Sunday, June 6, 2004




Todd is your basic 12-foot-tall, three-ton T-Rex who attends school as a second grader. He lives in the home of his guardian, Trent Footbridge. Trent's girlfriend Suzie Sumner also helps look after Todd.

Welcome Todd

The creative dino child of
Patrick Roberts and Bob Condron
arrives in the Star-Bulletin

While attending a family reunion in Dallas, Texas, Patrick Roberts had an epiphany. He wanted to be a cartoonist. The then 33-year-old Oklahoman, who was working a corporate job at Unisys, had just finished reading a book's chapter on cartooning.

art "From then on, little grains of ideas started off in my head," he said by phone, from his Oklahoma City home. "I always liked to doodle and I had a little bit of art training in junior high."

Those "little grains of ideas" have coalesced into "Todd the Dinosaur," who we introduce today as the newest resident of our Sunday comics section, located on the top of the back page.

With illustrative help by Bob Condron, Todd's your basic forever-7-year-old, 12-foot-tall, three-ton, gray-blue (not green, like your run-of-the-mill dinosaur) Tyrannosaurus Rex who attends elementary school as a second grader. He lives in the home of his guardian, Trent Footbridge. Trent and his girlfriend Suzie Sumner are patient and understanding friends of Todd's.

Now working as a full-time comic strip creator, Roberts said he "started doing cartoons on my own at home since mid-'98. I began developing single-panel cartoon strips, like 'The Far Side' ... As it went along, certain dinosaurs appeared, and then I pared it down to one dinosaur interacting with one person. It further jelled to being more than one panel, and it flew off from there."

He ended up with "a fairly big dinosaur living in a house." Roberts said he ended up naming him Todd, "because it's an amusing name for a dinosaur, and it just seemed to fit."

Roberts intends for "Todd" to be a stand-alone gag strip, although "there are recurring themes and settings -- the lunch table, classroom and playground at school, but (we see) Todd staying a lot at home with his friend Trent, who is basically raising him."

BEFORE "TODD" was picked up by King Features Syndicate for a nationwide launch about a month or so ago, the strip was published once a week in The Oklahoman, the state's largest paper, since 2001.

Roberts is confident that Todd's appeal should "hit all parts of the spectrum. Kids will appreciate it, and those who have seen it in their newspapers are liking it. It isn't anything any 8-year-old couldn't get. And adults will appreciate the humor as well.

When Roberts was ready to take the next step to get "Todd the Dinosaur" in other newspapers around the country, he started sending out tearsheets in May 2001.

Five months later, he received his first glimmer of hope.

"When I submitted it to King Features, just getting a response from them was shocking," he said. "It was like a recording company getting in touch with you after sending in a demo tape.

"King really liked the strip, not just the concept, but how Todd looked."

While the look of Roberts' dinosaur was set, the syndicate had suggestions on how other elements of the strip could be stronger, so it contacted other illustrators who could help him.

"Looking at Condron's rendition (of my strip), I knew pretty much he was going to do it. He did Todd as the way I've drawn him, plus he was able to bring in his own style, by the way the other characters and backgrounds looked.

"I admit, it was a little disconcerting at first," Roberts admitted. "I initially wanted to do it myself, but once we agreed it was going to be (Bob), we went full-bore after that, and late summer last year, we finally hooked up."

INTERESTINGLY ENOUGH, the men have yet to meet face-to-face, although Roberts says Condron is "very pleasant to work with, although we've only talked on the phone, or corresponded via e-mail and fax. I do want to meet him one day, although I'm in Oklahoma, and he's in Virginia Beach, Va."

Condron has a background as an editorial cartoonist with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and some free-lance work when he moved to New Mexico. He moved to Virginia five years ago, where he still works full-time as a job coach for people with disabilities. Condron and his wife also recently adopted a baby girl, who was crying while he held her as he spoke to us by phone.

His working relationship with Roberts started "when I got a call from King Features last August, asking me if I was interested in trying out for the job. I worked with King Features before when I had my own development contract a few years ago. The syndicate thought my drawing style was a match for the strip, so I went through a couple of rounds.

Although Condron still draws gag cartoons occasionally, he said he hasn't had much chance to work on those lately due to the workload of "Todd the Dinosaur."

"Patrick has two rules for his strip: Keep Todd's design the same, and don't change his dialogue. Even though he lets me do everything else, like change the look of the humans, I honor his vision and keep the strip the way he intended."

ROBERTS STILL draws out a rough version of his comic strips to send to Condron.

"Even though I'm single, with no kids, most cartoonists will admit that they get their ideas from all over the place. Mine can come at any particular hour of the day. I can be eating, or working on one particular strip, and the radio or TV would be on in the background and, say, one word or phrase would catch my attention, like 'chalk dust.' I would write it down immediately, and later turn that into a strip about Todd cleaning erasers at school."

In the short evolution "Todd the Dinosaur" has gone through since going national, Roberts says there have been some alterations. "A preponderance of the strips have been about what Todd is. He's a dinosaur with, shall we say, a weakness for neighborhood dogs and cats. I've scaled that character trait back.

"One thing I really like about my strip is that, a lot of the time, it helps a person laugh out loud when they read it. Others are meant to be more endearing, where you smile and maybe chuckle."

Roberts said, so far, his comic strip has found a home in 10 newspapers in "pretty good markets" -- and now, Honolulu.

And he has his epiphany to thank for that.

"Just reading that book and chapter on cartooning, it lit a fire in me. I couldn't wait to get home. It was all-consuming, rushing home from my job to work on it. What it means to me is that God gives you a purpose and passion ... and I'm so thankful that this thing was put in my life. It was totally unexpected.

"For anyone who is praying daily, all I can say is be prepared for an answer. And I was praying a long time before the task of cartooning was put in front in me."

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