Like any artist, Justin Lawson hears from people who don’t like his work. But the student cartoonist could end up having the last laugh.
Lawson, a 19-year-old sophomore at MU who signs his comic strip as Dud, is one of five cartoonists left in mtvU’s Strips contest — a nationwide contest of competing college comic strips on MTV’s 24-hour college television network. On the line is a development deal with United Feature Syndicate, which syndicates comics like “Peanuts,” “Dilbert” and “Pearls Before Swine.” The final votes were cast online Sunday at mtvU.com where the results will be posted on Monday.
Most finalists in a nationwide competition for their dream job know that they’re good at what they do. Not Dud.
“Honestly, I’ve never thought I could draw that well,” Dud said.
The producers at mtvU saw things differently when they chose Dud’s strip, “The World According to Dud.” Published in the Maneater, MU’s student newspaper, Dud recounts deep thoughts about his life, the country and what he’d do if bananas had rabies.
At age 13, his cousin’s boyfriend started calling him Dud, and the nickname stuck. The comic strip often features Dud — whether his brain is going on strike, he’s driving when his friend goes mad or if he’s announcing Justin Timberlake is cool. Stories are told with sweeping arm gestures, intricate facial expressions and pupils and irises that blend into one black mass. In short, it’s just like the real Dud.
Dud, a native of Charlotte, N.C., misses the restaurant Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ’n Biscuits. He reads comic strips like “Pearls Before Swine” (“I’m a big fan of inanimate objects talking,” Dud said) and “The Boondocks” (“Before it became political,” Dud said, “this was one of the greatest things I had ever seen.”), runs his own Web site, www.dudmatic. com, and hates “Garfield” — the comic strip, not the cartoon.
“Why does anyone like Garfield?” Dud asks. “It’s just the same thing every time.”
Dud’s contest fate isn’t in the hands of the Internet savvy alone. Comic strip artists David Rees, creator of “Get Your War On,” and Scott Adam, creator of “Dilbert,” were brought in as celebrity judges. Adams said the strips for the contest he’s seen so far are good for their authors’ ages but aren’t on par with the big leagues yet.
“Cartoonists usually hit their prime at about age 30,” Adams said via e-mail. “So, I don’t expect the same level of sophistication from younger people.”
Of course, even if Dud wins the contest the development deal does not mean Dud is guaranteed a job. Mary Anne Grimes, the executive director of public relations for United Feature Syndicate, said the deal would put the winner’s work in with a variety of other development projects. Editors would help tool and retool the strip until they thought they had something or had exhausted their options. Every year, United Feature receives 5,000 comic strip submissions, of which only two will be launched.
“It’s tough,” Grimes said. “It’s a really tough business.”
Dud knows the facts and figures about how hard it is to get syndicated; that’s why he’s not expecting to win. He hadn’t even planned on attempting to make it his career, instead planning to use his artistic ability and cutting wit in advertising.
Dud said he’s open to a career as a cartoonist “now that I know there’s actually a possibility. But I initially just started doing it as a way to get $20 a week.”
Oh, yeah, and if a banana had rabies, Dud wouldn’t put it in his corn flakes.