Todd Clark’s characters come to life daily

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) - A squiggle becomes a full head of white hair. A few curved lines help form a face with some prominent laugh lines and some additional ones turn into an iconic set of glasses, a yellow polka-dot dress and a gray sweater. Yet more lines add depth and character until Lola, the sassy senior citizen who’s been making people laugh since the “Lola” comic strip was first syndicated in 1999, emerges from the page.

The man behind the pen and Lola’s witty zingers is Todd Clark, 50, of Boise. In an office with walls crammed full of comic strips from fellow artists, his own work and plenty of Boise State University memorabilia, Clark sketches out Lola, her son Ray, her daughter-in-law Amy, grandson Sammy, boyfriend Harry, best friend Etta and the rest of the characters he developed with former cartooning partner Steve Dickenson. Clark said many cartoonists work on a tablet, but he still takes pen to paper at his drawing board for his daily and Sunday strips.

“I like to just draw - the feeling that you were doing it like you were supposed to do,” Clark said. “And then I scan them into Photoshop and do all the lettering and some shading.”

Clark said he started on the cartooning path after “realizing I couldn’t cut it as an actual artist when I got to college. And I’ve always been able to make people laugh.”

Being able to make people laugh is how Clark broke into the business. He started out writing gags for the authors of other comic strips.

“As of now, I still write ‘Sherman’s Lagoon,’ ‘Mother Goose & Grimm,’ ‘Frank and Ernest,’ ‘Tundra,’ ‘B.C.,’ ‘Wizard of Id,’ and then the last year or so I’ve been writing for ‘Baby Blues’ and ‘Zits,’” Clark said. “I write a lot of jokes. And that doesn’t mean every day is a joke that I wrote of their strip. It just means a handful a month might be mine here and there.”

Clark said he bought out Dickenson’s share of “Lola” roughly seven years ago, but the strip will always have a connection to his family. That’s because the main character was inspired by Dickenson’s great-aunt Lola.

“You know, Lola in the comic strip was a World War II veteran and the actual Lola was a World War II veteran. She was one of the first female officers around in the Army.”

Clark met the inspiration for the strip once.

“We did a book signing in Augusta, (Georgia), and she came and sat with us the whole time . which was very sweet and very fun,” he said. “And she was much more of a sweetheart than the comic strip Lola, the real one was.”

Comic strip Lola’s personality has expanded over the years. In between offering advice to her grandson and his friends, golfing up a storm and going on dates with her beau, Lola is also quite the crafter, as in an April 2 strip where she was crocheting a holster. That talent has inspired others handy with a crochet hook.

“I do the ‘Lola’ cartoon for this Lion Brand Yarn company . I do a couple of ‘Lola’s‘ for their newsletter a month,” Clark said. “They have a crochet pattern (where) you can make a little Lola doll, and one of the people there crocheted me one. That was a very cool thing.”

Cartooning can be done from anywhere, but Clark said his mother still received a lot of disbelief from people when she told them the “Lola” cartoonist lived in the Treasure Valley. The strip, featured daily in the Idaho Press-Tribune, is chockfull of references to the area.

“I get a lot of fan response where people say ‘Hey, I saw this’ or ‘I saw that.’ I put Lola in a lot of orange and blue. It’s fun. I get a kick out of putting names and little regional things in. . I try every now and then, if there’s like a coffee mug or something, I’ll put ‘BSU‘ on the mug, or something like that.”

In between all his cartooning and family duties (Clark has two daughters), Clark wrote and illustrated his first children’s book: “The Ice Cream Kid: Brain Freeze!” The book, out June 3 and aimed at kids ages 7-12, was inspired by what Clark described as a “weird little thought” about brain freezes.

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