Hey Kids, Comics: Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer

By Paul Freitag

The works of Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer are fairly closely intertwined. Both of them are writers on the excellent (and underappreciated) TV series "Space Ghost Coast to Coast" (Cartoon Network, Channel 61 in Milwaukee, 10:00 p.m. on Fridays, 11:00 p.m. on Saturdays), and they've co-created Kid Blastoff for the Disney Adventures magazine.

Dyer started in the comics field with her zine-about-zines Action Girl, made in order to help publicize the flourishing zines written by women. The series spun off into Action Girl Comics, which continues to run regularly, each issue featuring short works by female artists.

Dorkin's series include Milk and Cheese (who have their own Zippo lighter), Hectic Planet and Dork!. He did the one-shot Dick Wad and the Mega-Vice Squad (originally written for Penthouse), the cover of which was colored by Dyer. He also contributed to Instant Piano, a 4-issue anthology series with Mark Badger, Kyle Baker, Robbie Busch and Stephen DeStefano. He also writes for the "Superman" animated series. He does a lot more, too, but this introduction is overlong already. So let's get on with it.

(These interviews were conducted through E-mail, Dorkin gets interviewed first, then Dyer. It's all alphabetical, you see. It's just the way the article's been formatted. So there.)

Post: How did the whole "Space Ghost" deal happen? How closely related to the show are you at this point?
Dorkin: Mike Lazzo, the show's creator and executive producer, contacted me after someone had given him a copy of the Fun With Milk and Cheese collection. He told me he felt that based on what he'd read he thought I might be someone who could write for the show, especially for Moltar and Zorak. I did some sample bits of writing, and they assigned me to do a try-out script, with Danny Bonaduce and Branford Marsalis as the guests. As it worked out, Sarah and I had started to work more closely together on our comics projects and script, and I sought out her opinions on so much of the SG script that she ended up pretty much co-writing it with me. The script was accepted, and since then we've co-written 11 scripts for SGCTC. Seven have aired, three are in various stages of production right now, and one script we did, a rewrite, was not produced. We're looking to be doing about ten more scripts in the next year or so. We're pretty close to the show considering we're freelance and in New York, and the Cartoon Network is in Atlanta. We have a good relationship with our producers, they've given us tremendous leeway in our scripts and value our input which is really nice. Several of our episodes were produced almost exactly as written, even at odd lengths past the show's usual slot. We just got back from script meetings in Atlanta and it was a good experience, very relaxed, unlike most experiences we've had with corporate situations, we even got to oversee some editing on a new show we scripted. We're hoping to go back in June when we're in town for a comic convention.
Post: And anyway, what the hell was the deal with that live-action episode? ["Woody Allen's Fall Project." It's not a Dorkin/Dyer-written one] I normally love the show and tape every episode I can, but that one I just didn't get.
Dorkin: I kinda liked it, it wasn't hysterical, but it was offbeat and unusual, it was not what you normally see on the Cartoon Network, let alone TV.
Post: What do you think of Cartoon Planet?
Dorkin: The interstitial segments or the actual cartoons? The Space Ghost/Brak segments I've seen are generally pretty funny, they do tend to have the same beat over and over, but they aren't really sketches or anything, just bits of business. I haven't seen many of the segments because I actually watch very little TV nowadays compared to my youth. Too busy. It's probably affecting my work in a negative manner.
Post: Is working on SGC2C or Superman as fun for you as working on your own stuff?
Dorkin: Sometimes, but not usually. Even though my personal work doesn't pay the bills, and even loses money in some cases, it's still the work that I find the most rewarding. I have to say we're lucky to be doing commercial work that we do enjoy, like Superman and Space Ghost for TV and the various mainstream comics projects we've worked on. But while the TV work pays well and has been fun for the most part, it's not "our" work, it's not our characters, and there's nothing more satisfying than creating something that is wholly yours and comes from the heart and from your own interests and experiences. I prefer to write and draw Milk and Cheese or Dork! or Hectic Planet because it's my vision, I do whatever I want without interference from someone behind a desk telling me what can and cannot be done. It can be very frustrating to work in television or on a mainstream comic project where quite often your work is changed for reasons that often have nothing to do with the quality of what you wrote. I feel pretty lucky to be able to have the best of both worlds right now, where I enjoy the rent-paying assignments in TV and in comics that I have, and they help support my personal comics projects that are important to me. It beats digging ditches.
Post: How did you end up working with Disney on Kid Blastoff?
Dorkin: From what I remember--and my memory is pretty bad--some folks up at Disney Adventures wanted to use some "outside" comics people to do some non-Disney material, I believe they'd already set up Jeff Smith's Bone strips to run, or they were running already--but anyway, they'd use some pre-existing, creator-owned strips in DA like Bone, Nervous Rex and Dr. Watchstop, but they wanted to have a new character never seen before. Apparently Marv Wolfman had suggested me for this while he was there because of my work on Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventures for Marvel, and the then-assistant editor was Heidi MacDonald, who we were friendly with. So they asked me to do something, and I had had the idea for a kid's strip that Sarah and I fleshed out into "Kid Blastoff" for them. KB was a bit more "PG" than I felt Disney would need, so I toned it down a lot for them, no guns or what have you. We own the characters so when we do new material we plan to make it a little less G-rated, still all-ages, but not quite so cutesy. We reprinted the DA strips with Slave Labor last year because we were able to get the rights back very quickly through a loophole Sarah found in our agreement.
Post: It seems kind of Zot!-inspired. Was Scott McCloud an influence at all?
Dorkin: No, I read Zot! when it was coming out, but KB is just a vehicle for doing fun all-ages superhero/space genre material, and in that I guess I could see the comparison. Zot! is a bit more seriously minded than what we have planned for KB, there really won't be soap opera situations or running sub-plots, or the occasional looks at teen angst or violence like I remember in Zot!, KB is a way for us to do comics that have no real point other than entertainment, no deep social satire, no anger, no real violence, just neat stuff that kids and adults can enjoy, just gee-whiz kind of old style comics with a modern sense of humor and play.
Post: Do you think the Milk and Cheese thing will wear itself thin eventually, or do you see it running once in a while for a long time?
Dorkin: I couldn't say for sure, I can see both happening to be honest. I have plots for at least three dozen or so strips sitting around, and new ideas for strips pop into my head fairly often, so running out of material is not the problem. But I'm not sure how long people will want to read these strips, they are all of the same cloth, Milk and Cheese aren't suddenly going to have comic full-length adventures or do movie parodies or crossovers, they are what they are. Although so is any gag strip from Cathy to Zippy, and they run every day and people like them all even when they completely run out of steam. I don't want Milk and Cheese to ever be a small press Garfield or Cathy, which is why I don't do the books or even the strips that often, there's a year to two years between issues. Some people are tired of them, and that's fine, others want more, and that's nice to hear. For now, I figure I'll do a strip or a book when I feel like it, and we'll see where it goes. I never expected it to go this far in the first place. One day I'll probably have to retire them, but then I also really like the little bastards, so maybe they'll just appear when they appear until I drop dead.
Post: How about a M&C Pez Dispenser?
Dorkin: Fine by me, you get the deal going with the Pez people, I'll draw the designs.
Post: What's your problem with "Garfield," anyway? Did Jim Davis ever come to your house and beat you or something? I mean, sure, he's been using the same joke for nearly 20 years, but couldn't the same thing be said for, say, "The Family Circus."
Dorkin: For comedic purposes, picking on "The Family Circus" is stale, it's old, it's been kicked around the zine and comic community like a dog for years, especially when zinesters all seemed to be reprinting Family Circus panels with sex and drug humor dialogue replacing the original "punchlines." The Family Circus is god-awful, but at least Bill Keane draws his own bad strip. Jim Davis signs the work of other no-talents, has been for years, and everybody knows it. To use the Queen's English, Garfield sucks. So does practically every syndicated strip out there, including a good number of the "alternative" strips running in the free papers. Gag and strip cartooning is just a dying art, it's in worse creative straits than even the maligned and ignored comic book. The difference, and when I usually slam something like Garfield, is that the so-called funnies have a wide audience, because they're in the papers and mass-market book collections, and comics are still in the comic shop ghetto. When I pick on Garfield, it's not usually in my work but in my comparison of the two cartooning mediums, comics and newspaper strips--when people say comics are dying, that people don't care for comics, I always point out that hacked-out unimaginative derivative repetitive crap like Garfield and Cathy sell millions of books, and that they are, essentially, comics. Believe me, I don't give Garfield much though other than that. There's other things that keep me awake, like why do people think "The X-Files" is a well-written, well-acted, quality TV series. Only kidding! It doesn't keep me awake.
Post: How do you decide what's going into Dork!?
Dorkin: Dork! started out as a kind of clearinghouse for reprinting strips I'd done outside of comics or for anthologies and whatnot, so I can corral all of my creator-owned material under the Slave Labor banner where people can find it without buying the Generation Ecch book or Esquire magazine, where some of my strips appeared. After I decide what reprinted strips are going into an issue of Dork!, if any, I then go through my scripts to pick new strips I feel like drawing to round out the issue. For Dork!#4 I knew I'd be doing almost all new material save for a one page reprint from Instant Piano #1, so I had the strips already in mind way in advance. For the next few issues I'm planning to reprint the rest of my strips from Instant Piano along with new stories, I don't have a master plan of what I'll be doing for the new strips, I have about fifty different strip ideas in my files for the book, some for reoccurring characters like the Murder Family and the Eltingville Club, some stand alone pieces. I'd really like to get some one-shot stand alone stories done in the future, but I basically never know what the hell I'm going to draw until I pick a script idea and draw it.
Post: After your experience with "Instant Piano," would you ever do a regular anthology comic again?
Dorkin: Not with other people, no, I don't think so now that I have my own anthology with Dork! Basically, when Instant Piano stalled over six years ago or so, I took my pages from the aborted first issue and started Dork! with them. I didn't want them to run years later as new work when they would be dated and clunky looking. When IP finally got going I did all-new material, and now that it's over I'm happy to do my strips for Dork!. I still do occasional pieces for other anthologies, which I can then collect down the road in Dork!, but I don't have the time or desire to work on a regular anthology again. I'm glad I worked on Instant Piano, the results were gratifying if mixed on all our parts, but at the time the five of us trying to deal with the schedule and one another was just a bit much, IP was a crazy experience.
Post: Just out of curiosity, why wasn't "Baby in the Microwave" included in "The Big Book of Urban Legends"?
Dorkin: That's because it was originally printed in Dark Horse Comics Urban Legends comic, which predated the DC comics Big Book series. I reprinted it in Dork! #2. I personally enjoyed working on that strip a lot more than the DC script I drew for the Big Book of Urban Legends, I thought the Dark Horse approach of letting the artists interpret the legends made for better reading than the Big Book by the numbers nine-panels per page approach.
Post: Do you mind that the two of you are kind of intertwined at this point in your projects?
Dorkin: I don't mind at all, I think it's neat. We're able to collaborate on many projects, and we both have our own solo projects that allow us to retain our individuality as creators. Works fine for me. Although I know I'm a pain in the ass to work with, so Sarah might not think it's so great.
Dyer: [I don't mind] at all--I think we have a really good separation in our own minds about "his work," "my work," and "our work," and I don't feel like we're inextricably linked or anything. Our personal work that we don't do together gets enough response that I don't think either of us feels like we're joined at the hip or anything here. I actually get interviewed more than Even does, I think!
Post: (to Dyer) How did you get started drawing in the first place?
Dyer: I have always drawn, although I didn't draw comics growing up. I was an art major in college, but I wasn't enjoying myself much. I also liked to write (minored in art history) and eventually realized I could combine the two in comics. Art school is one of the biggest problems with my art, actually. I can whip out a great life study like that <snap>, but cartooning has been a struggle for me.
Post: How do you find most of your female talent? It's sure tough as hell to find on the newsstands...
Dyer: All of the original contributors were doing mini-comics, and I knew them all through the Action Girl Newsletter. Some of the new contributors have come in through sending me their mini-comics, sending me submissions and portfolios of their work, or by showing me their work at a convention.
Post: When you say your comics are "girl-positive but never anti-boy," do you ever get people with "men are scum"-type stories?
Dyer: I've only gotten one submission, quite a while ago, that strayed into that territory. There's certainly a lot of that out there, but I think anyone that's read enough AGC to want to submit knows that there's no room for that stuff in my book.
Post: Do you get any free time?
Dyer: Yeah--right! Seriously, I'd have to say, I don't really get free time, but I make a point of forcing myself to do other things so I don't go nuts. Cook, play games, whatever. I'd like a vacation, though!
Post: Are there any other artists/writers/etc. that you'd particularly like to hype?
Dyer: Hmmmmm, hype.. nothing ever comes to mind when anyone asks me stuff like that. Well, I did just read the first 6 issues of Reality Check! I finished it in one sitting, and it's a really neat book--boy-and-girl-friendly, all-ages, really cute too. And, uh, everyone should go out and buy the new Shonen Knife album because they are awesome. Also, if you want to mention it, my two big upcoming projects are -- Evan & I are writing an annual for DC, introducing an animated version of Supergirl. We're pretty excited about that, our story was officially approved this week and so it's a go! It'll be out around the end of the year. And (without Evan), I'm painting a full-color Amy Racecar Special (the character from Stray Bullets) for David Lapham. That should be out this summer.

Action Girl, Dork!, Milk and Cheese, Hectic Planet and a whole bunch of other stuff are published by Slave Labor Press. They're available locally at Capitol City Comics (in their new location up the street from their previous one) and the Turning Page. Visit Evan and Sarah's website at http://www.houseoffun.com

Paul Freitag is the Editor-in-Chief of The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Post.

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