I recently had the pleasure of interviewing illustrator, cartoonist, humorist and Internetonaut Terry Colon via email. And I’ve had a blast reading his responses. I have always been a fan of his work ever since his work with Suck.com, and getting to have a back and forth with him directly has been a blast. I hope you’ll find the following Q and A as informative, and entertaining as I have.
Josh Mormann | von Creedy: You mention in your about section that you have been drawing since you were a child. Lots of people drew when they were kids, what made it stick for you?
Terry Colon: I’m not sure I have a good answer for that. Why do some people grow out of things and others into things? Who knows?
I can speculate for what it’s worth. I continued drawing because I had a knack for it and enjoyed it. People rather stick with what they like and are good at. I’m a subset of people, so that would apply here.
vonC: I can recognize your style wherever I see it. There’s something timeless about it, yet entirely yours. How did it develop, and when did you know you had found it? Do you stray from it much?
Terry: My style developed largely unplanned, the pregression lost in the mists of mind. So again I’ll speculate. Being born in the 50s I watched a lot of cartoons from the 50s and 60s which influenced me. I didn’t become an illustrator until midway in my career when a sort-of camp 50s retro look was fashionable. My earlier work owed more to the 60s, a mishmash of various influences. It evolved to what it is when I started working for Suck.com. Because of the limited size and low resolution the linework got bolder, the heads got bigger to better read on screen.
I figure I had it when it started flowing without a lot of fuss or hesitation.
I strayed a bit unintentionally. Someone emailed and said my work wasn’t as good as it used to be. I re-examined older work for comparison and realized it was losing the goofy edge it had previously. I hope I have corrected that. Just goes to show, you can get complacent and oblivious to your own work.
I have a few other “arty” styles I use for my own personal use. Painting and decorating and such. But I rely on the one familiar style for my career.
vonC: You have an obvious understanding, and interest in science, history, human culture, with a steady awareness of pop culture, and politics, and the ability to communicate ideas in a way that’s both entertaining, comical, and informative. Does this awareness come more from your own personal interest, or from illustration gig requirements? Do you teach in any capacity outside of your website?
Terry: I won’t claim to be up on pop culture much any more. I mean, when I peruse magazines at the market check-out I don’t recognize the people on the covers. They must be famous, but who they are and why is beyond me.
This awareness, or sensibility or whatever-it-is goes hand-in-hand with gig requirements to a degree which boils down to interpreting text with a visual. My writing style more-or-less goes along with my drawing style, fun, amusing, goofy, or whatnot. It’s simply the way I think. Which is to think simply. Perhaps even simplemindedly. Humor is often taking the obvious and twisting it over the top or under the bottom, if I can coin a phrase. Underreaction works as well as overreaction.
I’ve never been invited to teach in any venue. So I slip it in for the unwary reader of terrycolon.com.
vonC: Putting out as much material as you do for your own website, and for various gigs, would you say that the work itself drives you toward being so prolific, or do you ever have to play mind games to stay that productive?
Terry: I enjoy working whether for hire or for my own amusement. In which case maybe the latter’s not work, even though it’s the same endevor. So I guess having your job and your main hobby the same thing tends toward prolificness. Or maybe profligacy, or whatever the word would be.
Freelancing means inevitable down times. So I do my own thing which helps me stay sharp. It’s not a chore I need force myself into. Though I admit the writing is more of a labor contrasted with the drawing. I enjoy the challenge. It’s always more satisfying the harder it is to do well.
Anyway, I’m not sure you can deliberately trick your own mind that successfully. On some level you’re always in on the trick. It’s like cheating at solitaire. Even if you win, you always know you didn’t. Similarly, that’s why I don’t understand plagiarism. What satisfaction is there in getting credit for what you didn’t do?
vonC: In your About section you question why can’t other people make drawing look so easy. It’s a good question. What is it that makes one person pick a particular skill set to develop over another? I’m interested in your perspective. What made you chose your direction rather than another? Was there ever another direction you had considered? If so, what was it?
*Terry: *It’s a mystery, much like the first question. Who knows? To me it’s like asking “What was it like to grow up in the 60s?” The only answer is, “It was like childhood.” I mean, unless you’re reincarnated what other growing up experience can you compare it to? Like Popeye said, “I yam what I yam and that’s all that I yam.”
Sometimes I feel I didn’t really choose my career arc, it just sort-of happened without a roadmap or anything. I started as a production artist, then became a designer. I don’t think I was all that good at it, nor was it satisfying. I always wanted to be a gag cartoonist, but that’s a very tough market and I’m not prolific enough to stick it out. So I did the next best thing I could do, straddle the cartoon/illustration world.
So I sell a few gags, a few illustrated humor bits and do humorous illustrations. I won’t claim to be among the best, and I ain’t getting rich, but it’s a living.
vonC: You also indicate that your direction might be more of a predisposition, you compared it to bragging about being tall, that it might be something like a genetic predisposition. This is perhaps a question for the “Infrequently Answered,” but… nature versus nurture, which has had more influence on you, and which do you think effects most of humanity? (I really just want to read how you answer this)
Terry: I could speculate, but would it be valid? I don’t know enough to offer a good guess as to which dominates in what situation. Plus it gets complicated because environment can effect genetics. Genes can be switched on or off by external factors. So you have to ask, is that nature or nurture?
That being said, I don’t think we’re born a blank slate to be molded any-which-way by society. On the other hand, a person can be aculturated into most any set of beliefs. Separating culture from personality is problematic. It’s a hazy area.
About the only thing I’m fairly sure of is men’s and women’s brains are different from birth. Consider, there are people who claim to be a woman trapped in a man’s body. Well, how would they know if there weren’t a difference?
vonC: Do you have any formal training? If so, where and what have you studied?
Terry: I went to art school for a year and a half. Center for Creative Studies School of Art and Design, in Detroit. So I have a little formal training, but just basic stuff.
My pet peeve about art schools is they have no business classes. You know, it’s all fine a good to teach someone to draw, but they need to know how to translate that into making a living. Not that there’s any sure-fire way, but perhaps if they taught the business end they’d graduate more professionals and fewer… sorry, starting to sound crabby.
All the same, the great thing about the art biz, you don’t need a degree or a cv. In all my years nobody has ever asked about my qualifications for the job. Your bag speaks for itself.
vonC: I think your advice for practicing is ultimately the best advice anyone can give anyone for the development of any skill. Do you have any advice on how to convince one’s self to practice when they’d rather not? Any stick-to-it encouragement?
Terry: That’s a tough one. I can’t say I know any good tricks for that. I suppose it helps if you enjoy what you do so practice is something you want to do. I guess I’m spoiled, it’s never been a chore for me to draw.
On a possibly related note, I would say this to anyone who wants to freelance from home. Get dressed and go to “work” with regular hours. Don’t sleep until noon and sit around in your pjs. In other words, be professional.
vonC: I think your best advise on drawing comics is found at the Suck School of Comic Art. I still laugh all the way through. Do you still stand by the principles taught there?
Terry: Thanks. They’re not so much principles as timeless, bendy guidelines. To paraphrase someboby-or-other, “There is a fine line between principles and guidelines. I have erased that line.”
vonC: There are quite a few of your illustrations and diagrams I’d love to have hanging up at work and/or at home. Do you ever make prints of your work available at all? I’d imagine much of the work you do would be up to the discretion of the publications that you some of your work for, but how would someone go about getting copies of your work?
Terry: Actually, most clients buy only the first-time rights to illustrations. After that the copyright reverts to me.
Since the finished art exists as digital files on the computer there are no originals to be had. I have sent signed prints to a few folks, but it’s a hassle because I don’t have a quality printer at the studio and have to send them out. But if you’re willing to pay me for time and materials we might work something out. That goes for anyone reading this, too.
vonC: I love your Space Warps and Wefts article. It’s filled with more question marks than most articles. It’s loaded with questions I’ve asked myself over the years, as well as questions I had never even considered asking until now. However, I have taken a look the plasma-electric alternative universe model that you pointed to at the end, and I’m still scratching my head. Any chance you might be posting an illustrated introduction to the plasma-electric universe theory? Something akin to your “How Planes Can Fly“?
Terry: Maybe some day. Though I tend to think not. Electricity is one of those things I just can’t seem to get a good grasp on. I mean, AC, DC, ohms, watts, amperes, volts, Z pinch, Birkland currents… I get as confused as an infant at a topless bar.
vonC: I like finding your work in places least expected, but I probably miss tons of your printed work out there. Any projects your working on, in particular, that we should be looking forward to?
Terry: You’re probably not missing tons. A few trade pubs that don’t make it to the general public. I don’t work as much as I’d like. What can I say, I’m a bit too nonchalant for my own good when it comes to seeking out clients. Yep, as long as the bills get paid, I don’t worry.
I am working on a second bit about bicycles for my site. Seems there’s a lot of misconceptions among the layity and arguments among the experts about how they stay balanced and stable. I have my own theory which I’ve worked out with my own tests. Whether that’s worth looking forward to is for you to say.
vonC: Well that’s it.
Terry: And that’s it for me, too.
Visit the following links to learn more about Terry Colon and his work: