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You're a what? Cartoonist.

How long does it take to scan your favorite cartoon strip? Ten seconds for a laugh, maybe, and then you move on to the next panel. The cartoonist who drew it worked hours to win that chuckle. Being funny is a tough job.

Bud Grace works for hours every day in the attic of his house in Silver Spring, Maryland. "I think every cartoonist starts out in the attic. I've been doing it since I began, 9 years ago." You'd recognize his cartoons when you see them. They've appeared in many of the major magazines in this country and across the Atlantic as well in the British humor magazine Punch, which had been one of his best customers. Past tense is proper because these days he concentrates his energies on "Ernie," a new strip launched in February that's now appearing in more than a hundred papers across the country

"I began working on 'Ernie' more than 2 years ago," says Grace. "My wife was about to have a baby I had to do something to get a steady paycheck." As a freelance cartoonist, he had achieved some success, but little of the stability that he'd sacrificed when he abandoned a career as a physicist in 1979.

Grace earned his doctorate in physics from Florida State University He'd worked for the State government during the energy crisis and was set to retum to a research position at the school. "I didn't want to do it," he says. He'd come to the point, he says, "where I had to make a break," and he did.

But the transition from quarks and neutrons to cartoon gags was not simply a break; it was a quantum leap. Grace had never drawn before; never picked up a pen; never even doodled. "I was thinking about taking up writing or art, but figured that would be too hard. So I kind of fell into the crack between them and decided to become a cartoonist," he says. "As a kid, I'd always loved comic books and strips," he says. "I thought it would be a nice life." Besides, he adds, "I'm kind of a wise guy My personality can get on people's nerves so it's better if I work alone."

About a year before he quit physics, he started drawing cartoons. "Writing gags comes naturally to me. The art work is something I've really had to work at. I think I've come a long way"

He has traveled a long way, but the road to the funny papers isn't paved with smiles. It's a rough journey that twists and tums through rejection and frustration before a glimmer of success appears. It took Grace 8 months to sell his first cartoon. He thought becoming a cartoonist would provide a chance to "scratch his ego." Bruises came first, however. "My ego has been stomped down many times since I began. But, when I went into this, I had no intention of failing," he says. "I just figured that I would keep it up untill was a success."

Gradually, he began to develop some regular customers for his cartoons. His training as a scientist helped him target some magazines such as Omni and Science, where his work frequently appeared. As with a writer, a cartoonist must keep his audience in mind if he wants to sell his work, And selling your work isn't easy "There are probably fewer than a hundred freelance cartoonists that make their living drawing. Many draw part time to supplement their income." He estimates that cartoonists sell 1 of every 5 cartoons that they draw. Some cartoonists are prolific, drawing as many as 30 cartoons a week. As a freelancer, says Grace, "I drew about 10 a week and usually sold 2 or 3." Magazines pay anywhere from $50 to $500 for a cartoon; they average $150.

Every dollar eamed requires persistence and hard work. Grace is at the drawing table from 8 o'clock to 3 every day. "Discipline has never been a problem for me," he says. "To eam a Ph. D. in physics, you have to be pretty disciplined." At first, though, he passed a lot of hours staring at blank paper. The creative muse appeared infrequently But his diligence prompted more regular visits. "There definitely is a muse," he says, "but the more you work at it, the more regularly the muse comes."

With a child on the way, Bud dropped a couple of strips off with King Features Syndicate, Inc., the country's major syndicator of comic strips. Basically, syndicates act as middlemen. They market strips to newspapers around the country and internationally. "Syndicates probably receive a couple of thousand strips a year," says Grace. Take a look at the comics in your own paper and you'll see how few make it. "Any strips that are picked up are unusual, so I've been lucky"

Cartoonists sign contracts with the syndicate , generally for a 50-50 split of sales. "Basically, their responsibility is to make a good-faith effort to sell my strip and pay me a guaranteed minimum," says Grace. "My list of responsibilities is a little longer than that," he says jokingly

Newspaper editors decide which strips to run. That's the first audience a cartoonist must win. And to capture the audience, you need a hook. A cartoon has to be funny, says Grace, but to sell, "each strip needs a hook, something cute or appealing to attract attention, Snoopy is a hook. So is Opus in 'Bloom County' I bet I spend about half my time trying to write a gag with a hook in it," says Grace. He tries to find a common ground that his readers can relate to, "so when someone reads it, they might think, 'Hey, that happened to me once when I was in high school.' "

Finding the hook was not the only new test Grace faced when he began his strip. The single-panel cartoons that he'd drawn "have height and breadth to work with," he says. The physical dimensions of the strip presented a different challenge. "Sometimes I have a tendency to overwrite," he says. "I've really had to learn to use the medium."

Grace draws many of the characters in his strip from his own experiences. "I've known a lot of really strange people in my life," he says. Even if characters are drawn from real life, the cartoonist invests them with their own personalities. "You have to have a feel for your characters," he says, but this empathy can be difficult to develop. "Obviously, I don't know what it's like to be a woman," he says, "so I usually write from Ernie's perspective."

"The trouble with my strip," says Grace, "is that no one is very admirable. They all have some dramatic flaws. Just last week, one of the sales people called me to say that I needed to give Ernie a little more character," he says laughingly "I'm working on it."

"Ernie" runs daily and Sunday in more than a hundred papers across the country. Grace has drawn several months worth of Sunday strips so he can concentrate on the dailies.

Each day, working beneath a silver canopy of insulation that hangs from his attic ceiling, he produces two daily strips. "The dailies have a greater impact," he says. "I get a more immediate reaction to them from the syndicate and the editors, which helps me respond to what they're saying."

The Sunday strip is a little different from the daily It has 12 panels, instead of 4, but the top 3, which lead into the succeeding ones, can be dropped in case the editors need extra space.

The strip is in color, but Grace does not ink in the varying hues. He assigns a numerical code to each part of the strip. The codes correspond to different colors. When the strip goes to the printers, they assign the proper colors.

Cartoon strips battle for space in newspapers. In a very real sense, Grace squares off against "Garfield" and the "Wizard of Id" every day "I definitely feel competition," he says. "Anytime I get into a paper, something has to die. My cousin just called from Spokane to tell me that the local paper picked up 'Ernie' and dropped Andy Capp,"'says Grace with a hint of surprise in his voice. "I don't know how long that will last. Andy Capp' has a big following. I'd rather knock out something weak because I have more of a chance of keeping them out."

Grace enjoys the independence self-employment provides. But freedom has a flip side. "Working alone can be a lonely job," he acknowledges. To break the routine, he'll take a stroll in the woods and do a little bird watching. And some little boy watching, too. He takes care of his son when his wife works.

"I've been lucky"' he says. "Most cartoonists start out drawing as kids. I'm one of the few exceptions. The one piece of advice I would give is to start drawing early Draw until it becomes second nature. Sometimes it's like that with me. I sense it, and it's a very nice feeling. But I've gotten to the point where I can do a good job of faking it, too."
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Title Annotation:Bud Grace
Author:Stanton, Michael
Publication:Occupational Outlook Quarterly
Date:Sep 22, 1988
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