Donna A Lewis is the creative wonder woman behind “Reply All Comics”. I love Donna’s humor which she takes from real life experience, and the style she uses to create her art. Donna has an interesting story in her journey to becoming a cartoonist and a unique voice which makes her standout as a shining star in the comic world. I count it a privilege to feature Donna A. Lewis and go behind the scenes to the humorous world of Reply All Comics. Come join me as Donna shares her story.
David: Hello Donna, thank you so much for being featured at “Don’t Pick the Flowers”! You have a wonderful comic called “Reply All”. How did the idea for your comic come about and has cartooning been a life long dream?
Donna: Ah, a two part question. I love two part questions. It’s easier to answer these in the opposite order you asked them.
Cartooning has NOT been a life long dream. However, being a published writer HAS been a life long dream. Up until 2007 or so, I was writing and writing and writing. In 2006, I got writer burn out from trying to get a novel published. For anyone unfamiliar with the process, let’s just say it’s frustrating, demeaning and depressing. And THAT’S if you have a positive experience.
I decided to put the novel away for a year to refresh my perspective (i.e., I had edited and re-edited the book into a meaningless bunch of words). During my official break, I did stand up. I loved the actual time being on stage and the time spent writing material. I had trouble staying awake at night for comedy shows, though.
One day, I put one of my favorite punch lines with a doodle of a girl and a poorly-drawn cartoon was born. I emailed it to a bunch of friends and family and colleagues and everyone wanted more. Since then, I’ve done at least one cartoon a day. Usually more than one. After I had been drawing cartoons for a year, a fan who happened to work at the Washington Post asked if I would like to talk to Amy Lago, editor extraordinaire. I met with Amy, bringing her about 40 strips. We talked for a while but she didn’t look at the strips while I was there. A month later, she emailed and basically said that she liked my material and could I make some changes related to the world of the characters. A few weeks later, I delivered 40 new strips. Amy liked them. I began producing a strip a day and Amy edited them. AND THEN….Cathy Guisewite announced her retirement and we jumped into the market.
David: Where do your ideas come from and do you have a set schedule for coming up with ideas and drawing the artwork? What’s it like in the day in the life of Donna A. Lewis?
Donna: Wow. A THREE-part question! Cool. Two is good. Three is even more good!
My ideas come from daily life. My greatest quality, I think, is that everything seems funny to me. I make note of what seems funny, do a quick analysis of why it seems funny and then turn it into material. Luckily, I’m surrounded by people I find very funny, whether they mean it or not. And they are very good sports. They don’t mind me making fun of them incessantly.
My schedule is pretty rigid. I set aside twenty hours a week for the comic strip and then pray I won’t go over twenty hours. I have a travel alarm clock which always sits in front of me, telling me the time and the weather, in case I need to know whether I’m missing a beautiful day. I can do a strip in two hours or ten hours. I try to stick closer to two hours. I should also mention that I’m currently writing (and drawing) both a comic strip (Reply All) and a single-panel cartoon (Reply All Lite). Both are syndicated. The single panel cartoon turned out to be really popular online. I suspect it’s because it’s such a quick read. Hopefully a quick laugh. No work involved. No clicking involved. Humor delivered.
My schedule doesn’t vary too much. I have a full-time day job and I am NOT a morning person. I wake up around 9 and get to work by 10. My morning routine is accomplished in my sleep, primarily. I work from 10 until 6:30 or so. Then I go home, walk the dog and draw. I already know the basic joke of the strip so I usually save the actual writing for last. As I draw, the writing of the four panels usually evolves pretty easily. I usually only obsess about the writing in the last two panels. I’ll change the last panel about 75 times, only to realize that the first punchline was the best. I try to spend as much of the weekend writing non-cartoon material as possible. I’m working on a novel now that will, hopefully, be published on this planet in 2013. The key to writing, for me, is to have uninterrupted blocks of time. Four hours of writing passes very quickly. I try to get in a minimum of four four-hour blocks every weekend.
David: What are the tools you use to create your work?
Donna: I now use Photoshop exclusively for the cartoons and strips. I got Photoshop AFTER meeting with Amy Lago. The period of learning Photoshop was painful. Now it’s fun and relaxing and super enjoyable. I should mention that I’ve got no art training. Anyone who hates my art will be saying “Well, duh.” That’s okay, I never claimed to be an artist. Just a creative person who produces a lot.
David: In your opinion what makes a good comic? And who are some of your hero’s in the cartooning world?
Donna: I see comics the way I see movies and books and music. If you like it, it’s good. And everyone likes different things. I like anything that speaks to me, teaches me, inspires me or makes me think. That goes for my comics, movies, books and music. I like the deep stuff. Or the stuff that, with a glass of wine, can become deep. I’m waiting for the next Far Side.
David: What advice do you give to aspiring cartoonists and other artists in the field?
Donna: I’m a big fan of Just Do It. You can’t plan to get published or plan to get syndicated. You have to have material. I’ve got boatloads of material now because I produce every day no matter what’s going on in my life. It’s something I need to do. It’s far more than my outlet. I think it’s my thing. If I were independently wealthy, I would produce 24/7. Unfortunately, I’m not so I have the disruption of a day job.
I don’t think anything in the world can be substituted for producing. That doesn’t mean that what you produce will be good. If you have no audience, you have no audience. But if you do have an audience, whether it’s an actual audience or a potential audience, be good for them. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that I don’t have to appeal to people who hate my humor, my writing or my art. If they don’t like it, there’s tons of stuff out there for them to read. I’m sure this will be shocking, but I don’t like everything out there. I just don’t email those who do things I don’t get into. I only email artists, writers and humorists whose work I love and I tell them I love it. I’m not really into the time-wasting of hating.
David: What do you want your legacy to be and what praise brings you the most enjoyment?
Donna: Ha ha ha. I didn’t know that I’d get a legacy. Cool.
I personally believe in giving back whatever you can. I have never had money so I’ve always given time and expertise related to my day job in law. I’ve done all the typical volunteer stuff that everyone else has done – teaching, mentoring, serving on boards, raising money, etc. If I ever see any substantial money from any of my writing, whether it be the strip or products or my novel, I’ll just be able to give back better. I’ve learned a few things about life along the way and I wouldn’t mind helping those who experience challenges similar to those I experienced. I also wouldn’t mind giving back to some art programs. Creativity kept me afloat through my childhood and teen years. I was the kid who needed the outlet. I am very grateful for any kind of art opportunity and believe all kids (and older kids) should be able to explore their inner painter, writer or whatever.
David: Donna thank you for giving us your outlet “Reply All”. You strike a cord with so many people which they can relate to. And thank you for sharing you work and story here at “Don’t Pick the Flowers. I love hearing how and why you create.
And for anyone who has or hasn’t checked out Reply All, click on the links below to avail yourself to the humor of Donna A. Lewis:
Reply All Website: www.replyallcomic.com