It is difficult, if not impossible, to pinpoint a specific moment/event in one's life when everything changed. When all things became clear and focus became more focused. When the path you should take suddenly becomes illuminated with a bunch of those little solar-powered garden lamps. If they get enough sun, those things stay lit all night long … seriously, they do.
So, I don't know what specifically turned me on to cartooning … that "one-day-you're-normal the next day you're-a-cartoonist" thing. I honestly wish I could remember that moment … if for nothing else than to have a cool origin story to tell. As it is, all I can say is I saw something cool and had the urge to draw something myself. End of origin.
As far as career goes, that I can give you. It was 1992. I was a high school junior who was fairly clueless about his place in the present and the future. I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. I loved comic books … I got into them just when the Todd McFarlane/Erik Larsen/Jim Lee era was coming into full swing. They were great, but they were complicated … plus, those books had a team working on them: a penciller, a writer, an inker, a letterer and a colorist. I never was a play-well-with-others type of kid. I was more of a shy leave-me-alone-to-draw-please type of kid. When I found out that the strips in newspapers were usually handled by a single person, I knew that's where I should look.
But, achieving that realization wasn't the cartooning catalyst. Sure, I had a comic strip in the school paper … and the attention that I got when it came out every six weeks was cool.
No, cartooning hooked me when I got into politics. Specifically, the Senior Class President Campaign '92. I was in a couple classes with one of the candidates. One day, he saw me doodling in my pre-calc notebook and struck up a conversation with me. He asked me if I'd draw him as a cartoon to use on his campaign posters. Before I could turn him down, he threw in this fateful line:
"I'll give you five bucks if you do it."
And thus, at the ripe old age of 16, my cartooning career began. The candidate ended up winning the election. I'm pretty sure I never got that five bucks. Talk about foreshadowing.
After high school, I went to college. Still not knowing what I wanted to do, I ended up having six different majors before settling on Illustration. I graduated with a BFA from Cazenovia College in 1997. I spent that summer playing music and hoping I could be the next big singer/songwriter dude. When that didn't pan out (after five weeks), I found a job at my local newspaper. The job had nothing to do with cartooning, but it was a job at a newspaper.
Eventually, I started doing political cartoons for the paper. Local issues, national issues … won some awards for them, too. I also was submitting comic strip ideas to the syndicates … with rejections to follow. In 2002, I saw a squirrel do a ninja dive off of a power line, and from that moment on, Bob the Squirrel became my best friend. I started bobthesquirrel.com in February 2002. I began the strip as a weekly, moving it to 7 days a week when I moved it to Comics Sherpa in 2003. Bob the Squirrel was added to the GoComics lineup in 2004. In 2012, I started squirrelosophy.com – a site where Bob's squirrel-oriented philosophical rants could take center stage ... and the rest is nutty history.
Too bad I didn't see that squirrel in 1992. This could have been a much shorter story.
Bob the Squirrel was always going to be honest. I drew a lot of inspiration from the masters of course: Bill Watterson, Charles Schulz, Mike Peters, Jeff MacNelly – in terms of composition, line and technique. But, the brutal honesty of Robert Crumb put me over. Crumb's willingness to put every pimple, bruise and personal shortcoming into his work floored me. That honesty made his work more alive to me. So, that's a huge reason why I put every pimple, bruise and personal shortcoming in my life in the strip. I deal with death, my divorce, my pain in the strip because it makes it better and it shows the reader I think enough of them to share this. It's a good thing.
I was having lunch with my wife in a local restaurant this week ... It's a restaurant we go to a lot, but not enough to be considered "regulars." We're just sitting there, enjoying the bread and garlic butter. It's an early lunch, so there isn't much of a crowd yet. The host seats an older gentleman at a table on the outskirts of our area. I'm not paying close attention to him because that would be creepy … but I can sense that he sees my wife and me. Before he takes his seat, he takes a step toward our table and says, "Where's Bob?" I smile and tell him he's waiting in the car because he wasn't in the mood for Italian food today. I also tell him not to worry, the car windows are up, but I gave him the keys to run the air conditioner. The man laughed and returned to his table.
Moments like this happen to me all the time. It tells me two things. First: It's awesome. Second, and most importantly, it says that I've done my job as a cartoonist and writer. I've created something and someone that lives, not only on the page but beyond the page … someone who readers identify with and is just as alive to them as he is to me, my wife and my daughter.
I've always loved what I do. This lets me know others have fallen in love with it, too.
My life inspires me. Even when there seems to be nothing inspiring. Living a life is inspiration enough.
In the next few months, I will be releasing the fourth SQUIRRELOSOPHY book collection, the eleventh Bob the Squirrel collection and a special Bob the Squirrel "sketchbook" collection. Some may say that I run the risk of flooding the market with too much squirrel ... I say you can never have too much squirrel.