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Posted at 2:00 PM ET, 08/30/2010

'RHYMES WITH ORANGE': Rina Piccolo fills us in on her Hilary Price fill-in

By Michael Cavna

(Rina Piccolo / King Features Syndicate)

Some newspaper cartoonists simply run repeats when they go on vacation. "Rhymes With Orange" creator Hilary Price, on the other hand, allows other cartoonists to feature their wares within her comic-strip walls.

Price has previously drafted such creators as Mo Willems and Suzy Becker. This week, for the second time, Price lends her space to her King Features syndicate-mate, Rina Piccolo.

"I've always been a huge fan of Rina's work and love her gag writing," Price tells Comic Riffs. "My favorite one is on her website: A person has a dog with a cone on its head and tells another person, 'There's nothing wrong with him -- he's just a hypochondriac.' I often think of that gag while I am driving in my car and just get tickled all over again."

"Practically speaking," Price continues, "I've known her for a while, she is part of the King Features team, and she most importantly, she said, Yes!' "

Comic Riffs caught up with Piccolo, the creator of the syndicated "Tina's Groove" and the webcomic "Velia, Dear," to discuss the challenges and joys of a guest stint;

MICHAEL CAVNA: How do you feel, as a cartoonist and reader, about seeing fresh work from "surrogate" artists? Would you like to see more newspaper cartoonists do this?

RINA PICCOLO: I have a lot of respect for Hilary's choice not to run reruns, because she could've done just that and it would've been the easier way to go. Instead she opened a week up and cast a net out to other cartoonists willing to do the job. I'm seeing this choice of hers as perhaps her way of giving her readers more than just reruns and gags that they've seen before. I think she wants to maintain the daily dose of fresh new material -- like all comic strip creators should -- and this is a wonderful way for her to do it.

As for other cartoonists possibly doing this -- I think the whole "surrogate" artist idea works best when it's a single-panel gag feature, as there are no characters to deal with. Then, again, maybe that would be interesting, too! Ha -- like imagine Dan Piraro doing a week of "Between Friends", or something like that! It would be a whole new perspective!

MC: How long ago did Hilary approach you for this go-round? And did you even have to pause to say "yes" this time around?

RP: It was about early June, if I remember -- as you know, the dailies have to be in six weeks ahead of release date, and nine weeks for the Sunday. Because I'm loaded with projects these days, I hesitated for only a hair of a second ... but then I thought: How can I not do this!? It's fun, it's fresh, and I am always up for something cool do in the comics. When Hilary heard I wanted to do it, she agreed and went with me.

MC: I'm intrigued when you say that this time -- your second time filling in for Hilary -- you think your cartoons are more "up to snuff" than last time? What has changed: Do you understand "Rhymes" more intuitively? Or do you think you're a more accomplished gag writer?

RP: I don't know if I'm a better gag writer than I was eight years ago, but I've certainly written and drawn more gags since then, so I can say I've practiced my socks off, and know this stuff better than I ever have. And yes, I also know Hilary's slant on things, her voice as a gag writer, from reading her stuff all these years. She's grown as a cartoonist, too! So when I say that my first "RWO" stint wasn't "up to snuff", it's simply my neurotic self talking. You might say I had stagefright back then, and maybe now that I seem to be more aware of my work -- and certainly more practiced -- the stage-fright is no longer an issue. I've gained some degree of confidence.

MC: I always found it especially challenging to transition from writing gag cartoons to continuity strip ideas -- do you?

RP: It's like switching gears on your bike! Your leg muscles have to adjust, your heart changes pace, your breathing has to change, etc. When you're writing gags, you're using a whole new set of strategies, and thinking of things in ways that perhaps don't occur to you when you're thinking about characters, situations and what drives those characters in their situations -- it's a whole new game.

The trick for switching from gag-writing to character-writing, I think, is a purely neurological one. If you are aware of the types of thinking you do for each type of writing/drawing, then you can easily point to those ways of thinking, and just make yourself switch over. ... It's like switching from watching a movie to, say, listening to a radio program -- there are different faculties at work that you may not normally be aware of. If you learn what those faculties are and become aware of them, then half the "switching" is done.

So I guess the answer's yes, I think I've gotten better at it!

By Michael Cavna  | August 30, 2010; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Interviews With Cartoonists, The Comic Strip  | Tags:  Hilary Price, Rhymes With Orange, Rina Piccolo  
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I think it is awesome that Hilary opts to have someone step in rather than offer up reruns. If anyone else wants someone to fill in, just ask... I'll work for below scale... I think that means free...

Seriously, THANKS Hilary for keeping it fresh!

Posted by: FugCheese | August 30, 2010 5:41 PM | Report abuse

Your generosity in this cartoonist-eat-cartoonist world is so refreshing. Kudos to you, Hilary! Hope you and Rina will both pick up some of the precious ”Cathy“ openings . . . you deserve them!

Posted by: Brooky1 | September 2, 2010 2:28 PM | Report abuse

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