Woody Wilson's career in comic strips began in San Francisco in 1978 after a chance meeting with the late James Andrews, co-founder of Universal Press Syndicate. Wilson was a free-lance writer, working part-time in an art gallery, and Andrews was in San Francisco giving a speech to an association of Bay Area cartoonists. Andrews ventured into the gallery following his speech.
"It was raining, and we just sat in one of the viewing rooms and talked about comic strips," Wilson recalls. "I told Mr. Andrews that I had always wanted to write a comic strip but could never find an artist to work with me." At that point, Andrews opened his wallet and took out a scrap of paper. Written on the paper was the name and number of Pete Guren, a Cleveland-based cartoonist who was looking to collaborate with a writer. Andrews suggested that Wilson call Guren with an idea for a new comic.
"Meeting Jim Andrews changed everything," Wilson says. "He put me on an unwavering course that would take me through the rest of my professional life."
After several weeks of brainstorming, Wilson called Guren and pitched his idea for a comic strip about a modern working woman with a downwardly mobile househusband. Guren liked the concept, and they started work on The Little Company.
"Like every other comics collaborative team, Pete and I were positive we had a winner," Wilson says. "We worked on the strip for nearly a year, but Universal rejected it — twice. Frankly, I think we were way ahead of our time."
In 1981 Wilson put his bid for syndication on hold and accepted a reporter's job in the features department of The Phoenix Gazette. After a year in Arizona, he began the search for a new comic artist to continue work on his strip. In the process, he met Dr. Nicholas Dallis, creator and writer of Rex Morgan, M.D., Judge Parker and Apartment 3-G.
"I read a story about Nick in the morning paper and was surprised to learn he lived in Scottsdale," Wilson said. "As a boy growing up in West Virginia, his comic strips were a link to the outside world. I was always a fan of the continuity strips, especially the sexy Apartment 3-G. I called Nick and asked him if he would look at my portfolio and help me find another artist."
A few days later, Wilson was in Dallis' office with his portfolio scattered around on the floor. They talked for hours about comic strips, and Wilson was assured a new artist could be found. A week later, Dallis called and incredibly offered him a job as his assistant. For a writer, it was the opportunity of a lifetime.
After an eight-year association with Dallis, Wilson assumed the job of writing Judge Parker and Rex Morgan, M.D. in August 1990, when his mentor became too ill to keep up the demanding regime of writing three comic strips. However, almost until the day he died, Dallis continued to write Apartment 3-G. Dallis passed away in July 1991. He was 79.
"Nick allowed me to succeed him because he knew I shared his passion for these wonderful strips," Wilson says. "And I think he would be proud of what we've done with them."
Wilson's advice to aspiring writers and artists looking for a career in syndication is relatively simple: "Try to work with the best people you can find. And, no matter what, don't ever, ever give up! If you're one of those people who can learn to embrace rejection, you might have a future in newspaper syndication."
"Rex Morgan, M.D." has won many awards from various medical organizations over the years. The most recent include The Lena Warner Prize, awarded by the University of Tennessee for Outstanding Contributions to the Health of the Nation, and the National Academy of Nursing's Media Award Innovation.
Wilson lives in northern Arizona with his wife, Carol, who is also his editor. He can be reached via e-mail: email@example.com.