Tony Lopes has harnessed the intrinsic Aussie funniness and inserted it into his endearing comic strip Insanity Streak.
IF at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. Usually, that means a few times. Try something in more than 10 attempts, and you’re likely to raise a few eyebrows. Cartoonist Tony Lopes received over 200 rejection slips for his single-frame comic strip from a variety of publications, yet he never gave up (though he admits to having only recently completed therapy for his persistence). Is it any wonder then that it should be called Insanity Streak?
Probably not, because that dogged determination has earned the Aussie not one, two or three Stanley Awards, but 10! Yes, he’s not a fan of single digit numbers. For the uninitiated, the Stanley Awards is the equivalent of the Academy Awards, but for Australian cartoonists and cartooning, issued by the Australian Cartoonists’ Association.
Insanity Streak, which appears in The Star every day, touches on a variety of subjects, but animals rank highly as its subject matter, often depicted with human behavioural traits. And according to Lopes, that is no coincidence – he references animals for a reason.
“To me, animals are inherently funny – not only to draw, but also to mine for comedy. Substituting particular animal character traits into human sensibilities and foibles is a great source of material. Animals come with their own baggage that readers identify with, which helps in communicating an idea or premise,” revealed the 39-year-old Sydney-based cartoonist in a recent interview.
Australia is a highly unique continent, given its island makeup, which makes the fauna there exclusive to that country. There is no other place in the world where the kangaroo, koala or platypus can be found, a point not lost on Australians.
“Australians are acutely conscious of the animal world, we have to be, due to our own diverse range of wildlife. We understand that any form of cruelty will not be tolerated and that preserving our unique fauna is of the utmost importance for future generations,” he concurred, adding that the education system in his homeland teaches Australians about conservation and protecting their animals.
It’s no surprise then that Lopes is an animal lover himself, though his main pet – a cat named Amos, his constant companion in the studio – offers little in the way of humour.
Lopes’ favourite animals to draw include camels and giraffes “for their visual impact”, though he reckons all animals offer a source of fodder for humorous situations.
Insanity Streak is also just at adept at poking fun at globally-recognised myths and legends. The cartoonist opines that the subject matter’s sense of universality makes it a great resource for humour. “Readers instantly identify with these characters … they understand their traits and personalities.”
With the strip reaching more than five million readers via more than 80 newspapers throughout Australia, New Zealand, Britain, Scandinavia, Thailand and Malaysia, content that is easily identifiable is imperative in communicating an idea.
Flip through books and magazines, or cruise through cyberspace today, and it’s apparent that humour largely revolves around the technological world we live in, from jokes on Windows error messages to phone apps, for example, but Insanity Streak mines its madness from elsewhere. “I’m not really into technology, so from the writing end, I don’t feel adequately qualified to comment or make fun of this world.”
It might not be easy to be a comedian, but Lopes – who earned a diploma in fine arts at a Sydney arts college (majoring in photography) – reckons it’s even more difficult being a cartoonist. As he points out, it’s easy for someone to drop one liners at a party on a subject that everyone can relate to, but laying down humour in printed form involves a variety of considerations. “It is completely different creating and drawing a scene from scratch and trying to include enough elements for readers to understand where and why the humour is happening.”
It’s serious business being funny, but Lopes is lucky that he’s had a leg up from the start. Why? Because he’s Australian!
“We are self-deprecating and enjoy making fun of ourselves. Our humour is dry, full of extremes, anti-authoritarian, self-mocking and ironic. But most importantly, we don’t take ourselves too seriously and are relaxed about our culture,” he shared, explaining why Australians are intrinsically funny.
On a scale of 1 to 10, Lopes rates his funniness at a modest 3.7 … “unless of course I’m wearing no pants, then I’m a 10!” he says in true down-under fashion.
The former wedding photographer revealed that he would do anything to make his kids – sons Tommy, 7, and Isaac, 4 – laugh, no matter how outrageous the task.
While he credits a range of inspirators for his vocation – including the likes of Bob Thaves, creator of Frank and Ernest, Gary Larson of The Far Side fame, Johnny Hart, the funny man behind Wizard Of Id and Mother Goose & Grim’s Mike Peters – the person that stands tallest in his books is Chuck Jones. Jones directed timeless Warner Brothers cartoons such as Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes, in which iconic characters such as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote were brought to life.
Tanking up on Asterix books (he loves the art of French creator Albert Uderzo) and watching Seinfeld has kept his creative process fresh and allowed him to continually poke fun at any given topic.
Lopes spent his formative years enjoying life as a young lad with his only sibling, his brother, and a bunch of cousins, getting up to mischief like all “good” boys. Every Sunday, they would gather at their grandparents’ place and indulge in anything that would generate laughter. While their grandfather slept, they would pretend to be commandos, hiding and throwing various types of food into his mouth. “I know this sounds terrible, but he’d just wake up and laugh … after choking,” he joked.
Lopes grew up in an environment filled with love and encouragement. His dad was a hardworking immigrant from Italy, while his mother was the glue that bound the entire family together.
“My mother was very encouraging, but more than that, she often left us to our own devices. There was no pressure for my brother and me to be people we weren’t and I think that was important.”
For the moment though, Lopes has the chance to bask in the glory of earning his 10th Stanley Award.
“As we are voted by industry peers, it is a rare privilege to receive a Stanley. And to receive 10 of these awards is humbling. But above all, it allows me to follow my passion. Cartooning is something I enjoy … that truly is half the fun.”
And if anyone knows about fun, it’s definitely Tony Lopes.
Insanity Streak: Striving for Quantity, the ebook featuring a comprehensive collection of Insanity Streak, is available from ibooks, Kobo, Googleplay and Nook. For more info, visit www.stoneytoons.com