For 27 years, comic strip readers have known Robb Armstrong as the creator of the syndicated comic strip JumpStart. The daily comic is one of the most popular African-American family strips of all time, appearing in 300 papers in the U.S. and abroad.
JumpStart stars the Cobb family — police officer Joe, nurse Marcy, and their spunky offspring — and a rotating cast of family and friends. The strip is funny and lighthearted, full of truth and surprise (without those two elements, you'd have no humor, Armstrong explains). But the life story of the strip's creator is one full of challenges and adversity — the kind you would truly need to be fearless to overcome. In his new illustrated memoir, "Fearless," Armstrong is pulling back the curtain to tell the story of his own life and career.
And what a story it is.
As a child growing up in a rough part of Philadelphia, Armstrong dealt with all kinds of family adversity. His dad left when he was a baby, and his two brothers were both killed in tragic accidents. He became the first in his family to go to college, but shortly after he started, his mother passed away. He forged ahead with his dream of getting his degree and becoming a cartoonist, but the trials didn't end there. Two children born with health problems, a divorce and a struggle to get on track financially followed.
In a recent interview with The Hartford Examiner, Armstrong said: "'Fearless' is a reliable account of my own trials, tribulations, and lessons learned. It is not a sermon. Suffering is the only thing we all have in common, but not everyone learns useful lessons from suffering. My book explores the value of hardship, and demonstrates how to use it for personal empowerment."
The book chronicles the high points as well — a syndication deal with United Features in his twenties, the chance to meet his hero, Charles Schulz, a happy second marriage, and decades worth of entertaining cartoons, public speeches and volunteer efforts. In addition to making you laugh and cry, "Fearless" will make you a better cartoonist as well. At the start of each chapter are different drawing lessons, from drawing contour lines to drawing a cartoon version of yourself. Each chapter then ends with a short "life lesson."
And, of course, there are plenty of comics. For the 234-page book, which was published in April by Reader's Digest, Armstrong and his editor hand-selected 100 of the most popular JumpStart strips from across his 27-year career. (I just got my copy yesterday and have been almost too absorbed reading it to finish this blog post.)