Jeff Wakefield Reveals Origins of Amy, Tim and The Cat

In the second part of the interview recently given to Bata World News, Jeff Wakefield, creator of the Bubblegummers comic strip characters, explains where the inspiration for the three characters came from, and tells us more about their history, both before and after they became a Bata brand.

How did Bubblegummers come about? When did you first have the idea for them?

The forerunner of Bubblegummers came about in 1965. Back then I lived in Don Mills, which was where Bata International would build their head office. There was a “hip and happening” scene developing in the Yorkville district of Toronto at that time, and the girls would all be decked out in outfits that resembled the entire Mary Quant catalogue. We called them “Don Mills Hippies” – rich and jaded. I did a cartoon, based on one particular girl in our school, and sold it to the local Don Mills newspaper, “The Mirror.”

When I got out of the Navy, in August of 1966, I had no idea what I was going to do. A school friend said I should be a cartoonist and create a strip based on the character that appeared in the Mirror. Not long after, I sold the concept to “After Four”, the weekly teen section in the Toronto Telegram. It ran in the Telegram as Bubblegummers from 1966 until that section was cancelled in 1968.

In 1972, it was picked up as a daily feature by the Toronto Sun. Both the Mirror version and its subsequent version, which first appeared on Thursday, October 27, 1966, were within a few days of my birthday, October 31, and so years later, when I dressed Amy in an over-sized hockey sweater, I put the number 31 prominently on the front. Incidentally, the name “Amy” came from a song made popular by Bobby Darrin.

Where did the inspiration for Tim and The Cat come from?

When the feature ran in the Toronto Sun and other newspapers, we gave her a couple of girl friends. However, when I presented the character to Phillip Nutt, I just presented Amy. I think that there was a meeting of Bata executives, and Phillip asked me to develop a boy character and an animal character. I came back with Tim and The Cat. The Tim character was based on my son, Tim, who was five or six years old. We took in a number of stray cats, and so The Cat has his roots in that.

What can you tell us about the characters’ stories and personalities?

Amy was meant to be the curious one, the one that was trying to figure out the meaning of things. Tim was the “dreamer” – living in fantasies. To tell the truth, I could never really get a handle on The Cat, despite the multitude of models that we had at hand, so we never used him very much. It wasn’t until Bata made a series of animated commercials with fairytale settings – and one classic one, based on Star Wars – that I saw The Cat’s true potential as the object of bad luck. He was a black cat, after all. Those commercials created The Cat’s personality, so my hat’s off to the scriptwriter and animators who put him on two feet.

How did the Bubblegummers format develop over time?

In the early 80s, the strip was picked up by the McNaught Syndicate in New York. This was the first time that the characters appeared in comic strip form. Up to this time, the format was a single column panel, which was very restrictive. In the gallery you can see the original sales brochure from McNaught, which is a little yellowed with age. It contains some of the first pieces in strip format. The strips from this period are actually the only pieces I still have the artwork for.

At one time, I contemplated putting together a book of the strips from the McNaught submissions, and edited them into sequences of six, with overall titles. A few of them are shown in the gallery.

How does the creative process work for you? Do you have a particular routine that you follow?

Comics are mostly about the writing. Generally, although this isn’t carved in stone, you need a script to draw to. I read a lot and quite often I am inspired by what I have read. It also helps to be a bit of a wallflower. I listen and watch. The result is that I hear and see situations that can inspire a cartoon. Carol, who did the writing for most of the Bubblegummers strips from 1972, is much the same in her approach.

Do you have a favorite Bubblegummers character?

My favorite character is “Amy,” because she was the original one – the one that made it all happen.

Finally, could you tell us about some of the projects you are currently working on?

I recently finished two books: “Memories of Kandahar,” with my friend Dana Bernier, available on Amazon, and “Sutler Cyrus: True History and Other Fake News,” my second collection of cartoons from the history trade paper “Smoke & Fire News.”

Carol is also the author of a series of light-hearted stories under the banner of Catt Russell Mysteries. They are available as e-books from most chain book retailers. She is currently working on the seventh installment. Find out more at carolwakefield.com.

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