More ‘Minus’ for alum

02-25-09 Tony Carrillo
Tony Carrillo, an ASU alumnus and creator of the nationally syndicated “F Minus” cartoon, sits atop his car. Carrillo’s second book of comic strips is set to release on March 17. (Damien Maloney/The State Press)
Published On:
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
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Growing up in Tempe, Tony Carrillo never thought about a career as a cartoonist.

“I definitely used to think that I would just be a starving artist,” Carrillo said.

But now, the artist has a published collection of cartoons under his belt and is nationally syndicated and published in more than 100 newspapers in the U.S. His second collection of comics will be released March 17.

In 2003, Carrillo’s comic strip “F Minus” was born when he responded to an advertisement for a position as a cartoonist in The State Press.

“I thought, ‘That sounds like a fun way to make money,’” he said.
At The State Press, Carrillo, who majored in drawing, developed a distinctive one-panel cartoon style.

His basic cartooning philosophy: “If I think something is funny, I’ll draw it.”

The “F Minus” strip does not feature recurring characters, such as in the Peanuts comic strip or Garfield.

“I wanted to do something random every day,” he said. “If I have a space joke, I don’t have to worry about why a cat living in suburban life would be in space that day.”

After two years as a State Press cartoonist and with graduation approaching, Carrillo entered “F Minus” in the “mtvU Strips” comic contest.

The grand prize: a development deal with United Feature Syndicate and potential to be published in various news outlets across the country.

After nearly 200,000 ballots were cast online, “F Minus” emerged as the winner, bringing national attention to Carrillo.

After six months of development, United Feature Syndicate made the decision to syndicate “F Minus.”

The strip now appears in 150 newspapers nationwide, according to United Media publicist Mary Anne Grimes, and the number is growing.

Creating a comic strip for a wider audience has come with a few challenges, Carrillo said.

He developed the strip’s edgy sense of humor while writing for an ASU audience, but Carrillo said national editors sometimes want him to tone it down.

Newspaper readers tend to be older and more conservative than college students, he said.

“I did have to learn what is definitely not acceptable,” Carrillo said. “Anything referencing sex is hard to get through. Religion is a touchy topic, so I try to find ways around it.”

Still, Carrillo said that he tries to push the editorial envelope.

“I find that old people enjoy the risque cartoons as much as young people do,” he said.

Despite struggles with editors over content, Carrillo said the hardest part of his job is actually just coming up with something funny.

There is no schedule, just the requirement that he turn in seven comic strips per week.

As a result, his daily routine can involve anything from drawing and painting to watching kung-fu movies and hanging out at his favorite coffee shop to find inspiration.

Like many children of the ’80s and ’90s, Carrillo said the main influence on his sense of humor is “The Simpsons,” which he grew up watching.

Carrillo usually spends the first half of the week writing the jokes and the second half on the art.

The finished product is a comic strip that welcomes readers into a strange world of losers, scheming cats and the “World’s Worst Grandpa.”

Carrillo said one of the best — and worst — parts of his job is reading angry e-mails.

“Every topic I pick, it doesn’t matter, there’s going to be someone out there that’s pissed off,” he said.

One of his favorites was a letter from a professional clown who was angered by the treatment of his profession in “F Minus.”

“I imagine him sitting there in full makeup writing an e-mail, and it’s actually a little bit scary,” Carrillo said.

The play on words that is all-too-easily derived from the strip’s title is Carrillo’s biggest pet peeve, he said.

“Everyone that hates ‘F Minus’ says: ‘This cartoon deserves an F Minus,’” he said.

Angry clowns aside, Carrillo has two major events to look forward to in the next few months: the release of his second “F Minus” collection and his upcoming wedding to fellow ASU grad Lindsay Butler.

Carrillo says the best moment on his journey from The State Press to becoming a nationally syndicated cartoonist was seeing his book on the shelf next to a “Simpsons” book.

“Those are the guys … who helped me define what comedy is,” Carrillo said. “That was the coolest thing I have ever seen.”

Reach the reporter at erin.hutchinson@asu.edu.