Thursday, March 29, 2012

Catie Donnelly doodles all over 'The Best Show on WFMU'

Posted By on Thu, Mar 29, 2012 at 1:43 PM

Todd Barry by Catie Donnelly
  • Courtesy Catie Donnelly
  • 'Todd Barry' by Catie Donnelly
Closing in on the impressive 12-year mark, The Best Show on WFMU with Tom Scharpling holds a special place in the extremely passionate hearts of comedy nerds worldwide. To quote Spin's recent, fantastic profile, "Trying to explain The Best Show on WFMU to someone who hasn't heard it can be one of the most frustrating takes on the planet. It's a radio show. Let's at least start there. It airs out of listener-supported station WFMU in Jersey City, New Jersey… The simple explanation is this: For three hours each week, a guy named Tom Scharpling gets on the radio, plays some cool records, takes some phone calls, and then his friend, Superchunk and Mountain Goats drummer, Jon Wurster, calls up and acts like a jerk."

Pretty niche, weird thing, right? Not so much.

During the past dozen years, the show has amassed a wide-ranging audience, not to mention some very famous guests. Comedians Zach Galifianakis, Aziz Ansari and Marc Maron have stopped by, as have musicians Andrew W.K., Aimee Mann and Carl Newman. One time, during WFMU's 2008 fundraising marathon, Scharpling, Ted Leo, Ben Gibbard and Patton Oswalt covered Abba's "Take a Chance on Me." Yep, pretty special. Extremely passionate. Comedy nerds.

Another such nerd is Catie Donnelly, an Atlanta resident who works in software and has been drawing for fun since she was in middle school. Like many Best Show devotees, Donnelly is glued to Twitter on Tuesday nights when the show airs, interacting with fellow fans. But her fandom is a little more serious than most, if only because she live-draws the show each week. Her "about" page explains: "Catie is a person who draws ridiculous shit all the time." I caught up with her to find out more.

John Hodgman by Catie Donnelly

When did you first start drawing?
I started drawing in middle school. At that point it was pretty much all bad copies of anime characters, but over time I would change the details more and more until I was comfortable doing my own thing. I was entirely self-taught until a couple years ago. After I finished my computing degree, I spent some time taking classes at SCAD. Turns out, art school's expensive, so that didn't last long, but I made more progress during the two quarters I was there that I had in a decade. I've heard a lot of artists criticize art school, but in the basic drawing, design and color courses I took I picked up a number of basic skills that I had missed entirely and I learned how practice and grow, which I think is the key to being self taught. I'd recommend a formal art education to anyone.

How did you get into The Best Show?
I started listening last September after my friend Sara recommended the show several times. The first week I listened I knew nothing other than some guy named Tom had a radio show, so it was a pretty big shock. I drew as I listened and put them up on Twitter, and the next day Sara suggested I do so regularly. I think the drawings get better the longer I listen, though. There are so many little inside jokes with that show, and the more of them I'm privy to the more I can add in little details and call-backs. I'm drawing someone else's comedy, so the goal is always to add at least a little something. For instance, maybe a particularly evasive caller actually works for the company that ripped Tom off and never sent the records he ordered. He may not have mentioned it in that week's episode, but people who've been following that whole fiasco get an extra laugh.

Julie Klausner by Catie Donnelly

My first exposure to your drawings was through Julie Klausner. Have you gotten any responses from people involved with the show?
I think word mostly spreads through other fans. There's a huge community centered around the show, and on Tuesday nights Twitter's all aflutter, so it gets passed around. That group is really the reason I keep doing it; I actually have some close friends that I met because they saw the live drawings.

Usually if there's a guest on the show I'll try and draw them at least once. Occasionally, I'll tweet it at them, but I try to limit it to when I'm particularly proud of something. When they retweet or reblog, though, it's pretty much the highlight of my week.

As for the man himself, I've been pretty cautious. Tom's in a funny position where he's got this celebrity status, but he's also easy to reach, so he's got people coming out of the woodwork trying to get him to endorse this or that project. In the past he's promoted a few, but recently people have begun to expect and even demand that from him. I think he's at least peripherally aware that this is going on; I won the Best Show Enthusiasm Reward, which is given out by someone else, but Tom sent me a prize pack. He's never said anything about it, and even the few times I've called in I've never mentioned it. I don't think it's fair to him to force endorsement or rejection. And he may not even like it. The truth is that it really doesn't matter.

What other projects are you working on?
One is pretty loosely structured, just a series of comics on topics I feel strongly about intended mostly as practice in writing and designing longer works. The other is a little better defined. I've seen my share of movies, but I've actually seen very few of the ones people consider classics in their teens and early twenties. I made a list of 25, and I'm watching each and writing a comic and review focusing on how well they hold up if you watch them for the first time after you've already got a job and a mortgage.

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