Considering that she started as a character in a line of greeting cards, Strawberry Shortcake really has endured. Created in the 70's, she went from greeting cards, to toys, to animated television specials and finally comic books.
The Strawberry Shortcake comic book is currently being published by Ape Entertainment under their KiZoic imprint, and written by local author Russell Lissau. While working full-time as a reporter for the Daily Herald, Erwin also teams up with his daughter to create new adventures for the little girl who lives under a berry patch. In this interview, Lissau talks about growing up a fan of comic books; what it's like to partner with his ten-year-old daughter; and how he had to prepare to write Strawberry Shortcake stories:
Geek To Me: How did you get into writing comics?
Russell Lissau: I've been reading comic books since I was 6 -- I still have the first "Star Wars" comics I owned. So it's fair to call me a lifelong fan. I didn't start writing comics professionally until I was well into my 30s, however. I'd been writing about comics for the newspaper and for a variety of newspapers, magazines and webzines -- including The Baltimore Sun, Wizard, Chicago and North Shore -- for years, and I'd become friends with many people working in the industry. Some of them encouraged me to try writing. They thought I was a good writer, fortunately, and realized I knew a lot about comics. I wasn't interested, though -- I liked simply going to my local comics shop every week and reading those adventures. But one day I got an idea for what I thought would be a great comic book story, and I proposed it to a friend, and he introduced me to his editor at DC Comics. That story wasn't purchased, but the editors at DC invited me to pitch other stories -- and that led to my first comic, the short story "A Friend in Need" in "Batman Allies Secret Files and Origins 2005." From there I did some independent work and became a regular contributor to DC's "The Batman Strikes," which was an incredible experience. Since then I've written crime comics, horror comics, comedy -- just about every genre.
Geek To Me: How did you get involved with writing Strawberry Shortcake?
Russell Lissau: I'd already worked with the publisher, Ape Entertainment. That was a short piece in their "Shrek" series. An editor there invited me to pitch for Strawberry Shortcake after that series was announced, and two of my pitches were published in the first mini-series. The second mini-series launches this summer, and I have two 4-page stories in that.
Geek To Me: Were you a fan of the character as a child?
Russell Lissau: Not really. I played with "Star Wars" figures and collected baseball cards. I took the job because I like writing for younger readers, kids who are about as old as I was when I started reading comics. I also saw it as an opportunity to write with my daughter, Meredith, who was 9 then and is 10 now. In fact, having her be a co-writer was part of my agreement with Ape. They loved the idea.
Geek To Me: How do you balance being a Dad with being a comic-book writer? Do you ever disagree over how a story should go?
Russell Lissau: I love working with Meredith. She helped me with all of my initial research with "Strawberry Shortcake," which involved watching hours of the cartoon and mapping out the town in which she and her friends live. That geography was important to one of my early stories. It can be tough for dads and daughters to do stuff together and to bond, and this has been a great way for us to share something. She's even done comic-book show appearances with me, and we've signed autographs together at one of my local comic book stores. She loves being a celebirty. As far as disagreeing with the direction of a story, sure that's happened -- as it would with any creative partnership. But we have always worked through it. If it wasn't fun to work together, we wouldn't do it.
Geek To Me: What other kinds of challenges do you encounter with the character?
Russell Lissau: One of the toughest things is that there is no villain in the current cartoon or comic book series. So the predicaments I put the characters in are fairly natural ones. In my first story, Strawberry got the blueberry flu and her friends had to help run the cafe she operates. In the second story, a pie disappeared from her cafe, so the girls investigated what happened to it.Geek To Me: Did you have to watch a lot of Strawberry Shortcake cartoons to keep track of her backstory?
Russell Lissau: I did, about three hours' worth. I did it with Meredith, so it was fun.