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Charlotte cartoonist Abby Howard competes for comic strip career

The Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance is a consortium of local media dedicated to writing about the arts.

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It took a reality television show to convince Abby Howard that a career as a cartoonist was more than a fantasy.

Howard of Charlotte is the youngest contestant on “ Strip Search,” a reality show based on webcomics. She and 11 other cartoonists spent two weeks together in December competing for $15,000 and a year in the studio where “Penny Arcade” webcomics are made. They participated in two daily challenges, facing elimination once every day.

In August, Howard’s sister and Web designer urged her to apply to be on “Strip Search.” She filled out the application on the due date. At age 20, she’s the youngest contestant on the show. She is a junior at McGill University in Montreal, studying evolutionary biology. To be on “Strip Search,” she deferred a few exams at the end of her fall semester – what she sees as a small price to pay for a chance at cartooning glory.

As of Friday’s episode, Howard had avoided elimination and is part of the remaining seven cartoonists.

“On the show,” Howard said, “I learned that I could be a real cartoonist and not have to do anything else, so that opened up that dream for me. It had been closed a long time ago when I thought cartoonists didn’t make any money. But now I can make enough to live on and be happy at the same time.”

Howard posts her own webcomic, “Junior Scientist Power Hour,” every Tuesday and Friday. Since her participation in “Strip Search,” her website has received a flood of visitors. About 1,500 people visit her site every day; on Tuesdays and Fridays, she gets 3,000 to 3,500 hits.

In the fifth grade, Howard started illustrating her spelling tests. Her teacher said she was good and encouraged her to pursue that art.

“I just always drew lots of pictures,” Howard said, “I guess I didn’t really know I was drawing comics.”

“Junior Scientist Power Hour” is a diary comic, so its content is mostly autobiographical. In the future, Howard is interested in exploring the horror genre through comic strips.

The social drama usually depicted in reality shows – especially one where people live together in a house – seems to have skipped the “Strip Search” cartoonists.

“On other reality shows,” Howard said, “I bet it’s just awful being in the house with someone you know just hates you, but with these people, we were just worried about who would be going home that night. Everyone was wonderful.”

Contestants aren’t privy to how the episodes will be laid out, so Howard isn’t sure when the winner will be announced. Seventeen-minute episodes are posted every Tuesday and Friday.

The experience has strengthened Howard’s resolve to stick with what can seem like an impossible career.

“Every day I wake up,” Howard said, “and I’m like, ‘I get to draw pictures today.’ That’s a wonderful feeling.”

This article is part of the Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance, a consortium of local media dedicated to writing about the arts.
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