You know that whole, isn’t-it-totally-crazy-that-Nickelodeon–Magazine-prints -Johnny-Ryan-comics thing that we devoted the majority of the second part of our interview with comics editor, Chris Duffy to, once we were over the hey-that’s-kind-of-crazy-that-he-used-to-work-at-DC, thing from the first part?
Well, we finally move past it, in this part [well, after the first question], and focus a bit more on the magazine’s place in the larger comics universe, for this third and final installment. Hang onto your hats.
Oh, but have no fear, the words ‘hypodermic-needle-in-the-penis’ do make a triumphant return.
Nickelodeon has something of history—beginning, perhaps, with Ren & Stimpy—of showcasing somewhat subversive subject matter.
Yeah. The advantage of Nickelodeon is that they like to throw a lot of creative stuff against the wall, and see what kids like—as cynical as that might sound, from a marketing perspective. It’s a big company, and they want to sell advertising, and do all of the things that go along with being a big company. But the reason they are successful is that they do take seriously what kids like.
If you pitched a Johnny Ryan hypodermic-needle-in-the-penis gag to Nickelodeon, you would be rejected [laughs]. But I don’t think that anybody at the company would be offended by anyone else’s other work. I think a lot of people there would get a big kick out of it. We put one of Robert Crumb’s ‘Keep on Truckin’ ’ guys in one of our comics issues, to accompany every page number, because we do a folio treatment for every different issue. So, we’re doing a ‘Gross’ issue right now, and every number appears on a splat of puke. So, the first time we did a comics issue, we got the ‘Keep on Truckin’ ’ guy. And you know, I think the older people here were thrilled. “Hey, we got Robert Crumb in Nickelodeon.” It’s just kind of cool.
Do you imagine kids growing up to become comics lovers, because of the magazine?
Well, yeah! Dave Roman and I pretty much edit the comic section together, at this point. I sort of keep it a little more tucked under my wing, because I’m a selfish bastard. But we pretty much talk everything out together, and our philosophy is that the comics section should be pretty much be a lover letter to comics, which will hopefully be infectious to kids. We really respect the medium, and want to show it off for all it’s worth.
But having said that, kids really go to our magazine looking for jokes. It’s got to have the humor in it, but we can’t help but go for the person who is taking a creative approach to the one or two page format that is blowing up our brains, as we’re looking at it. Kids really respect ideas—messing around with ideas, where the story is backwards, or every single word is the name of a country [picture above]—
That one was amazing. Who did that?
That was Jesse Reklaw. He usually does dream comics. It was great, we had never seen anything like it, and kids really appreciate that. On the other hand, when you’re reading a magazine, you don’t want it to be an utter free for all, so we try to bring the most popular characters, and there’s one serialized comic that we have.
About six of the ten issues that we do a year have Jeff Czekaj’s Grandpa and Julie Shark Hunters. We don’t do that much serialized stuff, because it seems weird to have more than on continuing story, when you only have two pages per story and it’s a monthly. It’s like torture. You want it to be slightly more satisfying. I remember Boy’s Life, when I was a kid, just crying because the comics were so short. When I would see some continuation of a Robert Heinlein story—which I was all for—which was one page every month, I would never remember what had happened, the issue before. We try to make the comics feel self-contained.
Do you feature a lot of manga-inspired work? As far as points of reference for kids these days, that has to be one of the strongest.
I think Manga is still really old—like for 12-year-olds [laughs].
Yeah, exactly [laughs]. From my point of view, the median age is ten. So I’m thinking about ten-year-olds, though we do have some older readers. Our subscribers tend to hang on a little longer than the average viewer watches Nickelodeon. You have to keep the balance. I can go on and on about what I think a ten-year-old likes, but it would be utterly boring. But I have a pretty good sense, I think. We don’t do research that involves thousands of kids, but we all have a pretty good sense of what’s a bomb and what’s a huge hit. I got nothing against Manga, though. I’m just waiting for that perfect submission. We don’t say “no” to any style.
We tend to look for stuff that fits on one or two pages. It can’t be something that is a sprawling narrative that continues to edge outward. I think that’s what a lot of people look for in comics, and a lot of manga tends to do that. I’m sure that a lot of it doesn’t, but it hasn’t really made it over here. From what I hear, there’s a lot of humor comics, over in Japan, but I just haven’t found it yet, but maybe your readers can help me!
The hunt is fun, though. It’s made me read more pre-1950 Sunday comics, especially the humor ones, and the really early stuff, before they made it so that you had to cut out two panels, at the beginning. The very early 20th century stuff really knows how to use the space.
They were geniuses at creating something that was years or decades long, but self-contained, at the same time.
Totally. Serialized stuff today seems to be holding back a lot. Cartoonists get used to doing slow builds on comics. “you’re going to get to know my character, and something is going to be revealed.” It’s a slow build, whereas we require cartoonists who are willing to spill it out, all at once. I’ve learned to respect the “show we what you got” cartoonists.