On The Record With... Thomas Barnett

HARVARD – The drawn lines that brought to life Charlie Brown and Snoopy ended up shaping Thomas Barnett’s future.

As a young boy, Barnett picked out a Peanuts book during a garage sale trip with his grandma. He fell in love instantly.

Two years after turning a long-time hobby as a cartoonist into a career, Barnett was selected to join the same organization that Peanuts author Charles M. Schulz and other famous cartoonists have belonged. He was inducted into the National Cartoonists Society earlier this year.

Barnett’s work regularly appears in The Harvard Main Line newspaper and his comic strip, The Lil’ Miesters, can be found online at lilmiesters.com.

Northwest Herald Reporter Shawn Shinneman recently made a visit to Barnett’s home in Harvard. While Barnett sat at his drawing table, the two chatted about the comic industry, Barnett’s decision to pursue his art full-time, and what the induction into the society means to him.

Shinneman: When were you able to get to a point where you could pursue this full-time?

Barnett: I was doing it as a hobby for a long time. And then I was kind of doing it part time on the side when I had free time. Someone would pay me to draw something, I’d draw it.

During that time, I was developing my own strip. I was working a full-time, 9-to-5 job and that company went under. They had to lay everyone off.

So my wife just said, “Let’s take a leap of faith. Here’s your chance to do what you need to do to live your dream.” So we took a chance. And two years ago, I started doing this full-time. And it’s been a roller coaster, but it’s been a fun ride.

Shinneman: Is the cartoonist becoming a sort of rare breed?

Barnett: I don’t know if the cartoonist would be a rare breed so much as the traditional cartoonist being a rare breed. A lot of works are being done digitally.

Shinneman: Is there a different feel between the two?

Barnett: What do you mean, feel?

Shinneman: As far as the finished product. Can you...

Barnett: You couldn’t even really tell. If you draw it right, it’s really tough to tell if it’s done digitally or hand-drawn.

Shinneman: Do you think the approach for the average cartoonist has changed as online has become more of a factor?

Barnett: The approach isn’t really that much different. The digital age has made it easier to produce strips and just email it to the editor. In the old days, you had to draw out months and months worth of strips to submit to the editor, so they always had it on hand.

I like a lot of the digital stuff, but I also like the old school ways of doing it. Because I think the old school way has a charm about it, you might say.

Shinneman: Right. People ask me about the era, as a reporter, and to me it’s a tough answer because it’s kind of an exciting time to be a part of the change, but at the same time it’s like, well, that was kind of a heyday – a few decades ago – for print. And I feel there might be some similarities there for the cartoon strip.

Barnett: Oh, yeah, absolutely. There’s been a huge difference in the field from print to digital. Cartoonists right now are running around with our heads cut off trying to make a living doing it in the digital age. Anybody can download your comic strip online and not have to pay for it, but we still have to make a living somehow.

I do my strip online for free, but what I do is I’ll produce standalone books where I’ll put my characters in an adventure.

I’m working on a book right now that I won’t put online.

People can go to my website and purchase the book, or they can pick it up from me at a comic book convention.

And that’s a way of bringing in income on my strip without having to worry about having to make them pay to access my strip online.

Shinneman: The strip is almost, in a way, advertising for the books.

Barnett: Yeah. Well, the strip is a daily feature. I want people to get to know the characters and really fall in love with the characters.

I would look at the book more as a way of generating income off of the characters. I would say the strip comes before the books. It’s a love and an art form.

Shinneman: Sure. Well what does this recognition of the National Cartoonist Society mean to you?

Barnett: That’s been a dream of mine ever since I started drawing, because my idol Charles Schulz was a member of it. Jim Davis, who draws Garfield, he’s a member of it right now. All the legends who you could possibly think of.

My wife comes in with the mail one day, and she drops the letter on my desk. I was fully expecting the rejection, and I opened it up, and the first words I read are, “Congratulations...” I give it to my wife, I’m like, “Did I get in?” She goes, “It looks like you got in.” “Oh my gosh, that’s amazing!”

So I was completely floored and honored by it.

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