Arctic Circle Celebrates 3 Years of Cartoon Syndication

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Arctic Circle was launched by King Features Syndicate on 27th August 2007. I had had a very short development period before that since my editors (Jay Kennedy who signed me up and Brendan Burford, who took me to launch and has been my sounding board, advisor and all-round ace editor ever since) felt that the comic strip was almost ready for launch when they signed me in November 2006.

the first arctic circle comic strip launched on 27th august 2007

The first syndicated Arctic Circle strip

I had no idea then that it wasn’t ready.

I picked up a few papers for launch and a few papers more in the following year, but felt like I was bumping along below the radar. Still, I was getting to know the characters and learning how to draw better.

Arctic Circle strip after a year

The Arctic Circle strip published one year after launch - drawn a little better and the environmental theme is coming through

So it was a bit of a shock when RC Harvey reviewed Arctic Circle about a year after launch and wrote

Although the clothes-pin penguins in their black tuxes are easy enough on the eyes, the stark simplicity of Hallatt’s style puts the strip’s visuals in the Dilbert school of non-art. Cartoonists who draw in this way doubtless believe they are producing highly stylized contemporary Art. And, of course, they are — the contemporary design of wallpaper, repeated over and over in an endless pattern. Still, penguins are penguins and forever cute. Hallatt’s comedy, however, is neither cute nor very funny. My way of assessing the comedy in a comic strip is to tally the number of strips over, say, three weeks in which the punchline is telegraphed by the setup panels…too many of the [strips] achieve their humor in this way, and because we are almost never surprised, the comedy is only ordinary.

I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. It wasn’t that I disagreed, it was that I thought he was right. My syndicate had been wrong, the people who had sent me nice emails and letters had been wrong and RC Harvey was completely, 100% right. I talked to Brendan and he dismissed the rant as being just that, but I was devastated and suffered one of my biggest crises of confidence in my ability as a cartoonist.

I continued to write and draw (those deadlines don’t go away) and the angst mellowed into determination. Determination to work on my areas of weakness. The wallpaper patterns of repeating penguins were to be avoided with more interesting panels. My drawing was gradually improving in any case, but now I gave more thought to how I composed the scenes (something I still do, though nasty deadlines tend to cause more Garfield-type bar set ups…). I did more continuing storylines to provide interest and take away the obvious punchlines.

The penguins head out for sushi

I tried to vary some of the viewpoints

the penguins with the chicks in the tree

This was from a series about a tree growing in the warming Arctic

Arctic Circle Sunday cartoon year 2

The Arctic Circle cartoon published on its second year anniversary

The strip developed. I’d say it has been in development for 3 years and I’m only ever happy with my most recent work.

I hope this means I’m getting better – I’d like to be doing this for another three years at least.

Arctic Circle strip for August 27th 2010

The 3rd anniversary comic strip for Arctic Circle

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23 thoughts on “Arctic Circle Celebrates 3 Years of Cartoon Syndication

  1. Congrats on hitting the 3 year mark! I still read Arctic Circle everyday on my Dailyink!

    Don’t worry about RC – he seems to trash everybody. And maybe you’ll get to be in the Reubens film for next year mocking him for it 🙂

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Happy Birthday! They grow up so fast, and get better all the time. Here’s to another 30+ years of deadlines, improvement and thoughtful laughter!

    • Thank you, Richard – and I’ll keep the bunting up to celebrate your strip’s birthday in 2 weeks.

      And Jonathan, I hope you won’t mind, but you are kind of making a guest appearance next month – I’ll send you the strip!

  3. Wow! Congrats Alex!! Love to see the first strip again up against your recent work…very cool to see how styles change in a comic.

    I get AC everyday in my DailyInk as well…always a fun read and I love your drawings! (the killer whales belong on a shirt) Craziness!

  4. Ugh. R.C. Harvey did the EXACT same thing to me, and I did the EXACT same thing you did! He’s a pill.

    Congrats on your 3 year anniversary! Arctic Circle is awesome! Thank you for creating it for us to read!!

    Best wishes,

    Dan

  5. Yay, Alex and Arctic Circle! This is completely deserved – it’s a fantastic contemporary strip!

    Don’t let the critics get you down – I think clarity of style is what works best for humour – I figure he has some particular strip in mind as ideal or maybe a political issue with the strip, but it’s best to ignore those comments in any case (or better never to see them).

    Keep doing what you’re doing – it’s appealing, funny and all too relevant!

  6. Alex — Although I think your strip was always great, your determination to hone it over the years has really given it that extra bit of greatness that shows you care about craft. Way to go! (also, I must add that “Arctic Circle” actually makes me laugh out loud sometimes — something I don’t get from other strips!)

    • I’m going to have to come back and read this the next time I have a crisis of confidence. Thanks, Rina and all my fab friends!

  7. Although I don’t agree with that bitter review, I can see that your style changed afterwards, becoming more varied and interesting. But isn’t that part of cartooning: adapting it and getting better and better at it, as you said yourself? Personally, I think you’re a great cartoonist and writer (I just discovered you, from a comment you made over at David Wasting Paper), and figure that your strip would have progressed to this style anyway. Inside yourself, it just seems like you did it the difficult way, being hard on yourself.

    Thanks very much for sharing. I found reading this helpful, as I’m a beginning cartoonist myself.

    • Thanks for dropping by and for your kind feedback – I enjoyed reading your blog and totally agree about the post on Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, though I confess I haven’t quite finished reading it yet!

  8. Pingback: Belated happy 3rd anniversary to Arctic Circle The Daily Cartoonist

  9. Congratulations Alex. That’s a big achievement and a great article on the learning curve you went through. It must be daunting having that deadline over your head and be working out how to do it. But you did it and should be proud of yourself. Love your strip and humour, and the message you like to put through in it. Well done and here’s to the next three years… Cheers Phil

  10. I’ve been confronted with R.C. Harvey articles and books since the 1980s and haven’t been able to make it through a single one. I’m not sure how he gets these writing gigs, but I suspect it’s because there’s only one job opening for a comic strip reviewer and he got the job.

    I really enjoy Arctic Circle, though. Please keep up the great work!

  11. We all get some undeserved criticisms, but they usually come from people who have never created anything original themselves. Yours is a fun strip! Keep up the good work, and congrats on the third year anniversary.

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