TFP comic strip ‘Biff & Riley’ syndicated onlineWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
For the past four years, Toledo Free Press readers have followed the adventures of two dogs named Biff and Riley in the comic strip that bears their names.
Now, many more readers will have the chance to sample the duo’s exploits — the strip has been picked up for online syndication by Universal Uclick, the nation’s largest independent press syndicate. New strips will be posted on the GoComics.com website on Mondays and Wednesdays.
Creator Jeff Payden said the seeds of this new deal were planted when he first began posting “Biff & Riley” on a site named Comic Sherpa.
“Comic Sherpa is also owned by Universal Uclick — essentially, Comic Sherpa is a site for aspiring cartoonists. If you’re developing your own strip, or a daily panel, and you wanna get it out there and let people take a look at it, essentially you pay to post,” Payden said. “A little over a year after I’d been posting on Sherpa, I got an email from a lady by the name of Shena Wolf from Universal Uclick, saying, ‘We’ve been reading your stuff, and we really like what we see, and we’d be interested in offering you a contract to move over from Comic Sherpa to GoComics.’”
The move to Universal Uclick is the latest step in a lifelong journey for Payden, whose love for comics stretches back to childhood. He grew up loving “Peanuts,” Charles Schulz’s classic strip, and as he grew so too did his appreciation for other artists, from Garry Trudeau’s work on “Doonesbury” to Berkeley Breathed’s “Bloom County.”
“With comic strips, it’s kind of a combination of entertainment and art. I’ve read a little bit of the things that Bill Watterson, creator of ‘Calvin and Hobbes,’ has said before — it’s not just entertainment, it is an art form. If you look at his work, his line illustrations, his drawings, they’re just phenomenal, what he can do with just a few lines,” Payden said.
Despite his appreciation for the art form, Payden didn’t begin working on his own strip until he was in college.
“The other comic strip that appears in Toledo Free Press, ‘Dizzy,’ written by Dean Harris, is actually kind of an idol for me,” Payden said. “I was going to college for art, and Dean and I had a class or two together. And I just remember seeing his comic strip running in the college paper, and I thought, ‘Wow, that’s really cool.’”
Payden developed his first strip, “Our Times.” That ran for several years in the early 1990s in Spectrum, a University of Toledo campus newspaper headed by then student and current Toledo Free Press Editor in Chief Michael S. Miller.
“Most readers do not realize how much creativity and work goes into producing a consistently entertaining comic strip, week after week, year after year,” Miller said. “Jeff’s work is funny but anchored in the emotions and dynamics anyone who loves a pet immediately recognizes.”
But eventually, real life intervened, and Payden set comics aside for several years.
“From time to time, I thought, well, maybe I should dabble in that again. Maybe it’d be kinda fun to work on a comic strip again. At this point in time, my wife and I had had two or three kids. And I thought, well, I’m kinda busy right now,” Payden said.
He finally decided to develop a new strip as a creative release. The original idea for “Biff & Riley” was notably different from the strip that readers now know, featuring the two title dogs as part of a larger family, with parents, kids and a fellow pet — a cat for the pair to torment.
“I noticed as I was working on it that I really had a lot of fun working on storylines and gags with Biff and Riley, and I found that the storylines that involved the family or the cat were really hard for me to get into,” Payden said.
Eventually, the dogs took front and center, giving Payden, who is senior art director for the local marketing and communications firm Hart, the freedom to experiment more and more with the kind of gags he could use. It’s that spirit of experimentation and joy that he hopes to keep intact, even with the move to Universal Uclick.
“Obviously, you’re gonna be exposed to a bigger audience, more people are gonna be looking at it, you’re gonna have increased readership,” Payden said. “But one of the things I keep reminding myself is, put that out of your head, just go to the drawing board and have fun drawing and creating Biff and Riley all along — the way I’ve been doing it that just got me noticed in the first place.”
Payden also said that he has hopes for the future, but they are tempered by realism.
“I just have to take each day as it comes and see what develops. I’d be lying to say I wouldn’t be thrilled to have Universal Uclick or even one of the other syndicates reach out to me and say, ‘Hey, we really like what you’re doing, we’d love to offer you a development contract and syndicate you in newspapers and online’,” he said. “It’d be nice, but I realize that’s a tough road.”