mr. darby conley
"I tried to think of how I could make a living, you know, writing jokes and drawing little pictures and it's either that for a children's book, but I a got a syndication contract first, so off we go."
-'animal watcher' Darby enjoys hanging out with stray cats and other people's dogs, not to mention the rats in the subway.
Growing up with a beloved pooch named Patch, Conley is partial to dogs, not cats. Born in Concord, Mass., 1970, but growing up in Knoxville, Conley never actually owned a cat but he did immerse himself in comics. He grew up with Richard Scarry, Peanuts, and Tintin books (in that order).
You could've found him lying on the floor at Mt. Olive Elementary School during the second-grade reading period, surrounded by a pile of Peanuts books. By the time he hit 7th-grade at Doyle Middle School, he was putting square borders around his doodles and inscribing them with captions. Finally, during his high school years, he found his epiphany at the Doyle High Trailblazer, ripping off Gary Larson's massively popular "The Far Side."
"Some people are into movies, some people are into TV, my favorite things in high school were Bloom County and The Far Side," he says. "I remember getting to school early and racing to the library just to grab the papers before somebody stole them all, just to read them."
His first cartoons appeared in the Doyle High Trailblazer, his school paper in Knoxville, Tennessee. His single-panel strip of weirdness won him first place in a News-Sentinel student cartoon competition in 1986, thus planting the idea of someday becoming a professional cartoonist.
He went on to earn a Fine Arts and Art History degree from Amherst College in Massachusetts, continuing to improve his Far Side clones for the Amherst Student., graduating in 1994. While a student in college, he played rugby, (grateful that, of all the bones he broke playing rugby, none of them were in his right hand) explaining the rugby sport references in his comic strip. Conley was also a member of an all-male, jazz-influenced a cappella group, the Zumbyes. Fellow cartoonist alumni of Amherst include FoxTrot creator Bill Amend and the late John Cullen Murphy of Prince Valiant fame.)
Becoming a syndicated cartoonist did not happen immediately for Darby Conley. His first real job was putting boats and mountain bikes together at an outdoor sports store, work that he says shredded his hands. The best job he's held to date (except cartoonist, of course) was his stint as a lifeguard at a pool where no one ever actually swam, so he could draw to his heart's content. He also taught at an elementary school for grades Two and Four for two years, then became the art director for The Science Discovery Museum in Acton, Mass. Meanwhile, he had been submitting his cartoons to syndicates.
Comics mega-syndicate United Media agreed in 1999 to publish Conley's new strip, which first appeared in September of that year. Getting an editor's attention is a remarkable achievement in itself at any one time, there are between 600 and 800 people submitting their cartoons for consideration. That Conley was able to turn that bit of interest into a contract with mega-syndicate United Media is remarkable; that the strip took off immediately after launch is a genuine miracle in this industry, Get Fuzzy began its run in 75 papers, an unusually high number for a newcomer. While there are probably thousands of aspiring cartoonists, established cartoonists aren't leaving their slots anytime soon and there's only so much space. This leaves most up-and-comers out in the cold.
"I had slapped together a bunch of stuff I did in college for the student paper, and it was all Far Side rip-off type stuff," Conley says." But I guess it was funny enough that a couple guys got back to me and told me what they'd like to see and that pretty much involved creating an actual strip with recurring characters. So from then on, I worked on the Get Fuzzy idea, the cat and dog stuff. He named his characters after baseball players Bucky O'Neil and Satchel Paige, and Rob Wilco after two of his friends with the same first name. Bucky's and Satchel's personalities are extreme simplifications of the stereotypes of "cat" and "dog". The unusual title of the strip came from a concert poster he once created for his brother's band, the Fuzzy Sprouts. "Life's too short to be cool," the poster read, "Get Fuzzy."
But some newspapers are nervous about taking on edgier strips, says "Get Fuzzy" cartoonist Darby Conley. He observes that he's received complaints from papers about using the word "butt" in his strip, "but then you turn on 'South Park,' and you go, what? It's a really weird situation," he says. "Newspapers are, in my guess, in 1959 in terms of morality," he says. "They'd rather have a dead comics page than have people writing in."
The creative influences of Conley's favorite cartoonists, Gary Larsen and Berke Breathed, are noticeable in Get Fuzzy, but he has added his own spark of individuality. Personal favorites include Bloom County, The Far Side and The Adventures of Tintin. Each of these has influenced his drawing style and the sense of humor that comes through in each strip. Conley has also stated that his sense of humor was shaped in part by the likes of comedy/science fiction author Douglas Adams and legendary comic troupe Monty Python. Many "one-shot" Get Fuzzy strips feature wordplay and puns that reflect these influences.
In 2003, the National Cartoonists Society selected Get Fuzzy to receive the Reuben Award for Newspaper Comic Strip.
Conley faced minor controversy when Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania served as the punch line of a strip about tourism destinations based on smells and when Lobel filed a libel suit against Darby for a strip where he was described as being drunk on television.BACK TO TOP