When did you first think about art as something you wanted to do? Were you encouraged or discouraged by family, friends, teachers, mentors?
When I was in first grade, the teacher, Sister Rose, asked the class to draw a self-portrait. I drew myself walking home from school. At a parent teacher conference, Sr. Rose showed the picture to my mom and told her that she thought I had artistic talent because in the picture, I was leaning forward as I walked against the wind and my tie (yes, we wore ties to school back then), was blowing over my shoulder. Sr. Rose told my mom that knowing how to draw was just a small part of art. Perception was the rest. So my mom hung my self-portrait on the fridge and told me what Sr. Rose said. I knew that I liked to draw, but the encouragement I received from my mom and Sr. Rose ignited a passion in me that has never died down. My dad on the other hand was a hard working sheet metal worker and tried to discourage my art and pushed me to focus on a trade where I could make money.
To this day, I’m not sure if the motivation to succeed as an artist came from trying to prove my mom right, or trying to prove my dad wrong.
What kind of kid were you? Where did you grow up? What were your influences?
I was a very quiet kid, the eldest of seven. We were raised just northwest of Chicago. I loved baseball. Every day during the summer, we would walk around the neighborhood with our bats, balls and mitts, gathering the “regulars” together for a game. In grammar school, I was a bit above average, but excelled in art and would volunteer to do posters for library events. In the evenings, my family would gather around the TV. I would take the Sunday paper comics, which I guard- ed with my life all week, lay them out across the kitchen table and trace them or draw them freehand. Drawing a daily comic strip for the newspapers was my dream. So naturally
some comic strip artists became a big influence in my art, which is still obvious in my work. Mort Walker was my biggest influence in my early days. He drew a strip called Beetle Bailey and another called Hi and Lois in which he teamed up with Dik Browne. The strip is still going today being produced by his sons Brian and Greg along with Browne’s son, Chance.Of course Walt Disney was a huge influence. I read his biography at a young age and wasfascinated by him. And the fact that he grew up in Chicago was even more of a “draw”. When I was about 13 years old, the Muppets came on the scene. I loved how Jim Henson could get his puppets to show facial expressions with just eyebrows and a mouth. Jim Henson has really influenced the large eyes, bright colors and char- acter design in my work.
Your style is very unique. Did you work on developing a style or is that what naturally came out of you?
Throughout the years of submitting to the newspaper syndicates, my style changed drastically. I would send outpacket of 30 strips every other week, and when they would be rejected and returned, I would redo the strips, altering my style a bit. Some rejection letters would be the standard “No, thanks. Good luck.” But once in a while an art director would give me some advice. One director pointed out that my characters were “too cute” for the comics. So of course, I tried to ugly them up a bit, but they kept coming out cute and kept getting rejected. I submitted for 25 years, so you could imagine the metamorphosis my style went through. Ultimately I landed on my own style which was the most comfortable for me to draw, made the most sense to me and was easily recognizable.
There isn’t any of your political artwork on your site. Why is that? What inspired the change in the direction of your work?
Yes, you are right. In my pursuit to be a comic strip artist, I took a job as a political cartoonist. It didn’t pay much, but I thought it was a foot in the door. I did it for a few years, how- ever, even though I have a good sense of humor, satire didn’t really suit me. I have filed away all my political cartoons. Maybe one day I will revisit them. Even though my politi- cal cartooning stint didn’t open any comic strip doors for me, working for/with an editor did give me valuable experience in the publishing world, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything