To sum up, Buttercup is marrying Humperdink in a little more than haf an hour…

I called Lee at the appointed time and we talked for about 45 minutes about my strip and syndication in general.  He was a very nice man, very knowledgable, and he had a lot of great stories.  Apparently, my doctor scribbled copious notes for me while we chatted because I can decipher very little of what was written down.  All I remember is that Lee thought that the interactions between Manny and Eve were funny, but that they were quite negative and he wanted me to send him 7-10 strips, just penciled in, that showed their softer, sweeter side.  I had about a month to do this in, and then, based on whether they liked my new strips, I’d either be offered a contract, a development contract, or rejected all together.  The development deal would entail me sending them a month’s worth of penciled daily cartoons every month for about 6 months for them to grade and tell me what works and what doesn’t.  After that time, they would decide whether to syndicate me or not.  I was told that about half of all development contracts segue into syndication.

I got off the phone ready to throw up.  First of all I wasn’t at all sure that Manny and Eve HAD a softer side.  I hadn’t even noticed while I was writing it that they were especially mean to each other.  How could I not have noticed?!  Second, I wasn’t sure I could write what he wanted me to write.  People think I’m sweet, (and I can be), but for the most part I’m not all that sweet.  (I admire truly sweet people, but I’m mostly just shy, not sweet, and there is a difference).  I’d told Lee that the changes wouldn’t be a problem.  No problem at all.  I’d have those cartoons out to him toot sweet!  But inside I wasn’t quite so confident in my abilities.

I sat down and tried to write sweet.  Write sweet.  Write sweet.  How hard can it be?  Everything I wrote sucked.  It was all “I love you.”  “Oh, I love you too, honeybunny!  Huggles!”  Big Precious Moments eyes… shudder.  Very quickly I realized that not only were these new cartoons not funny, but they weren’t true to the characters, they weren’t at all like my submission (which the folks at Universal LIKED), and it definitely wasn’t in my best interest to send them out.  I didn’t know what to do, so I showed them to my husband.  He read them over carefully, turned to me and said, “These SUCK.”  Thank you, oh, LOVE OF MY LIFE.  I certainly feel better now.  Now, how do I fix them?

After mulling it around between the two of us for a while, it was decided that I would write cartoons where Manny and Eve TRY to be sweet to each other, even if they fail because they are basically sociopaths.  This would show that they did indeed love each other even if they did weild their sarcasm like weapons.  I liked these strips much better and so did my husband. 

Because I wasn’t giving Lee exactly what he’d asked for, I knew there was a strong possability I’d be rejected.  I felt sick about it, but I knew I couldn’t write that way for any length of time, and I also thought the new cartoons were good and that they definitely added a new and needed dimension to Manny and Eve’s relationship.  Basically, I rolled the dice.

To sweeten the pot, I sent two weeks worth of dailies instead of 7-10, I inked them instead of penciled them and I sent them way before the deadline.  I hoped this would send the message that yeah, I can’t really take direction but, WOW!  Look how fast I am!  I hoped Lee would focus on the fact that I gave him more than he asked for, in a more finished form than he’d requested, in a shorter period of time, and sort of gloss over the fact that even at their sweetest, Manny and Eve were kinda prickly.

Here’s one of those softer/sweeter strips that I wrote.  All of them made the cut and eventually made it into my strip.  This one was in my original saleskit.

This originally ran on 5/26/04

This originally ran on 5/26/04

 As a contrast, here’s an unpublished cartoon from my original submission to the syndicates.  The difference in attitude is subtle, but it’s there.  I think that this suggestion from Lee about my strip made the characters more human, more likable, and it saved them from becoming a parody of the fighting spouses on the comics page (I could name a few cartoons like this, but I see no need to bash other people’s work.  Especially because I KNOW how hard they do work, even if I don’t really like their finished product.)  Yes, my work still contains examples of both kinds of cartoons, but it’s more balanced now, and I think it works.  If it was all the second example all the time (as it was in my original submission), I don’t think many people would want to let these people into their lives on a daily basis.

Unpublished cartoon from my original submission to the syndicates

Unpublished cartoon from my original submission to the syndicates

Anyway, Lee called me after receiving the new batch and said he liked them.  Phew!  They were going to offer me a four month development deal!  Whoo Hoo!  First hurdle cleared!  He urged me to hire a lawyer (the way this works is you negotiate your development deal and your real contract at the same time.  Then, if they reject you after your development period, your syndication contract is voided, but if they decide to syndicate you, they already have your contract negotiated and you just slip easily into your new relationship).  I was referred to the lawyer Stu Rees, and he proved to be worth every penny I spent on him.  He negotiated a marvelous contract for me in which I got to keep both my copyright and my first born child (who, not yet being a teenager, I was rather fond of at the time).

To be continued…  (I promise this is almost over.  I had no idea this entire story was so long)!  It might only be interesting to me, and maybe to a few other anal cartoonists, but I feel good writing it all out for the first time.  You tend to forget details over time, ya know?