I wasn't quite sure what Charles Schulz meant when I first heard that. That's because gag, or magazine, cartoons are often recast with a brand new punchline, so you never really have to kill-off the entire idea, just come at it from a different angle. I know Michael Shaw has rewritten a punchline for a cartoon that the New Yorker didn't like, and then liked, in its new version. I've done it myself, when it suddenly occurred to me that I could completely remake a cartoon I had drawn years before, by changing the punchline to suit a new market, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. Truth be told, cartoonists do it all the time. That's not to say though, that you can't ever come up with a completely unusable cartoon, you can - at least I can; but it is never as difficult to kill off a cartoon idea as it is to kill off an idea for a comic book, or comic strip, or a graphic panel. Those often represent a larger investment of time, energy, materials, and hope, and I suppose they also represent a larger degree of emotional attachment than the single cartoon idea.
Maybe it helps to think about it in purely economic terms, especially in this day and age, and add that given the current economic climate, when you are in the 'ideas business', and that is essentially the business cartoonists are in, you just can't afford to wed yourself to an unprofitable idea. I know that maybe goes against your artistic sensibilities, but you know, you have to make a living, and the best way for a cartoonist to make a living is to churn out as many ideas as possible.
Now, I came up with these twin characters a few years back, and I wrote a few one-page stories around them. And then I wrote a larger story, and then started to plan strips and entire comic books. Every so often I would admit to myself that maybe I was wasting my time, they were, after all, a bit of an odd concept, but I just kept devoting more and more time to the idea of creating, exclusively, stories about these characters. In time, I realised that they should have stayed on the doodle-board because they were very self-indulgent; but not before I had created comics and paintings and even a sculpture or two, to the exclusion of all my other work.
The Little Cherubs idea was another that I found hard to let go. I really designed it with a middle-of-the-road parent-type magazine in mind, but pretty soon I was designing cards and posters and promo-pages, and in no time at all I had almost 20 adventures ready for print and I could readily imagine the things being successful, even when the returns were telling me a different story.
Eventually, as you must, I divorced myself from those ideas, perhaps simply because I couldn't think of a way to make them pay, which makes them a costly lesson, but a valuable one. At least, in one way or another, I did manage to 'unwed' myself from these ideas, and they now sit in a folder in my archive, and I hope that just knowing they are there will remind me of the lesson I have begun to learn (you are never too old).
The extract here from Sunshine on Leith might surprise one or two of you, but it should be here under the 'bad ideas' section. Not because the book itself is a bad idea, it's not, it's just that the idea of creating a very big book was an idea that really very quickly started to get out of control. The section of the book that took place in Leith was very small, and really should have been made into a good small book, that still tackled the same big subject of sectarianism in Scotland, but the idea started to grow and grow, and as a result the story began to stretch too thin.
The section below is by far the largest section of Sunshine on Leith, and it grew from a story called Tommy Apple, which was in itself a charming little story about my friend Tom getting stuck in an apple tree in the Convent of Poor Saint Clars in Liberton, by a bunch of nuns with a German shepherd. By adding this section to Sunshine on Leith, I started to change the subject of the story to fit the overall arch of the longer narrative, and I robbed this major part of the book of all its charm. It was becoming clear to me that the idea of the book, of what it should 'say', was killing the story, so I killed the book and split the story up into three smaller stories, and as a result it is all starting to look, and to read, a lot better.
The Gnomes project really takes me back. The Gnomes was almost a career disaster for me because the project took up about a year of my life, and I did it while I was working on a weekly comic and trying to draw cartoons. I teamed up with a friend who was a salesman, and together we approached the Scottish Development Agency about setting up an animation studio in a proposed film production studio to be established in the old slaughter house building in Chesser, in Edinburgh. The idea of establishing a movie studio there had been on the table for a while, and it looked to have legs, even Sean Connery was interested, along with a number of politicians and business folks. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I created the characters and put them on a show reel and in book form and comic page form and designed the merchandise and strips and all the assorted paraphernalia over the period of time we were 'in talks'. When those talks finally got down to the bottom-line, the proposed deal was that I would have a teeny little stake in the business, and I would still be expected to invest money. Of course I walked, and took The Gnomes with me. That was an idea it was much easier to divorce myself from because by the end of the business process I was as poor as a church mouse and I needed to start drawing and selling cartoons as quickly as possible. I must say though, although I have no happy memories of drawing through the night like a maniac to make the things, they are not that bad.
This strip struck me as an obvious idea, a sort of female Calvin, but without Hobbes. I started it right away, without designing the characters and I just sat down and drew about five episodes, and then I kept going. I think I have about twenty finished strips, but I think I lost interest by about strip fourteen. There was no way I was going to draw and write the thing for twenty years, so there was no point in it going in, so it went in the archive. I think, to this day, only Aussie cartoonist Nik Scott has seen the strip. It had a cool name, Reindeer in the Attic (RITA), but it was a very slight idea.
Okay, this is really a good example of what Schulz meant by 'don't get married to an idea', because it should never have been drawn at all. In this case the strip didn't even have a name, I just thought it would be cool to draw characters in animal skins. But not just that, I kind of had an animal spirit kind of idea going on, so there was going to be another layer of meaning to this seemingly simple idea. Well, it lasted two strips before I realised that I just had no idea what I was on about. I had an idea that I would like to draw this scenario, and I could have created one hundred episodes and sent it out there and sulked when it didn't get taken and kept refining it and you know, I would have been married to the idea. It's just not a healthy choice.
So today, I am in a happier place, I think. I have been writing and drawing a strip and it is going well. I'm pretty sure I'm doing it for all the right reasons and I'm not just married to the idea - at least, I hope that's the case.