dinsdag 30 augustus 2011

You say "tomato", Tomato says "Aaahh..!"

Since this blog is about the comics I draw, I suppose I ought to introduce a couple of characters I made up. I will start with "Tomato", as I have made more strips about him than any of my other characters.

Tomato is a man with a head like a tomato, wearing a suit jacket, tie and vest. I never think of him as being actual tomato - more that he's just rather unfortunate looking with his big, round, bright red face. People just call him "Tomato", but he must have a real name, I imagine (he just never tells me what it is...).

It was fine spring day when I first drew him, must have been in the year 2000. I had been re-reading my second-hand copy of "All in Color for a Dime" for about the tenth time - it's a great book about old comics and if you can find a copy, it's well worth it. There's a chapter at the end written by Harlan Ellison entitled "Comics of the Absurd" and it's lovely reading. He describes all sorts of strange comics, where pretty much anything could (and did) happen, and introduces a number of crazy and interesting characters from the stories.

It all sounded pretty fantastic, and it inspired me to try my hand at something a little absurd, something where logic and fact where only secondary to a sense of strangeness and fun. So I sat down and got started.

"Hmmm... you'll need a couple of charcters to draw", I thought - and as soon as I thought it, I knew it was a good idea. Some characters would be damn handy. So I drew the first things that popped into my head - a man with a tomato head and a black cat. I gave the cat a simple sweater to wear and for the tomato - well, I always loved things like suits and ties in comics, they're just fun to look at. So that was that - a cat and a tomato, dressed and ready, so I could begin drawing my tale.

"Hey, Jat - we'd better hurry if we want to get this dubble-decker-mocca-cream-cake to Quiet Willie's party in time!"

"Take it easy, Tom Tomato, we have plenty of time! The party doesn't start til May of next year, remember?"

"Ahoy, laddies! Have you seen my hittin'-stick by any chance?"

It went on like this for four or so pages - eventually they do find his stick (I believe the pirate was in drag at that point) and the cake Tomato so badly wanted to deliver flies out the window - he had used too many flies while baking it, we are told.

It was published in "De Stripper" at the end of 2000, and I really enjoyed drawing it - it was nice to just let my imagination go where it wanted, but at the same time try to make the story have it's own kind of logic.

Being of a very lazy and unproductive nature... it was a couple years later that I finally decided to do another strip featuring Tom Tomato and his pal, Jat the Cat. It was a short half-page comic, with only one other character getting in on the action - the Brown Sprout. He had set Tom Tomato the task of getting him 200 grams of caviar - so Tomato goes fishing in what looks to be a sand trap on a golf course. He has little luck as Jat happens by - only to notice that the Sprout's order had been written on a piece of edible paper (which Jat then eats). Feeling betrayed, Tomato devises a plan to even the score with Brown Sprout:
"There you go, Brown Sprout, 200 grams of fresh caviar."
"Fine, fine, son - give it here. I want to feel it dance on my tongue!"
"Blech! Did you say 200 grams? This is more like 400! Bastard!"

In 2005, I started taking on freelance work. I quickly noticed that to get more jobs drawing stuff, I'd need a more modern, smooth style. So that's what I worked on, and eventually started getting comic and illustration work, mostly for younger readers. At the end of that year, it was announced that the newspaper "Het Parool" was to hold a comic contest. The winner would get his strip published (for money, even) and it sounded like a great oppertunity - so I sat down to work.

I quickly came up with an idea - it was to be a strip about a security-guard working in a shopping mall, drawn in my new style. I came up with a couple of gags and started sketching the first episode... and I sketched it again, and again and again. After about a week, I was getting frustrated - the style wasn't really working out for me, it wasn't very much fun and it just looked pretty rotten. The jokes were kind of stupid, too, actually.

Suddenly I recalled the third Tomato strip I had made, perhaps a year before. It featured Tomato on his own (that cat was too hard to draw, I hated it...), his first name "Tom" had been dropped, and he got his standard attire - jacket, tie and vest. The humor had changed as well - absurd but more violent, perhaps, a little creepier:

"Hey Tomato, wanna cigar? Completely free, man!"
"Well, that sounds great!"
"This isn't one of those cigars from the joke shop - as soon as you light it, it explodes in your face?"
"No way!"
"This only has battery acid in it! If you smoke it, your face starts to melt! Ha ha ha!"

It was also a newspaper type format... "that's handy", I thought, "I'll send in some strips like this one - I even already have one done!" So that Sunday afternoon, I drew, inked and colored a fourth Tomato strip and sent a few in for the contest. They were a lot easier for me to draw than my original idea... and I was having a lot more fun, to tell the truth.

I didn't win, but I did get a strip published as a soort of "runner-up". I remember being pretty excited - I went to the local news stand to order a copy (as it is not a local paper) and a few days later we went to pick it up. I was kind of proud - it was amazing seeing my own work in a newspaper.

Since then I have been sticking to the newspaper format, more or less - Tomato meets up with some creepy people and gets either tortured or killed at the end. A few of the strips have appeared in the Leeuwarder Courant, Viz, and Schokkend Nieuws.

Well, there is that one comic I've been working on for a while now. I even have most of the sketches done - just never find the time to finish it, it seems. Here's two pages, maybe I'll get the other 3 doen sometime. A slightly less violent Tomato, with a bit more of the "absurd" I liked so much when I made him up on the fine spring day.

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