What goes on in the mind of man who animates a piece of dryer lint?
Readers may have noticed the addition of the comic strip "Zed" and related panels to the pages of the Westfield Republican and Mayville Sentinel News. Zed's creator, Duane Abel, donated a year's subscription of his syndicated strip after the paper covered his visit to Ripley Central School on Oct. 10, 2012.
"A cartoonist should strive for more from his creation," Abel said in a recent interview. "Your main goal is to build a relationship with the reader that can last for several years and even into several decades. Al Capp, creator of the comic strip series Lil' Amber, detested the term 'cartoonist' and preferred the moniker of 'novelist' by enlisting the media of words and pictures. On the other hand to have the privilege to create something that might very well be the only bright spot of a readers day, is quite an honor. And with the advent of modern technology saturating our culture, it is my hope that the comic will be a safe haven for wholesome family friendly humor because to quote Walt Disney, 'there will always be a market for innocence.'"
Photo by David Prenatt
Cartoonist Duane Abel, pictured here at a presentation he gave at Ripley Central School on Oct. 10, 2012, has donated a year’s subscription of his comic strip Zed to this newspaper.
Abel created Zed when he was 15, getting it published in the local newspaper.
"I said, 'this is what I am going to do for the rest of my life,'" he said.
He became the youngest cartoonist in history to be syndicated when he signed with Future Features Syndicate, shortly after Zed's creation. He continued to promote Zed while he pursued a theatrical degree from the University of Akron. At the age of 25, he then founded his own publishing company, Corkey Comic, which takes its name from his nickname for his wife, Coral.
And who is Zed?
"He is walking, talking dryer lint," Abel said. "My drawing board was always in the basement beside the washer and dryer."
Zed has been compiled into five books so far, including a recently published Christmas book.
Abel said he has a very personal relationship with Zed.
"I've known him longer than my wife or my kids," he said. "It's not satire. It's not political. It's a wholesome, family comic strip. Zed is the kind of guy I wish I could be - hopeful, optimistic and wide-eyed. He is just about the best friend I could have."
As such, Abel said it would be impossible for him to relinquish creative control of Zed.
"As a personal creative outlet, Zed will always work best only if I take 100 percent ownership of the comic strip," he said. "I do not nor will I ever employ an assistant. From writing every word to drawing every panel, a comic strip is the medium in which I am able to communicate fully as an artist am writer. Going back to Mr. Charles Schulz, he stated that 'hiring an assistant for my comic strip is like Arnold Palmer hiring someone to hit his chip shots.'"
The attraction to comic strips has changed through the years, Abel said, but kids can still be drawn to them despite a myriad of other forms of entertainment.
"Sadly the days of running all over town to every newsstand to find the ongoing adventure of your favorite comic strip character are gone," he said. "However there is a great deal of encouragement for the future of the comic strip as can be seen with the success of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Big Nate book series. When a reader latches onto a comic strip and becomes invested in the world created, there is no better feeling."
The draw of comic strips lies in their ability to form a relationship with the reader, Abel said. He cited a recent survey stating 70 percent of newspaper readers turn to the comic page first. He says the reason for that is simple.
"The comics' pages are a short visit with old friends," Abel said. "Some of the longest running strips have had readers turn to them for a laugh every day, for decades. The newspapers first priority is always to report the news. The job of a cartoonist is to produce long lasting relationships between their comic strip and the readers. While the comic strip is not what it once was as far as the newspaper industry is concerned, I could not and would not want to imagine a world without a comics page. It helps to balance out all of the bad news."
Nor is Zed restricted to being a comic strip. Readers will also find a panel called "Helping Mommy," suggesting small ways that children can assist around the house.
"I want my readers to be well rounded kids," Abel said. "A child that enjoys comics and is helpful to their parents is a kid that I would not mind hanging out with. The reason that most of the 'Helping Mommy' panels center on laundry is because no matter how hard I try I can't get too far from the laundry hamper. But don't worry, I will make it around the whole house given enough time."
Abel describes himself as a "horrible multi-tasker" and needs complete concentration to write his strip, which he does at his desk beside the washer and dryer. His main support and inspiration for his strip comes from his wife, Coral.
"Stephen King stated that he always wrote for his 'ideal reader,' which was his wife," Abel said. "I am no different. Believe it or not, if the wives of cartoonists went on strike - let's hope they never unionize - the comics page would come to a screeching halt. Most cartoonists rely on their wives to give that final okay before more time is invested in penciling and inking a comic strip. I am no exception. Thanks Coral."
One of the most gratifying responses Able receives is when he receives mail from children who read his strip.
"I am fortunate to be in a career where I get all kinds of cool surprises in my mailbox," he said. "And for a child who is being overwhelmed with so much vying for their attention, for them to sit in a quiet spot and lovingly render a Zed comic strip, using my characters as their inspiration, my job does not get any better than that."