Ruben Bolling, Cartoonist


Cool Tools Show 302: Ruben Bolling

Our guest this week is Ruben Bolling. Ruben is the author of Tom the Dancing Bug, the weekly comic strip that appears on websites and newspapers across the country, and premiers every week on BoingBoing. The comic is a Herblock Prize winner, an RFK Journalism Award winner, and was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist in 2019 and 2021. You can Ruben on Twitter @rubenbolling.

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Show notes:

LITENERGY Portable Tracing LED Copy Board Light Box ($20)
Any artist can find a light box useful. You can draw something on paper and then you put it on the light box and put the final paper you’re going to use. I use very heavy Bristol board. You put that on top of it, turn the light on, and then you can see through the paper. It’s a way of tracing with a light underneath. I’ve always had this clunky light box for years. It was given to me as a present when I first started cartooning. And it must be like four inches thick with an actual light bulb inside. Obviously, I do each drawing, but at least I have an outline for where the head is going to go and the arms and everything, because I didn’t want to pencil it and then draw it. It just saved me a lot of time when I was doing this. So this thing has been just a real lifesaver for me. It’s a tool I have become very dependent on.

uni Kuru Toga Advance Rotating Mechanical Pencil ($7)
A mechanical pencil that I use with blue led for penciling my comic, the uni Kuru Toga Advance, and then for inking, I use Sakura Pigma pens. For decades, when I started, my drawing procedure was to draw with a very hard lead pencil and then ink over that with a rapidograph ink pen and then erase the pencil so that what I ended up with was exactly what the comic would be, what it would look like. And a few years ago, I went to a gallery show of the work of Chris Ware, he’s like this great cartoonist whose work I just love. I saw that he uses non-photo blue pencil and then inks over that as part of it and then leaves the blue pencil in the original, and it comes out in their reproduction process. So I decided, “Well, this is the way a real cartoonist works.” And so I just suddenly switched, inspired or copying him, I switched to this mechanical pencil with blue lead and micron pens.

Sakura Pigma 30062 Micron Blister Card Ink Pen Set ($12)
The pens are just fantastic. There’s so much easier than rapidographs. They’re just a marker and they’re cheap. And the minute they lose their boldness, you just chuck them. I scan it into my computer and then I can remove the blue, there’s a process to remove all of any color, and then I’m left with the the black inking. And then I start the coloring process on the computer, another manipulation I do on the computer.

AllTrails app
AllTrails is an app that I found over this summer. This app is great for hikes. It shows all the trails in your vicinity and has very useful maps for each one. And unlike most online comics, the user comments for these are actually really helpful with really good tips. So before you start your hike, you can like find out tips about what you want to do, and what you don’t; some problems you may run into. We just got back from our first trip in the pandemic and we went to Arizona and we did a lot of hiking there. And we used this app on the hikes there. And there was one hike that was really hard to stay on the trail. I’m terrible at that. If I come to a spot, I never know which way the trail goes until I realize until I’m in the middle of a bush or something, then I have to backtrack and try to find the trail. But you know, on this one hike, we miraculously had cell service the whole way in the middle of nowhere. So if we took a wrong step, I’d see it on the map that our little blue dot was moving away from the trail and within steps, we’d get back on the trail. AllTrails may not be the most natural way to do this, but it really, it saved us.

31 years in the making, this book collects the top, most popular, most talked-about, most important, most Tom-the-Dancing-Bug comics in Tom the Dancing Bug’s history. Imagine the thrill of reading and owning the award-winning and award-losing comic strip Tom the Dancing Bug, distilled into one handsome tome containing only its scientifically determined very, very, VERY* best.


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