Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Another interview with Donnie Pitchford

Donnie Pitchford (aka Uncle Don) is the President of the National Lum and Abner Society.  You may remember the interview I did with him a few months ago.  

Things are taking off for him and he's obviously really busy but he's taken some time out to talk with me. 

He's in the unique position to create a comic strip for Lum and Abner.  Please help him by doing whatever you can, including posting comments at the Newspaper site he mentions.

OTR BUFFET: Thanks for joining me again, Donnie.  So, what's going on with you and Lum and Abner?

DONNIE PITCHFORD: Well Jimbo, the weekend of June 3 and 4, the “Ossifers” of the National Lum and Abner Society traveled to Arkansas, participated in Mena’s Lum and Abner Festival and we had a great time.  Larry Block of the Ouachita Little Theater invited us to put on some programs and we screened some rare Lum and Abner video and we were able to reconnect with some of our faithful NLAS members and enjoy their company. Ethan Nobles of First Arkansas News was with us and did a presentation on a project I am excited about, the Lum and Abner comic strip. On June 7, which is also my 25th wedding anniversary with my wife and best friend Laura, FAN announced the fact that the new comic strip is cleared for regular publication!

OTR BUFFET: Congratulations on the Lum and Abner comic strip!  Tell me how you came up with the idea and will you base the strip off of the show's plots or come up with your own ideas?

DONNIE PITCHFORD: Actually I’ve wanted to break into cartooning since age five. I retired from teaching and broadcasting in January 2010 and decided it was time to get back to doing art. After a few paintings including a magazine cover I was reading the information on the weekly First Arkansas News page online a few months ago. I knew those folks were fans of OTR, and when they first started Ethan Nobles did an interview with me about the NLAS. Suddenly I found myself writing Ethan and saying, “How about a Sunday comics page for FAN? This year is the 80th anniversary of Lum and Abner and the 75th for Pine Ridge, Arkansas. How about a ‘Lum and Abner’ comic strip?” He loved the idea, and asked about the legal issues. I knew the franchise was owned by the Lauck family, “Lum’s” son, and we got permission to move forward. I did a set of model sheets. Once those were approved, I started on the first sample strip. Eventually I produced four of them. We got permission to publish the first sample and seek investments and sponsorships. After this weekend in Mena, Ethan Nobles was able to secure the go-ahead from the Laucks, and we’re now set to begin weekly publishing!

As for the plots, the early series is called “Laziness, Thy Name is Abner,” if I remember correctly. It will serve to introduce many of the Pine Ridge characters as we move along. I’m writing those. Ethan and I have talked about adapting some of the scripts from the early years of the program. I’m speaking of scripts for which no recordings exist. I also have some plots in mind which I hope to write and develop. Like the radio shows, “Lum and Abner” will be a continuity, with each Sunday strip also serving as a stand-alone gag. I also hope to mix humor with a little drama, just as they did on the radio show. Chet Lauck and Tuffy Goff created some excellent characters and there are so many possibilities. One thing I’ve been asked to do is to keep the characters and situations grounded in the general era in which the programs were broadcast.

I’m really excited about this!

OTR BUFFET: I'm excited about the strip as well.  You made the demo strip look so great, I can't imagine it took as long as it did to get enough sponsorship.  When and where can I start seeing the comic strip?

DONNIE PITCHFORD: Thanks! Right now it is available at www.firstarkansasnews.net (click the “Lum and Abner” link) and they’re negotiating with various newspapers in the region to establish a print format for the strip. The key to all this is sponsorship. FAN must secure more advertising to allow this to continue. They have royalties to pay, as is such with any licensed character. I invite everyone reading this to help us promote the venture. Perhaps you’d like to advertise your business, or maybe you know someone who might. Contact your local newspaper publisher and/or editor. The more the merrier!

OTR BUFFET: Any surprises in store?

DONNIE PITCHFORD: I was surprised to see a coffee mug already being marketed! One possible surprise is we will also be producing this to be enjoyed by the many fans of Old Time Radio who happen to be blind. Each week I will produce an audio clip which dramatizes the comic strip with theme music, voices and sound effects. This is very important to me since the NLAS has so many blind members, and we work with Helping Hands for the Blind to issue back issues of our printed “Jot ‘Em Down Journal” (1984-2007) in audio format. As for other surprises? Wow, I don’t know, but I hope I am pleasantly surprised as this strip takes off!

OTR BUFFET:  Thanks Donnie for the interview and best of luck on the strip!

DONNIE PITCHFORD: Thank you so much!

©Jimbo 2010/2011

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