An interview with "F Minus" creator Tony Carrillo
With Foxtrot wrapping up its daily publication, The Patriot-News had to find a replacement comic strip fast and quickly settled on F-Minus, a new gag strip by relatively Tony Carrillo.
The task of doing a feature story on the strip and its creator fell to me, and below is the finished piece, which ran yesterday.
Hope everyone had a good time ringing in 2007 by the way. Look for the first part of my "Best of 2006" list to appear tomorrow.
The past few years have been rather good ones for Tony Carrillo.
In 2004, the aspiring cartoonist was a senior at Arizona State University, producing his comic strip, F Minus, for the college newspaper, when he decided to enter an MTV-sponsored contest.
Two hundred thousand online votes later Carrillo was declared the winner. First prize? A national development deal with United Media (Dilbert, Peanuts).
After a year of running the strip online at the syndicate’s Web site, Comics.com, F Minus made its national newspaper debut last April and has been gaining a following since then. It makes its debut in the Patriot-News today.
F Minus will replace FoxTrot Monday through Saturday. FoxTrot creator Bill Amend has decided to discontinue his daily comic strip, although his Sunday strip will continue to appear in The Sunday Patriot-News.
F Minus creator Carrillo, 25, said that becoming a professional cartoonist seemed like a pretty sensible career choice compared to some of his past occupations, like airport baggage handler.
“Trying to find a job in the fine arts is not easy,” he said from his home in Tempe, Ariz. “Doing the cartoons just seemed like the most fun way to use the training I was getting in college. ... It seemed like the best way to keep doing what I wanted to do.”
F Minus is a daily, one-panel gag strip in the tradition of The Far Side, though it’s horizontal in shape instead of square (all the better to fit on the page).
“Most people end up cheating and reading the last panel first anyway,” said Carrillo, “so I figure might as well go with the last panel.”
In one strip, a man shows his child a palatial estate and says “Someday son, all of this will be sold at police auction.” In another, a youth doing a math problem at the chalkboard accosts his teacher: “You mean you let me do all this work and you had the answer the whole time?”
According to Carrillo, the strip’s title reflects the overall tone of laughter in the face of despair.
“I had a lot of bad jobs leading up to this. Just being in the position where you’re in an unfortunate situation but you can somehow laugh at it or find the humor in it, that’s kind of the point of view that I try to get across,” he said.
“Everyone in my comic is kind of a loser. The name F Minus just kind of summed all that up.”
Doing a daily gag strip appealed to Carrillo much more than one that required a regular cast of characters and continuing story line.
“If I came up with a joke about computers it would be hard to work that into the life of a Viking. I really wanted something that would allow me to go into any direction that I wanted to go in every single day and that’s what F Minus allows me to do,” he said.
Carrillo’s success is interesting considering how hard it can be for a new strip cartoonist to break into the daily papers.
“Older comics are still popular,” Carrillo said, “and that doesn’t make a lot of room for the new guys. The more new comics they bring in, the more younger readers they’re going to get. It’s not something that should be neglected.”
Carrillo’s future, meanwhile, continues to look rosy. A collection of F Minus strips should be out in book stores later this year, for example.
And if things go sour, he can always fall back on his baggage handler experience.
Copyright The Patriot-News, 2007