Late last year, I noticed that writer/artist Mike Dawson was contributing original content to The Nib, a collection of political cartoons, comics journalism, humor and nonfiction at Medium.com edited by Matt Bors.
Curious to learn what led him to participating at The Nib, and hoping to see if I could get Dawson to break down one of his recent pieces that ran there, I reached out to the cartoonist. It turns out he was more than happy to reveal the development process for his Oct. 6 strip, "The Underdog Myth."
For the past decade I’d been concentrating almost exclusively on writing long-form “graphic novels." I completed Angie Bongiolatti in January of 2014, after which I thought it might be nice to try something different for a while. I began writing and posting short comic essays on my Tumblr blog.
A few months into 2014 I began corresponding with Nib Editor-in-Chief Matt Bors. Initially we were talking because I was hoping he might be willing to post an Angie Bongiolatti excerpt at the site, but the conversation soon changed into one about me pitching ideas for comic essays to The Nib.
I sent Matt and associate editor Eleri Harris a bunch of comic ideas -- some were rejected, some eventually became comics. This is what I wrote pitching "The Underdog Myth":
"Sorry to keep barraging you with comic ideas, but I have another one I'm planning on making for my Tumblr, and I wanted to send you the rough draft.
This one's pretty simple: People say Americans love an underdog, but the evidence surrounding us should convince us that Americans hate an underdog. What Americans love are the stories where an underdog becomes an unlikely winner, and they are very happy to forget about the parts where it was Americans making it hard for the underdog all that time."
I’ve found an easy way to share pitches and works-in-progress is to just make them a private post on Tumblr and send out the link.
Text-wise, a lot of the arc of the "Underdog Myth" is here in the rough draft: They say Americans love an underdog, but everywhere you look it’s a different story. Americans don’t love an Underdog, they love Underdogs who have somehow managed to become one of history’s winners.
Visually, the piece required a lot of work. I had a couple of ideas for basic imagery, but hadn’t put much initial thought into how the words and pictures were going to interact.
In the pitch, for the line “They say Americans Love an Underdog” I’d just grabbed a picture of Horatio Alger’s Ragged Dick off of Google image search. When I hear the words “underdog story”, my mind goes to Ragged Dick - a prime example of a “rags to riches” storyline in American history - a story where a plucky underdog gets ahead through honesty and hard work.
My first thoughts were to take the found-imagery and render it in a soft-pencil style.
Another example of imagery that came pretty quickly was the picture of the boorish sports fans, decked out in full-on racist Indian-style sports-jerseys and makeup, shouting in the face of a resigned elderly Native American man.
This is inspired by a real-life photo of a Cleveland Indians fan: