His Comic Creations Feature Innovations

Article excerpt

Wiley Miller doesn't let things be. He has criticized editors for devaluing political cartoonists. He thinks there should be a separate Pulitzer Prize category for comics. He improved the Sunday color process for "Non Sequitur." He made the daily, version of that Washington Post Writers Group comic available in both a strip and panel format.

His other comic - "Us & Them," which he does with Canadian cartoonist Susan Dewar - offers two distinct sets of characters occupying the same space on alternating days. And its fictional stars, Buffalo radio talk-show host Joe Pyle and Toronto advice columnist Janet George, communicate with real-life readers via e-mail.

"I'm not one to sit back and say, `Somebody should do something about this.' I like to put my money where my mouth is," said Miller, who signs his comics, "Wiley".

Dewar, an editorial cartoonist for the Ottawa Sun, agreed. "Wiley is always pushing the envelope," she said. "He's always coming up with new ways to do things."

Wiley, of course, understands that it's usually easier selling a familiar concept to an editor. But, to him, familiarity breeds contempt.

"Us & them," which was introduced a year ago by Universal Press Syndicate, appears in about 130 papers. Nevertheless, the concept has been a difficult one to sell to some editors.

"Because we have our characters appearing on alternate days, some editors jump to the conclusion that it's a he said, she said, strip, which is the kind, of strip an editor would do," remarked Wiley. "That would get old real quick."

Originally, Wiley wasn't interested in doing another comic besides, non Sequitur," which was launched in 1992 and now appears in about 450 papers in 20-plus countries.

But the idea of two cartoonists working on the same feature nagged at Wiley. until he finally relented to the voice of inspiration.

"I felt like it wasn't my idea. I felt like somebody was handing me an idea and saving, `Here, stupid, do it.'" he recalled with a laugh.

The concept may have sounded good, but the Edsel and leisure suits also seemed like good ideas in their time. But who would he do the comic with? How would they do it? What would it be about?

Wiley, 45, didn't want one person writing and another drawing. That had already been done, and he felt this kind of collaboration results in a comic that doesn't really belong to anyone.

Also, Wiley wanted each artist to work independently of the other, and have separate points of view. He decided that the most universal dichotomy is male and female. But who would represent the women's perspective?

"For Better or For Worse" creator Lynn Johnston of Universal suggested Dewar, whom Wiley had known for more than 10 years. Wiley agreed. "She had the right edge," he said.

Then the new collaborators developed their characters.

Joe Pyle's cast includes a hippie late-night talkshow host, a radio doctor, an uptight news director, and a political psycho-analyst "who put the id in idiocy."

Janet George's cast includes a newspaper editor who "boldly goes where everyone has gone before," an ex-husband, and a 7-year-old son. Any resemblance between Janet's life and that of Dewar, a divorced mother of a 7-year-old, is not exactly coincidental.

"You can draw from real fife, which I think makes a better strip," Dewar said.

There is some intermingling of the strips. For instance, Janet's sister, Jennifer, is dating Joe's brother, Bob. But Joe and Janet haven't met yet, though they once appeared at the same party.

"Eventually, we'd like to have them meet. But they're not there yet," Dewar said. Wiley is less committal. "At this point, who knows?" he said.

But they still know each other through their work. …