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Maria Scrivan

Any day now the 303rd Quaz will put “claustrophobic tomato” to use. Until then, the brain and pen behind the hilarious “Half Full” comic strip will just keep making people laugh.

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The coolness of this interview series is that subjects come from all corners of the planet. I’ve found Quazes on Twitter, Quazes on Facebook, Quazes in Major League clubhouses, Quazes in diners, Quazes in the hallways of my old high school, Quazes in small Mississippi music clubs.

Today’s Quaz was discovered taped to a cash register.

I don’t mean literally. But back in December, I was buying coffee at a small spot in Los Angeles when, while paying, I came across a comic strip created by someone named Maria Scrivan. It was Santa Claus with a bunch of boxes, saying, “Thank God for Amazon Prime.” Two things happened:

A. I chuckled aloud.

B. I thought to myself, “Anyone who drew this needs to be a Quaz.”

Hence, here we are. Maria Scrivan is the talent behind the syndicated strip “Half Full,” as well as myriad greeting cards, mugs, T-shirts, etc. She’s ridiculously talented, ridiculously funny and one hell of a Q&A.

One can visit her website here, check out her daily panel here, follow her on Facebook here, Twitter here and Instagram here.

Maria Scrivan, life is complete and you need not draw again.

You’ve been Quazed …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Maria, so I’m in a coffee shop right after Christmas and I’m at the counter paying, and there’s a strip of yours hanging there, clipped from a newspaper. It’s Santa with a bunch of boxes, saying, “Thank God for Amazon Prime.” I loved it, Tweeted it out, it got re-Tweeted, then re-Tweeted and re-Tweeted. And here we are—all because I went to a new coffee shop I found on Yelp after dropping my kids at the airport. And I starting thinking—how does the viral world affect you, and the business of comic strips? I mean, back in the day you’d see Family Circus in your newspaper—and that’s it. How has the game changed, and how does that make people in your shoes change?

MARIA SCRIVAN: As a cartoonist, having my comic clipped out and hung on a fridge is a big compliment. A coffee shop, even better. Especially one on the other side of the country.

The viral world adds another dimension to how artists connect with their audience. That newspaper clipping took an extra trip around the world thanks to your tweet and the subsequent re-tweets. Artists now have the opportunity to reach a tremendous audience, however they are also competing with a sea of other artists. At the same time, there are now so many more channels available to distribute your work.

The internet has caused artists to become more resourceful and has given us a new set of tools. Self-publishing, online stores and fundraising websites like Kickstarter and Patreon are helping artists create new opportunities for themselves.

The Internet isn’t going anywhere so we have to embrace it and figure out how to make it work for us. Luckily, artists are creative not only in how they produce their work but how it is presented to the world. Artists will always evolve.

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J.P.: I know you’re from Cos Cob, Connecticut, attended Greenwich High and Clark University; know you worked in an animation studio for a spell. But how did this happen for you? Having your own strip? Syndication? What’s the path?

M.S.: I had an incredibly windy path. Immediately after college, I worked at an animation studio creating hand-drawn cel animation. The studio slowed down a bit so I took at job at an interactive ad agency as an art director. We were creating some of the first websites and ad banners, and trying to persuade our clients to put their URL on their printed campaigns. I was there for about two years when I decided to start my own graphic design and web design business. That detour lasted about 15 years. I was doing some illustration and animation work, but something was missing.

By 2009, I could no longer deny my passion to be a cartoonist. I started writing and drawing cartoons and posting them to a blog called Open Salon, which was part of Salon.com. Every week, the editors would choose their favorites and put them on the home page. I ended up on the home page every week for 26 weeks and eventually was picked up by Salon.com. After that, I started submitting to magazines. In 2010, I sold a large batch of cartoons to Parade Magazine. Shortly after that, I sold to MAD Magazine, Prospect magazine and Funny Times.

In 2013, I was asked to do a guest week for syndicated cartoonist Hilary Price for her comic “Rhymes with Orange.” Her comic is in my hometown paper and I was thrilled to see my comic in the funny pages. It was a childhood dream come true. I continued to submit to magazines and to the syndicates. A few months later, Universal Uclick asked if I wanted to be syndicated online on GoComics.com with my comic, “Half Full.” I chose to do seven comics a week because my goal was to become syndicated in print as well.

A few months later, the newspapers in Stamford and Greenwich asked me if I wanted to be in the comic pages seven days a week. I was self-syndicated until 2015 when “Half Full” was picked up by Tribune Content Agency. “Half Full” is now distributed to newspapers nationwide including the Los Angeles Times.

I started submitting to greeting card companies in 2011 and license my work to eight companies in the US and UK. I also license my work for checks and T-shirts along with having my own online store that sells prints, mugs and T-shirts.

J.P.: There’s a panel of yours that I absolute love—a balloon animal and a porcupine having tea, and the porcupine, serious look on her face, says, “It’s not you, it’s me.” OK, so I love breakdowns. Soup to nuts, how did you come up with the idea, create it? How long did it take? When do you know something is done and ready?

M.S.: I start by brainstorming and let the ideas fly all over the page. I make connections, add twists and write a list of usable gags. I keep a constant sketchbook and also jot down ideas on my phone. If I’m running or driving, I ask Siri to save the idea. Every once in a while, he really screws it up. I once found “claustrophobic tomato” in my notes and have no idea what that was meant to be.

Sometimes a complete idea shows up in a flash all at once and other times it appears in bits and pieces that need to marinate. I keep notebooks of gags that I refer back to. Sometimes, months later, I will revisit a fragment of an idea and will be able to complete the gag. I use Evernote to organize my ideas for cartoons, books and greeting cards.

I usually write first, but some of my favorite ideas develop from doodling or happen organically as I’m working on the comics. I mostly draw in the studio but I love working out ideas and writing in diners and coffee shops. It’s nice to have an opportunity to kick off my bunny slippers and see what the rest of humanity looks like.

If I have the ideas in advance, I can usually draw seven comics in a day in both panel and strip format. Sometimes they spill over into the next day. Then I use the rest of the week to work on greeting cards, books and administrative details. I usually work six days a week, sometimes more, sometimes less. I like to work very far ahead of deadline.

The work is done when I can’t add any more or take away any more away.

J.P.: I read something about you that jumped off the page—“I had every Garfield book there was. I studied them.” My kids are 13 and 10 and have been obsessed with Garfield books for years. There have been thousands of cartoons, comics through the years. What is it about Garfield?

M.S: I was 7 or 8 when I first was interested in Garfield. At the time, I guess the allure was a cat with attitude. I loved the simplicity of the panels, the humor and the expressions. I also loved Chuck Jones and Sandra Boynton for many of the same reasons.

I met Jim Davis at the National Cartoonist Society Reuben Awards in 2012. He gave a panel and spoke about Garfield’s evolution. As the newspaper panels shrunk, Garfield’s eyes got bigger so you could see his expressions even in a small space. He also has a consistent formula to what type of jokes appears on different days of the week.

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J.P.: Do you ever put something out there and a week later think, “Jesus Christ, that sucked”? If so, how often? And what causes a shift of moods/feelings on a project?

M.S.: I certainly have comics that are not my favorite.

What I find fascinating is when a cartoon that I cringe at gets a tremendous response and one that I think is the best idea I’ve ever had gets a resounding symphony of crickets. Go figure.

As far as a shift in mood, the only thing I can think about is a recent children’s book I’ve been working on that went through so many iterations, I lost the story. That was frustrating for a while but after giving it the chance to sit and marinate, I realize that it will have an even better outcome than before.

 J.P.: Print newspapers are dying a very fast death. How does that impact you? The business?

M.S.: That’s interesting because the reason we are having this conversation is because you saw one of my strips clipped out from the newspaper. I don’t think someone can have an interview with a cartoonist without asking that question (also: “How do you get your ideas?”, “What pen do you use?” and if you’re a woman, “What’s it like being a woman cartoonist?”)

Media will always evolve. Just because we have Spotify doesn’t mean radio will cease to exist. Netflix hasn’t wiped out the movie theaters. Creative people are incredibly resourceful. We will always find a place for our work. We are positioned to reach a much larger audience in many different ways. I look at syndication as a cog in the wheel of my creative profession that includes newspapers, magazines, an online presence, greeting cards, licensing and books.

J.P.: You do greeting cards. My complaint with greeting cards is they’re rarely funny. You know, I walk through CVS, looking for a chuckle—nothing. So Maria, how do you approach a greeting card? How do you make one funny?

M.S.: My panel comics translate really well into greeting cards, so theoretically, they’re made to be funny.

I like to find gags that will resonate with the recipient and avoid mean-spirited humor. I write a lot about my own experiences and what I observe about different holidays and occasions. In a world of writing a generic “Happy Birthday” on a Facebook wall or sending a text with a cake emoji, I think greeting cards are more important than ever. I love sending and receiving mail. You can’t decorate the envelope of a text or pick out just the right stamp. It’s a nice surprise to find good news in the mailbox.

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J.P.: Greatest moment of your career? Lowest?

M.S.: There have been so many great moments. Selling my first batch cartoons to Parade Magazine, getting published in MAD, getting online syndication on GoComics, getting print syndication by Tribune, having piles and piles of greeting cards I’ve created. All of that, and I feel like I’m just getting started.

By far, the best thing that has happened is all of the meaningful connections and friendships I’ve made with other cartoonists and artists.

Some of the lowest were the collection of rejections, but I’m used to them by now. Rejection is just part of the process. Another low point was discovering Internet trolls. It’s too bad they exist. I learned quickly not to feed them. Luckily, my work gets mostly positive feedback, which is another high point. I’m thrilled to get emails that my comics are making someone laugh.

 J.P.: Maria, I’m horrified by the words “President Donald Trump.” Scared, anxious, horrified. You find humor in everyday things. Should I be finding humor in this man?

M.S.: I think humor is the only way people are going to be able to get through this, along with continued actions to make their voices heard.

I was at the Women’s March on DC and it was an incredible moving mass of positive energy. People were outrageously kind and courteous to each other while peacefully dissenting.

I do find humor in every day things, but it does not mean those things start out funny. Some of the funniest gags come from things that are annoying, frustrating or painful. Almost anything that evokes a powerful emotion can be turned into something funny (after the fact, I’m usually not laughing while it’s happening).

J.P.: How do you work through writer’s block? I imagine there are times when you’re like, “Crrrrrraaaaaaaap … nothing.” So what to do?

M.S.: I don’t experience writer’s block too often. Creating a daily comic for almost four years has given my gag writing muscles a pretty consistent workout.

The more I write and draw, the more freely the ideas appear. My workload keeps expanding organically. There are moments when I wonder if I will run out of ideas but they keep showing up and I’ve learned to trust that process. I keep a pretty consistent routine and I think that helps tremendously. I also make a conscious effort of writing down ideas as I have them throughout the day. I keep notes in my phone and refer back to them when I sit down to write my gags. It is so much easier to have bits and pieces to work with instead of sitting down cold.

If I get really stuck or I’m not having fun, I’ll do something different. Sometimes going for a run or a bike ride helps. I call it “gone fishin’” (for ideas) and even if I don’t get something while I’m running or cycling, it usually jostles my brain enough to get things flowing. Walks, car rides or any kind of movement also helps.

If I’m so outrageously stuck that I’m completely unproductive, I’ve learned to just do something else. Administrative stuff, errands, something fun.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH MARIA SCRIVAN:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Stamford Town Center, Scooby Doo, Natalie Portman, Bananarama, Olive Garden, 1,000 Points of Light, Joe Lieberman, Cesar Cedeno, Toys R Us, Anderson Cooper, A Walk To Remember, James Madison, San Francisco: I don’t think I can! The best I can do is to tell you that I love Scooby Doo and I love San Francisco. Also, thank you for the “Cruel Summer” ear worm.

• You have to go on vacation (and have a nice time) with three cartoonists, who do you pick?: I could never pick just three! I have so many amazing and hilariously fun cartoonist friends.

• Would you rather spend the next three months only drawing stick figures or lick clean the bathroom floors of Yankee Stadium after a game?: Stick figures can be very expressive. The other option isn’t an option at all.

• My daughter wants Snapchat. She’s 13. We say no. Thoughts?: I’m not a Snapchatter so it’s hard for me to say. I can, with confidence, advise her to avoid all things Kardashian.

 • Five reasons one should make Stamford his/her next vacation destination?: It’s not really a vacation destination which is part of the appeal of living here. There are great roads for cycling, trails for hiking, pretty beaches and it’s a short trip to New York City. I’m not sure what the tourist appeal would be. I guess Stamford is a nice place to live but I wouldn’t want to visit there.

• When I was in junior high a bully named John beat me up. Some 25 years later, do I have any right still holding a grudge? Or should I just forgive the guy?: All I can think about is that quote: “Resentment is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Doesn’t every one get beat up in junior high? If not physically, then certainly emotionally. Especially if you’re a girl.

 • One question you would ask Earl Thomas were he here right now?: Why does a 60 minute Super Bowl game take three and a half hours?

• What do your shoes smell like?: I ran this question by a few friends and they agreed that this sounds like something somebody with a fetish might ask. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

• Tell me your best joke: I would but it’s NSFW.

• Tupac, Pearl Jam, Joan Baez, Yes, ELO and Journey were elected to the Roll and Roll Hall of Fame recently. Rank who you consider to be most-to-least deserving: It wouldn’t  be fair for me to say. I recently dusted off an old Yes album (downloaded it on Spotify) and ELO’s “Don’t Bring Me Down” always manages to make it’s way onto one of my playlists.

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