PCR past bannersCurrent PCR banner
Now in our third calendar year
PCR #140  (Vol. 3, No. 48)  This edition is for the week of November 25--December 1, 2002.

Movie Review
The Enlightenment
Mike's Rant
TREE (Will's site)
PCR Archives 2002
Crazed Fanboy home
PCR 2002 Home
La Floridiana by Will Moriaty

"La Floridiana " proudly presents Part Two of a Two-Part interview with the lead artist of the World-Famed comic strip, "Blondie",
Denis Lebrun

William Moriaty
Thru-the-looking-glass portrait of William Moriaty by Denis Lebrun

The Bumstead family with the artist
"Blondie" is copyright 2002 King Features Syndicate Inc. World Rights Reserved

To recap: On September 12, 2002, I was fortunate enough to conduct an interview with Florida Folk Hero and best friend Denis Lebrun, who is the primary artist for the world-famed King Features Syndicate comic strip "Blondie". For those who may have missed Part One of this interview, simply click here, or you can always go to the PCR 2002 Archives, and click on issue #139). Enjoy!

William Moriaty: Many significant changes have occurred in the strip since your tenure in order to bring it up to date and keep it refreshed and vital for your readers. What specific changes were you responsible for in part or whole, and which of them are you most proud of or feel had the deepest impact on the strip?

Denis Lebrun: Well, there's so many changes, most of them so subtle, and I mean so subtle, that I don't know if it's worth mentioning because the reader would say, "boy, if you mention all that, this guy must be dull!" I could go through a list of things, and I'll pull out a few, but I certainly don't want to name all of them. In many ways we didn't want people to say, "it used to be a different strip and now I don't recognize it"--we didn't want that. The only thing that was substantial would be not concerning the artwork, but Blondie going to work--that was a huge change. As far as the artwork, I would say that almost from the very beginning, the first year I was working on it, Dagwood lost his hat and the cumber bund. The hat should've really been gone by the late 60's--so Dean finally said, "let's get rid of those things!" The other things were mostly in the backgrounds, such as the phone going from rotary to touch-tone in the mid 80's, and the alarm clock next to the bed going from analog to digital with an LED light, so it's a little more modern. The first computers started showing up since 1985. I had gotten us into the computer age back in 1985.

Will: So, did Dagwood have a computer at his work station as early as the mid-80's?

Denis: No, the time Dagwood had a computer at his workstation wasn't probably until '89 or '90--that's when I started putting them in. Computers hadn't really been a huge thing like they are now where just about everyone has one, but they were certainly at the offices and infiltrating. We had a few other modernizations in the strip where we got rid of this box-like megaphone deal where you dial one office to another. So there's a ton of things we got rid of. Recently, we did a Sunday page where instead of Dithers standing up in front of all the Board members with a chart and a pointer, he's got his laptop and he's doing a Power Point presentation. (Power Point is a Microsoft "Office" application.---Nolan)

A close up reveals how the strip is now drawn. Lebrun creates the strip's brush strokes, lines and lettering by applying a stylus, shown in his right hand, onto a blank Wacom circuit board, or "tablet". The circuit board instantly translates Lebrun's stylus work onto the screen of the computer's monitor (but never actually appears on the Wacom tablet itself). This initially created a major departure of the hand/eye coordination that Lebrun was accustomed to for the past nineteen years working with pen, ink and paper.
Will: Fantastic! Just to diverge a little bit, and this maybe difficult for you to answer, but here goes--what does your typical work week consist of? In other words, just as a rough estimate, how many hours in a week do you put into the strip?

Denis: It varies--there's times when we have fan artwork to do, when I say that I'm talking about things such as the card we're preparing for the Pentagon to send to the American troops who won't be able to be in the United states for Thanksgiving. We also have merchandising, which could pop up at any time.

Will: Who's your current art assistant, and how long has he been helping you with the strip?

Denis: Jeff Parker is my assistant, and he's been drawing the strip since 1996.

Will: In January of this year the strip went totally digital--paper, pencil and ink were phased out entirely to make way for this new technology. Can you explain how this technology is used in the production of the strip? For example, what kind of equipment are you using?

Finishing Touches
Finishing Touches: Denis cleans up and reviews a full color "Sunday" strip before downloading and e-mailing it to the King Features Syndicate for eventual release to newspapers around the world.
Denis: The first of this year we started to totally produce the strip by computer. We use a Mac: a Macintosh G-4. It's very fast with lots of RAM in it, and we use a Wacom digital tablet which has a wireless pen that sends information to the computer screen, and I can get a thick and thin line exactly how I used to draw the strip on paper--there is no difference. There's a lot of benefit doing it this way because we typically have to draw a scene several times. With the Mac it can be drawn one time and be brought over and reconfigured with changes that need to be done. With the Sunday pages, however, the scenes change so often that doing that is impossible and things need to be completely drawn, and the characters themselves are completely drawn--but we can also "pencil" underneath, which is another layer that can be added and we "ink" right over that. I don't have to worry if I "ink" and I make a mistake, I can just sit there and hit "Command C" and that's gone! I can get that line I want instead of the first time is the last time that I have to lay the line down right.

Will: Right, so the days of spilling ink and smudging ink and all that grief are gone.

Denis: Yeah--that was you by the way! (Inside joke, I think. For a while, Will assisted Denis on the strip.---Nolan)

Will: Has this been a time saver for you--as a result can you just finish the product and e-mail it right to the syndicate?

Close-up of glove
Kid Gloves Needed: A radical departure from the ink pen, the stylus contains its own circuitry that when in contact with the Wacom board, translates the desired artwork onto the G-4's monitor screen. Due to the extreme sensitivity of the surface of the Wacom board, Denis wears a custom-made cotton glove to avoid getting sweat, grease, or his own skin oil onto the board, which can skew his desired strokes and lines. The glove is cut in order to allow his thumb and first two fingers greater sensitivity and flexibility when using the stylus.
Denis: Yeah, it has, but there's also a drawback on that. The time saved in one area means that you get on to another thing and you just do that much more. This technology certainly helps you do what you used to do faster, but what you don't think about is that you have to do more-- as you have time to do more, and everybody knows it, you end up filling that time that you had freed up and now its filled with more projects and more things to do. Also, I've noticed that since I can get the line I really want, there are times when I'll go over it several times until I get it just right since I have that option now. I can blow this thing up until I see every little detail now when I'm drawing, so when I'm drawing this thing it's like drawing it through a magnifying glass where you can see every little detail. I probably shouldn't blow it up so much because I become a perfectionist and want to make that line just a little bit more perfect.

Will: How many newspapers does Blondie appear in, and how old is the strip?

Denis: Blondie is in about 2,300 papers, it's got a readership of about 350 million people throughout the world, and appears in forty countries as well as the United States. The strip was started in 1930, and is around 72 years old.

Will: You've stepped into the role of artistic directorship of this historic strip most admirably. What do you see as the most significant challenge and opportunity for this strip in the future?

Denis: I don't see comic strips or newspapers going away--Although I don't foresee any major changes, there may be changes in they way they are presented--in other words, newspapers may be delivered in some form other than newsprint, but I feel they will be around for a long time and that the comic strip will survive as a result.

Will: Who is your own favorite comic strip artist, or what is your favorite comic strip?

Denis: Outside of Blondie I really, really liked the strip Calvin and Hobbs. I liked Bill Watterson's style--it reminded me a lot of Jim Raymond's style. It was disciplined yet loose--it looked very easy to do which I know it wasn't, and it was fun to watch and fun to look at. The gags were great, and it's really too bad, but I can understand that he felt pretty much burned out. This is a very tough, extremely demanding business with deadlines all the time.

Will: The demands are like Tribbles, they multiply rapidly and never seem to go away!

Denis: Most people never think about this, but the comic strip runs 365 days a year, and we never close down, so we need to make sure that there's one out there every day, year after year.

A View of the Past: Over 6,000 "dailies" and over 1,000 "Sundays" were drawn, inked and lettered by Lebrun over the past twenty years. Once the strip was converted to fully digital production last December, the drafting table in his studio that was used for this incredible body of work now sits virtually untouched, unused and empty in his studio.
Will: In light of this hectic schedule of yours, what do you do to relax? What kind of hobby or outlet do you have?

Denis: I've gotten into the hobby of saltwater aquariums. I've really gotten into growing corals and even propagating them. It's been fun and it's been a diversion and it has helped a lot because it's been a while since I've really had a vacation. In our line of business you often take your work with you on your vacation-but I find it very interesting to read and learn about corals, and that's pretty much what I do to relax.

Will: In closing, for those aspiring artists who would one day like to be in the comic strip arena, what advice would you give them?

Denis: First, don't expect to get a bunch of money or even a lot of notoriety at the very beginning. You've just got to "earn your wings" first, and then, if you work hard enough and you're dedicated, you'll get somewhere with it--where I can't say, it all depends on both hard work and luck, as in my situation. If I hadn't worked so hard on my own comic strip doing it totally free for almost two years, I probably never would have met Dean, who probably never would have seen my work. It takes dedication and the fact that you have to be totally serious about doing this. It's a lot of work before and a lot of work after, but if you have a love for it, just stick with it!

Will: Again, Denis, it's been a privilege and an honor, and we thank you very sincerely.

Denis: You're welcome!

Next Week--"A Modern History of Picnic Island", Part One! Then I'll be back from vacation week after next with more "LA FLORIDIANA"!

"La Floridiana" is ©2002 by William Moriaty. "Blondie" is a trademarked name and all art and distinctive likenesses used in this article are copyright 2002 King Features Syndicate Inc. World Rights Reserved  Visit the website at www.blondie.com.  Pagetop caricature of William Moriaty by Denis Lebrun   La Floridiana's webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova.   All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2002 by Nolan B. Canova.