Magazine article Editor & Publisher

His 'Bug' Strip Has No Bugs in Its Cast

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

His 'Bug' Strip Has No Bugs in Its Cast

Article excerpt

AFTER THE HARVARD Law School newspaper ran an ad seeking a cartoonist seven years ago, it fell in love with a comic submitted by Ruben Bolling. All the paper needed to know before printing the feature was its name.

But the comic had no title, and Bolling didn't want to give it one, thinking this could limit his cartoon's content. The paper insisted, however.

"So in retaliation, I came up with the stupidest name I could think of," recalled Bolling. Thus, "Tom the Dancing Bug" was born.

The title pretty much symbolizes the unpredictable nature of Bolling's weekly cartoon, because his cast of characters includes no dancing bug of any name. The cast does feature a mercenary attorney named Harvey Richards who specializes in hilarious kids-against-kids cases, an apelike prehistoric man named Charley with no clue about how to fit into modern society, an angst-ridden suburban youth named Louis with a hyperactive imagination, an animal named Doug who is drawn so amorphously that he doesn't know what kind of animal he is, a sarcastic baby named Max and other characters who appear once and are never seen again.

Some of Bolling's large-format cartoons contain political or social satire (including jabs at warmongering presidents and anti-abortion legislation) while others offer surreal silliness.

"I can have any character or any theme in any comic strip in any week," said Bolling, who uses from one to nine panels in each "Tom" installment.

Bolling is very happy with his free-form arrangement, but what do readers and the media think about such an eclectic cartoon?

Well, numerous Harvard law Students, professors and alumni told Bolling they loved his comic back in 1986 and 1987. There was even enough demand for Bolling to put together a book called Dance, Tom, Dance.

Then, after Bolling moved to New York City to work as an attorney, the National Lampoon published several comics starring his Harvey Richards character.

In 1990, the "Tom" cartoonist landed his first post-college newspaper client, the New York Weekly.

A year later, Bolling started a self-syndication effort that would land him about 20 alternative weekly clients as of this summer.

In 1992, HarperCollins approached Bolling and published a Tom the Dancing Bug book collection that has sold well.

This May, Rolling Stone magazine named Bolling's weekly feature the "hot comic strip" of 1993.

There was even more good news for Bolling when the Newport News, Va., Daily Press became the first daily to carry "Tom."

Daily Press assistant managing editor for features Tom Clifford said he scanned numerous alternative weeklies last year to seek cartoons for a weekend entertainment magazine the paper was revamping. The feature by Bolling, he added, caught his attention.

"We tracked him down and had him send us some samples," Clifford told E&P. "He was real thrilled"

Why does Clifford like Bolling's work? "It's seriously warped but great fun," he said. "I just get a big kick out of it, and I like the fact that it's unpredictable. You don't get the same thing week in and week out."

The unpredictable nature of "Tom" is a major reason why Bolling did not approach potential daily newspaper clients when he first began to self-syndicate. "In order for daily editors to take it seriously, I thought it had to have some degree of success before-hand," said the cartoonist, whose real name is Ken Fisher.

Bolling intends to start seeking daily clients this fall, and hopes newspapers will realize that something off-beat like "Tom" could help them attract more young adult readers. …

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