The current state of the economy, the millions of unemployed Americans and the increasing number of college grads living with their parents is all funny stuff, right? You might be used to seeing such topics in the business section of your newspaper, but you’re about to find them in one of the more unlikely spots: the comics pages.
Debuting Monday in the Wisconsin State Journal and other newspapers around the country, Dustin, by political/editorial cartoonists Steve Kelley and Jeff Parker, focuses on a 23-year-old boomerang kid — an unemployed college graduate who has returned home to live above his parents’ garage. The seven-day comic chronicles Dustin’s stints at a temp agency, where he does a variety of jobs, including a meter maid and a waiter at Hooters.
Kelley thought of the idea for Dustin about six years ago and approached Parker with the premise. The two then worked together to develop the characters and storyline and brought the comic strip to King Features Syndicate.
Kelley, who does his cartooning for the New Orleans Times-Picayune and has also performed as a stand-up comedian on “The Tonight Show,” does more of the writing; Parker, who works for Florida Today and has seen his work featured on CNN and in the New York Times, focuses on the sketching.
Their political cartoons have very different styles, but the two find working on a single project is going smoothly. Parker said Kelley is one of the funniest people he’s ever met.
Kelley uses his humor to make Dustin work for audiences. He explained: “Humor in large part is based on irony, and it’s seeing where all the pieces fit together. What a funny person is able to do is find the irony and present it in the way that is funny to others. It’s really like writing a sitcom. We call it a ‘sitcomic.’”
Even if the duo has figured out how to write the perfect “sitcomic,” will readers find such a serious topic funny?
“I think when things are kind of real people relate to it much better and it can sink in and become a routine and a part of their daily lives,” Parker said. “Realism is a vehicle that works well for comic strips.”
Kelley believes that, given the tough economy, Dustin will ring a bell with a lot of people. Both Kelley and Parker agreed that Dustin is especially real for them. Parker even admitted to moving back home for three years after college.
“I relate to Dustin completely … it’s really strange,” Parker said. “We’re two guys killing ourselves, working long hours. If I were given half the chance, I’d be Dustin.”
Kelley said it took a lot of work to write about a guy without a job. Although the comic focuses on his jobless struggles, it also involves the antics of his parents, younger sister and the unemployment agency operator. These five main characters are endearing on their own; Kelley said he sees them as his personality carved into slices of pie.
While the duo doesn’t have a set ending in mind for the comic, Kelley said he doesn’t see Dustin getting a big corporate job. However, there are other issues that can get resolved, such as Dustin still living at home or being single.
Parker said they plan on waiting to see what works after they have been around a while before they make any major decisions. So far, Dustin, which replaces Snuffy Smith in the State Journal’s comics pages, has been picked up by about 40 newspapers; the artists hope its relatable situations and humor will help it take off.
“I do think this comic strip is going to appeal to people a little bit younger,” Kelley said. “It’s frustrating to me that papers are running comics that people can’t relate to. … News gets stale. This is an attempt by us to freshen the air in newspapers and bring in something new.”