My first newspaper cartoon panel The Neighborhood, began syndication in October of 1980. It was my first professional cartooning effort and my first syndicate submission. I was 40 years old at the time, and I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. Herman a funny ruckus panel had been in papers for some time, but it was Gary Larson’s The Far Side, which preceded The Neighborhood by a matter of months, that ushered in what newspapers called the new “off the wall” humor panels. I was glad to be a part of that first wave.
I was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan. My folks subscribed to a number of the mass-market magazines of the day like Look, Colliers and Saturday Evening Post. They were full of gag cartoons, which I followed closely. But I learned to draw by studying and copying the comic art that appeared in EC Comics. I collected and drew from nearly all of their horror titles like Tales From The Crypt and Vault Of Horror, and later their other titles like Piracy, Aces High and Mad. EC Comics had, in my opinion, the greatest gathering of comic book artists ever assembled. Artists like Wally Wood, Reed Crandall, Graham Engels, George Evans, Frank Frazetta and Al Williamson among others. But the artist I most identified with was Jack Davis. As a 12 or 13 year-old kid, I spent countless hours trying to replicate Jack’s drawings. I learned about composition, anatomy, light and shadow and more.
45 years later, at the 2000 National Cartoonists Society Rueben Awards in New York, I met Jack for the first time. I got to tell him how much his art meant to me, and I was able to describe to him specific panels I remembered trying to draw. We’ve gotten together a number of times since, we’ve exchanged artwork and we’ve become friends. For me that first meeting remains one of the biggest moments of my cartooning career.
You would think with all this interest in cartooning, I would have had a burning passion to be a cartoonist, but evidently I had more interest in sports, girls and just plain surviving high school. Having no real direction, I rattled around in collage for close to 5 years before graduating with an Applied Arts degree in Commercial Art/Graphic Design. I worked in a couple of art departments, a design studio and an ad agency after college, but it all started to ring hollow after a few years. So I left commercial art behind to take a sales job with a national corporation, which led to a 13-year career in sales management, product management and marketing management.
By 1978 I was beginning to feel the need to get back to creating something with my hands. I spent the next 2 years experimenting with cartooning in a couple of the local newspapers, and in 1980 the Des Moines Register and Tribune Syndicate took on The Neighborhood.
It’s been a great run. The Neighborhood was a successful syndicated feature, and an even bigger licensing commodity. A huge greeting card line and many other products were on the market for years. After 10 years I grew restless, creatively, and wanted to try working in a strip form. I was interested in working with reoccurring characters, and filtering gags through established personalities. The new strip was called Ballard Street, and in retrospect, the multi-panel form wasn’t the right one for my kind of humor. So, after a year or so, I began to move Ballard Street the strip back to Ballard Street the panel. Where it has remained ever since.