Comic strip celebrating parenthood and the innocence of childhood born out of bond between father and son
Some comics find their spark from the funny things kids say. Some are born from the creator’s love for drawing. Some are meant as humorous ways to provide current event commentary.
But how many are born out of a father’s devotion to finding unique, creative ways to express the love between a parent and child?
Probably not many. And that’s what makes the birth story of online comic “Mister & Me” so special.
Sketching the baby
Creator Jason Platt grew up on the playground as “that kid who could draw,” a skill he later tapped into for a career. But it wasn’t just his workplace that benefitted; the first-time dad also found a way to capture the early moments of his young son’s life using his artistic expression.
He recounts the Christmas when he received a moleskin sketch book in which he began sketching moments of his young baby’s life. The collection of sketches served as a unique baby book, or activity diary to hear Platt describe it, chronicling everyday moments of the child’s activities. However, when his son became a toddler, the drawings became more and more infrequent.
“Babies just lie there; toddlers start moving around more, which makes a still sketch very hard,” Platt says with a laugh. “They don’t stay in one spot for long!”
Although his son outgrew the sketch book with his daily motion, Platt continued to find unique ways to creatively express their bond. When his son was two, Platt worked on a book of poems – some personal, some whimsical, all age-appropriate – that he later designed, printed, and bound as a gift for his son’s third birthday.
With each passing year and phase of his son’s life, Platt began thinking ahead to the next commemorative project, even if he didn’t immediately know what the next step would be.
“I always wanted it to be something tangible that he could hold or read, like the poetry book, but what? That was always the big question.”
A hidden passion for pigeons
A lucky work assignment would soon help him find his answer.
At the time Platt worked as a designer for a local educational products publisher, who had asked him to illustrate an ad featuring cartoon pigeons. While Platt had never worked in the realm of cartooning previously, he happily took on the creative challenge.
Even though he had studied illustration at the Savannah College of Art & Design, none of his formal coursework included cartooning; as Platt readily admits, he preferred to focus on “more realistic art” than on what cartooning offered.
Or so he thought.
Breaking down a wall
“Working on the pigeons was so very freeing to me as an artist,” Platt recalls, his eyes lighting up at the memory. “And all of a sudden I had this moment where it was like I had broken down a wall to find this hidden treasure behind it. The treasure was my love for the whimsical, humorous art form. Here I was trying to succeed at a different style that the Universe didn’t want me to move toward!”
Not only did he discover his true passion, Platt also found his next idea for his son’s project: a comic of some sort. But first he had to find a subject. He remembered advice from a writer friend who had penned a short story for his own daughter as a memento of their relationship, and a light bulb went off.
“What if the comic was about the two of us – a son and his single dad? It could be a record of our adventures. I was really excited to get to work because once I discovered that passion, that treasure behind the wall if you will, you’re really excited to see the full extent of what it could be.”
Characters coming to life
Platt started doodling the characters on January 1, 2008, and landed on an initial sketch. The comic’s name, “Mister & Me,” fell into place too, since “Mister” was a pet nickname he called his son, and “Me” would naturally be his moniker as the comic would be initially drawn from his perspective.
But then came the hard part.
“I didn’t know how the characters were going to look. I was trying to come up with something funny, but it just wasn’t coming,” Platt says. “Pretty soon I realized that I just needed to get something down … take that first step and just work through it … because if I didn’t, there wouldn’t be a second one.”
And then his memento for his son would stay a dream instead of becoming reality. So he got to work writing and drawing.
Initially Platt intended to keep the comics between him and his son, perhaps as another bound book like the book of poetry. He soon realized though that the comic needed more eyes to fully hit its stride.
“It’s like when you’re performing a show,” explains Platt, who also has theatrical talents on his list of artistic accomplishments. “There needs to be an audience to close those gaps and to pull seams together to really give you an idea of what the show is.”
Like open mic night
To gain that audience, Platt began posting the comics on his personal Facebook page, which he describes as similar to going on-stage during open mic night … “You don’t know if people will like it or if you will be humiliated. You hope it’s the former, but there are no guarantees.”
The reaction was positive, with friends posting supportive commentary. They encouraged Platt to submit the comic to newspapers, but he knew it wasn’t ready at that stage yet. Instead he continued to post it online, eventually developing its own website (www.mister-and-me.com) from which he links to other social media. The storyline evolved as well.
“Originally it was just things that would happen to my son and me, sort of like a diary of growing up, but I soon realized with more eyes on it that I needed to separate it from our real lives,” says Platt. “It still has enough inside jokes so he recognizes and enjoys it, but it’s not a complete window into our personal lives.”
A comic’s evolution
Even today Platt doesn’t think the initial strip is all that funny, and the artwork is “just OK,” according to him. Yet, he knew it would grow from its starting point, which is why it was so important to simply get it down on paper.
“It’s like the hidden treasure analogy again. When you first knock down the wall to get to the treasure, of course there are going to be cobwebs and dust. And you’re going to have to get a little dirty to get to that treasure. That’s what it was like developing the cartoon; I knew I was going to have to work through the process and get a little dirty in order to get it to where I wanted it to be.”
Eight years later the characters’ looks also have evolved gradually from their initial days. Platt realizes that he could theoretically go back and make all of his earlier strips tighter and cleaner, but he doesn’t … simply so he can show other young artists his own stumbles.
“I think it’s really important for people to see the progression because it shows that you have to start somewhere. You can’t just jump to the end point,” explains Platt.
“For example, look back at the first strips of (“Peanuts” creator) Charles M. Schulz and (“Garfield” creator) Jim Davis. There’s a big difference between their earlier and later stuff. In (“Mother Goose & Grimm” creator) Mike Peters’ early work, you see him growing. To see an artist grow with their characters is so cool. It shows that the only way to get to this level of talent is to continually work at it. If you don’t, you’re never going to get there.”
Newell’s next adventure
Even though the Newell has remained perpetually five years old in the online strip, Platt is currently developing a book for middle-grade students where the younger characters have grown taller and spend more time with their own friends.
“I honestly didn’t think I would still be doing this after eight years. In fact, I often wondered what my next endeavor in this journey would be,” reflects Platt. “But the character is going along with him. Even though Newell remains the same age in the online strip, the middle grade book is honoring who he is becoming, not just physically, but also from an independence perspective in relation to his dad. While the dad is still part of the story, it is clearly becoming more of Newell’s adventure, which parallels the progression of the relationship between a parent and child as the child grows up.”
Even today, Platt feels most flattered when a storyline strikes a chord with a parent.
“It’s always nice to get compliments on my drawing style from other artists, but it’s really special to me whenever I get a note from a reader who says, ‘that really reminded me of what my dad always used to tell me,’ or ‘my daughter and I do exactly what Newell and his dad do in a snowball fight.’ If I can entertain someone with my drawings, that’s great. But if I can touch them as a parent or child, that’s even better.”
And what of the main inspiration’s reaction? Platt’s son, now 13, still wants to read the comic when a new one is published online, and he keeps the original treasury of strips personally selected by his dad on a bookshelf in his room. He also gets a sneak peek into the book’s storyline as major plot points are developed.
“When I first created it, he thought it was funny. He liked it at the time as a five-year-old would. But the longer-term impact is what truly makes it special.”
Platt pauses with a slight catch.
“Hearing him laugh is what makes it all worthwhile.”
Follow Mister & Me online at:
Become an arts patron: www.patreon.com/jasonplatt
Okay… so here is my Prince story.
It was June 21st 1997 when I was driving to my home in Moine, IL. I was picking something up before meeting up with some friends later on. As I was passing by the Jewel Osco I couldn’t help but notice that there was a long white stretch limo parked right along the curb.
I thought, “That’s strange, why would anyone around here have a limo… let alone where you needed to do a pit stop at the Jewel Osco?”
A second later it came to me.
Prince had a concert that night at the Mark.
“Holy Crap, It’s Prince!”
Without a second thought I turned the car around and parked in the nearly deserted parking lot. I started to walk up to the door when a large burly man in a dark suit and sunglasses calmly, yet firmly, held up a hand.
“Can’t go in there.”
“What’s going on?”
“Prince is in there.”
I knew it! I was right!
So they had kicked everyone who was in there out. I, along with about five other people, camped right by his limo and waited for him to inevitably come out.
About ten minutes later the automatic doors swung open and guarded by two other burly men in suits was Prince himself with a beautiful woman on his arm.
We all whooped and whoo-hooed as he came out. He kept his cool, but gave a little smile and lifted his hand slightly in a little wave. And soon enough the was back in his limo and drove off. All of us were all smiling and couldn’t believe what had just happened.
I got in the car, picked up my stuff, and met up with my friends. And proceeded to tell them that I just saw Prince.
I always imagined that he stopped in for some Hostess Cupcakes.
I may be wrong.
Last fall I got a call from an old friend of mine. Back in 1993 she and I were both in a production of Fiddler on the Roof together (she played Tzeitel while I played the random bearded villager), and then later on in 2011 we were in a production of God of Carnage (Where I trimmed up to a mere goatee. Maybe one day we’ll be in a show where I’m clean shaven.)
But I digress…
She called me up asking if I would be available to help her Girl Scout Troop get their Comic Artist Badge, and teach them some cartooning techniques. Of course I said I would. Not just because of our friendship, but because–in my life–I was once a full fledged Girl Scout.
When I was a student at the Savannah College of Art and Design, in Savannah GA, I was a tour guide at the Juliette Gordon Low house. And for those who might not know who this remarkable woman is, she was the founder of the Girl Scouts. And when you work there you have to sign up into the organization.
Usually this little tid-bit about me will have the listeners raise their eyebrows, and they will slowly tilt their head to the side in a questioningly sort of way.
The first question that I usually answer before it’s even asked is: No, I didn’t have to wear the uniform. Men got to wear a tie.
The second question: No, they don’t sell the Girl Scout cookies there.
I am no stranger to teaching lessons to Girl Scout troops. I have helped a few troops earn their Comic Artist Badge over the years, either privately, with the help of the leaders, or through the Figge Art Museum here in Davenport. My long time friend wanted to do something special at the same time. Not just to have me teach the lesson, but asked if she could hire me to do a cartoon of the troop as well. Which I thought was a fun idea.
I went in and the girls were really great. They all listened and participated, and, all the while, asking really great questions about my cartooning. And at the end of the lesson we presented the girls their cartoon. Their eyes lit up as they looked at it and pointing at it, recognizing each other and laughing. Especially since I put in little bit of their own personalities in the piece.
It was a fun afternoon.
But last week my long time friend shot me a message and let me know that her daughter, who was in the troop, was still cartooning. And not just cartooning, but had drawn a cartoon of yours truly. How cool is that, right?? Not only can I see some of the techniques that I taught her that afternoon, but I can also see others influences as her talent grows. And most importantly… you can see that she’s having fun with it.
That’s the point, isn’t it?
One of the best things about being an artist is when you hand over a piece of work that you created and seeing the person’s eyes light up. How their smile starts to broaden. And, especially if it’s a personal gift, see how it touches them. It’s one of the best things to witness. I just so happened to be on the receiving end this time. And how awesome is that?
It totally made my day.
I became a fan of Bill Nighy’s performance of the “actor come amateur sleuth” almost immediately after hearing only the first three minutes of the BBC radio play, Sicken and So Die in a broadcast in 2007. And from there on I was hooked. The series is adapted by Jeremy Front, from the novels of Simon Brett.
Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve always been a big fan of radio drama. Ever since I was a kid I really enjoyed listening to story records and imagining what was happening within the scene. And, at times, it would always creep me out when the first side of the record would end, and the record would have that end of the side record silence. <shutter>
I also am a big fan of BBC’s adaptations of Agatha Christie’s novels. Both John Moffat’s performance as Hercule Poirot, and June Whitfield as Miss Marple are fantastic.
But as much as I love the Agatha Christie’s there is something about the modern Charles Paris that I find hilariously close to home. Charles, an aging actor who is living with his estranged wife, Francis, can’t seem to let well enough alone. This is a mystery after all, and eventually, within the first episode, something will happen that will not only pique Charles’s interest, but ours as well. But like any other mystery that is out there, the really great ones are the ones that are character driven. And Charles Paris is always top-notch with Sally Avens’s direction.
These are fantastic for anyone, but especially so if you are in the realm of acting in any way. Because, since Charles is knee deep in it himself, you get a lot of inside humor that goes along with it. With my 20 plus years on stage, there are more than one moment that will come across and I’ll think, “been there”. What a great feeling.
It had been a few years since the last Charles Paris installment, and I was wondering if there would ever be a new on produced. And–much to my surprise–Sally Avens shot me a tweet, in December 2015, letting me know that they were heading into production of a new adventure. I just about jumped out of my chair. Anxiously I waited for the new episode and–lo and behold it appeared last week.
Yes, I was excited about seeing Star Wars.
Yes, I am excited to hear that there is going to be a new Indiana Jones.
But Charles Paris is right along side them to me.
You too have an opportunity to catch the latest Charles Paris Mystery: A Decent Interval on BBC 4 right now.