Sunday, January 20, 2008

Talking with Isaiah

As long promised, out interview with Isaiah. Ava and C.I. had planned to interview the community's cartoonist for the Christmas edition in December. They thought they'd get him to reflect on the year and team that with some of comics; however, Jim begged them and Jess to hold off on that. Speaking with Isaiah are The Third Estate Sunday Review's Dona, Jess, Ty, Ava and Jim, Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude, Betty of Thomas Friedman Is a Great Man, C.I. of The Common Ills and The Third Estate Sunday Review, Kat of Kat's Korner (of The Common Ills), Cedric of Cedric's Big Mix, Mike of Mikey Likes It!, Elaine of Like Maria Said Paz, Ruth of Ruth's Report, and Wally of The Daily Jot.

Isaiah: What are we listening to?

Jim: That's not us [Kat, Jim, Dona, Ty, Jess, Ava and C.I.].

Betty: It's me. My father was playing Dusty in Memphis today and I hadn't heard it since I was a little girl so I borrowed the vinyl. I can turn it down.

Isaiah: No, just wondering what it was. I have no idea what I'm doing today at The Common Ills so maybe I'll pick up something from it.

Mike: Let's get basics out of the way. You used to have a summer vacation when you first started in 2005. You'd take several weeks off. That doesn't happen now and I've actually had e-mails on that.

Isaiah: I try to do comics now even when I'm on vacation. I try to do one a week for The Common Ills, I do two for Maria, Miguel and Francisco's newsletter and I do one for Hilda's Mix every week. It's a lot of work and there are many times where I just don't have an idea. I'll freak out and panic. Usually, if I can do the bubble letters for "The World Today Just Nuts," just get them on paper, I'll get an idea. The biggest delay is in doing that and feeling like I don't have anything that I can tackle.

Dona: You've talked before about how you can't draw on demand -- meaning when people send you ideas, it's not going to work.

Isaiah: Yeah, if someone's got a great idea and it comes to me, from a community member, I'll always suggest that they draw it and run it in a newsletter if they don't want it up at The Common Ills. If it works, an idea, for me, it works in a flash. I might get something from a statement Betty makes or Wally and Cedric and I will bounce around ideas mid-week, them for their sites and me for the Sunday comic. I really want to praise the work that Wally and Cedric do. Sometimes, it's not just so good, it's so good that I'm thinking, "I could have done a cartoon on that!" They're really talented. Betty's humor is different because it comes from the context of her main character. In terms of the process, Betty's the one I identify with the most. She has the same problem I do.

Betty: Which is starting. I spend more time thinking "I've got nothing" then I do writing these days. Isaiah and I were talking about that last week, we talk about it all the time, and my point was that it was easier at the beginning when no one really knew what to expect from me. He said he felt the same way and then we both wondered if it was really easy for us back then or if it just seems easy looking back?

Kat: Well Betty's always made each chapter a struggle. She wants so much for Betinna. Isaiah, you do have a regular character in a way, you've probably drawn more featuring Bully Boy than anyone else.

Isaiah: Well he does occupy the White House. I was doing a series after Jenna's engagement was announced. It had him wanting the attention and wearing a wedding dress.

Wally: Right, where he meets Jenna's fiancee. And then you carried it on through. With Bully Boy in various wedding gowns. It ended with Big Babs Bush, Bully Momma, discovering him playing dress up and hitting the roof but that wasn't actually planned as the ending.


Isaiah: Yeah, I was planning on extending it on through after that but something else came up in the news and I ended up on that. I did reference it again with Bully Momma but that was planned to be a regular thing, where every week, he'd show up doing whatever he was doing in the news but wearing the wedding dress.

Elaine: I talk to Isaiah a lot, I love his comics, and one thing that's really not done by him is store up comics. He doesn't even want to do one early and waits until around midnight on Saturday to start thinking about the one for The Common Ills.

Isaiah: I'm always worried that if I store something, someone else will grab the idea and use it and then when I show up with it a day or two later, everyone's going to think, "Oh, he ripped them off."

Ty: One thing that I wanted to ask, and I know the answer here, is if there's one comic you're proudest of last year?

Isaiah: That would be the one of Jeremy Hinzman and Brandon Hughey and I'm proud of that one for many reasons including the fact that the community really liked it even though it wasn't a funny one. I couldn't be funny there and trying to be humorous means a lot of stuff I can't find a way to weigh in on. When the Canadian Supreme Court refused to hear their appeal, I really wanted to weigh in on that. I asked C.I. to note ahead of time, which was done, my comic wouldn't be funny. I held that one, instead of passing it on Sunday morning, because I thought it needed that note from C.I. and also that if it went up Sunday night people would really be prepared that it wasn't going to be funny. But that one got a lot of attention and I was really happy that in my own tiny, badly drawn way, it got some people to think about Hughey and Hinzman for a moment or two.

Cedric: You actually censor yourself more than Wally and I do. But we all three censor ourselves in terms of our targets and I thought you might want to address that.

Isaiah: I was never for Dennis Kucinich and had many ideas for comics about him but didn't feel that was fair -- kicking someone when they were down, and he was always down. By the same token, I'm not for Ron Paul, but I go out of my way to avoid going after him because I feel like he's got enough enemies as it is in the media. Rudy G was a pain in the ass to draw the first time, but I think I captured him better the second time. Huckabee was another one I had a problem drawing and I had the comic written, the statements he says, but I just couldn't draw him in and I kept doing these practice drawings. Finally, I was complaining to C.I. for about the fourth or fifth time that day and got asked, "Well you mention the crazy eyes? Are you drawing them?" That's when I could finally draw him.


Isaiah (con't): The peace movement doesn't get enough coverage. I've got one comic on Cindy Sheehan, one on Ehren Watada and one on Hinzman and Hughey. That's because I'm not going to tell jokes about it. In terms of Watada it's also because I'm not the best drawer in the world and didn't want to risk drawing something that people would think was making fun of him. But the "Go flush yourself" to Judge Toilet was just something that I had to draw. I'm not sure how well I captured Watada but I tried my best. Cedric, am I forgetting anything?


Jim: What was your most popular comic last year?

Isaiah: I think I know but C.I. gets the e-mails stats so . . .

C.I.: The two most popular were the Katrina vanden Heuvel comics. Isaiah could do that every week, a comic on vanden Heuvel, and there would be few complaints -- none from the community and very few from outside. The first one has a never ending popularity.


Elaine: I loved them both but I really loved the reverse film noir aspect of the second one. Talk about how the second one came about.


Isaiah: Katrina's serving up Bambi again. So it was obvious he needed to be on a platter. Barack-ali was pretty easy. But then I started thinking, "What is she going to be wearing?" There was a thing on the TV about European films during the sixties and the use of light and exposure which had me thinking that was the opposite of film noir. So that's when I went for and tried to do a Mildred Pierce, Joan Crawford like thing to it but flooded with light around the face. Elaine got what I was going for immediately. If I ever wonder if anyone's glad that I'm doing the comics, I just have to pick up the phone and call Elaine. She can talk about them and talk about them.

Elaine: Well they're great and I love to marvel over various aspects of them. I also love your movie parodies. There haven't been many of those lately. In 2007, it may have just been the spoof of My Cousin Vinnie.


Isaiah: I think you're right, but it all runs together. I don't catch Condi much now that she's always zipping in and out of the country and the news really doesn't seem overly concerned about covering Bully Boy these days. In the past, I'd hear a phrase they said or see a pose they did and it would remind me of a movie. It's also true that I went to the movie well several times only because I had no other idea that week.

Rebecca: Ruth wants to say something but it's not a question.

Jim: Go for it.

Ruth: I just want to note that Isaiah started his comics right before I started doing my reports. He was going to be profiled here for the first time one weekend but my report had gotten linked outside the community and his attitude was "This is Ruth's moment." That was really a very sweet thing for him to do and I just wanted to mention that.

Isaiah: Thank you but it really was your moment and everyone was happy for you and proud of you.

Mike: Links outside the community. The Hinzman and Hughey one got reposted at two non-community sites in Canada. Your reaction to that as opposed to when it was reposted in another country?


Isaiah: That made me feel good because they were drawing attention, the bloggers, to Hinzman and Hughey and I was glad that my visual helped a little. In terms of the other foreign country, I'd like to tell you I'm over it, but that little slam hurt. I've never claimed I'm an artist. I've never asked anyone to repost anything --

C.I.: I want to jump in, sorry. At The Common Ills, where Isaiah's comics first appear online, there is and has always been a Creative Commons license. Isaiah's comics are his own. They are not my property and they're not the property of any other site. I just want to put that in there for a number of reasons including that the person who grabbed it, the man Isaiah's referring to, did so without asking, without permission and that's part of the story as well.

Isaiah: Yeah, he posts it -- and I had liked the blogger until this happened -- and puts this smarmy little note up about how he doesn't usually like my stuff but this one's about ____ so he'll post it. Gee, thanks for the favor, asshole. I didn't ask you to post it. You certainly didn't have my permission. And if you're going to say that all my other stuff is crap, you really shouldn't have grabbed my comic to post without permission.

Wally: Now I'm going to jump in. That really pissed me off when that happened. Mike and I were griping about it on the phone over and over. I wasn't even doing a site then and I was saying, "If I had a site, I'd rip that jerk apart." Mike did have a site and did rip the phony apart. That guy, who has stopped blogging I believe, never drew a damn thing. He'd grab US comics -- while allegedly outside the US -- and post them at his site. From newspapers. And he never tried to draw one. So I was really insulted that he was grabbing you and ripping you off the same way he did Doonesbury and others and, at the same time, insulting you. What he wrote was so insulting.

Isaiah: I thought so too but tried to wait a bit and make sure. Then I knew how I felt and I was pissed. At which point, C.I. delinked from him. C.I. had been offering that from the start and I was going, "No." But it got to the point, because I had liked that blogger, that I couldn't do a comic because every time I tried to, I'd picture whatever b.s. he was going to say about it. I don't go to other sites now so it's no problem. I'm laughing. Oh, and I laughed so hard when Ava read me his e-mail in DC. When we were all in DC.

Ava: He wrote the public account of The Common Ills saying that C.I. must not be aware of it but his site had been delinked and that C.I. should get right on that and put the link back in. Everyone knows I love C.I. but that was the sort of thing that pissed me off. That blogger didn't have The Common Ills on his blogroll or permalinks but he wanted to be on C.I.'s permalinks and C.I. was kind enough to put him on, even though he wouldn't return the favor. In addition, he would e-mail at least once a week asking for a link for something he'd just written. And C.I. would do it. In the meantime, the asshole's ripping off things from The Common Ills -- he was one of the worst about grabbing book passages C.I. would quote and then days later include them, and we're not talking about a book that was just out but ones that were years and years old -- and not even include, "I saw C.I. quote this at The Common Ills." He was always ripping off in one way or another and then showing up asking for links and getting them. But he never linked back. And it was especially funny when he'd write, "I just read your ___ and I've written something about it now too. So please link to." I'd go to his site and sure enough, he'd written something on what C.I. had written. Sometimes, he'd just rewritten C.I. But he never would note that. He'd never say, "I saw this at The Common Ills and wanted to add to the discussion." But he'd e-mail the public account and say, "I want a link." In the old days, that happened all the time. Users showing up and getting links. Never giving a thing back. When Isaiah's comic was stolen -- and that it the word for it -- he didn't even link to The Common Ills then. He didn't even mention The Common Ills. He just took the comic off Hello, the program that was used then, inserted it into his entry and started trashing Isaiah. So when he showed up with his, "There must be some mistake e-mail," I was just laughing at it and we were all in DC so I was reading it to Isaiah. We were both laughing when I wrote my reply as well.

Isaiah: And Ava will tell you, that guy demanded at least one link a week. After I realized how mad I was, I started thinking about that and the way he just used The Common Ills and C.I. and then I realized he was just an asshole.

Dona: We're doing this interview a little after midnight, Sunday morning, and I want to be clear on this, you're telling us you have not drawn the comic and don't know what you're going to draw?

Isaiah: Are you trying to guilt trip me?

Dona: No, I just know people are interested in the process. When this was announced, the interview, in community newsletters, people e-mailed with questions about that aspect. It's the only thing we've never covered in an interview with you. They really are curious about it.

Isaiah: With your site, with The Third Estate Sunday Review, taking so long on Sundays and stuff going up at The Common Ills later than it used to on Sundays, I always tell myself that I can wait and, if worse comes to worse, I'll turn on the Sunday chat & chews and get an idea. But there are times when I pull a blank and there are times when I tell myself -- at the last minute -- that I just can't do one. I figure I do at least 45 a year for The Common Ills and these days I don't care so much if I miss it. I used to but I know the community members better now and they know I'm doing comics for the newsletters so now days if nothing's coming, I don't think everyone's assuming I blew off my 'role' and I know they figure, "Oh, he just ran out of ideas." Which does happen. I do a lot of Laura Bush for Hilda's Mix, Laura Bush comics, because that's popular with the newsletters' readers. I don't really do a lot of Laura Bush at The Common Ills. For Maria, Francisco and Miguel, I'm doing anything in the news, the way I do at The Common Ills. Both of those go out or up on Sundays and I know people are aware of that and that I'm doing basically three comics on Saturday-Sunday. I do the ones for the newsletter by 5:00 p.m. Saturday so they've got it in plenty of time. And then I need a long break or I'm just going to do the same comic with a variation for The Common Ills. I honestly miss Harriet Miers and really wish Congress would force her to testify for selfish reasons. She provides her own laughs. And I'm serious about that. Just drawing her face and those half-missing eyebrows and I can get a comic out of that.

Elaine: I wanted you to talk about Janet Coleman. She's on WBAI, hosts Cat Radio Cafe, and I thought she was an interesting influence.

Isaiah: I had done comics with Condi Rice a few times early on. Some in a "Love Is . . ." kind of rip off called "Bully Is . . ." and she was like an infant in those. I'd done one of her as an adult. I didn't think it captured anything. Then I heard Janet Coleman do a skit on Christmas Coup Players where she was Condi and it just kind of came together in my head. When I'm drawing Condi, I'm drawing her with Janet Coleman in my head. And that probably makes no sense to anyone but Elaine pretends to get it.

Elaine: No, I do get it. You couldn't relate to War Hawk Condi. When Coleman sent her up, you were able to relate to that. What Dona's saying about the issue of the process, I try to note your comics every week, but sometimes forget, and I do get e-mails about them. And they are about the process. People wonder where your ideas come from? They wonder how you're drawing them? How much time it takes to draw them? Those are the kind of questions that I get.

Isaiah: Hmm. It generally takes longer to actually color them in than to actually draw them. That's after I start drawing. How I'm drawing them?

Elaine: Do you have a desk? Do you do them in one room, that sort of thing.

Isaiah: If I've waited until the very last minute, I'm usually on the floor, laying on the floor, because I'm tired and because I'm next to a standing lamp to get even more light to see with. Otherwise, I'm usually sitting on the couch with my feet on the coffee table and the drawing pad on my legs. I don't intentionally draw them all in the same room, but now that I'm thinking about it, they're all drawn in the living room. I know I'm not doing anything outstanding. This was just my way to contribute. When I started the community didn't have all the sites it does now. I think it was just The Common Ills, Rebecca's site, this site, Folding Star's site and Betty's site. Kat was doing music reviews for The Common Ills and others were talking about things they could do. I just wanted The Common Ills to have a contribution from me and I thought it would be cool for it to have it's own comic strip. So that was just my contribution and I did that because I used to enjoy drawing when I was a kid and because I thought it would give the site a strong visual. Even with my bad drawing, it would be a strong visual.

Kat: If you haven't guessed, when it comes to be down on himself, he's right up there with Betty.

Jess: Or Ava and C.I. on their TV commentaries.

Jim: Agree with both of you. We're going to be winding down in a second and since you're talking about doing a visual, providing one, I wanted to go into how you recently tried to provide one and it was shot down.

Isaiah: You can insert a banner into Blogger/Blogspot websites now. I'd seen others do that and I mentioned it to C.I. We talked about it for about a year and what C.I. thought would be great would be the heading, "The Common Ills," being imposed on various comics I'd drawn. So we worked and worked on that in terms of colors and size for the letters. C.I. said I should pick the comics of mine to include. I did multiple scans. There was one we thought was it. And then I made the mistake of mentioning it in a community newsletter. The reaction from the community was swift and loud. "We don't want a change." That's fine and I do understand their reaction. It seems like everything changes. And a lot of sites that make a change in appearance seem to suffer, seem to try to go upscale. They want The Common Ills just as it is. So we dropped the idea for the banner. If we're talking about visuals that I screwed up, we need to note Betty's site because I've twice said I'd do illustrations for one of her storylines but I've waited and then it was too late. So my apologies to Betty.

Betty: That wasn't your fault. In one, he was going to provide Thomas Friedman in drag but something came up news wise or Friedman wise and I had to ditch the storyline in the next chapter so there was no point to having one after all. So I told him not to worry about it. It's never been like I've been waiting on my end and thinking, "Well is he ever going to do that comic he promised?" I've been the one to call it off due to shifts in my storyline.

Jim: Okay, we've got two more questions. This is from reader Leeza who wants to know if The Common Ills goes dark, would you consider doing your own site?

Isaiah: Sorry, no. When C.I. packs in it, I'm out of here. The community newsletters will continue for awhile and I'll contribute to those but The World Today Just Nuts was created for The Common Ills and it was to do my part for the community and also to say "thank you" to C.I. I don't think I've really stressed that but I really appreciated and appreciate what C.I.'s done. So if it goes dark, I'm done except for newsletters.

Jim: Last question. This is from reader Marcia, and that's not community members Marcia. She's 14-years-old and says she's started drawing comics because of your comic. She writes that she pretty much hates everything she does and wonders if you have a personal favorite?

Isaiah: Okay, this is to Marcia and anyone else out there in her situation. I am a lousy drawer. I picked up most of it from Mad Magazine and stuff like that. If I'm even a tiny bit good it's because I kept at it. I have two nephews and about three or four years ago, right before I started doing The World Today Just Nuts, they were over and they're hyper kids. My sister, their mom, was getting upset because they wouldn't calm down. They'd been drawing before they started running around so I grabbed the paper and pencil and started drawing Bart Simpson. They loved it and were asking me to draw this and that. They weren't all that bad, the drawings. And I really thought about that and how long I had spent drawing in school -- I was all drawing -- and realized that anything I do good is because I kept at it. I didn't look at the first ones and think, "These are crap. I'm quitting." So, Marcia, if you like to draw, keep drawing. You may never end up an 'artist' but you will get better. Hold on to what you're drawing now even if you hate it. Come back a year from now and compare your stuff to the old stuff. You'll see a big improvement. And nothing is ever going to be perfect so accept that and just try to ask yourself if even one person could get what you were trying to do? In terms of my favorite, I have a favorite and a least favorite every time I draw something. My favorite is the comic I have just scanned and e-mailed to C.I. because I'm free. It's over. My least favorite is the comic I'm about to draw, every week. But on the big point, I'm not great and I'm probably not even good. My sister took drawing classes and all that for a few years in school, probably two years, maybe three. But she just drew for class and she tried to draw, that weekend, for her sons when they were asking me to draw. She said her stuff was crap and it really was. But she's got the talent. The only thing that made mine work for her sons was the fact that I'd drawn and drawn for years and years. So don't ever forget that if you like drawing and you keep drawing, you will get better at it.

Jim: That's a very good way to go out. Thank you, Isaiah.
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