Sandbox World interview with multi-talented cartoonist Peter Sandmark of Slum Dog fame and more

I want to welcome cartoonist Peter Sandmark to Sandbox World. In my twenties, I fell in love with a weekly strip called Slum Dog by Peter Sandmark from the Montreal Mirror a weekly tabloid. The innocence of a local raggy old street dog captured my imagination. Recently, I wondered what happened to Slum Dog. I could not find much on the internet. I got to discover that Peter Sandmark is a multi-talented individual and is still cartooning. He now lives in British Columbia with his wife. He teaches on and off at the University of Victoria about his favorite passions comics and cinema. Oh, did I forget to mention, that he was a rockabilly drummer for Ray Condo & His Hardrock Goners? The group enjoyed local underground fame in Montreal. He now fronts a group called Slim Sandy and the Hillbilly Boppers. They just released a new album with their newly minted single from a Delta blues standard called Rolling and Tumbling. Long removed from Montreal since 2004, Peter is still playing music and drawing. I wanted to focus on Peter’s cartooning background, I hope you will enjoy this little glimpse of Peter Sandmark’s little corner of the world. ( I suggest you listen to Slim Sandy and the Hillbilly Boppers playlist on Spotify while you read the interview.)

Peter Sandmark is Slim Sandy

Sandbox World- What made you want to be a cartoonist?

Peter Sandmark-I drew as a kid, like characters and ships from the TV show Thunderbirds, or Batman and Robin in the mid-60s.  Then I copied Peanuts characters and sold drawings of them to my classmates in elementary school.  I feel like I have always drawn cartoons.

SW-Before venturing into cartooning. What did you read as a kid? Who were your biggest artistic influences?

PS-Kids books, certainly Dr. Seuss, Babar, and so on, some Swedish books (my parents were Swedish), but also comic strips in the newspapers, such as Nipper that ran in the Montreal Star, by Doug Wright.  It was mostly silent so as a little kid I could follow the comic.   I tried to read Pogo, but it seemed too adult… I liked Popeye, and of course Peanuts, also Steve Canyon, which I think influenced Rocket Crow.  Then about 1967 my friends and I, and my brother, discovered Marvel comics, and we each chose to buy a different title, so we would get together and read them all, and start trying to draw the characters.  Fantastic Four was my favorite.  Hard to draw the Thing!  Hah!

SW-Cartooning can be a struggling affair for some. Many find other ways to make extra income. How do you support yourself, and how does this relate to your comics-making process?

PS-I studied cinema at university, and found work in the film field, with various organizations.  But I also did comics for college and university student newspapers and got paid to do cartoons for the college student handbook, then when I finished university I did a comic strip called Slum Dog, and was paid by the Montreal Mirror for it.  So, I always had a sense of the value of comics, that one could get paid for doing strips.

SW-How was your experience with the Montreal Mirror with your ongoing series Slum Dog.  Where did the idea germinate from?

PS-I lived upstairs from my brother and his girlfriend in the Plateau Mont-Royal, and she had a dog that she would let out into the street, the dog was very savvy, and never got run over.  I would meet the dog walking along the sidewalk, and stop and say hi, pet him, and then he would go on his way, he was very independent, and that inspired the Slum Dog character. We lived on Mont-Royal street, and the area was a bit run down at the time.  The dog was a central character around which I could play out different stories.  He was like a stoic observer…

SW-How many years did Slum Dog run for and why did it terminate?

PS-It ran for 4 years in the Montreal Mirror.  I started doing longer stories that would be continued the next week.  But, then I kept getting bumped by editorial, so it became harder to keep a long narrative going.  Eventually, I just stopped and started to compile the strips into comic books, Slum Dog #1, 2, 3, up to 8 in all.  I also made a compilation of almost all the Slum Dogs into a magazine.  Then a filmmaker, Richard Raxlen, approached me to do a film based on Slum Dog, and we got funding and worked on a handful of versions of the script.  It was a great experience in learning how to write stories, and I lived off that work for a year or so.  Eventually, it was not made, as for every film made, 10 are funded for development.  The rights to Slum Dog were tied up for 7 years, so I started doing Roach Town on the side.

SW-Why did you leave Montreal?

PS-My wife is from BC, and we used to go there for the summer holidays.  It is great by the Pacific ocean, so finally, I said why don’t we move here?  I found work with a non-profit independent film center, and have worked in Victoria for the past 17 years.  I have recently just left the position, to work more on comics, and music, and make films with my artist collaborator and wife, Trace Nelson.  I have also been teaching a History of Comics course off and on at the University of Victoria over the past dozen years.

SW-What new and exciting new strips are you working on right now?

PS-I have been doing a comic strip for a local community newspaper called the Village Vibe for the past 10 years, called Roach Town.  It is a spin-off of Slum dog, starting with the fleas on Slum Dog, then cockroaches on the ground.  Roach Town is a whole little world…  Then I started drawing comics with crows, because there were many crows where we lived in Victoria, and sometimes they would cross over with the bugs, crows eat bugs and so on.  Then one day I was drawing a bunch of different crow characters and drew Rocket Crow… and it just suggested a whole other world for me.  So I have done a couple of Rocket Crow comic books lately.

SW– What type of work (or cartoonist) do you feel a kinship with?

PS-My father loved comics and read them in Swedish when he was a kid, and so he introduced me to Popeye and Krazy Kat, probably two of my favorites, and the artists, E.C. Segar and George Herriman are big influences.  But I like many comic artists, no question about Jack Kirby, I just can’t draw like that.  In the 70’s I discovered underground comics and artists like R. Crumb, but also Bobby London.  He did Dirty Duck, in the style of Krazy Kat, for the Air Pirates comic books, and then later was hired by King Features to do Popeye in the 80s!  

SW-For some cartoonists drawing can be either a pleasure or a pain?  Which one is for you?

PS-It’s hard to work out ideas, but I love inking the comics, that’s a real pleasure.

SW– Do you identify yourself as a cartoonist or something else?

PS-I identify as an artist, and a creative person and I also play music.  If you look at many artists in the past they did different things, and nowadays I think many artists work in different media.  Look at Crumb, he drew comics, and played music in a band in the US, and then with French musicians.

SW– What is your drawing routine: how often do you draw, and how many hours per day?

PS-I try to work on comics a little bit every day but sometimes work interferes… It varies, if I have a deadline, I will work several hours late into the night and get the strip done. I have had day jobs most of my life, so couldn’t work on comics except in the evenings.

SW– What does cartooning mean to you today?  Are you as passionate as you were when you were first published?

PS-I think it is a fantastic time for comics, graphic novels, and cartooning, there is so much going on, that it is hard to keep track of.  I think in the future, we will look back and see this period as a kind of renaissance.  There are many new publishers putting out graphic novels.  Also, it is established now that comics are an art form, and comic artworks are being sold in galleries.

SW-What are your biggest regrets as a cartoonist?

PS-That I gave up the weekly Slum Dog in the Mirror, maybe I should have tried harder to keep doing it, and trying to syndicate it.  But, in that time, in the 90s, the internet was developing and weekly newspapers were moving online.  Many other cartoonists, like Lynda Barry, lost their syndication income… Barry was saved by Drawn & Quarterly, and she also teaches comic art classes.

SW-Looking back all these years, what advice would you give to your younger self?

PS-Keep drawing all the time, and work at getting your craft better.  For example, work at making your lettering good and legible.

SW– What tools do you use as a cartoonist?

PS-I use blue non-repro blue pencils, so I minimize erasing.  I rule out the lines on the paper myself, sketch in the characters, word balloons, etc., and then ink mostly with a brush, usually #3, but I also use brush pens, like the Japanese Pentel.  I do the panel borders and lettering with a pen, sometimes a quill pen, sometimes a fine felt pen.  Then I scan the original into the computer to either send to the newspaper, or the printer if it’s for a comic book.  With my past few comic books, I have done colouring on a computer.