The Funny Papers

The Longform guide to comic strips and their creators.

Graphic by Slate

Every weekend, Longform shares a collection of great stories from its archive with Slate. For daily picks of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform or follow @longform on Twitter. Have an iPad? Download Longform’s app to read the latest picks, plus features from dozens of other magazines, including Slate.

The Bill Watterson Interview
Richard Samuels West • Comics Journal • February 1989

A conversation with the author of Calvin and Hobbes.

I enjoy the drawing more than the writing, so I try to think of ideas that will allow me to develop the visual side of the strip as fully as possible. Some ideas don’t lend themselves to that. Even then, I try to make the drawings as interesting as I possibly can, given the very limited constraints of the format. In other words, if I’ve got essentially two characters talking in a daily, I’ll try to put them in an interesting location, have them walking through the woods. I’ll try different perspectives. If I’ve got several days’ strips that are essentially talking strips, one day I’ll eliminate all background, have it as sparse and clean as I can; the next day, try to make it a little lusher or develop the setting more. This is probably done more out of boredom than any conscious decision to do this one day and do this another day.


The Comfort Zone
Jonathan Franzen • The New Yorker • November 2004

The author comes of age with Snoopy and Charlie Brown.

Or Chapter 2, verses 6-12, of what I knew about fiction: Linus is annoying Lucy, wheedling and pleading with her to read him a story. To shut him up, she grabs a book, randomly opens it, and says, “A man was born, he lived and he died. The End!” She tosses the book aside, and Linus picks it up reverently. “What a fascinating account,” he says. “It almost makes you wish you had known the fellow.”

The perfect silliness of stuff like this, the koanlike inscrutability, entranced me even when I was ten. But many of the more elaborate sequences, especially the ones about Charlie Brown’s humiliation and loneliness, made only a generic impression on me. In a classroom spelling bee that Charlie Brown has been looking forward to, the first word he’s asked to spell is “maze.” With a complacent smile, he produces “M-A-Y-S.” The class screams with laughter. He returns to his seat and presses his face into his desktop, and when his teacher asks him what’s wrong he yells at her and ends up in the principal’s office. “Peanuts” was steeped in Schulz’s awareness that for every winner in a competition there has to be a loser, if not twenty losers, or two thousand, but I personally enjoyed winning and couldn’t see why so much fuss was made about the losers.


The Cathy Guisewite Interview
Tom Heintjes • Hogan’s Alley • April 2012

A conversation with the author of Cathy.

In my submission to the syndicate, I had literally been drawing pictures of myself. She looked like me, and her name was Cathy. I was just sending them to my mom to let her know I was coping, or not coping. The syndicate felt it would make the strip more relatable if the character’s name and my name were the same. They felt it would make it a more personal strip, and it would help people to know it was a real woman who was going through these things. I hated the idea of calling it “Cathy.” The idea that these vulnerabilities were going to be published was…as I said, I was partly thrilled at the chance to do it and partly mortified that anyone would see it.


Cigarettes and Alcohol: Andy Capp
Paul Slade • PlaneSlade •  August 2012

On the public neglect of cartoonist Reg Smythe.  

Peanuts beats Andy on any measure you care to take, whether that be creator’s tenure, syndication reach, total readership, merchandising income, international sales or adaptions in other media. But the truly remarkable thing is that Smythe holds his place in that league at all. Even without the cuddly firepower of Snoopy, Woodstock and the rest to exploit in the mass market, he took Andy to the very top of this hugely-competitive tree, and maintained his place there alongside Schulz for over 40 years. Achieving that level of success with a foreign strip in the vast American market makes him even more remarkable.


The Art of Comics No. 1: R. Crumb
Ted Widmer • Paris Review • June 2010

A conversation about craft and adapting Genesis into comic form.

“I was drawing prolifically. I lived out my youth on paper, basically. I am a bookmaker. I see blank books, I want to fill them—notebooks, sketchbooks, blank pages. I never conceived of any of it being published, it was totally for my own edification. I had ideas for comic strips that I had sketched down. And later it all got published, much to my amazement.”

Aficionado of Science: Gary Larson
Natalie Angier  • New York Times • April 1998

A profile of the Far Side author.

Mr. Larson’s taste for the nontraditional house guest continued into adulthood. For a while he bred Mexican king snakes, and kept a Bermuda python until it grew 15 feet long. He has owned tarantulas and bird-eating spiders, African bullfrogs and carnivorous South American ornate horned frogs. Once, while he was washing a frog in the sink, the animal slipped down the garbage disposal. ”He was O.K., but when I reached down to get him, he filled himself with air so I couldn’t bring him up,” Mr. Larson said. ”I spent the longest time with my hand down the drain, waiting for him to relax, and at the same time not getting bitten. Frogs have teeth, you know.” Mr. Larson said that, for environmental reasons, he no longer condones the rearing and keeping of exotic pets.

Interview: Joe Sacco
Hillary Chute • Believer • April 2007

On comics and journalism:

“Now, when you draw, you can always capture that moment. You can always have that exact, precise moment when someone’s got the club raised, when someone’s going down. I realize now there’s a lot of power in that.”

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