Thursday, June 12, 2014

One Big Happy

Following are excepts from an interview with Rick Detorie, who has written and drawn the syndicated One Big Happy newspaper comic strip since 1987. One of his particular strengths is his ability to approach words and the world as children do through the eyes and utterances of Ruthie and Joe, One Big Happy's two young cast members.  

He also has a wicked sense of humor.

I've included some samples of his work.  Look for more online at

When did you know you were a cartoonist?

I was always drawing; it was a part of playtime.  It didn't need to be raining for me to be sitting inside ... drawing, you know, typical little kid stuff: a house, a tree, Mom and Dad inside the house, a plane overhead dropping bombs on the house, the tree, and Mom and Dad.

At about age 7, I pulled the Sunday comics from the Baltimore News American, and started to copy some of the characters from the funnies.  Soon I was drawing variations of those characters and other characters from comic strips and creating my own comic strips.

They gave me a full page in my high school newspaper, and I did a serial strip, similar to Apartment
3-G or Mary Worth -- except it was a sleazy parody, and all the girls looked like Little Annie Fannie.  You might expect such a salacious strip to encounter some opposition in a Jesuit prep school, but all the students were male, and so the only complaints came from a few of the mothers.

Is it tough to draw a comic strip that has to be totally G-rated?

Definitely.  My family strip, based about a family like my own (Baltimore, blue-collar roots, living next door to my dad's parents) was going to be more realistic and a bit edgier.  I couldn't include ALL of the cursing, arguing, drinking and arson ... but still, edgy.

I ran into a snag the first month, when OBH was canceled from the Milwaukee Journal.  I called the features editor myself (something that, I found out later, one should never do) to find out what the problem was.  She ... told me she dropped it, not because any readers had complained, but because she herself found it to be "vicious, mean-spirited and gross."  She later sent examples of what she meant, cutouts of the strip marked with red ink: "Vicious!" "Gross!" "Mean!"

I thought about what she'd said and made some changes.  Now, for example, instead of saying, "I hate you," the kids yell, "I hate your guts!" Stuff like that.  It's now Vicious Lite.

I found out you can't use the word "butt" in a comic strip, or the word "slut" even if it's uttered by a character on a TV soap opera.

Has your family ever gotten mad at you turning their stories into jokes in One Big Happy or one of your books?

Hell, no.  They feed me ideas.  A recent one had my cousin's son, Lance, in preschool.  The teacher was introducing her class to the alphabet, and drew the letter "A" on the board.  "Does anyone know what this is?" she asked.

"Yeah," yelled Lance.  "That's the ace!"

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