Oh, hey, I didn’t see you there – you startled me! We cartoonists are used to working alone. We fly solo, man – the wind of ideas blowing through our hair as we navigate our own internal highway.
Or something like that. I’m still working out the metaphor. (Note to self: Avoid “hitting a speed bump” metaphor when writing about the internal highway.)
So this is a blog where I write about myself. Not necessarily about what I DO, really, because the obvious truth is that I don’t do much. There’s an unhealthy amount of sitting and thinking involved. And then another unhealthy amount of sitting and drawing. I guess what I should do is write about how I got to a point in my life where I’m allowed to do all this sitting and thinking and drawing for a living.
The truth is, there’s a lot of stubborn, boneheaded persistence that goes into becoming a professional cartoonist, and there’s even more luck. Like most of us, I started drawing very young by copying my favorite cartoons: Peanuts, BC, Hagar, Wizard of Id and Frank & Ernest. Then I discovered Herman in middle school, and Jim Unger changed the way I drew. His style was incredibly unique. In high school, my journalism teacher took my cartooning aspirations seriously, and began bringing in The New Yorker magazine so I could read the cartoons. And by “read,” I mean, “study.” I didn’t understand many of the gags, but I loved that they made me think so hard. It was rewarding every time I “got” one. Those were the years when I realized what exactly I wanted to do. The problem was, I had no idea how.
At Eastern Michigan University, I drew cartoons for the Echo while getting a B.S. in both philosophy and creative writing. At Indiana University, I drew cartoons for the IDS while getting a master’s in creative writing. I’d like to say that I purposefully majored in philosophy because I knew it would help me conceptualize, and creative writing because I understood that cartooning is so much more about the writing than the art … but honestly, I just enjoyed them. And I’m all about enjoying things.
Between the ages of 24-30, I drew anything that would generate income, no matter how little: freelance illustrations, magazine gags, book illustrations for small local publishers and political cartoons. All the while, I was submitting twice yearly to the syndicates and wallpapering my drawing space with their rejection letters. Jay Kennedy took pity for a couple years and included some of my work in The New Breed, but that was as close as I got to syndication.
It wasn’t until 1994 that Creators Syndicate offered me a contract, which remains one of the single greatest phone calls I’ve ever received. My little panel didn’t have a name, so I sent along a list to the staff, and Speed Bump was the unanimous choice. My personal preference was The Wide World of Stretch Pants, but wisely, Creators turned that title down.
Twenty-one years later (hey, Speed Bump can now legally have a beer with me!), and my life revolves around deadlines. On Monday, I draw my Sunday cartoon. On Tuesday, I draw three dailies. On Wednesday, I draw three more dailies. (Both days include coming up with three ideas in the morning and drawing them in the afternoon/evening … I don’t have a backlog of ideas). Then, I scan and send to my buddies Pete and Jessica at Creators, with coloring instructions included. A drink might or might not be had at this time.
Thursday through Sunday is pretty much party time. And by “party time,” I mean, “work on other projects.” I’m the principle cartoonist for BarkBox, a super cool-company that sends monthly gift boxes for your mutt. And I’m doing a number of children’s books for Macmillan, including the new series Night of the Living Worms: A Speed Bump & Slingshot Misadventure, coming out in October.
Macmillan also recently published a collection of all of my dog cartoons, Dogs Are People, Too, collected both from Speed Bump, BarkBox and my work in Parade magazine. It’s full color. It’s gorgeously designed by April Ward. And it has an awesome blurb from Patrick McDonnell on the cover. What more could you want? Don’t answer that …
My studio is in the attic of our 100-year-old old house in downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan. Inexplicably, it has a working clawfoot bathtub that my kids used to bathe in while I worked.
My “thinking chair” used to be my dad’s TV chair when I was growing up. And my beautiful oak drawing table, which is nearly as old as our house, was a gift from the brilliant cartoonist Kevin Pope.
My life is pretty small and simple. But working at home, doing a job I love with my family around, it feels like I’m living very large indeed.
Read Speed Bump here or visit Dave’s website.