I was born into this world an involuntary doodler. I just couldn’t help it. If I saw a pencil, I picked it up and quickly surveyed the area for paper. Any available paper. That included phone bills, wedding invitations and any important documents within my reach.
This behavior continued throughout my schooling. My notebooks contained more drawings than class notes. Parent-teacher conferences would usually conclude with the phrase: “Donald would do much better if he spent more time paying attention and less time drawing silly cartoons.”
And that is how my parents became aware of the awful truth: Their son was an aspiring cartoonist.
At the age of 12, I submitted my first cartoon. The Famous Artists School had a simple entrance exam on a matchbook cover: Draw Spunky the Donkey. I drew Spunky and mailed it in.
After weeks and weeks of waiting, I forgot all about Spunky – until that memorable spring day when the doorbell rang. A representative from the Famous Artists School was here to inform my parents of my potential as an artist.
I can still hear the tires screeching as my future in art quickly peeled away into the distance.
I never had any formal art instruction as a kid. I took my first drawing class at a community college that I attended after high school. I enjoyed the class and decided to transfer to Kean University and major in Visual Communications. They had a school newspaper with a comics page. I nervously went to the newspaper offices the first day of classes and met with the editor, Ray Lago. I asked him how I could get a comic strip in the paper. He said to bring one in by the end of the week. I went back to the dorm and drew up “Old Man Munsk.” My first comic strip appeared a week later. That was more than 30 years ago, and Ray and I are still great friends.
After college, I freelanced like every other artist I knew. I did cartoons and humorous illustrations for magazines, as well as storyboards and print ad mock-ups for ad agencies.
Then, I was hired as the artist for Ripleys’s Believe It or Not! It was my first experience with syndication. I spent 14 years with Ripley’s, gaining valuable experience that prepared me for my next adventure – Rose Is Rose!
Writing and drawing a daily comic strip was my dream from early on. Becoming part of Rose Is Rose was so much bigger than any dream I could have imagined. Pat Brady created a cast of characters who are beloved by millions of fans. I will always be grateful to him for trusting me with his creation. Besides being an outstanding cartoonist, he is a great friend and generous mentor.
There is one thing I know for sure about doing a daily comic strip: Don’t wait for inspiration. Inspiration is fickle and stingy. There are moments – beautiful moments – when an idea just flows from your mind onto the page – but those are rare. Generally, my ideas start with a doodle. A tiny sketch. It might be in the notebook I carry everywhere, but more often than not, it’s on a receipt or tiny scrap of paper or even a napkin. I still draw on anything available. I’ve even used the voice memo feature on my phone to record an idea. Ideas will fly away with incredible velocity.
I enjoy creating little stories. Pacing out a gag can take a lot of little sketches. I learned early on not to do too much thinking, stargazing or daydreaming. It’s better to just draw. Some ideas are stubborn. Those get taped to the wall of my studio until I can take the time to figure them out. Some months, there are dozens of sketches silently hanging on the sidelines, waiting for their chance to get in the game.
Occasionally, I visit schools and give cartooning workshops. It’s a great way to see how fearless kids can be. Give them paper, a special cartooning pencil and 20 minutes, and they will create a comic strip. They laugh at their own work and proudly share it with their classmates. Grammar school is the perfect time for cartooning workshops. Kids are confident when they’re not being graded. They think they can draw anything – and they can.