Gazette comics page gets a little cooler

Spring might be coming. But snow and ice are in the long-range forecast for The Daily Gazette’s comi
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Spring might be coming. But snow and ice are in the long-range forecast for The Daily Gazette’s comics page.

“Arctic Circle” will join the newspaper’s gang of talking animals, clever kids and savvy, silly adults on Monday. Alex Hallatt’s strip about a trio of cool penguins and their polar pals is syndicated by King Features and will replace “Gasoline Alley.”

Hallatt’s crew includes Oscar, Ed and Gordo, penguins who move to the North Pole to escape mistakes they made in Antarctica. Other characters who will skate and slide by Monday through Saturday include Frank, a cynical, middle-aged polar bear; Lenny the gullible lemming; Howard the intellectual snow bunny; and Hector, the ruthless, money-minded Arctic tern.

“Arctic Circle” is the readers’ choice. Earlier this winter, The Gazette asked comics fans to choose a comic for elimination, and “Gasoline Alley” was the clear winner (or loser). “Arctic Circle” was the fans’ top choice for the new strip, but many readers wanted other options. Another vote ensued, but the top choice in the second election was still far behind the popularity numbers for “Arctic Circle.”

So the march of the penguins will begin. The strip was launched nationally last August, but the English-born Hallatt has been acquainted with her characters since 1992. She had graduated from the University of Kent at Canterbury with a degree in biochemistry and moved to the United States for six months.

A job as a waitress in New Jersey followed. So did her comic “Polar Circle,” which had most of the same characters that exist today in “Arctic Circle.”

“I liked the cartooning, but hated the waitressing and brain-numbing daytime TV. So I thought I better go home and get a proper job,” Hallatt said, deciding to pursue a position in her collegiate field. “Seven years of working in clinical research later, and I realized I didn’t like that much either. And if I didn’t really try to make it as a cartoonist, I never would.”

Hallatt began working on her art full time in 1999. She immigrated to New Zealand in 2003 and now lives in Lyttelton, near Christchurch.

In 2005, the Australian Regional Press began running “Arctic Circle.” King Features noticed, and decided to offer Hallatt’s work to the world’s newspapers.

“When I first thought up the strip, I based it in the Arctic because I wanted a blank canvas for my characters,” Hallatt said. “Penguins are funny birds to begin with, and moving them to the northern hemisphere created a fantastic creative situation for me.”

The artist also wanted to do something that worked well in black and white — penguins, a polar bear. And snowy places offer artists plenty of white space. “In a way, the Arctic gave me a blank canvas,” she said.

The gags come from time spent both outdoors and indoors.

“I tend to go walking and pursue a train of thought until it gets to the borderline of ridiculous,” Hallatt said.

Hallatt, who appreciated both “Peanuts” and “Calvin and Hobbes” during her youth, believes both kids and adults will get some smiles from her panels.

“I aim for the Bugs Bunny approach, where I write for adults, but include enough visual humor to appeal to younger kids,” she said.

“Arctic” fans can visit Hallatt online at www.moontoon.com.

Categories: Life and Arts

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