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For 'Funday Morning' cartoonist, the joke's on him

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In Brad Diller's latest comic strip, he likes to be the butt of his own jokes.

"For the most part it's me making fun of my own sort of neurosis and the things I can be envious about," Diller said. "So it's really making a joke of myself."

Diller, a former newsroom illustrator for the Charleston Daily Mail, is the artist behind the comic strip Funday Morning.

Beginning today, "Funday Morning" will be a regular feature in the Charleston Gazette and the Saturday Gazette-Mail.

His cartoons have been made into two books "The Neighbors have Two Flamingos" and "Behind the Eight Ball."

Diller, who attended George Washington High School in Charleston, started working for the Daily Mail in 1988. He used to draw some of the paper's political cartoons, but he never really liked doing them.

For one thing, he wasn't into politics.

"I guess just being sarcastic and caustic about everything, I'm more comfortable with that," said Diller, now of Reno, Nev. "That's just easier, to be rude to everyone instead of one side or the other."

Diller had an idea to start drawing his own single-panel cartoon. He sketched out 12 of the cartoons and pitched the idea to then-Daily Mail editor David Greenfield.

"I took them into him on a Monday and said I'd like to run this on a weekly basis and he said OK," Diller said.

His first comic strip, "One Brick Shy," was a sort of ripoff of Gary Larson's "The Far Side," Diller said.

"One of the things I admired about Gary Larson is you could take any scenario and use it," Diller said. "You weren't locked into a particular job or time or a geographic location. That open-endedness was really appealing in the beginning."

But in the age before the Internet, the only way to be successful drawing comics was to be syndicated, he said. But he kept being turned down for syndication.

"I thought if Gary Larson could do it, I could do it," Diller said. "But as far as syndicates go, they were like, 'we've got Gary Larson, what do you do?' So finally in the mid-'90s I decided I'll change it up."

His next comic, "Bumma Dude," was darker and failed to find an audience, he said. The cartoon was about a family living in a trailer park.

"It was really similar to what you see, it was just a lot darker," Diller said. "The father was uglier and [he had a] huge gut. It didn't go over well...There was probably an audience for this, but you're not going to reach them through a newspaper."

Diller's comics ran in newspapers from 1992 to 2000, when he left the newspaper business.

Two years later he and some partners started Access Pass & Design, a company that prints tour passes for big name shows like American Idol, Coldplay, Journey and Guns n' Roses.

He had given up on comics until around 2007 when his wife, Lee, found a box with 500 of them while cleaning out the garage. He almost threw them away.

"Most of my stuff I was doing was digital but all of the cartoons were hand-drawn," he said.

With the help of a web developer, he had them put onto a website in 2009.

"I had maybe 35 hits a year and I still wasn't drawing anything and didn't pay any attention to it," Diller said. "[The website] had no background information, nobody even knew who drew the cartoons...It almost never worked."

That was when someone suggested Facebook. He says the social media site was a turning point in his career. For the first time, he was getting to interact with his audience.

"In a newspaper you work in a completely isolated way," Diller said. "It's like telling jokes in a closet. [But on Facebook], all of a sudden the audience was responding. That was kind of a key element -- knowing people would respond to the work."

He was posting to Facebook five a week and quickly realized he would run out of material soon if he didn't start drawing again. That was when he rediscovered his affection for his favorite pastime.

"I realized how much I missed drawing because I hadn't drawn anything in years and that this was the best part," Diller said. "Just getting to draw a picture."

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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