After drawing thousands of drawings for Carolyn Hax’s advice column, Galifianakis reviews the diagrams of the human experience.
The comic begins with a brief idea:
“…Maybe Nick could draw an icon to go with it,” an editor suggested to my then-wife Caroline Hax, who was discussing Caroline’s new advice column at the Washington Post.
A quarter of a century later, I haven’t drawn an “icon” to accompany the column.
The initial thought was that I would create five, maybe seven, general images rotated in columns based on the theme: breakup, wedding, family, etc. I’m excited about the opportunity for Carolyn and want to do everything I can to help it succeed.
But somewhere inside of me, there’s also a 5-year-old boy who guts a half-foot-thick Sunday Washington Post to get to the middle of an explosion of color, laying out huge comic pages on the floor, Read from the first manga to the last, then snap out crayons and paper to copy my favorite characters.
So, of course, Caroline, I’m going to draw some interesting characters for The Washington Post.
Then I think a conspiracy of enthusiasm and conceit hijacked my pen: I turned in a fully realized, subtitled cartoon, not just for that particular column, but on its own.
Our editors love it and have built print pages around columns and cartoons. The response has been great, and decades after I hired a fun part-time job that I never really got done, I found myself with a career.
The first comic.
After the initial outburst, Caroline and I developed a method that still works: She selects the letter and writes a draft, then sends it to me for editing and advice; she polishes it, and we repeat until we both like it.
Then we changed hats, and I mulled over which angle to watch the cartoon from, sent her a bunch of concepts, and we went back and forth with ideas until one of us laughed.
The concept had to be added to the dialogue in the column, not just parroted, but it had to stand on its own. If the comics only make sense if you read the column first, then this is no good. We all have the right to veto.
since we got married,
through separation, divorce, remarriage,
Children and personal roller coasters,
We have always maintained a strong working relationship.
We keep the best of us, so our cooperation, like our friendship, is based on trust, respect, familiar shorthand, shared values and worldview.
So far it seems to work. The best part of the whole deal was hearing from readers who were helped by columns and comics. It’s rocket fuel to go back to our desks and drawing boards and do the best work we can.
Any sustained effort, let alone a quarter century, comes with growing pains and eye-opening. Most of my “aha!” artist moments happen gradually every day in the space that The Washington Post has provided me with.
From dipping a pen into an inkwell, to dipping a brush into a brush for sexier lines,
Then fell in love with charcoal as I admired the velvety line work of a cartoonist hero, then aimed to exploit the unpredictability of watercolor,
Then combine all of the above;
Then turned to the digital tools I use today for speed, convenience, and digital compatibility; and always (always, always) discovering and rediscovering the value of “just right is more” (than the tired “less is more” more” is more accurate).
A few years ago, I took an Amtrak ride and watched the two passengers sitting in front of me flip through the Style section.
“What a beautiful picture,” one woman said after flipping to the page where the column and cartoon appeared. Added her friend: “Detail level!”
I was downcast. Passengers never commented on the comic gimmick; I don’t think they ever saw it. The paintings I obsessively draw have eliminated this joke. This is a bad cartoon. However, you have to realize that before you make any good comics, you will make a lot of bad cartoons.
I used to populate cartoons with people I knew or even just sat where I happened to draw. I also dress up the characters according to the weather at the time. Comics are about real things, even when reality is stretched to the absurd.
I ended up (mostly) giving up on portraits of family, friends and people around me because enough people kept asking, “Who is that?”
This becomes a barrier to allowing titles and cartoons to mesh as intended.
While I still occasionally throw in some familiar faces, including my own, today my characters are more generic, but I want them to still feel like individuals in your world.
My comics always include people of different backgrounds and body types, and Caroline’s work is impeccable on themes of race and inclusivity. That’s our world (and yours) and we reflect it. In the late ’90s, however, it wasn’t common for people of color to include non-racial issues in comics. Years ago, when I was making political cartoons, I would probably draw something on the economy or budget, etc., showing a black man in a suit and a white man with a briefcase. And then the mail would start, “What does this have to do with affirmative action?” Nope. They are just two people.
This challenges me to find inclusive contexts where people of color become people, not statements.
because cartoons featuring people of color Historically exaggerated and insensitive, I was careful to bring non-white and racial faces closer to slightly tweaked portraits. Ultimately, I convinced myself that if I painted in a fun and soulful way, it would be a celebration of all shapes and features. So I just work on drawing people. They are all.
The untitled “Chaxies” comic appears with the column on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and is named after Carolyn (“C.Hax”).
They are drawn in a different style because I made them based on post-it notes Caroline left for me around the house when we got married.
Her doodles still make me laugh.
I’ve never liked the look of most digital art. It’s often too slick, too embalmed, and too dependent on powerful tools, rather than being an extension of the artist’s use of it. So it took me a while to embrace digital tools.
But a desire to make art faster, and a commitment to preserving an analog look that feels like it came from me rather than a computer, drove me to make the leap.
For the 5-year-old artist, he learned to read and draw in the local newspaper, for which producing thousands of cartoons for 25 years remains a lifetime professional privilege.