COLUMBIA – When Jeremy Burt’s aunt sent him an e-mail encouraging him to participate in Amazon.com’s international Comic Strip Superstar contest, he told himself he was too busy with work to enter.
Days later he was laid off from his job as a multimedia graphic design specialist.
Ten finalists will be chosen during the third round of the reviewing process, and after the finalists are announced, Amazon customers will select the grand prize winner by voting for their favorite at www.amazon.com/comicstripsuperstar.
According to the contest’s Web site, the grand prize includes:
- A full publishing contract with Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC, to market and distribute a collection of the winner’s comic strips or comic panels as a published book.
- $5,000 from Andrews McMeel Publishing.
- A development contract with Universal Uclick to develop the winner’s comic strips or comic panels into a feature suitable for syndication. Universal Uclick will pay the winner a monthly stipend of $300 for each month during the term that Grand Prize Winner submits 20 comics for feedback and evaluation by Universal Uclick for a maximum of 24 months.
“I realized, well, I have time now,” Burt said.
Burt is now a quarterfinalist in the competition. His comic, “Jeremy and Tim,” which follows a young boy and his imaginary lamb friend, is one of the 250 comics that advanced past the first round.
The birth of 'Jeremy and Tim'
Burt was eight years old when the idea for “Jeremy and Tim” was born. For his journal writing class, he had to demonstrate in his own words how he would best communicate with animals. Instead of writing, he drew his answer.
When his brother Joshua was born, Burt bought him a stuffed lamb that Joshua later named Tiny Tim. As Jeremy brainstormed ideas for his drawing, he noticed Tiny Tim. The name “Jeremy and Tim” was born.
“It was just a quick way to complete the class assignment,” Jeremy said. “I developed the characters later.”
As the years passed, teachers and others in the community started to notice Jeremy’s artistic ability. When the Missourian came to his class in 1989 to look for students to submit content to the digital Missourian, teachers suggested that they speak with Jeremy about his comics.
Over the next 10 years, Jeremy built a relationship with the Missourian, and his comics were regularly published in the newspaper’s 18-and-under page and in the miniMO.
In 1999, Jeremy graduated from high school and prepared to attend the University of Central Missouri, then called Central Missouri State University.
“That’s pretty much when 'Jeremy and Tim' stopped,” Jeremy said.
An artistic child
Jeremy’s parents, Michael and Mary Burt, said Jeremy has always been artistic.
“From a very young age, he always knew he was going to go into art,” Mary said. “He used to say he was going to move to Florida and work for MGM studios.”
Michael is a preacher, and Mary said Jeremy would doodle as his father preached.
“He would sometimes illustrate Mike’s sermons,” Mary said. “He liked to draw caricatures of special speakers and give the drawings to them.”
However, his parents sometimes had to intervene, Michael said.
“(The drawing) was not always complimentary,” he said.
While he liked drawing, Mary said Jeremy disliked coloring books.
“He would rather have blank paper and a pencil," Mary said. "He wanted to make his own lines.”
The return of Jeremy (and Tim)
During a 10-year hiatus from “Jeremy and Tim”, Jeremy graduated with a degree in commercial arts, focused on his career, got married and 1 1/2 years ago had a daughter.
One Friday night in May 2009, Jeremy had nothing to do. His wife and daughter were sleeping. He went to the garage and dug up his old comics. Once he found them, he used new resources, such as Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop and other computer graphics software, to transform his old comic strips.
“They totally took on a new life,” Jeremy said. “The comics looked clean, fresh and just really professional.”
Jeremy’s parents were a little worried when they first found out Jeremy was taking his comics to the computer.
“We wanted to make sure his work didn’t lose the organic effect, but it really hasn’t," Michael said. "He was able to maintain that even with a computer.”
“There were a lot of people who remembered the comics,” Jeremy said. “They would say ‘Hey, I remember you. I always wondered where you went; you were just this young kid who went away.’”
A couple months later he got the e-mail about the contest from his aunt.
Entering the contest
The contest, which was open to residents of 24 countries, required participants to submit two weeks worth of a proposed comic feature, which consists of 10 dailies and two Sunday strips or panels.
Burt now had about 20 days to produce the content for his entry. He was used to doing dailies because he had done them for the Missourian, but Sunday strips, which are larger and in color, were another story.
Burt brainstormed ideas for two Sunday strips and started his work to perfect them, all while hunting for another job.
Six days before his deadline, Jeremy and his wife, Kelley, realized the content submitted to the contest had to be made up of all new material. It could not have been made public, even online.
He had published the strips he wanted to enter on his site. So he now had to create 10 of his best daily strips — with less than a week until his deadline.
“There were two nights that I didn’t sleep,” Burt said.
Making the first cut
On Sept. 28, Jeremy received an e-mail notifying him that he was a quarterfinalist.
“We know Jeremy has talent, and we want him to be able to do something with it,” Mary said.
Jeremy is proud of the attention he gets from his daughter, who can recognize the characters from his comic even though she is only 1 1/2 years old.
“I say ‘Hey, who is this?’ and she’ll say ‘Jeremy’ or ‘Tim,’” Jeremy said. “I wouldn’t have thought when I was 8 that my infant daughter would recite the names of the characters I was coming up with.”
The second round review period ends Sunday. Entries in this round are judged on the overall strength of their submission, the art, the marketability of idea and the strength of the writing and humor. Only the best 50 comic features will move on to round three of review.
The next cut
Jeremy is anticipating the results of this cut.
“I was hoping to get into the 250,” he said. “I will be happy to get into the 50 and shocked to get into the 10 or to win. I mean, I took 10 years off.”
His success so far in the competition has encouraged Jeremy to continue in his effort to become syndicated.
“It kind of showed me that I could do this,” Jeremy said. “This is something that is viable. I am better than 4,750 other people that entered, and the right people think I am good enough.”