Thursday, May 13, 2010

The T & A you have been waiting for.

Make that a Q&A with Gene Weingarten by Horace LaBadie, the "Barney & Clyde" official historian.

The fans have been incredibly patient, and we have had some goofing around time before the official debut of the strip, but here is some real news about Barney & Clyde, straight from one of the horse's arses that created it.

Little less than a month until the launch date. Time to speak to the Media.

Q: You've described the genesis of the strip from a remark by your son Dan, but who came up with the names of the title characters?

A: We did them together. Some practically wrote themselves: Duane had to be Duane because it is the stupidest name out there, and his last name had to be Butkus because he is a brown nose. Ms. Foxx became Ms. Foxx for obvious reasons. I thought of Lucretia both because of Barney's wealth -- "lucre" -- and because Lucretia has a Borgia-like edge to her. Dan came up with the rabbit's stage name, "Fluffykins McNeedsahug." It was so treacly we knew he needed another name, a less sweet name, to balance it. Now what could that be?

Q: Do you remember the first gag that made you think that there was a strip in the basic idea?

A: Absolutely. We knew it was going to be great when we came up with the first day, which was Barney on a chair, with a noose around his neck, about to hang himself, out of a general existential dissatisfaction with life. Then we got an editor, Amy Lago, who informed us: 1) No hangings. 2) no full-frontal nudity. So the strip had to change a bit.

Q: When did you know that you would need a real artist to do the cartooning for the strip?

A: From the get-go. Dan and I are arseholes, but we are not deluded arseholes.

Q: Did you know what the characters looked like before you found your cartoonist? How much did they evolve from the original concepts to their current looks?

A: We discovered what they looked like as soon as David Clark showed us. It was great to meet them, at last. Here's an interesting tidbit for your historiography: Clyde was originally black. We conceived of him as black. We knew we'd get some pushback, in making the millionaire white and the street guy black, but we felt that it was defensible inasmuch as Clyde is both the brains and the conscience of the strip. Amy the editor was reluctantly okay with that. The problem was that -- as our good friend and advisor Tom Scocca warned us -- Clyde was beginning to resemble the classic "Magic Negro" trope. It was disturbing. We abandoned it early.

Q: You've expressed your admiration for the almost Dickensian cast of characters that Garry Trudeau has created for Doonesbury. Was the opportunity to create a large cast of characters something that appealed to you?

A: I think it appealed to Dan more than to me. When I conceive of plays, they all contain two characters. I'm glad Dan is part of this, because if we had wound up with only two characters, "Barney & Clyde" would have been one step closer to "Prickly City," and I would have had to kill myself with an adz.

Q: How did the supporting characters develop? Who came along first?

A: We knew we were going to have a cynical, seditious kid. The reason we knew that is that Cynthia is, essentially, Dan at 11. There are at least two plot twists so far that are simple re-tellings of what Dan did as a kid. You'll see the first one in an early Sunday -- it involves an art class.

Q: What about this Mountbatten fellow? Does he have any real royal connections, or is he more like The Dauphin in Huckleberry Finn?

A: Dabney Mountbatten III is the illigitimate (sic) son of the common law wife of the grandson and bastard heir to the squandered fortunes of Louis Mountbatten, viceroy of India, first Earl of Burma and Admiral of the Fleet.

Q: How much arm-twisting did it take to get David to agree to draw the strip?

A: None. David is like 24-karat-gold: Wonderfully malleable.

Q: As your collaborator, do you allow David to suggest ideas for strips?

A: "Allow?" Yes. The three of us are equal creative partners. But David is like the element mercury: extremely reflective. He doesn't suggest ideas, but he reflects our ideas in a more positive light. What he does is no less creative than what we do, though: He takes our sometimes primitive efforts to tell a story through sequential art and improve the narrative enormously by his choice of angles, his blocking of the characters, etc.

Q: Is there a lot of back and forth during the production of a given strip, with you and Dan and David arguing over how a gag is written and drawn?

A: It is interminable. We will be nitpicking each other constantly. I just looked at the email trail for a single Sunday strip: David re-drew it, in some way, 11 times. There was input (in this order) from me, from Dan, from me, from David, suggesting a change to my suggestion, from Amy the editor, from Dan, from Dan, from me, from Amy, from Dan, from me. David is a saint. He's like potassium chloride -- he has no boiling point.

Q: What will be the strip's place in popular culture 50 years from now?

A: Most major universities will have a "Department of Barney & Clyde Studies."

Q: Is there any comparison between your artist and an element or compound that you have failed to make?

A: Yes. David's drawings really pop, like nitroglycerine.

Q: That's not very good.

A: Okay, they're crisp, like an alloy of Niobium and Titanium.

Q: Better.

A: Thanks.

No, thank you. Most of the answers were informative, and some were almost funny.

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