Luann's Greg Evans: Thinking Like a Teenager
interview by matthew webber
Week 1: Monsters, Inc.'s Pete Docter: Telling Stories
Nationally syndicated cartoonists and Hollywood animators visited Marceline, Mo., Sept. 18 to speak and draw for the sixth annual Toonfest. At this all-day festival, the artists discussed their craft, as well as the legacy of Walt Disney, who lived in this small town from 1906 to 1911. In individual interviews, the artists shared their ideas on art, creativity, and dreams while acknowledging Disney's influence.
Greg Evans has been drawing his comic strip about a teenage girl, Luann, since 1985. He won this year's National Cartoonists Society Reuben award for Cartoonist of the Year. In this week's interview, Evans discusses growing up in the shadow of Disney and keeping up with teenage girl culture - although he claims to be the world's oldest working cartoonist.
How did you feel when you won the cartoonist of the year award?
Greg Evans: Very, very excited. Very pleased. That "I'm not worthy" feeling kicks in. You think of the rich history and the tradition that you're joining. But it's a great feeling. It really is.
How did you get inspiration to draw a comic about a teenage girl? Clearly, you're not a teenage girl.
The strip was inspired by my daughter, who was about six years old. And she would dress up in mom's high heels and put on lipstick, and I thought, "This is a great idea for a comic strip," but as I began working on it, I thought, you know, the real fun in life starts when you become a teenager. So I aged my character to 13. So that was how the strip began. And then my daughter, of course, quickly became 13, quickly became 25, so now I get my inspiration mainly from magazines and watching teen-oriented shows and just kind of having my antenna up.
Do you like that sort of thing? Do you feel like it keeps you young, like it keeps you in tune with the youth culture?
Yeah. I'm 106, and you wouldn't know.
I had no idea. You don't look a day over 100.
Who are some of your favorite cartoonists today?
Well, I admire them all. How's that for a political answer? But my inspiration when I was younger was, well, actually Walt Disney, because I grew up in Burbank just a couple of blocks from the Disney studio. I always loved the Disney characters. Then I got into MAD magazine. I'm a huge fan of Mort Drucker. And then Charles Schulz just blew me away with how he could create such a complex, nuanced world in a such a simple way in the comics, and that was a great inspiration to me.
Do you feel the comics have changed since you started? And where do you see them going from here?
When I started - Well, comics have always evolved through different stages. They were very social-political commentary in the beginning, then they softened and went into, well, there was the adventurer series and stage of comics. And then they sort of evolved into the gag-a-day strips, and now they're sort of evolving back into social relevance. I think that's a trend that we're going to see more of. So the comics page has really become like a Chinese buffet, there's a little of everything for everybody, and you go in and find what you like.
Your strip, Luann, doesn't typically deal with politics. Do you feel it's the place of a comics artist to do that? Should strips be topical? Or should they just be a laugh for people?
I think comics should first and foremost be entertaining, whether that's humor or drama or emotion or relationship issues, it just needs to be engaging and entertaining. Politics, I don't know. I don't like to see politics in comic strips. I think there's another venue for that on the editorial page and so forth. So I'm not a big fan of strips that are heavily political. But I do like strips that have interesting, intriguing characters. I mean, I love Doonesbury for that very reason. It's political, but you can care and identify with a lot of the characters. As long as a strip has rich and interesting characters, I think there's a place for it.