Journal of the

"Ontology on the go!"

An interview with Brooke McEldowney

Creator of 9 Chickweed Lane and Pibgorn, cartoonist Brooke McElowney very kindly gave Ginger Mayerson the interview below in late July 2003. At the moment, Hallmarks of Felinity, a collection of 9 Chickwood Lane strips about the cat, Solange, is the only book of 9 Chickwood Lane strips available. It is dearly hoped by this editor that someday there will a larger book of strips with all the 9 Chickwood Lane characters and an eye-popping, wrist-breaking, full-color book of the Pibgorn strips. Ah! Someday! There is more information about Mr. McEldowney at "About the Author" on UnitedMedia.com

Born in Charleston, West Virginia, Mr. McEldowney grew up in Florida where he drew pictures and made music almost non-stop. While studying viola at New York City's Juilliard School, he honed his figure drawing chops the way Degas did, by drawing the dancers in their paces at the American School of Ballet Theater. He graduated with a bachelor's and a master's degree in music from Julliard and a mastery in rending the human form with grace and power. After graduation, McEldowney lived in Central Europe and worked as a professional violist, music critic and cartoonist. That he could succeed in all four areas is an argument for a better allocation of talent in the world, but no one said life was fair, did they?

Ginger Mayerson: As an artist, are you self taught or did you go to art school or a little of both? What do you consider your main positive and negative influences in your development as an artist and becoming a syndicated cartoonist?

Brooke McEldowney: I taught myself to draw, and I studied art in college (although the people who taught me were far more proficient at being art gas bags than artists). My most positive influences were, and are, the people whose work just knocks me down when I look at it: Holbein, Sargent, (this list is not awfully comprehensive; it's off the top of my head) Ronald Searle, Gerald Scarfe, Pat Brady (Rose Is Rose); these are the people who jump immediately to mind. The negative influences were the aforementioned gas bags.

GM: 9 Chickweed Lane became syndicated in 1993, but when, where and how did the idea for this household of three female generations geminate?

BM: It germinated from ideas and characters in other strip ideas that didn't get so far. Edda has a previous existence as a magical, medieval lutenist named Luda. Another aspect of Luda now exists in Pibgorn (the strip and the character).

GM: Musically "9 Chickweed Lane" amuses me very much. Unless I've not noticed, Edda's piano repertoire seems to consist mainly of works from the Classical period. Are you ever going to let her play anything from the Impressionists to the present? If so, what would a short list of those works be?

BM: Actually, Edda has been glimpsed performing Bach, Mozart, Beethoven (I think), Chopin, Debussy, Ravel, and Rachmaninoff. Probably others have been alluded to, but I don't recall them at the moment.

GM: What are you doing in music these days?

BM: Chamber music for viola and piano, mostly. I don't have time to go out and perform, but I'd like to.

GM: Edda and Juliet are drop dead gorgeous. Are there any particular artists you look to for you drawings of women?

BM: No. I used to like to draw dancers from the School of American Ballet, back when I was a student at Juilliard, which was when the SAB had it's studios in the Juilliard Building. Ballet dancers provide plenty of life-class opportunities.

GM: I'm always glad to see independent women in the spotlight, but why are there no couples, happy or otherwise, in the strip?

BM: I haven't had occasion to create stories or gags on couples, other than those that briefly form within the strip (Juliette and Elliott, Edda and Amos, Gran and Thorax). This is an intuitive matter. One's fancies go where they want, not where I tell them to go.

GM: Do you have any long range plans for these characters, such as graduating from high school, getting married, having children, becoming college presidents, or will the strip pretty much stay in its fixed time, with minor adjustments?

BM: I never have long-range plans. I know where the characters will go in the future outside of the strip, but those are matters that will probably never be examined in print. They all age, but very slowly, and upon whim.

GM: Are there any strips or cartoonists that you read purely for your own pleasure? If so, what is attractive to you in those strips or art?

BM: I read anything Pat Brady draws and writes. His art is free, flying, and full of fantasy. He's wonderful with perspective as well. I never tire of his work.

GM: Now, about Pibgorn. First, where did that name come from and what was/were the inspiration(s) for the strip?

BM: The pibgorn is an ancient Welsh instrument formed of a pipe, two sections of cow horn, and a single reed. It has a very rough, rustic sound. I named my character Pibgorn, however, just because it sounded like a good name. She appealed to me as a character after a long time percolating in my thoughts. I can't account for her lineage much more than that.

GM: How long has the strip, which is a webcomic, been running?

BM: Pibgorn has been available over the glowing screen, and in its present state, since March 11, 2002.

GM: You once mentioned that one of the reasons for going web-only with Pibgorn was that you'd never be able to get a succubus into syndication. I don't doubt it, but were there other reasons you went web-only with this strip?

BM: Mainly I just wanted to be free to draw and write as I wished without worrying over how features editors might react. My main wish is to see Pibgorn turn into a book.

GM: One of the things I'm enjoying is the long, complex story arc. Are you getting raves from the fans for that or are people confused?

BM: I get all sorts of reactions. People love it intensely, people consider it violent and evil, people don't get it at all. However, I draw it for myself only. I don't care what anybody thinks of it, and it is a joy to immerse myself in it without having to look over my shoulder for audience approval. All that said, I am told by my syndicate, which very kindly posts Pibgorn online daily, that it has gathered an enormous following.

GM: Drusilla's rescue of Pibgorn from hell had definite Orpheus overtones for me, was that deliberate? And was the muted eroticism of Dru swallowing her also deliberate or just one of those ideas that comes over a cartoonist now and then?

BM: There was nothing representative or deliberate in that particular sequence of Pibgorn. I just wrote and drew as the story rushed to meet its deadline. I never thought there was anything erotic about it. I still don't.

GM: You quote and draw from many sources in Pibgorn - biblical, classical, modern - I know I miss quite a few, is this planned out or are you just following the muse where she takes you?

BM: I'm just white-knuckling it with the muse.

GM: Part of the visual pleasure of the strip is simply looking at Dru and Pib (and lately the choir director guy, Geoff, in the alt universe [love those little reading glasses and muscles]), are there any artists or representations that inspired these two very individual females and would you consider them pin-ups?

BM: I know other people consider them pin-ups. They're just my characters, as far as I'm concerned, and mostly aspects of myself.

GM: The contrast between Dru and Pib is well defined: blond, innocent, almost unsexed, woodland fairy vs. raven haired, sexy, vixen, often cruel, succubus - I suppose that's how it is with succubae - is there an underlying message about sex and seduction in that, other than that blonds don't always have more fun?

BM: I just thought the two of them, being very different, would be particularly interesting, especially when Dru, despite her ability to seduce anyone and everyone, wishes only for Geoff to love her as she loves him, totally free of inducement.

GM: Because of the complex plot, I'd really like to have all the strips in a book. Are there any plans in the works for this?

BM: It is, as I mentioned before, my one true wish, to see Pibgorn between book covers. We're working on it.

GM: I wish you success because I want one as soon as the ink cools, I mean, dries. The color in Pibgorn Monday through Saturday, and 9 Chickwood Lane on Sundays, is just gorgeous. Do you color the strips or do you have an assistant or outsource it?

BM: I color everything (except the dailies of Chickweed, which, I am told, appear in some papers in color). I love seeing what I can do to evoke the progress of a story, or even a moment, with color.

GM: How long do you think you'll be drawing Pibgorn?

BM: As long as I possibly can. I have to admit, drawing it concurrently with Chickweed is pretty wearing at times. But I'll be at it til the end, I think.

GM: And one last question; who's sexier? Pib or Dru? Or Geoff?

BM: I guess, as far as blatant seductiveness is concerned, Drusilla wins hands down. It is, after all, her profession. Pib is alluring in her own, unaware fashion, which must gall Dru at times. Together they make a very complex team. Don't you think?

GM: Yes, very. Thank you, Mr. McEldowney.

BM: You are welcome.

***

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Updated: July 25, 2003