asking for cartoonist's advice? FB too. The worst that can happen is that people bite off your head and you end up crying. Just kidding! That's not going to happen if you contact cartoonists. :)

Jan 12, 5:55PM EST0

What do you think is the secret to getting more readers to take interest in your works?

Jan 12, 12:25PM EST0

This is a good question because it raises a point that I've always believed in. I may have even written a blog about it somewhere along the line. Anyway, it's this: basically, if the cartoonist/writer/artist is having fun creating whatever they're creating, it will show in the final product, and chances are good that people will generally like it because the spirit in which it was created will shine through. I never believed in pandering to an audience -- as a younger cartoonist, I sometimes did things, or put things in my comics that I "thought people would like", and they just crashed and burned. I learned a lesson: Just draw and write to entertain yourself-- you aren't that much different from other folks, and so what you find funny will most likely be funny to other people as well. That said, I should add another little secret: Don't try to please everybody. It's impossible. There will always be people who don't like what you do, and so you may as well draw and write what you find funny.

Jan 12, 12:51PM EST0

What are the advantages and disadvantages of unrelated gag-a-day strips vs a work with established characters and storylines?

Jan 12, 11:18AM EST0

Big question. There are advantages and disadvantages on both sides. When you're doing single gag-a-day you are working in a universe with almost zero boundaries. You can "go anywhere", and for each cartoon you're using characters that you create for that one specific gag. Servicable characters that exist just to deliver the gag effectively. When you're working on a comic strip, your universe has more boundaries, and you only create that universe once. It's up to the creator to determine how broad that universe is going to be. Your characters are created for that world, or universe, and you don't have much room to deviate from those parameters once you're up and running the strip. I've worked in both formats, and in my own experience the advantages to having a strip with characters is that your characters actually generate the ideas for you. All you have to do is put them in a situation, and bingo, the ideas seem to flow from that. And readers who love your characters will not hold it against you if the gag isn't funny on any given day-- because the gag is not what it's all about for character-driven strips. With gag-a-day panels, it is all about the gag, and so it has to be pretty strong every single day. And when you're writing ideas, you don't have a stable of characters to rely on to feed you ideas. On the other hand, when you're doing a strip you have the frustration of too many boundaries. You simply can't "go anywhere" ... like, what if you have a funny idea, but you can't fit it into the world of the strip? That was my main frustration with Tina's Groove, but I mananged to get around it part of the time by expanding the boundaries of her world. Sorry for the long answer! Sometimes I think it's easier to be able to "go anywhere", and sometimes (like if I have a writer's block) I miss having characters that I can rely on. 

Jan 13, 9:37AM EST0

When are you going to publish the next volume of Velia, Dear?

Jan 12, 11:05AM EST1

*wink* ... this is a question from a friend! Enio, you'll be disappointed to know that I probably won't be publishing a volume of Velia, Dear. However, maybe you'll be pleased to know that I just did a 4 page comic story starring....... Velia! ... anyway, if anybody out there other than Enio cares to know, I'll be publishing a collection of comics and stories in either late 2018, or early 2019. And yes, if any publishers care, I can pitch it. (Sorry, Enio, for using your question as a platform for shameless plugging. But alas, you're an artist, and so you understand.) ha ha !

Jan 12, 1:25PM EST1

Woohoo! Very exciting!

Jan 12, 1:27PM EST1

When did you start taking interest in art?

Jan 12, 10:16AM EST0

I'd say very early on. Like all kids, I drew, and I guess I was one of those people that just never stopped (they say that everyone draws when they're young, and then some people stop drawing, while other people continue drawing. Those people that continue drawing obviously get more practice, and in time they get better and better, and those people who get more practice are the ones that get enough experience-- and encouragement--  to become artists.) Anyway, I can't remember a time when I didn't like making pictures, and creating things, and that thing inside me just developed as I got older, and my interest in other peoples' art grew and developed. This is a good question, because it's not easy to pin down. 

Jan 13, 7:25PM EST0

What kind of a project do you want to work with another artist?

Jan 12, 9:11AM EST0

Right now I'm working with Hilary Price on the daily single-panel comic "Rhymes With Orange". Other than my collaboration with Hilary, these days I mainly like to work alone. That said, who knows? Maybe in the future I'll want to work on a project with another artist, or group of artists (like maybe work on a mural, or large scale piece of doodle art, or perhaps collaborate on another book with other authors and/or artists).

Jan 14, 9:11AM EST0
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