Some create and read comics as an escape, but in the case of Lil' Donnie creator Mike Norton, he's working to process what's in front of him. For Norton, 2017 has been a particularly turbulent year -- in Washington, on cable news, and on Twitter -- as the first president with "reality TV show host" on his resume moved into the White House. Rather than retreat from this reality, however, Norton's put his longtime skills as a comic book creator to work, illustrating his first political comic strip starring an administration he can scarcely satirize fast enough.
We asked Norton about his Lil' Donnie inspirations and how he's adapting to his new status as a political cartoonist. Read the full interview, below.
GoComics: The first Lil' Donnie strip landed online about a month after Donald Trump took office. What were the circumstances behind the strip's creation? Was it meant to be a one-off, or did you plan to do a series from the beginning?
Mike Norton: Originally, I was going to do a Sean Spicer parody in the style of a Japanese Manga. I had seen his first press meeting and it was so ridiculous that I kept thinking of it as I'd drive to and from my studio. After a while, the idea of drawing a whole story about Spicer seemed like overkill to me, but I couldn't stop thinking about how stupid the day to day news was. I had drawn a comic strip in college and love the joke-making process so I took that direction instead and set my sights on the clown in charge.
GC: You're already a busy working comic book artist. How have you made the time to regularly create strips on top of your current workload?
MN: It's been difficult, honestly. At first, it was just a compulsive thing that I couldn't stop. I had just finished a big project and had some free time, so it was easier. Lately, it's been pretty rough, though. Working on a regular comic book while trying to make up jokes about a horrible person grinds on you sometimes.
GC: One interesting aspect of Lil' Donnie is that you don't play the star of the strip as a literal child so much as simply child-like. What do you think is important about that distinction?
MN: I didn't want to make him a kid. I get the appeal, but to do so makes him sort of an innocent character, and I definitely do not see him that way. He IS an adult who ACTS like a child. I think we can all agree that gets old super quick.
GC: Lil' Donnie is created digitally, but stylistically it's colored with a colored pencil or crayon-like texture. How did you land on that aesthetic?
MN: There are two reasons. One is that I haven't had much experience coloring my own stuff. This was an opportunity to learn on the job. The other was the childlike aspect. I like to imagine Trump himself coloring the strip on a restaurant placemat.
GC: Lil' Donnie combines goofy humor and gutting commentary. How do you balance these elements to ensure the blend resonates with readers?
MN: I just think that's my day-to-day outlook on everything. I make fun of everything, but I try to be self-aware and understand how serious things actually are out there. I don't feel anything is off limits from making a joke out of, but one should always understand what it is you're saying when you do it. I'm just lucky people seem to think it's funny too.
GC: Just like the real White House, Lil' Donnie's had a rotating cast of characters. Are you an artist who enjoys the challenge of regularly learning new likenesses and creating new character designs, or have the breakneck news developments become a chore?
MN: It's both. For instance, I only got a week to mess with [Anthony] Scaramucci. That was insane. I like drawing likenesses though. It's fun to make up a fake origin story for these creepy weirdos.
GC: You've worked on all kinds of comics from all creative perspectives, but one core element on your solo projects is humor. Who/what are some of your comedic inspirations?
MN: Oh wow. I don't know if I ever thought of that! I grew up on a steady diet of comedy movies and comic strips. Bloom County and Steve Martin were huge to me growing up as well as the Zucker bros. and Mel Brooks. Today, I love mostly absurdist stuff. I love stuff that on the surface is just plain stupid, but is actually saying something.
GC: This is, as far as I know, your first longer-form political cartooning endeavor. What have you gleaned from the experience so far?
MN: It's hard! Drawing regular comic strips is a hard job. Also, people don't like it when you make fun of the person they voted for.