Thursday, June 18, 2009

There's Only One Nickelodeon Magazine

When it comes to the creative arts it is never, or at least seldom, a good idea to dissect how you work. A great many people tend to shy away from doing so in case the analysis of the method leads to something happening, perhaps some spark vanishing, or maybe some unconscious secret becoming conscious and then unavailable. At some risk then (you are on the edge of your seat, right?) I'm going to divulge a part of the cartooning process that happens before one commits even one line to paper.

Before sending any cartoons to a publication, you must familiarise yourself with it. So you look up current copies and old copies and even vintage copies of the publication, and you begin to look for common themes. On a superficial level, you are simply trying to find out if you can work out what the Cartoon Editor of the publication likes; on a deeper level, you are conducting a close reading of the cartoons in order to imagine how the Cartoon Editor thinks, and trying to imagine what the Cartoon Editor's ideal cartoon might be. Now this is not too difficult with themed publications, like fly-fishing Monthly, the chances are you will be on target with a cartoon about fishing, but it is a dark art with more cosmopolitan and varied titles. When I was planning to send to Playboy my friend and fellow cartoonist Mike Lynch sent me a really thick envelope stuffed with pages of Playboy cartoons, which I glued together onto a lot of boards. Once I had those boards in front of me, I went over and over them, trying to think myself into a "playboy" frame of mind. When I was convinced I had done so, I created a batch of cartoons for them.

Now there are two ways of looking at this, it is either a strange voodoo-like technique that cartoonists employ to read the Cartoon Editor's mind, or it is simply a very practical example of the old adage of "being familiar with your markets". I'm inclined to think it is the latter, but it does sometimes feel a little strange when it works well. Years back, when The National Enquirer was a cartoon market, I sent a submission from the UK and the Editor sent me back a bunch of examples of the cartoons they had used; again, I used these examples to think myself into the magazine. To be honest, in that case it was more a case of realising the publication used what we call "general cartoons". But there you go, not a secret and hardly mind blowing - research your market and target the publication with work it can use.

So, having heard good things about Nickelodeon Magazine (US), I decided to get a hold of the thing and go over it with a fine tooth-comb, and try to think my way into the thing. The thing was, I had no idea what to expect, it was a kids magazine after all. Well, I was astonished when I saw it, really astonished. I'm not kidding, I was really bowled over by the magazine, I had never seen a publication more visually literate, more cartoon and illustration friendly, it was a cartoonist's delight. Imagine what was going through my mind; I was expecting maybe a gags page, or maybe a comics page or two, or maybe some sort of comic related to the Nickelodeon shows, but I was not expecting page after page after page of illustrations and gags and puzzles - page after page of fun.

As I looked through the magazine, I found myself responding to it with the same levels of wonder and delight as a cartoonist, as a parent, and as a teacher. I had never seen anything like this, and I had never seen such a range of mainstream and indie cartoonists all gathered together in one publication.

If anything, there was just too much opportunity, there was the chance to be an illustrator, a gag cartoonist, a comic artist, a colourist, there was a chance to create puzzles and quizzes. I had just started, in those days, to look to the US for cartooning opportunities and here, in this one publication, I could see dozens. Of course I knew it wasn't likely to be the case, and indeed it wasn't, but what if all the kids publications in the US were like this?

Not only that, but I could see the opportunity to get out of my funk. I wasn't feeling to great about being a cartoonist at that time, but now I could maybe recast myself as a cartoonist creating the sort of work I would like to read. In the UK a couple of my markets had dried up, there was effectively no comics industry, and here I might have the opportunity to create work that would appear alongside the work of Charles Burns, one of my cartooning heroes. What an opportunity.

Sadly, that opportunity will not be around for much longer. Nickelodeon Magazine is often referred to, in cartooning circles, as the New Yorker for kids. If you had never seen the magazine, you might consider that hyperbole, but I have little doubt that after seeing it you would know you were looking at a very superior publication. When the magazine ceases publication at the end of the year it will be missed, by a great many children and adults, and a good many cartoonists and illustrators. Perhaps it signals an end of an era in print cartooning; perhaps we will never see the likes of Nickelodeon Magazine again.

In this issue alone, from 2004, you can find the work of, amongst others, Charles Burns, Wayno Honath, Steve Ryan, Craig Thompson, Jason Lutes, Nick Bertozzi,Jason Shiga, Kaz, Ellen Fornay, Jen Sorensen, Johnny Ryan, David Sheldon,Jordan Crane, Robert Leighton and Sam Henderson. Over the years, amongst others, the magazine would also feature the work of Scott McCloud, Aaron Augenblick, Scott Cunningham, Dan Moynihan, Mark Martin, Terry Laban, Michael Kuperman, Scott Roberts, Andi Watson, Bobby London, Charice Mericle, C.H. Greenblat, Bob Flynn, Meg Hunt, Richard Thompson, Pat Moriarity, Jef Czekaj and Sherm Cohen. But that is just a random selection of names, however talented, and the creative team behind Nick Mag, lead by Christopher Duffy and Dave Roman, are the real stars behind the magazine's success; they will be sadly missed. If there is any justice, they will find themselves at the helm of an equally important magazine before too long.
The names above, with links, take you to examples of work from Nick Mag.


Dan Moynihan said...

Hi Rod,

This is a nice appreciation for the magazine. It will be missed, and it's sad that something so amazing and fun (and seemingly successful) would get the plug pulled on it. I'm sure that Chris Duffy & Dave Roman will go on to do other cool things.
Thanks for the mention in your post. I've got a bunch of the comics I did for Nick Mag up on my site:


Rod McKie said...

I'm glad you looked in Dan, I'll set up a link right away.

I think you're right about good things happening to Chris and Dave in the future. Hopefully still with cartoons and cartoonists.

Cathy said...

Great magazine!my little nephews loves watching the TV showof nickelodeon!

Cathy said...

Great magazine!my little nephews loves watching the TV showof nickelodeon!