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Tony Rubino sent me a press release about his comic strip the other day, noting, “I lived in Bethesda for 15 years before moving to New York City 3 years ago.” With a resume like that, he certainly fits into our interview series. Rubino’s bio on his comic strip’s website notes that he had a long career as a local cartoonist: Tony Rubino first started cartooning in junior high to impress the chicks — a strategy that failed miserably. When he somehow got into American University, his work was published in the school newspaper. Upon graduation, Tribune Media’s College Press Service syndicated a version of the cartoon he wrote and drew for AU. Eventually he hooked up with an illustrator named Orrin Brewster, and together they produced “Colorblind.” Rubino’s now producing Daddy’s Home with another cartoonist, and answers our usual questions with some humorous thoughts.
Washington City Paper: What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?
Tony Rubino: The kind for good and not evil. Seriously though, I am currently fortunate enough to have a syndicated daily cartoon strip, along with my partner, the very talented illustrator and editorial cartoonist, Gary Markstein. “Daddy’s Home” is distributed by Creator’s Syndicate, and can be seen in many different places but here’s a good one. I’ve done a little bit of everything over the years though: I’ve licensed a lot of my work to companies for use on Greeting cards, t-shirts, posters, etc. I’ve written for Mad Magazine and Cracked. And I illustrated 3 of my books as well.
WCP: When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born?
TR: Late 1960s, Jersey City, New Jersey.
WCP: Why aren’t you in Washington now? What neighborhood or area did you live in?
TR: I moved to NYC because my wife got a good gig there and because I have family in the area. But I also have family in DC. My mother was born there, actually born in the District of Columbia! I think she’s the only person. I went to American University and then never left. I owned a home in Bethesda, just over the DC border and down the street from AU as a matter fact, off Massachusetts Ave.
WCP: What is your training and/or education in cartooning?
TR: I studied communications and art at AU. But I started cartooning and drawing when I was a little kid. I always loved to draw and create.
WCP: Who are your influences?
TR: Cartoon-wise, the usual suspects: Larson, Watterson, Schultz, Hart & Parker. And also, Callahan (RIP), Groening, who I first saw in the Washington City Paper long before The Simpsons when he was only doing Life In Hell. I wrote to him, after seeing him in The CP and he wrote me back. Bet ya can’t do that any more. I still have the letter somewhere. I loved most of the alternative cartoonists in the City Paper. I’d have to say that the City Paper itself was a big influence. I was really intrigued by the alternative cartoonists’ departure from “normal” daily cartoon styles. That influence has lead to some of the different things I try today in Daddy’s Home and in my books. Also, the City Paper is one of the very first publications I ever submitted cartoons to. They rejected me. I used to read Mad Magazine regularly along with Cracked and even Crazy. Remember Crazy? [Yes, it was Marvel Comics’ version of Mad – MR] But I was and am equally influenced by Saturday Night Live and other non-cartoon comedy mediums. When I was a kid I used to sneak out of bed on Saturday nights and watch the very first cast of SNL, with Belushi, Chase, Murray, Gilda Radner, Jan Curtin, Dan Akroyd, etc. That show blew me away. I mean hell, it blew everybody away. But I think for any kid who had a propensity to be funny, it was an education. Before that, I loved the Carol Burnett Show. Then there’s Woody Allen, Letterman, Steven Wright. Steve Martin was and still is a genius. I actually saw him live when I was a kid, with the white suit and arrow through the head and everything. I bought all his comedy albums and memorized them. From an artistic standpoint, I’m also influenced by graphic design and pop art. I’m an art director; so conveying a thought through the organization of images is what I do, I guess, one way or another.
WCP: If you could, what in your career would you do-over or change?
TR: It’s ironic, I guess, but I would have invested less time in newspaper cartooning. Had I known that technology would bring us to where we are today, I might have tried more animation and script writing. I’m not complaining though. I think newspaper cartoons will find their new niche. And when they do, established cartoonists will be in a great position to take advantage of the new opportunities offered by the Internet and things like the iPad. Sooooo, hopefully that’ll all shake out before die. OK, now I’m complaining.
WCP: What work are you best-known for?
TR: Probably Daddy’s Home now, I’d say. Unless you happen to be one of the dozen-or-so people who own one of my books.
WCP: What work are you most proud of?
TR: Daddy’s Home and my last book, Why Didn’t I Think Of That: 101 Inventions That Changed The World By Hardly Trying. And Life Lessons From Elvis. That’s a pretty funny little book too.
WCP: What would you like to do or work on in the future?
TR: I’d like to be an Astronaut or a Fireman. Ideally, a “Space-Fireman.” Also, I’d like Daddy’s Home to grow and mature into a body of work that will be worth looking at when I’m gone. I’ll probably give novel writing a try, because I just can’t seem to get enough rejection. And, I’m already working on several other things. But if I tell you what they are you’ll have to kill me.
WCP: What do you do when you’re in a rut or have writer’s block?
TR: I steal material from more talented people. No, I don’t. I like to move around. The best thing for me is to get new stimulus. So, if ideas aren’t coming to me, I literally go out and try to find where they’re hiding.
WCP: What do you think will be the future of your field?
TR: Space-Cartooning. Definitely Space-Cartooning. But also, I think books and newspaper cartoons will find a very solid place on the Internet and through advanced portable electronic technology. They haven’t quite found that place just yet, but they will. So far, comics and books have been largely devalued by this new technology, and are experiencing a little bit of a glut because so much content – comics very much included – is available for free. That will change. And when it does, cartoons and books will ride that wave with all the rest of the content providers, with some adaptation of course. I could go on and on about this. Don’t get me started.
WCP: What’s your favorite thing about DC?
TR: The restaurants, the monuments, the bike trails and so many things. It’s a great place to live. About the only thing I don’t miss is the swamp-like climate in the summer.
WCP: Least favorite?
TR: That would be the swamp thing I just said. Not THE “Swamp Thing” … you know what I mean. And the traffic.
WCP: What monument or museum do you return to when you visit?
TR: The Jefferson Memorial is my favorite. That and the National Cathedral. The Cathedral is a totally underrated place. If you haven’t gone there GO! It’s amazing! And it’ll be empty probably.
WCP: Do you have a website or blog?