Note: This post follows Steve Barr’s Interview, which you can read here 🙂
How did I become a Cartoonist?
(Steve Barr shares his story.)
I blame most of my success on my older brother. When I was still young enough to be in a playpen, my Mother went upstairs briefly to iron some clothes. I started crying, and my Mother asked my brother to quiet me down. I wouldn’t stop whining, and then suddenly I got very quiet. Just as my Mom reached the top of the stairs to investigate, she saw two year-old Rob dragging me up the stairs. He was on his back, with his arms wrapped tightly around my neck, trying to bring me to her.
According to Mom, my face was bright blue. I think that brief moment where my brain was deprived of oxygen made it work a little differently than other peoples’ minds do.
As many brothers often do, we fought on a daily basis. I think Rob’s perfectly-delivered upper cuts to my jaw jarred a few connections loose inside my head and made me a bit silly. So…thanks, Rob! You unwittingly created a Cartoonist.
When I was in fourth grade, I copied a drawing of Mickey Mouse onto the top of my desk. The other kids in my class noticed it and started complimenting me. I was quite proud of my creation, until the teacher wandered over to see what everyone was making a fuss about. Apparently, she wasn’t quite as thrilled as my classmates were. She insisted that I stay after class and scrub that desk until it was clean. I’m pretty sure she also just wanted to spend some time alone with me because I was such a fun guy. Because it wasn’t the first time I was asked to stay after school. Nor was it the last.
After I finally got the desk clean, she suggested that from then on I might want to consider confining my creativity to paper instead of defacing furniture. She even gave me a bunch of blank sheets to take home with me. I started to draw my own cartoon characters shortly after that, and begging my Mom to take me to the library so I could read every book about cartooning I could get my grubby little hands on.
By the time I reached fifth grade, I began making my own comic books and selling them to my classmates for their lunch money. The evidence of my success is still with me. I’m rounder than most of the people who were in my class are. But that’s okay! They say that Cartoonists drawings often take on the personality and appearance of their creator. If you look at my art, most of my characters are a bit round and chubby. Just like me. So when I teach people how to draw using basic lines and shapes, circles and ovals are used constantly.
I began locking myself away in my bedroom, drawing for hours and hours. I loved to write too, so I started drawing single panel gag cartoons and comic strips. I mailed them out to every market I could think of. One time, when I was camping with my family, I found a discarded magazine dedicated to running that had been discarded in a trash can. I didn’t know a thing about running, so I took that magazine home and studied it. I read every article, looking for catch phrases that I could turn into a funny picture. I ended up contributing regularly to them for years. My hobby of “dumpster diving” had finally paid off!
Years later, I developed a comic strip that Tribune Media Services syndicated. Although it only lasted about a year as a daily, it was a great learning experience and tons of fun to do. Once the daily ended, I continued it for over a decade as a weekly feature.
I’ve had a ton of interesting clients and projects since then. One of my favorites was when I was doing cartoons for the “Complete Idiot’s Guides”. I think I was a perfect fit for them, because when it comes to being a complete idiot, I’m totally over-qualified.
Sometimes in life, it seems that things tend to come around in full circles. I began to get lots of letters and e-mails from young people who were interested in learning how to draw cartoons and how to become a cartoonist. Remembering how the professionals I contacted all those years ago had been so helpful to me, I tried to answer every question I got as thoroughly as I could.
That led to my decision to try to write “how to” books dedicated to creating cartoons. I searched all over the Internet and all over the world for a publisher who might be interested. Eventually, that search led to Peel Productions. They were actively looking for someone to do basic cartoon instruction books for children. As it turned out, they were located in the same rural town as I live in, so I searched the earth and ended up finding someone right down the road.
IMPACT books recently approached me to begin doing a series of books for them. “Draw Crazy Creatures” came out of that collaboration, followed by “Draw Awesome Animals”. I hope I get to do even more books for them. The folks over at F&W are great to work with, and already feel like family. Fortunately, they’re not the kind of family that will drag me up the stair strangling me, like my brother did all those years ago. I think if I lost one more brain cell, I’d probably end up leaving cartooning and launch a political career.