Never underestimate the drawing power of comic strips and animated movies. With the current 3-D toon "How to Train Your Dragon" lighting up the box office, the Friday opening of potential blockbuster "Iron Man 2," and "The Green Lantern" greenlighted for the summer of 2011, it's clear that the comics are serious business.
What's less apparent is how much comic book inspiration has come from Long Island, which continues to be a breeding ground for cartoonists and animators. Ever since the 1960s, Long Island has been a sort of comic artists' colony whose residents include Mad Magazine's Mort Drucker, "The Lockhorns" cartoonists Bunny Hoest and John Reiner, and former Marvel and DC Comics master Joe Giella, who now draws the "Mary Worth" strip.
"Long Island was the place where a large percentage of cartoonists lived because they needed to get into the city in the '60s. So they moved out here, especially the Huntington-Northport areas," said Adrian C. Sinnott, chairman of the LI chapter of the National Cartoonists Society.
"It's a nice place to live. Cartoonists and artists have an eye for the beauty that's here," said Hoest, who lives in a waterfront home on Lloyd Neck. "And being needy of stimulation, New York City as a resource is invaluable. I go there for all kinds of energizing activities and then come home to a nice peaceful place." Long Island references, like Book Revue in Huntington, also seep into "The Lockhorns," which was created by her late husband, Bill Hoest, in 1968.
Though it's hard to gauge just how many toon types live on Long Island, Hoest's annual June bash for cartoonists at her home usually attracts more than 100 guests.
Although newspapers may not be the magnet for cartoonists' jobs that they once were, animation and the Internet are providing new opportunities for the next generation.
Here are some cartoonists and animators, young and old, Long Island can call its own.
in the making
Some kids get up early on Saturday to watch cartoons. Others spend Saturday mornings making their own.
The dozen or so budding cartoonists and animators at Hofstra University's weekly cartooning for young people class fall into the latter. Each week they're skilled in techniques such as penciling, inking, coloring and creating animation cels by Frank Giella, who has been teaching the course for 13 years. "The field that's really hot right now is computer animation. It's in every movie regardless of superhero or whatever," he says. "Almost every movie is using computer-animated work. Some of it's all computer, but they still have to do a lot of preliminary drawings. So I tell my students to learn the basics because if you want to know where you're going, you've got to know where you're coming from."
In addition, they've learned to design comic strips, comic book covers and create their own characters. Shaquille Florent, 17, for example, leans toward mystical creatures, the kind that "shoot fire out of their fingertips," he says, and aliens sporting wings and a beak. Florent, who started cartooning in the second grade, hopes to make a career in animation and has been accepted to three art institutes. "This is what I love to do, this is what I've been doing my whole life. And, trust me, I wouldn't have it any other way," he says.
Fellow student Kim Brooks, 14, says she's been "drawing since I could pretty much hold a pencil." And while cartooning is one of her passions, she also enjoys more realistic art, especially drawing portraits of musicians. She hopes to attend an art college in New York.
It's a path Giella approves of for all of his students. "If you really love cartooning and are passionate about it, go for it. Find a good school," he says. "We're lucky in New York because we have FIT in Manhattan, the School of Visual Arts, Pratt and a few others. . . . And diversify. Don't just learn one aspect. With this class I try to show them all different aspects of cartooning."
A family's net Worth
There's something about Mary Worth. For more than seven decades, the grand old girl of the comics has been dispensing motherly advice to everyone she meets. So she'd be happy to know that producing her strip has brought together three generations of the Giella family.
Veteran comic strip artist Joe Giella, 81, who's worked on everything from "Captain Codfish" (imagine a less-surreal "SpongeBob SquarePants") to "Batman" (Giella designed the Caped Crusader's yellow logo), has been drawing Mary from the studio of his East Meadow home since 1991. He beat out 10 other cartoonists vying for the strip after the previous artist, Bill Ziegler, became ill.
"When I first took over, the editor asked if I could take a few wrinkles off her face because the previous artist was making her look a little too old. So take a line off here, a line there, you're knocking off about 15, 20 years," said Giella of the makeover he gave Mary. "She doesn't have the bun, she has a love life, she's going out with a doctor, so I had to streamline her and take a little weight off. The L.A. Times ran a story with the headline, 'Who gave Mary Worth a face-lift?' "
Also working with him since then has been his son Frank, 45, who lives just around the corner. Writer Karen Moy faxes a script to Joe, who pencils and inks each panel. Once he finishes, he makes a photocopy of the strip and Frank colors it in. (A young member of the Berndt Toast Gang does the lettering.)
"You have to give each panel effects. Sometimes I use a silhouette, or a different background. I don't want to repeat the same panels," Joe said. That becomes more of a challenge when a plot line takes place in one setting for a long stretch, Joe adds. "One time she had Mary in a restaurant for six weeks. I said, 'Karen, you broke all records.' "
After Joe and Frank do their jobs, the newest member of the team, Frank's daughter Nicole, 10, scans the finished product into the computer so it can be sent to King Features Syndicate, which runs the strip in more than 350 newspapers.
"One week she got sick, and I did it and messed it up. She's saved us a bunch of times," says Frank, who also teaches art history and cartooning at Forest Hills High School and at Hofstra. "It has to be done just right. She has to get it prepared for publishing, by bitmapping and gray scaling, whatever that means."
job come true
DreamWorks' "How to Train Your Dragon" has been hot stuff at the movie box office. Helping to fuel that fire is Megan Kreiner, a Garden City native who worked as a final layout artist on the movie.
For Kreiner, 29, who graduated from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst in 2003 with a bachelor of fine arts degree in computer animation and graphics, landing at DreamWorks has been a fairy-tale ending as happy as the one in "Shrek." Her journey, however, was far from simple. After college, she toiled for a website and at a medical office. It was some volunteer work and networking with the Association for Computing Machinery's Special Interest Group on Graphics and Interactive Techniques that led to a production assistant post at Sony Imageworks.
She soon found that crossing over to the art side has its share of roadblocks. "At a lot of the studios, if you get hired as a production assistant, they usually prefer you to stay on that track. I had to downplay a lot of my art," Kreiner said. "I had someone at Sony Imageworks who said, 'I told them not to hire you because you had art on your resume.' "
Fortunately, she found an ally in her production supervisor, who allowed her to work with some of the layout artists on the film "Open Season." "It's good to get an advocate for yourself at the studio, someone who can vouch for you and vouch for your work. Someone you can learn from and work with so that person can pitch for you when a new position comes up," she said.
"Open Season" led to working on the publicity posters for "Surf's Up," and then scripting and coding on "Beowulf" and "G-Force."
Through some former Sony co-workers, she learned of an opening in the art department at DreamWorks. She sent a demo reel, sold herself in the interview and next found herself working on "Dragon." Next up is "Puss in Boots," the "Shrek" spinoff starring the charming feline voiced by Antonio Banderas.
"I like the studio environment and I like being an artist," Kreiner said. "There's a certain level of security that should not be taken for granted. DreamWorks is a lot more stable. At DreamWorks they really do want to keep you on and roll you on to the next project."
Chances are if you live on Long Island and cartooning or illustration is how you make your bread, you must be part of the Berndt Toast Gang, the local chapter of the National Cartoonists Society.
The group, named after Walter Berndt, the late Port Jefferson-based cartoonist of the strip "Smitty," started up in the 1960s when local cartoonists working on an animated project for Hanna-Barbera gathered for lunch. "They needed a place to get together to discuss different aspects of the project they were working on, so they'd meet for lunch," says Sinnott.
When they weren't doing lunch, the group would visit the veterans hospital in Northport and cheer up patients by drawing and talking to them.
Since then, once a month as many as 30 cartoonists and illustrators, including Hoest and Reiner, Sinnott and Queens Courier cartoonist Bill Kresse, gather at Albert's Mandarin Gourmet in Huntington. It's a time to share their work, network and socialize.
And giving back remains a big part of the Berndt Toast Gang's initiative. Youngsters hoping to make it as the next cartooning generation are welcome guests for lunch and mentoring. "We've invited kids to Albert's and to my house," Hoest says. "It's very inspiring for the kids to come and see some of the big names in cartooning. Honestly, the talent of these kids is so amazing. There are people who are just so gifted."