Mike Witmer is the creator behind the extremely funny web comic “Pinkerton”. Mike hails from Pennsylvania and describes his web comic having topics that range from pop culture to politics, but more importantly about four furry little animals sitting around a bar in the middle of the woods getting drunk, sounds normal to me. And this is the kind of humor Mike brings to his web comic. I’m truly excited to feature Mike at Don’t Pick the Flowers. So let’s meet the man behind the furry little creations from Pinkerton.
David: Hello Mike, what a pleasure to feature you here at “Don’t Pick the Flowers”. You have a great web comic called “Pinkerton”. Can you talk about where the idea for Pinkerton came from and the whole process of starting your web comic?
Mike: I’m not 100% where the idea for Pinkerton DIRECTLY came from. Way back in 2007, I was still working on my first comic “44 Union Avenue.” At that time in my life I was OBSESSED with becoming a syndicated cartoonist. There was still a very viable business in print comics (not that there isn’t today…it’s just a thousand times more difficult to get your foot in the door). Besides being web syndicated by GoComics, 44UA was self-syndicated, meaning I had managed to get the strip into a handful of newspapers, magazines, and college rags all by my little ol’ self. But all attempts at print syndicate submission came back denied. So around May of 2007 I decided that to switch things up. Rather than write a strip that I thought other people wanted to read, I made the grand decision to write for me. I knew what sort of voice I wanted. I had a pretty good idea of the TYPE of characters I wanted to work on. But I had no real character design art-wise. The only thing I knew was that it had to be a complete 180 visually from 44UA.
44UA was loosely based on my childhood and my family. That had its perks and downfalls. One of the downfalls was my family’s reactions to the way I treated their characters. So when I started working on the Pinkerton characters, I decided they should be animals rather than people… all to avoid any chance of comparison.
David: I know having your own web comic is very rewarding but also time consuming. What’s it like for you in “the day in the life of Mike Witmer”? What’s the writing process and drawing like for you, any set schedule?
Mike: I used to get really wrapped up in my schedule. To the point where it was intruding on everything else in my life. I had set times for writing and set times for drawing the strip and set times for scanning/lettering. At first it worked well because it taught me a little discipline. But as time wore on it became exhausting to me. It became *gulp* a job. Now-a-days it’s much less rigid for me. I write when the mood hits me…when I’m inspired. I come up with a lot of my ideas without realizing they were there. Last night I wrote a comic strip in my sleep. Swear to God! I prefer to draw my strips late at night because that’s the time when I’m least likely to be distracted.
Very recently, I went 100% digital. I bought a Wacom tablet and started drawing in Photoshop right on my iMac. At first it was super weird for me. Now, it’s really starting to streamline the way I do things. Plus, it’s bringing out new things in my art work.
David: When did you set your eyes on being a cartoonist? And who would you consider to be your greatest influences?
Mike: I’ve always loved cartoons. I was fascinated with the artwork and stories. I’ve been a voracious comic strip reader since, like, FOREVER. Peanuts was my first love. Specially the really early strips. There is something really wonderful about Charles Schulz’s characters in those early strips. Not that they sucked in the later years… I just loved the feel of the really early strips so much more. I really can’t remember a time I wasn’t drawing comics in some form or another. I never really took an “official” stab at it until around 2001.
Artistically, I’m influenced by a lot of cartoonist: Berkeley Breathed (Bloom County/Outland/Opus), Gary Larson (Far Side), Bill Amend (Foxtrot), Brian Anderson (Dog Eat Doug), Jim Toomey (Sherman’s Lagoon), and Richard Thompson (Cul De Sac) to name a few. My writing is probably more influenced by my surroundings. By the humor I experience or notice in my day to day life. I read a lot and I think that helps. I pay close attention to the way people interact. I hear funny words and I sock them away for use in a strip. So in that aspect, my comic strip brain is always listening.
David: You also love music and have a band. Could you talk a little about that?
Mike: Music has always been another huge part of my life. Like comic strips, it’s something that I’ve always just done. Music is very easy for me. I sort of “get it” like a second language. It’s another way to communicate.
David: Things are changing in the comic’s world (and the way we share information). What advice would you give anyone who wanted to start their own web comic or becoming apart of the comics industry?
Mike: Ahhh, the big question. Here’s my advice to new cartoonists. Don’t race to put your stuff on the web. And that’s not an anti-web sentiment talking. What I’m saying is this: Take some time to develop your technique. Develop your style. Develop your voice. Do this behind closed doors…share your development with people you trust. But try to avoid developing in front of a live audience so to speak. You have a very small window of opportunity in which to get people hooked. If you put a piece of junk out on the web just for the sake of saying you are web cartoonist, you should probably expect lukewarm response at best. The good thing about being a web cartoonist is that anyone can do it. The bad thing: Anyone can do it. LOL!
Being a web cartoonist is a fine balance of things. Website development. Marketing. Blogging. And last but certainly not least: The feature. So you have to be very good at balancing. Or better yet, find some friends to help you with the details. I find that there are quite a few artists out there who focus more on the marketing schemes than the actual feature itself. Folks have great sites and all these “gadgets” and hooks to get you to read their strip. And they’re really quite brilliant. Then you read the strip and you go “eh.” So yeah… balance. Learn from your favorites. Take a look at the folks who have had success in this business and try to figure out what they’re doing right. That’s not to say “go out there and rip off Penny Arcade or XKCD. But there are definitely lessons to be learned from how those folks do things.
Finally, and this is something I’ve said over and over again. If you’re dreaming of making a career out of cartooning, make sure you love what you do. Have fun with your creation. Make yourself laugh. Your readers will recognize. They’ll invest in your conviction.
David: Thank you Mike for sharing with me here at “Don’t Pick the Flowers”. It’s so cool to hear about your life and insight.
And now it’s time for you the reader to check out Pinkerton if you aren’t already a fan. Here’s the direct links: