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PCR #139  (Vol. 3, No. 47)  This edition is for the week of November 18--24, 2002.

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La Floridiana by Will Moriaty

"La Floridiana " proudly presents Part One of a Two-Part interview with the lead artist of the World-Famed comic strip, "Blondie",
Denis Lebrun

William Moriaty

The Bumstead family America's true "First Family", the Bumsteads. L--R: Dagwood, Blondie, Daisy, Alexander and Cookie. An American institution, the comic strip "Blondie" was introduced by creator Chic Young in 1930 during America's Great Depression. The strip still flourishes today appearing in 2,300 newspapers worldwide in 40 countries with a readership estimated at 350,000,000. The strip is translated into 35 different languages, making it a true "Goodwill Ambassador" from the United States.
copyright 2002 King Features Syndicate Inc. World Rights Reserved

Denis LebrunOn September 12, 2002, I was fortunate enough to conduct an interview with Florida Folk Hero and best friend Denis Lebrun, who is the primary artist for the world-famed King Features Syndicate comic strip "Blondie". Enjoy!

William Moriaty: On behalf of myself and all of the staff here at Crazed Fanboy and Nolan's Pop Culture Review, I want to express what an honor and privilege it is to have the opportunity to conduct this interview with you. To give our readers a time line perspective, let's go back to the beginning of your relationship with the strip. When did you first meet the strip's owner, Dean Young, and how were you able to negotiate such a meeting?

Denis Lebrun: It was 1977 and they were doing a story for the Tampa Times, which at the time was a part of Channel 8. I guess it went out of publication sometime in 1978.

Will: 1982--the final edition was in 1982.

Denis: Anyway, they were doing a little story on a few cartoonists in the area; Fred Laswell was one of them, Hal Foster, and Dean Young and myself. At the time I was doing a comic strip called "Aw Heck" at the Times, and so they put the four of us in this Saturday edition of what they called "Accent", a little tabloid they put in Saturday's paper, and at the time Dean had read and seen the story and everything, and didn't realize that the guy doing that strip was local, and that's pretty much how we met. He asked the writer, Panky Glomms at the time, her name is Panky Snow now, for my phone number, and then he called me up.

Will: At that time Denis, after the meeting, did you do any type of work for Blondie? And, if so, what type of work did you do for the strip?

Denis: Well, at that time we started talking about gags-- writing gags; and that was primarily what he was interested in at first. He was working on a play at the time and was out of town quite often. I guess between that and not being able to put out enough good material, it just kind of fizzled out. It was a year later after initially meeting him in '77, I believe probably in the area of about '78 and '79, when I had contact with him again. A few times then I may have done something as far as gags and everything. We had done a CBS Special together where I was the "up and coming" cartoonist. At the time I was 19 or 20 years old and it was a big thrill-- and I think it wasn't until 1980 when he called me up and he asked me if I wanted to come aboard, that Jim Raymond had been sick, and they were looking ahead and something needed to be done in order to help Mike Gersher.

Strip from 4-21-02
copyright 2002 King Features Syndicate Inc. World Rights Reserved
The day-to-day everyman life of Dagwood Bumstead runs the gamut from the somewhat pedestrian planting a tree for his wife on Arbor Day to the more exotic realm of having nightmares of an alien abduction. (See below)

Will: In the winter of 1982 Jim Raymond regrettably passed away as a result of cancer. At that time you were an art director for the Burlington Free Press in Burlington, Vermont and I presume that Mr. Young called you with the news about Raymond's passing and the need for a new artist.

Denis: He called me prior to that.

Will: Oh, okay. What was the game plan that Dean had in mind for you after Mr. Raymond's death? In other words, what were you originally tasked for doing on this strip?

Denis: I was the assistant to Mike Gersher and I did the backgrounds, and lettering, and anything else that came up that needed to get done for the strip. Mike Gersher was pretty much the lead artist at the time.

Will: As early as 1983 I remember your great respect for Jim Raymond's work on the strip. Why is it such an important element, in your estimation, to return as much of the Raymond look as possible to the strip?

Denis: Jim Raymond's style is the style that contributed to the overall look of the strip. The style itself is such an integral part of the strip's success, that I look at it as" how in the world could you improve on something that really was not only successful, but also looked great?" It wasn't a matter of "well gee, it really doesn't look that great, but it's successful, so why change it?" It was successful and it looked great! And so, with those kinds of odds, who am I to sit here and try to make it look better or change it? There have been some changes, which is inevitable, that I would deem as just being two different persons-I'm a right handed person, where he was a left handed person-- and that right there would change some of the way the pen strokes look, but for the most part, I try to do them as close to Jim Raymond's style as I absolutely, possibly can. I've never had a reason or an ego to try to make it my own thing. I certainly love his style and adore his style, and thought he was one of the greatest cartoonists ever.

Will: I have a great respect for that philosophy, and also that you're helping to reinforce the continuity of the strip, rather than reinventing the wheel, so to say.

Denis: That's right, and like I said, I wouldn't be able to improve on that. And you know, the style is really something I like to do anyway. I love the thick and thin lines, the gracefulness of the lines, and there is so much interest in looking at the artwork itself. We've had people call us--cartoonists who have been around for many, many years, who just wanted to call and say that "I wanted to thank you and tell you that I've admired the work for so long." It's real good to know another fellow cartoonist felt that they needed to call you--and I don't even know these people--it's really nice when that happens. You get, of course, letters and everything, but when fellow pros call you and say that this stuff is just great--keep it up", that's just great! Fred Laswell, though, on the other hand, told me that I was a dinosaur because I would draw with a thick and thin pen point, and he said, "You know, we're the last of the breed". I jokingly replied, "no, I'm a young dinosaur and you're an old dinosaur--you're from a whole different era--the Jurassic--and I'm a Wooly Mammoth!"

Strip from 6-15-02
copyright 2002 King Features Syndicate Inc. World Rights Reserved
The very weird nightmare sequence...

Will: Just on a personal note, I would certainly hate to see what I call a "line hierarchy", in other words, that thickness and thinness you're talking about, be an element that we lose in both comic book and comic strip illustration because it affords such a wonderful dimension to the work. Just using a 0.5 Pentel pen alone to me just does not cut it as far as getting that depth, richness, and even texture to a degree, to the product. Please forgive me for digressing here. Getting back to the history, Mike Gersher was the strip's lead artist until 1984. Shortly after that, veteran illustrator Stan Drake was brought on board as the lead artist, which he retained up until his death in May 1997. Do you know, or have any insights on what led Mr. Young to select Drake for this position?

Denis: Well, Stan had been around for many years doing The Heart of Juliet Jones and he was thought of as one of the best illustrators around. Blondie was not the average comic strip; Blondie art was, and still is, a combination of anatomically drawn characters with a cartoon-like exaggeration. Now Blondie's character has more anatomically correct features than Dagwood's character does. Blondie might be--well I'll go out on a limb--and say she might be embellished a little bit.

Will: I do find it interesting that Mr. Young went with an artist who had a background almost more in the fine arts type of illustration, such as in the category of John Cullen Murphy or Hal Foster, as opposed to someone with more of a cartoon look to their work, such as Johnny Hart or someone like that. Was Mr. Young's choice to go with Stan's experience because you had only been on board for about two years, rather than throw you right into the fray? Do you think this would have been part of his thinking?

Denis: It had to be, and I know it was, the fact that I was at the time 25 years old and that it was the most prudent decision for the near future to give it to someone with more experience. Looking at it now--of course I looked at it differently then--that was probably the best solution they could've made at the time. When you mention "Mr. Young", are you talking about Dean?

Will: Yeah--I'm talking about Dean Young and not Chic. I do want to specify to the audience that's Chic Young, who I believe passed away in 1973...

Denis: Right.

Will: ...was the actual creator of the strip.

Denis: He created it in 1930. His son, Dean, took over in 1973 after he died. Dean had worked for his father at least ten years before Chic died.

Will: When the strip was still drawn in a pencil and ink format, what type of pen points did you use?

Genius at work
The Master at Work! Coordinating a keyboard with his left hand and drawing on a Wacom tablet with a stylus with his right, "Blondie" artist Denis Lebrun creates a "daily" strip featuring a 3/4th view of Dagwood on a Macintosh G-4 computer. (More about this fascinating technique next week in Part 2!)
Denis: We used a Gillott--that was prior to the other type of pen point as the Gillott company seemed to disappear from the market. After that I used a Hunt 103, which is a very flexible pen point. I think, but I might be wrong about this, but in comic books, because you know more about comic books than I do as that's your area-- you were drawing them--I thought they used brush more than steel pens or pens, for inking.

Will: Well, that's a good point, Denis. There was a lot of brush used and that's a medium that I preferred when I did do inking. To show you that I'm a dinosaur too, I've not really been keeping up with comic books for almost 15 years or so, but the look of many current mainstream comics that I have read demonstrate that the use of brush and line hierarchy in the inking has pretty much gone away and a lot of them are now computer-generated, all the way from the inking to the coloring itself. Some of the independent and underground comic books still rely on the brush and line hierarchy methods, however. So comic books are changing and evolving like any other science, and pretty rapidly at that with the advent of computer applications. In the pencil and ink days, how far away from the publishing dates did you need to complete and mail the strips?

Denis: It's always been the same--it's about five weeks for dailies and eight to nine weeks on the Sundays. They were delivered to the syndicate back then, almost from the get-go when I started on Blondie, by Fed Ex. Back then, FedEx had just about started, the company itself had only been around a little while, but not for very long, and so FedEx was definitely the way the originals were delivered, and not long after that the Post Office had overnight deliveries, which back then I thought were just spectacular for me. You could work right up to the last day before the deadline if you needed to--you could work on them up until a Thursday to get them to the syndicate on a Friday. I thought that was amazing! Now you can e-mail the originals an hour, or even minutes, before the deadline.

Next Week--"La Floridiana" will feature Part Two of its in-depth interview with Denis Lebrun. We will be discussing changes that have occurred to the strip over the years, how advances in technology have effected the production of the strip, see what Denis's typical work week consists of, and get a glimpse into Denis's personal favorite comic illustrators and his ways of relaxing in the fiercely competitive and demanding comic strips field. All next week in Nolan Canova's Pop Culture Review!

"La Floridiana" is ©2002 by William Moriaty. "Blondie" is a trademarked name and all art and distinctive likenesses used in this article are copyright 2002 King Features Syndicate Inc. World Rights Reserved. Check out the website at www.blondie.com  Pagetop caricature of William Moriaty by Denis Lebrun.   The "La Floridiana"  webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova.   All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2002 by Nolan B. Canova.