Congratulations to creator Mike Baldwin on the 25th anniversary of Cornered. Andrews McMeel Syndication signed Mike after he had been self-syndicating Cornered for a year and a half. The strip made its debut on Sept. 1, 1997. Checkout the panel on GoComics.
Mike took some time to participate in a Q&A in honor of the anniversary. Get to know him a little better by reading the interview below.
What do you think it is about Cornered that has made it so popular with readers – and editors – for so long?
A: I think just hanging in there covers the ‘so long’ part but given the state of the newspaper industry these days I do feel fortunate to have been able to ride it out this long. I just try to do cartoons that amuse myself and my wife. I’ve never given much thought to what others will think of them. Don’t get me wrong, I love hearing from readers who enjoy a cartoon, or even from folks who have been offended by one, but I don’t create work with the intention of pleasing anyone. I do understand the basic guidelines for what’s OK in a family newspaper and don’t go out of my way to offend readers or editors — or the weak or powerless — and, for the most part, I think that works. Generally speaking, the characters in Cornered play it straight and are not trying to be funny; it’s the situation they find themselves in that is funny or amusing. With Cornered, there is no story line or regularly appearing characters, so each panel has to stand on its own. That’s both a great excuse to do whatever I please and also a curse in that it’s tougher to gain a daily audience. People don’t check in to see what happens next, so hopefully they do check in to be amused.
What has been your favorite part about creating this strip and these characters for 25 years?
A: I’ve always enjoyed art and humor and doing Cornered has allowed me to do a deep dive — really throw myself into it — over the years. No other work I’ve done has been so challenging or creatively rewarding. It truly has been a labor of love — a passion project. I am truly grateful to AMU for the opportunity. That’s the best part. That, and working from home. Except for the last two years when almost everyone had to work from home. That kind of freaked me out and made me take a closer look at my locked down lifestyle and has made me feel a little antsy. I suppose the pandemic gave everyone a taste of that freedom. Good luck at putting that genie back in the bottle. Not sure what the new normal will bring.
Do you have a favorite strip that you’ve created? If yes, what one?
A: My favorite is your favorite. The cartoon that still makes you smile even after you’ve seen it many times. About a year ago I heard from a reader who had clipped one out of her newspaper and taped it to her computer and wanted to know how to get a copy because the original was falling apart. It took some digging, but I found it. The cartoon ran Monday, Feb. 17, 1997 (six months before I signed on with AMU over 25 years ago — and she said it still makes her laugh every time she looks at it. Those are my favorites. Although, it would have been nice to think I’d done one just a little more recently that she liked as much! The cartoon she wanted wasn’t a personal favorite of mine, but because it was hers, for that day, it was mine too. I love the paradox. I don’t know if any two readers would agree on which cartoon(s) fit into that category, but I hope over the last 25 years I’ve created lots of reader favorites. That’s something that I love about cartooning — that the reader plays such an active part in how the cartoon is experienced. Their world view/personal experiences and even how their day is going can play a big part in how the work is experienced on any given day.
For what it’s worth, on my GoComics page I picked a few of my personal favorites, see: Catch Up with Cornered.
How has your experience been working with Andrews McMeel?
A: The Best. I’m convinced they have a company policy of only hiring the finest people on the planet. Sue Roush was my editor and cartoon buddy for 24 years and did her best to keep me from looking illiterate, sloppy or AP style ignorant. Unfortunately, I was such a pain in the asterisk, she had to retire early. Sue left a year and a half ago but also left me in the good hands of my new editor Elizabeth Kelly along with a box full of commas and dashes and hyphens and interior quotes. Elizabeth has been an absolute pleasure to work with as well and offers suggestions and feedback that is always welcome and helpful. And, thanks to the pandemic, we’ve been doing the monthly editing sessions via video calls, which means I can get all gussied up for the camera each month. The hair, makeup and Botox treatments cost a pretty penny, not to mention my camera, sound and lighting crew, but, hey, I can write it all off as a business expense. Just kidding — I don’t get to write it off as a business expense.
Over the years I’ve had conversations with some of the other folks at AMU from sales, production, accounting and GoComics, and they’ve all been very friendly, helpful and never threatening, rude or physically, verbally or mentally abusive. Then again, my contract does contain the restraining order that stipulates I don’t come within 500 feet of the actual building in Kansas City, so that helps. In short, the folks at AMU are like family — but without the passive aggressiveness.
If you launched Cornered today, what would you do differently?
A: When AMU took over the syndication of Cornered, it had already been running a year and a half (self-syndicated) in about 10 dailies at the Southam chain in Canada. So, both the sales kit and the launch were just a continuation of the cartoons I had scheduled to run. If I had to do it again, I would have stacked the deck a little, maybe go back over the first 18 months and pick the best-of to showcase for the first year. Maybe it wouldn’t have made any difference, after all, my idea of what is funny and the editors might not be the same thing, but anything I could’ve done to build an audience and make the syndicate’s sales team’s job easier would’ve made sense. At the time I remember thinking it was more honest to just put out what I had scheduled to run, but that was before I realized you only get one shot in front of a newspaper editor.
I also supplied the art as eps files. Yeah, I just saw your eyes glaze over, but humor me for a moment. It’s my 25th, just smile politely and nod like you’re listening. Good. OK, so the benefit of this was that it allowed newspapers to print the cartoon in color daily, anywhere in the newspaper that had a color position (or BW, I offered both versions) The art was vector (stay with me, I’m almost done) which meant the art was sharp at any size (even sharper than the wit at times) and the file sizes were very small like a couple of dozen kilobytes each, which seem to matter back then. These were the days when a 500-meg hard drive was the envy of the newsroom and servers were kept in large glass enclosed air conditioned rooms sealed off from everyone and tipped 20% when they got your order right. The art director in me thought this was a terrific new benefit but in hindsight it might have been better to supply newspapers with tiff files, like every other cartoonist in the country and not add more tech stuff to freak editors out. And perhaps offer the vector art as a side dish. Now aren’t you sorry you asked?
The short, more direct answer is, if I had to launch today, in today’s newspaper market, I would definitely hold onto my day job a lot longer.
What is one thing readers don’t know about Cornered?
A: Cornered was the first daily newspaper cartoon that was offered in full color and colored by the cartoonist offered by a major syndicate. I’m 100% absolutely pretty sure that’s true.
The reason is, I believed, and still do, that color makes the cartoon seem larger (on the continually shrinking comics page) easier to read and thus, offers greater value to newspapers and their readers. Of course, now every cartoon is offered in color, but that wasn’t the case back in the olden days.
What do you hope to see in years to come with Cornered?
A: Over the last year or so I’ve doubled down on the art, specifically by hand coloring each panel. I think the flat color works fine in newspapers, but “fleshing them out” really makes the art pop on the web version and prints very well too, even at the small size it runs in the newspaper I see it in. It means I spend about 30-40 extra hours on each month’s batch, but I think it’s worth it. The process is very satisfying and by hand coloring each cartoon (using Photoshop, of course) the artwork (to me anyway) seems more spontaneous, personal and unique. I hope to continue down this path and see where it leads.
Is there anything else you would like to add about the strip, or about your life as a cartoonist?
A: I’ll answer that question with a true story that sums up the paradox of cartooning for me.
A few years after Cornered had been running in the newspaper I was at a family get-together where a cousin came over and asked, “How do you come up with so many clever ideas, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year? I could never do that.” I gave her the short answer, something like, drink gallons of coffee, lock myself in a room for hours with nothing but a scribbled list of thoughts and bits of verbiage to use as steppingstones and wait for divine intervention. When nothing comes, I sketch something out and see if that takes me anywhere and wait some more, and scribble some more and hope to hell something fresh bubbles up before the sun does. In other words, I had no idea.
To which she replied, “So, is the cartoon all you do?”