Meet a Local Cartoonist: A Chat with Joe Sutliff
I've run into Joe Sutliff at a couple of local cartoonist events in the past month and a half, and discovered that he's a stay-at-home dad working at making a career in cartooning at the same time. As his daughter reaches her tweens, Joe's positioning himself to be more aggressive about pursuing his career. His Web-comic project, Drawn Like Hell, should premiere next month.
Washington City Paper: What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?
Joe Sutliff: Right now I do several types—I do editorial work for some local and national magazines, educational (well, sorta) for Fairfax County's Health Department, I have a regular spot in the Rock Creek Free Press (a locally written, nationally distributed free "9-11 truth" publication) and I'm developing several strips, comic book and graphic novel projects, as well as experimenting with some new electronic formats.
WCP: When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born?
JS: 1956 in Washington DC.
WCP: Why are you in Washington now? What neighborhood or area do you live in?
JS: Here's where it's at, or was at, for a young cartoonist. Not so much these days. I'm in Centreville, Va., which is now a suburb, but back in the day was way out country.
WCP: What is your training and/or education in cartooning?
JS: I went to school at Carnegie Mellon University, but I've been cartooning since grade school at Our Lady of Lourdes in Bethesda, and later with the Jesuits at Georgetown Prep. All that religious education developed my wit, while CMU developed my penmanship (or lack therof).
WCP: Who are your influences?
JS: The old New Yorker crowd, especially George Booth and Charles Addams, but also Saxon and, going back further, Peter Arno. All of them, and Don Martin from MAD, Arnold Roth and all the cartoonists from Playboy—but I swear I only looked at it for the cartoons.
WCP: If you could, what in your career would you do-over or change?
JS: Everything I have ever drawn—I always want to rework things. Careerwise, I would have focused on my cartooning first, instead of as a secondary career, but I got married kinda young and there was a need for income. So maybe I shouldn't have gotten married? That was Milton Glaser's advice—really, he said if you stay single you're more likely to take risks and live off of peanut butter sandwiches for longer. Of course, my wife wouldn't agree with him, and we've been married 30 years.
WCP: What work are you best-known for?
JS: I had some regular features which were well known—right now my work for Science Magazine is sent all over the world. Even my sister-in-law was impressed when she heard about it.
WCP: What work are you most proud of?
JS: I wrote and drew a cartoon I call "men are scum"—my best New Yorker-type work. Of course, I never submitted it.
WCP: What would you like to do or work on in the future?
JS: I have so many projects I'd like to develop it makes my head spin—two are a collection of military cartoons that would sell as a fundraiser for wounded veterans, and the other is a type of nonlinear storytelling.
WCP: What do you do when you're in a rut or have writer's block?
JS: That's never been a problem—in fact, just the opposite—make the ideas stop!
WCP: What do you think will be the future of your field?
JS: I'm thinking alfalfa or, if the USDA changes their mind, hemp. Seriously? I am super-optimistic. I think the iPad and iPhone are just the beginning of a content-driven media frenzy. Animation and talking books have their place, but are too slow for effective storytelling. With printing costs eliminated, it will all be about the material, and good writing and good illustration, especially cartooning, will be in demand again. Self-publishing will be a practical reality for the first time.
WCP: What's your favorite thing about D.C.?
JS: Batman. The international setting. Lots of good ethnic food.
WCP: Least favorite?
JS: The traffic—damn out-of-towners are everywhere.
WCP: What monument or museum do you take most out-of-town guests to?
JS: Air and Space because they want to, Hirshhorn because I want to.
WCP: Do you have a website or blog?