... Or: Some Kodak Moments from My Years of Cartooning
Finland is a gray and bleak place to grow up in. Too many people like their booze way too much. And then there's the unpredictable Russia looming right next to us. OK, some of those things haven't really changed that much since then, ha ha! But, in the late ’70s, there are only two state-controlled national TV channels, still broadcasting (for the time being) in black and white. Some parts of the country even have just one channel ... if they're lucky! Cartoons shown on TV are mostly from somewhere on the Eastern bloc. Actually, some of them are pretty good, but still, it will take years until I see any of those classic MGM or WB 'toons, which, at the time, are effectively banned from the Finnish TV. My knowledge of them remains patchy to this day.
Luckily, I learn to read early. My family subscribes to the vastly popular weekly Finnish Donald Duck magazine (which was never banned here despite what you may have heard) and lo and behold, it is often reprinting classic stories by Carl Barks. I become enthralled and a lifelong fan of Barks' unsurpassed and timeless work. In addition to that, I read anything I can get my hands on: books, newspapers, magazines, you name it. There are comic strips everywhere: B.C, Peanuts, Beetle Bailey and many, many more.
Later on, I find whole worlds of simply amazing Franco-Belgian comics to explore: Asterix, The Adventures of Tintin, Lucky Luke, Valerian ... to name but just a tiny few. From ages 5 to 15, I practically gorge on anything readable.
I decide to become a professional cartoonist. Some things are simple as that. So, everything I've done or achieved cartooning-wise since then is built on a naïve dream of a 10-year-old kid.
At age 12, I sell my first comic strip. I feel I've arrived.
In August, my local paper is the first one in Finland to carry Calvin and Hobbes. What's left to say about it that hasn't already been said? To me, it's the Beatles of comic strips, the last comic strip that will completely blow my mind. I read it, I love it and later, I study it. Thanks, Bill.
For a while, I listen to people who seem to know better, and so I try to achieve some sort of degree in order to secure a “real” profession, just in case. I get in to the university. I achieve pretty good grades, but then, a little later, I manage to sell some cartoons to a couple of Finnish cartoon magazines. I'm vindicated. I feel I've arrived!
After two semesters, I decide to drop out and fully pursue cartooning. I create my pen name Samson after some of my favorite artists: Bill Watterson, Gary Larson and Tove Jansson. I'm aware of the Biblical connotations, too.
I begin contributing to the Finnish cartoon magazine Myrkky (Poison). It's full of MAD-style humor with an underground comics edge. This being Finland, every once in a while, some do-gooder and/or better-than-thou tries to get the magazine banned. I end up contributing to almost every issue until Myrkky ceases publication in 2008.
I also contribute to the Finnish edition of MAD magazine for a few years. In addition to that, I produce masses of stuff in various comics genres for the next 15 years.
I make my first attempt to get some of my cartoon projects syndicated. I end up spending years trying to get my comic strip about a little boy and his (possibly imaginary) animal friends off the ground. It's way too heavily influenced by Watterson's work. I duly receive my rejection letters from Jay Kennedy and Lee Salem.
2004 or so
I notice Comics Sherpa, but don't have anything suitable to offer at the time.
My cartoon work is dwindling as the cartoon magazines I've been contributing to are folding one by one. Myrkky is on its last legs. Having some extra time on my hands, I create a Web-only comic strip called 5 Geeks in a Balloon and start posting it to Sherpa. I manage to run it tri-weekly for nine or 10 months before calling it quits. A typical 5GiaB cartoon takes way too much time to create and besides, something else has come up.
After years and years of cartooning, Horace the horse sort of appears out of nowhere. Maybe my subconscious mind finally puts two and two together ... or maybe Horace is given to me as a gift from the Universe, you know, for keeping on cartooning for almost 30 years. Stranger things have happened! All I know is Horace is suddenly here and demands I pay attention to him. I oblige. And have done so ever since.
I'm between studios, so this is my current temporary workspace at home. It's a mixture of something old and something even older. I like to use my tools until they wear down and disintegrate.
What inspires me? Well, the (almost) daily deadline is always a great motivator. You keep digging every day and some days all you find is rocks. But then, sometimes you might hit diamonds.
These days, I don't feel I've arrived. I'm still on a journey and can't wait to see my next destination.