Smash Pages Q&A: Mike Norton on ‘Lil’ Donnie’

The wonderfully multitalented artist discusses his work on his political satire webcomic, the first collection of which was just released by Image Comics.

Mike Norton has been working in comics for years. He’s drawn books in a wide range of genres including The Waiting Place, Jason and the Argobots, Gravity, It Girl! and the Atomics, and Revival. He drew a fill in on Astro City, in addition to Queen and Country, The Adventures of Archer and Armstrong, and many other comics. Norton has also been writing and drawing various projects like the webcomic Battlepug, and comics like The Answer and The Curse. He’s drawing the new miniseries Grumble, which starts this November.

Norton is currently working on a couple comics series, but he’s also been making a comic strip, Lil’ Donnie. A mocking satire of the Trump administration, Norton admitted that he’s an unlikely political cartoonist. The strip was initially a webcomic and is also available on gocomics. Now Image Comics has just released a collection of the strip, Lil’ Donnie: Executive Privilege and I asked Norton about the strip and how he works.

How did you get started making Lil’ Donnie?

I was thinking of stupid ideas to make fun of Sean Spicer originally, but the more I thought of it, the more I kept coming up with other targets to rip on. It’s just a creative way to scream into the void.

You were and still are probably best known for the comic book work you do. Had you drawn political cartoons before this? In school or ever?

No. I actively avoided any and all political content. It bored me to tears.  I guess it kinda still does. This current administration is far beyond the pale in its cartoonishness though, in my opinion. It’s just silly. It’s an embarrassing time for our country.

You started making Lil’ Donnie as a webcomic and then you moved to gocomics. How did that happen and did it change how you worked or anything about what you did?

A friend, Caleb Goelner said I should talk to them, and so I did. It’s been a pretty good thing so far. I’m a syndicated cartoonist now!

You’re on twitter. Do you follow Trump and others and pay attention to the tweets?

I don’t follow Trump, believe it or not! I do check in to see what he’s doing often though. I kinda have to now, I guess. Lucky me.

His tweets are pretty embarrassing. I mean, it’s the kind of stuff a 13 year old girl would post to livejournal and then be embarrassed of when they turn 25. Except he’s in his 70s and has no shame.

What’s the challenge of dealing with subjects who are absurd and over the top to the point where they sometimes seem to be going, no, I can be crazier than that.

It’s pretty easy to be absurd. The main problem is most of the time the baseline isn’t far off from what I’d be making up.

Can you talk a little about the color scheme of the strip. What were you originally going for with it and now that you’ve been doing it for a while, how do you think it’s worked?

The secret to the coloring is I can’t color. I’m terrible at it. At first, I allowed it, because I liked the idea it looked like a child colored it on a restaurant placemat. As I’ve gone on, I think I’m noticeably better, but not great.

The strip is clearly absurd, you clearly enjoy not just mocking these people but while reading large batches I kept thinking about The Producers where Mel Brooks  treated the nazis like they weren’t worth treating seriously. Is that fair?

I would say that is definitely my attitude. There’s not a single person in this administration I think is worth treating seriously.

Is there anyone in the administration that you haven’t parodied yet but you want to?

Not yet. I pretty much touch on anyone I want. I haven’t done Omarosa yet, but mostly because I don’t consider her part of the administration. She just wants attention, and I don’t really wanna give it to her.

You have a collection coming out from Image, Lil’ Donnie Volume 1: Executive Privilege. What’s collected in the book?

The first year’s worth of strips and a little more. Also a forward by Colbert Show writer, Daniel Kibblesmith!

I wonder if you could pick a comic and break down what you were thinking, and walk through how you work.

Well in the case of this “IKEA” strip, he had given one of his signature rallies in an airport hangar and gave some misleading stories about terrorism. From there, it was a pretty short walk to “what if this idiot was actually right, but it’s SWEDEN. Who’s the terrorist organization there, IKEA?” That’s how that happened. I know, explaining jokes makes them not funny.

The way the strip is usually done is this: I see or hear something dumb or crazy that’s happened. Usually on twitter or facebook. I go check the news sources to see if it’s true and to learn details. Then I sit and think about how to make that funny as funneled to my particular sense of humor. Sometimes, I’ll just have something in my head that I want to draw, though. Like the racist sloth strip. I just wanted to draw a sloth. I like sloths. So I tried to figure out a way to shoehorn one into the comic. It didn’t take very long to come up with an angle. I mean, a sloth has just as much right to sit in the oval office as our current president.

It generally takes about 3 hours to make a strip physically, so I can pump them out quickly. The main problem is I have a mini series Grave Danger that I’m doing for Comixology as well as my new series Grumble that I’m making for Albatross Funnybooks. And if I’m being honest, I’d rather work on those.

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