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Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets

By JANET K. KEELER, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 23, 2003


It has been said that there is one perfect love match for everyone on earth. Could the same be true of cartoon collaborators?

On paper, Todd Clark and Steve Dickenson, creators of the terminally independent Lola, don't appear to be the perfect pair. Clark is single and 39. Dickenson is a 51-year-old married father of two grown children. Clark lives in Boise, Idaho, and has picked this year of little snow to take up snowboarding. Dickenson and his wife have a couple of horses on a patch of land in Santa Fe, Tenn., just outside Nashville.

They've met face to face only a handful of times in the nearly 10 years they've worked together, including four on Lola, the tales of a cantankerous, confident World War II veteran army nurse. Yet, they consider each other a very good friend.

"We have the same exact sense of humor," Dickenson says by phone.

"We clicked right away," Clark says in a separate interview. "We haven't been able to get rid of each other yet."

Dickenson's aunt, Lola Rayder, 90, who lives in Augusta, Ga., is the inspiration for Lola. "She rules the roost, in the cartoon and in real life," Dickenson says.

Though she looks like a stereotypical cartoon senior with her white hair, polka-dot shift and closely clutched pocketbook, Lola surprises at every turn. Her dutiful son, Ray, tries to keep her in line, but he's no MacArthur. Lola is the general in this house. Underneath the roughness is a sweet character who adores her young grandson, Sammy, a quick study of her PG-13 language.

Dickenson and Clark have created an older character in full dimension. There's talk of dating and computers alongside the jabs about aging bodies. And it's not just residents of Sun City who are laughing, Dickenson says.

"We were dropped in the Albuquerque Journal, and it was the teenagers who got us back in the paper," he says.

"We just look at her as a funny character and the cartoon as a family strip based on a funny character," Clark says. "We don't look at Lola as a senior strip."

When they were shopping the cartoon to syndicates, one turned them down because its editors didn't want Lola to have a beer or smoke a cigar, Clark says. They stayed true to the real-life Lola, who does what she wants, when she wants.

The authors have an unusual collaboration in that both draw and write the cartoon, which is in 140 papers nationwide. Clark draws the daily strip, and Dickenson handles Sunday duties. At the beginning of each week, the pair exchange ideas via fax or e-mail, the modern tools of cross-country collaboration. Some get thrown out.

"Todd and I are brutally honest with one another. 'You can do better than that,' we say. But that's usually me telling him that," Dickenson says.

Apparently it's not just Aunt Lola who likes to needle the ones she loves.

Both cartoonists are Air Force brats, and Dickenson did a stint in the Navy. One of their early collaborations was on -- surprise! -- a cartoon called Military Brats for the Air Force Times. Dickenson also served as a contributing writer for Dennis the Menace, and Clark has contributed to many comics, including Mother Goose and Grimm, Bound and Gagged, and Frank & Ernest. The hooked up when Clark began writing for Dickenson's Tar Pit strip.

To Dickenson, life is one big joke. He sees humor everywhere he goes and keeps a notebook in every bathroom in case inspiration strikes there.

Clark tries to think of one joke before he goes to bed each night so he wakes up with something to work on. He doesn't conjure jokes in his dreams, but he does make people laugh in them.

Potty humor? A standup comedian in your dreams? That's a match that might make even Lola laugh.

GUEST COMIC: LOLA

By Steve Dickenson and Todd Clark

Maybe you know somebody like Lola: smart, feisty, politically incorrect and way over 30. But Lola, the latest of the cartoons we're auditioning, isn't just for seniors; its creators say its fans span generations.

Each contender for a spot on our funny pages is being introduced on a Sunday and running for a week in Floridian. After we've run all the contenders, we'll decide, with your help, which ones we want to keep. You can let us know your thoughts by writing to us: "Comics," St. Petersburg Times, c/o John Barry, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Or e-mail: floridian@sptimes.com with "Comics" in the subject line.

-- JOHN BARRY, deputy Floridian editor

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