Thanks to the thunderous response to our recent interview with comics legend Lee Falk (1911-1999), we pulled this interview with Buckles cartoonist Dave Gilbert (born 1971) from the archive. I have also been dog-sitting for the past four months, and my temporary pet, Orpheo, hopes that you enjoy this insight into a dog’s life….
So you started cartooning in school?
Did you have any formal art training?
No, not really. Just the usual stuff in high school. I tried taking art classes, but with mixed success. I took a cartooning class and practically failed it.
Yeah. The teacher told me not to pursue cartooning: I had no talent and no future.
What kept you from listening?
I liked cartooning too much.
So what made you think of Buckles?
He's a dog that I would draw as a warm-up exercise, something I would doodle when I sat down at the drawing table. Before I draw I always have to doodle first. Originally, he used to have his ears up. Then, one day I just put the ears down, instead of upwards, and somehow his personality just kind of came out. He was this insecure little dog with big eyes, and slightly neurotic. And he started taking on a life of his own.
And when was this? While you were still in school, or when you worked as an animator?
It was just after my first year of college, and when I worked in animation.
Was Buckles based on a dog of yours?
Actually, he's based on me, and my whole personality.
So you're Buckles?
Yeah, pretty much. My friends say that. They go as far as saying I look like Buckles, but I don't get that.
Do people think you’re funny?
(Thoughtfully) Gee, I hope so. At least, I haven’t had any complaints.
Was Buckles your first shot at a strip?
No, I had another strip called Abercrombie, which was about a bird. There was a dog in it that was just like Buckles, but the bird was the main character Buckles, who was called Scruffy in this strip, lived with the bird in an old couple’s backyard. All the characters were there, I just kind of rearranged them for Buckles. I made the couple younger, and I made the dog the main character because I always thought he was funniest one in it anyhow. But I was hesitant to do a dog strip because there are so many of them out there already. Having my own, syndicated strip was something I wanted my whole life. I just turned 26 this year, and I was syndicated at 24, which made me the youngest syndicated cartoonist at the time.
I think there's something about dogs ... because they are so human, or because they have so many human traits.
I know what you mean, so I've tried to make Buckles different. He's a dog, but I try to write him as a human.
You do things in your strip to keep him dog-like, rather than making him a human in a collar and leash.
He still has limitations. He's still a dog. The fact that he “talks” is that his owners know him so well they know what he means without his saying a word. But he can't open doors, and he can't read. And there are other limitations that he's aware of, that he can't stand about himself, which is also an insecurity about him.
What made you consciously set out thinking about his limitations as a dog when most other cartoonists treat their canine characters differently? Was this your way of distancing Buckles from the rest of the pack?
When I first conceived Buckles, I did some strips and sent them to the syndicates, never thinking that it would go anywhere. I thought a dog strip would be too limiting. And I guess that's where the notion of keeping him more like a dog came from, of taking his imitations and turning them into an advantage. It really works for him not to be able to do certain things, even though it's harder to write. When he's walking down the street, for example, he can't read a STOP sign. And since he can't read things, he has to find out information in other ways.
But it also underscores that he's really a dog.
Right. You don't lose sight of the fact that he's an animal. In most animal strips, they really don't look or behave like animals, just like funny-looking people.
More Dave Gilbert and Buckles tomorrow!