STRIPPED Documentary Creators on Bill Watterson, Love for the Medium

STRIPPED Poster by Bill Watterson
Credit: Sequential Films

“A love letter to comic strips” is how the Co-Directors/Producers of the new documentary STRIPPED call their cinematic pane to the history and the future of the comic strip. The story is told by an all-star roster of comic creators from Cathy Guisewite (Cathy) and Mort Walker (Beetle Bailey), to Mike Krahulik & Jerry Holkins (Penny Arcade), Kate Beaton (Hark! A Vagrant), and even the first-ever recorded interview with the reclusive Calvin & Hobbes creator Bill Watterson, who also broke his creative sabbatical by drawing the poster for the film.

Cinematographer/director Frederick Schroeder and the Eisner and Harvey nominated cartoonist/author Dave Kellett (Drive, Sheldon) of STRIPPED “sat down with the best and brightest cartoonists to talk seriously and in depth about how cartooning works, why it’s so loved and how the art-form can survive the transition to a digital medium,” and Newsarama sat down with them to talk about their film that goes into wide digital release starting with iTunes on April 1, 2014

STRIPPED Poster by Bill Watterson
STRIPPED Poster by Bill Watterson
Credit: Sequential Films

Newsarama: Why did you feel that STRIPPED needed to be made?

Frederick Schroeder: Dave and I had been waiting for a movie about comic strips since we were kids. This is an essential American medium on par with jazz or baseball that has been ignored for far too long. We were tired of waiting around for someone else to make the movie so we just went out and made it ourselves, selfishly because we wanted to see it.

Dave Kellett: That's exactly it in a nutshell. We made the movie we wished existed.

Nrama: Despite how popular it is as a topic for discussion both online and off, is the rivalry between online and print comic strip creators real?

Schroeder: When we began making the movie we thought there would be more of a conflict between online and traditional cartoonists but the more we investigated the more we found that these creators had far more in common than differences. Both sides really respect each other and all have a shared love for the medium. They may not understand how each other makes a living doing what they are doing but they do really love the art they are both creating.

Nrama: You've got almost one hundred comic creators listed to appear in STRIPPED, what spurred you to want to talk to so many people?

Schroeder: Again, selfishly we wanted to see as many cartoonists as possible. We have such a love for the medium that if we had the opportunity to see as many studios as possible we were going to take it. Also so many cartoonists live very solitary lives that nobody gets to see their artistic process in action. We really wanted to show that hidden world with our film.

Kellett: Frankly, it was heartbreaking to see how much of our 300 hours of footage got left on the cutting room floor. Each conversation was something my 12-year-old self would've killed to see. So we're doing something that only distribution makes possible. Along with sales of the movie on, we'll be offering the full, individual interviews for folks to get.

Nrama: Getting Bill Watterson's input was a major coup, how did that come about?

Schroeder: Bill Watterson was basically incredibly generous with us. He was on the top of our list of creators we wanted to talk to because we admired his work so much. We reached out to many of his associates and colleges and word got back to him that we were trying to do a real service to the medium of comics and he was nice enough to lend his voice to the chorus we were able to assemble. Basically he heard we weren’t the typical folks talking about comics but were really serious about trying to honor a medium that he still has a lot of passion for.

Kellet: It really was 5% us asking him, and 95% him being an incredibly kind guy. Time and again throughout this project, he has been generous to us and to the film and we're so grateful to his kindness.

Nrama: Getting him to draw the film's poster was above and beyond even that, what's the story behind its creation?

Schroeder: Again it is really about Bill Watterson being a generous guy. He was the top of our list of who we wanted to do the poster but we never thought he would say yes. We showed him a cut of the movie and he liked it enough to agree to make the poster for us. I think he wanted to do something to help get the film some attention and boy did that ever work!

Nrama: It certainly did in my case!

Kellett: We told him the truth: We couldn't imagine any living cartoonist that better embodied the spirit, the wit, and the craft of cartooning and felt he was best suited to summarize the film in poster form. Luckily for us, he seemed to really like the film, and found a spark of an idea quickly. We'd loved his first sketch, talked over some options, and were absolutely floored when this beautiful watercolor arrived two weeks later.

Nrama: You've screened the film a couple times now, what has the response been so far?

Schroeder: We’ve been lucky enough to screen the movie for some really talented folks at Pixar, DreamWorks and Blizzard and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. I think writers, artists, musicians or anyone interested in the creative process have really found something of value in what we’ve put together. I’m not sure if anyone has approached the artistic process in as honest a way in terms of showing what the day to day creative life is like especially in the age of the internet. After working on this for over four years it’s so great that people are responding so positive to it so far.

Kellett: For me, the personal thrill was having Pete Docter (Director: Monsters, Inc., Up) come to the screening at Pixar and, unless he was lying, seeming to like it! That meant a lot to me, as I think his work is brilliant.

Nrama: Is there a lesson in STRIPPED for the aspiring cartoonist?

Schroeder: Yes! Just do it! As the very talented cartoonist Dylan Meconis, she does an amazing comic called Family Man, says in the film “as long as you pay for the web hosting you can do whatever you want. Welcome to the show.” Truly just keep at it because no one does something every day and gets worse. You are just going to get better and better. And if you do good work people will find it.

Kellett: The greatest thing we could ever hope is for folks to come out of the movie and want to draw. Just get out a pencil and start drawing. And thankfully, that seems to be the reaction every time we've screened it.

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