This week, we are running an interview I conducted some 18 years ago with celebrated cartoonist Dave Gilbert (born 1971), creator of Buckles. We open with him talking about his first trip about a bird named Abercrombie, which never really went anywhere, and how it was later worked into Buckles…
How far did Abercrombie ever go? Was it actually ever syndicated?
No. I sent it off to the syndicates, and King Features was the only one that sent me any real feedback on it. Jaye Kennedy sent my stuff back saying that it's a strong bird strip, but not strong enough to be syndicated. He recommended making the old couple young, and I did that, and took some other suggestions, and it eventually evolved into Buckles.
Do you think dogs are funnier than birds?
I don't know. I think Buckles has more personality than Abercrombie. But birds are funny ... look at Shoe.
I never think of him as a bird! With his rumpled sports clothes and cigar, I always think of him as a person.
He's a person who happens to have feathers. I have no problem with that, though, and don't mind it if it works for the overall premise of the strip. I had tried another strip called The Back Alley, which had a whole bunch of talking animals and took place in a back alley. It was about animals, but really they were just little people with fur on their faces.
So tell us about Buckles. We know he's a dog, with real dog limitations... What else about him?
He's a mutt, and the biggest thing about him is his insecurity. And he takes his insecurity to the max. He's very emotional. I don't know if he's pretty much like every dog, or mostly like me.
Do you think that tapping into that insecurity is something that's very ‘90s, and that helped the strip? Is there something about Buckles that says something about us in the ‘90s?
Buckles, having a lot of my personality, is easy for me to write. I have a pretty good idea of how I would react to most situations, and I guess I’m a pretty ‘90s guy. I don’t know ... I guess my personality was marketable. I hope it stays that way.
What about the other characters in the strip? What about the couple?
They’re Paul and Jill. Paul is pretty much the owner, and he sees Buckles as a dog. Because Buckles is a dog, Paul thinks Buckles should sit when he’s told and stay off the couch, that kind of stuff. He’s kind of hard, but in a dog-owner kind of way. And Jill, who is the softer, kinder one, treats Buckles like a kid and let’s him on the couch, things like that. It drives Paul crazy. There is a bird, too, named Arden, who used to be named Abercrombie. He’s the backyard friend. There’s also a flea, who you never see. He’s very intelligent, and whenever Buckles is in trouble, or needs someone to talk to, he turns to the flea. The flea’s the smartest of the two... he can read, and Buckles can find things out that way.
Hopefully that’s not based on you! How far ahead are you on Buckles?
About at the deadline.
Do you find that you’re composing the gag, and then drawing the strip? Or drawing the strip and then coming up with the gag? How do you work out your ideas?
There’s so many different ways to do it. Sometimes an idea just pops into my head and it’ll be there. Lately I struggle and struggle. Mostly I get the idea or the gag first, and then I work around how I’m going to draw it. The drawing is really important: I like to put a lot emotion into Buckles’ visuals as well as the writing.
Do you keep a notebook of things to develop into ideas?
Oh yeah. I’ve got several, and I always go back to them.
Are you always working on it?
I’m always thinking about it. I have yet to figure out a way to stop thinking about it. I set up a schedule that I tried to work by, but sometimes I’m at the drawing board at midnight after I’ve come up with a particularly good idea. Even when I’m at the mall, or just trying to relax, I think that I should be working.
Is there any one particular venue that’s good for ideas? Do you get most of them from the newspaper, or television, or while sitting in the bathtub?
That changed a lot. I would flip through books, like Bloom County or Calvin and Hobbes, and they would inspire me. Or I’d flip through Newsweek, and for a long while I used to get ideas while taking a shower. Now, I don’t know, it really switches. I don’t know where they’re coming from, lately, I just sit down to think and hope they come!
More Dave Gilbert and Buckles tomorrow!