Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Dave Gilbert and Buckles Interview, Part I

We here at The Jade Sphinx have been dog-sitting since November for the world’s greatest canine, a Lab-Chow mix named Orpheo.  He is 16 years old, sweet tempered, and the best canine companion a man could have.

This is bound to amuse longtime friends of yours truly, as my hatred of pets of all kind has been the stuff of legend.  For years my immediate response upon touching (let alone petting) an animal was to wash my hands and control my breathing until a sense of cleanliness returned.  So when the notion of Orpheo staying with us for six months first came up, I balked.  But after several months of walking Orpheo, bathing Orpheo, playing with Orpheo and feeding Orpeho … I simply can’t imagine not having him nearby. 

Thinking about Orpheo inspired me to pull another story from the archives – and since we had such a positive reaction last week when we ran our interview with legendary comic strip creator Lee Falk (1911-1999), we decided to resurrect another interview with a celebrated pen-and-ink man.  The following is an interview we conducted in 1996 with cartoonist Dave Gilbert (born 1971), creator of the popular King Features comic strip, Buckles.

Orpheo and I hope you enjoy it.

Dave Gilbert made history when he was only 24 years-old.

It was then, in March, 1996, that King Features Syndicate first distributed his comic-strip Buckles, and Gilbert became the youngest cartoonist ever to write and draw a national strip.

Early success is something Buckles shares with his creator.  The plucky pooch quickly found national distribution in more than 100 newspapers, and went on to win reader polls in Oklahoma City and Salt Lake City (where he garnered a higher percentage of the vote than did Gov. Mike Leavitt in that year’s gubernatorial election).

Blond and blue-eyed, Gilbert looks more like a college kid than a nationally syndicated cartoonist.  Much of the Gilbert’s thoughts on life creep into his strip, and his fresh and sometimes quirky philosophy has been embraced by readers of all ages.  A recurring motif of the strip chronicles Buckles’ “romance” with a fireplug.  Because the fireplug is an inanimate object, Buckles projects all kinds of qualities and charms into it.  “Which I guess,” Gilbert says, “Is just my way of saying relationships are what you make of them.”

We caught up with Dave Gilbert at his home and studio in Syracuse, New York.
You were born and raised in Syracuse, New York?

Yep, I’ve been here all my life.  I don’t know if I want to stay.  The best thing about being a cartoonist is that I can work anywhere.  I could just pack up my computer system and go anywhere I wanted to.  But I think I’ll just stay here until I figure it out.

What first got you interested in comics and cartooning?

I guess I was always interested in them.  Disney animation was a big thing for me when I was a little kid.

Are there, or were there, any particular Disney movies that really did it for you?

No, I pretty much like them all.  I wanted to be an animator for the longest time.  In fact, I worked for an animation company here in Syracuse before I was syndicated.

What kind of work were you doing at the animation studio?

I was everything from a cleanup artist to an assistant animator.  I was also an animator, too, but not quite a full-blown one.  Then I discovered syndication, which I like much more.  Doing a syndicated strip, I have no boss...

Were there particular comic strips, or artists, that in some way inspired you?

Oh yeah.  Obviously Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes, Berkeley Breathed’s Bloom County, and Fox Trot.  They were my three major inspirations.

And what about that work lit your fire?  Was it just the medium, or the art, or what?

I think it was the characterization, and the way these guys wrote and drew.  I don’t think Fox Trot was as well drawn as the others, but the writing on that strip was just incredible.  There was something about all three strips that made them come alive.  Especially the characterizations of Calvin and Opus, they power both of their strips and make them fun.  They have a lot of life to them, and that's what I wanted to recreate in my own work.  I’d love to meet Berkeley Breathed, I hear he’s terrific.

I think Calvin goes back to a long tradition going back to Little Nemo in Slumberland, actually, with the sort of thing that a kids sees but other people don't.

Yeah.  That’s even in Walt Kelly’s Pogo to a degree, and he was another one of my major influences.

More Dave Gilbert and Buckles tomorrow!

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