by Gordon Nary
Gordon: What cartoons did you like most as a child and why?
Dan: I was a big fan of the comic strips when Sunday newspapers printed all kinds of panel cartoons and strips. I especially enjoyed the most well known, of course Peanuts by Sparky Schulz, and Bringing Up Father (Maggie yelling at Jiggs and calling him an "insect" was a hoot), The Katzenjammer Kids were a favorite because of the "bubble-headed appearance they had, always trying to steal pies as they were cooling on the window sill and their antics were interesting to follow as a kid. Mary Worth was a study of the human form and helpful for a young artist to copy so as to grasp the technique of a master....also including Spiderman strips that had so much action in them. Later I followed new strips that came along like Dondi and Drabble (which is still flourishing - drawn by Kevin Fagan) along with quirky comic strips like The Captain's Gig by magazine veteran Virgil Partch aka VIP
Gordon: When did you first start drawing cartoons and what were they about?
Dan: I realized an innate tendency to draw at roughly 5 years old. Oddly, I can remember that far back in my youth. It may sound weird but I was drawing funny pictures because I couldn't actually render a realistic drawing of say, an elephant. If I sketched it the way I felt I should, I felt more accomplished, if that makes any sense. Looking at encyclopedias, or magazines were always a thrill because I always seemed to discover new things I'd like to try and duplicate, but through my own 'cartoony' technique or rendering. If I tried doing a realistic or serious version of what I perceived, it always turned out goofy looking....so I realized there was a tendency to stick with cartooning. Trying to interpret and render the sublime was never my forte!
Gordon: When did you decide to be a professional cartoonist and what advice did your parents give you.?
Dan: I wanted to draw early in my childhood and that realization made me wonder if I could do it for my livelihood. As I wondered how I could make a living at it, I was constantly spotting these little panel cartoons or gag panels in the back pages of literally every magazine I'd pick up.
Whether I was in the school library or a gas station or some waiting room, those types of cartoons seemed popular and I recognized the same names of the artists in so many of them. It was during that time I was convinced I could do the same kinds of cartoons so I tried showing some to a few select editors. Whether or not any of them were going to like my style and sense of humor was another question. I began to learn that this form of cartooning was a way that many were actually making a living at drawing and submitting their gag panels to a wide variety of magazines, newsletters and trade journals that were buying cartoons about every subject imaginable. Publications devoted to education, computers, dentistry, medicine, agriculture and farming, industry, construction and yes, even religion and many more topics.
It intrigued me to the point of studying the basics of most of these subjects so I could grasp what their readerships may find amusing or comical. I then slowly started creating single-panel gags based on all of that subject matter and began to submit accordingly. I devised a record-keeping system as to where each drawing was submitted and what editor had reviewed those cartoons. At one point in time, I recall keeping 1,000 different cartoons in circulation, and at other times that increased to 2,000 and more that I kept in motion.
Throughout all of this, certain editors told me they really had no room for humor per se, but requested a specific “custom cartoons” or an illustration to accompany an article or story. Some editors assigned work for getting their readers to renew subscriptions…so those were used on direct-mail pieces. I could charge specific fees for this kind of work since this was “customized” or unique artwork used for a commercial purpose.
But it wasn't long after sending out my first submissions (roughly to three separate magazines), that one responded they were going to buy one for future publication and asked me to invoice them for $35.00. This was in 1976.
As for my parents giving me advice, they bought me a unique, mail-order "how to" cartoon course....which consisted of several booklets that comprised essays by several popular gag cartoonists at the time and they provided their techniques on how they submitted to magazines, how many cartoons they included in a "batch" or submission, along with samples of their work.
I found it inspiring and intriguing and I continually read and re-read the various booklets. But they were behind me 100% since they realized my passion for drawing and cartooning.
Gordon: Who are some of the cartoonists that you enjoy and why?
Dan: Tom Cheney is a big favorite as he has his own distinctive style. His work has appeared in all major magazines and I like his cartoon gags. His work is sometimes captionless which makes it all that more unique and the work he's published is hilarious. Another artist I like who recently passed on is Gahan Wilson who tends to draw the macabre and also has his own style and sense of humor. I think his work will live on in anthologies and collections for years to come. Of the comic strip genre, I enjoy Hagar The Horrible by Chris Browne. The line art is great because Chris still uses the old dip nibs for his linework and you can tell by the slim to heavier lines involved in much of the line art. I personally think it's a great study for cartoonists plus an ideal mix of black and white areas throughout the continuity of each strip. The gags are great too....he gives Helga a hard time and I wonder if he loves his mother-in-law....especially in that wild-looking headgear she wears with those scary-looking antlers. My advice to young cartoonists is when you see a cartoon or drawing style you like, try to decipher what it is that you appreciate in that style and try to apply parts of it to your own cartoon art when you are sketching and drawing (I don't mean to copy or duplicate either)....you may just amaze yourself.
Gordon: What influence has your faith had upon your career?
Dan: A great deal. As you grow and fill into your "career", you begin to appreciate certain aspects as to what keeps you going and what helps you maintain an interest in what your chosen path is. I was baptized and confirmed in the Lutheran faith as a kid. Although I'm not overtly religious, I of course realize there has to be God who is the creator of all we know. I think it's God who has instilled emotion in all of us. How we handle it is up to each of us. Many times I wondered if I should give up on cartooning and just when I do, some assignment or request will come along that keeps me going. It's then I realize I'm somehow being told not to give up (ever notice that happens to you?). I sometimes have a smile on my face when I think about it, so really who knows! When I am in "prayer mode", saying prayers of healing for friends, family members, and pets, etc., I also say a prayer of appreciation for my creative abilities and ask for continued strength and support. I urge creative souls to try it, it will help reinforce you.
Gordon: When did you first start drawing cartoons and what was the subject matter?
Dan: Professionally I sold my first-panel cartoon in 1976. I may have mentioned it in a separate interview but once you get paid for a simple drawing that very first time, it seems as though it's a form of vindication that someone appreciates your work and it bolsters a young artist's confidence. I was actually selling cartoons to a local newspaper before this but when a national magazine shows interest in your work, it's a completely different thing. As I stated earlier, I was drawing funny pictures early on, as young as five years old. My grandparents bought me lots of hardcover picture books about dinosaurs and I'd be enthralled with the scary-looking horns on the stegosaurus and sketch them out. I also copied the comic strips from the newspapers when those characters inspired me. Whenever paper and a pen or pencil was nearby, I would create and try to sketch.
Gordon: What encouragement did your parents give you?
Dan: My folks continuously encouraged me to keep at it. As did many of my friends. Getting encouraged to keep doing something you enjoy is vital to a young person, especially your family.
Gordon: Who are some of your favorite cartoonists?
Dan: The newspaper cartoonists like Mort Walker who created Beetle Bailey and many other strips. I previously mentioned Charles Schulz and then many magazine cartoonists. Some of the magazine cartoonists who inspired me were Earl Engleman whose cartoons appeared a multitude of trade journals. I eventually had an editor at a publication forward a letter to him and he answered many of my questions in a fast response, along with a signed original. I was gobsmacked at the time. Other guys like George Trosley who draws for CARtoons magazine are also inspiring because of George's ability to draw all kinds of cars in different makes and models...and his drawing ability is uniquely modern and up-to-date. George can render his work with a very cool perspective and appearance to it, where the panels jump off the page. They are very multi-dimensional with lots of activity and life to each image. Jared Lee is another favorite children's book illustrator who still uses watercolors in his art and has also been inspirational. He has done illustration work for many years featuring a specific line of kid's educational books for Scholastic publishing.
Gordon: When did you decide to become a professional cartoonist?
Dan: It was the mid-1970's. I also did a series of short-lived comic strips and panels for a locally distributed shopper paper that was published weekly.
Gordon: In what publications have your cartoons appeared?
Dan: Reader's Digest, Saturday Evening Post, Good Housekeeping magazine, Better Homes & Gardens, The National Enquirer, Barron's magazine, The National Review, The Cleveland Plain Dealer Sunday magazine, and dozens of national trade journals, newsletters, and regional family-oriented magazines. I've been under contract with other trade-oriented publishers (some for 25 years) until the coronavirus came along and decimated those specific publisher's ad budgets, therefore causing the loss of my contracts with them. The virus has affected many creatives across the publishing and graphics spectrum.
Gordon: How many weeks was your book Chicken Soup for the Soul on the New York Times Best Seller list?
Dan: Yes, I've had cartoons appear in many of the Chicken Soup For The Soul series of books including Chicken Soup For The Christian Soul. Normally these titles run an average of several weeks but to get on that list, at least ten thousand copies have to sell in the first week. And with a good amount of publicity, this was easily achieved through publisher Mark Victor Hansen's vast number of PR connections. The books continue to sell at various online stores, outlets, and book dealers. I also see many of the old used editions now for sale at discount book stores and places like St. Vincent's
Gordon: What was the first book of cartoons that were published
Dan: First actual book or "collection" of my personal work was in a regional comic book. The book contained a lot of my various Yooper Blooper cartoons. It was a collection of single-panel cartoons pertaining to people living in Michigan's U.P. (upper peninsula). The acronym for anyone living in the U.P. is "Yooper"....meaning U.P.'er (or Yooper for a label). Yooper Bloopers was self-syndicated and appeared on a weekly basis in practically every weekly newspaper published across the upper peninsula. It also made appearances in daily newspapers including the Marquette Mining Journal, The Ironwood Daily Globe, The Daily Mining Gazette, and even on the 'Outdoors' page of Saturday's Thunder Bay Evening Chronicle in Ontario as many of the cartoons dealt with fishing, hunting and being outdoors.
Gordon: What is your favorite book of cartoons that have been published, and why?
Dan: Cartooning - The Art And The Business by Mort Gerberg is inspirational for cartoonists and those who want to do panel cartoons. There is a wealth of information packed into this simple tome. I can't put a finger on one single book....but old Peanuts anthologies were and are very inspiring, along with a wide variety of New Yorker books entitled The Rejection Collection which are a display of tons of gag panel cartoons that were submitted and rejected by The New Yorker. I really can't say there is ONE favorite, when it comes to gag panel cartoons, comic strips, political cartoons, and the like, I like many but these mentioned here are my "go to" books and I also cannot forget the importance of keeping a morgue. One collection of cartoons that have always been awe-inspiring for me is a collection of "tear-sheet" clippings I assembled into a "morgue" of cartoons. A morgue is simply a reference tool that cartoonists collect and gather that consisted of various previously published cartoons. I'd clip them from New Yorker magazines, trade journals like medical magazines, technical magazines, and other journals I would get in the mail or see at discount stores that I had an interest in seeing and reading. I still have stacks I go backwards through and I'll dust them off and go through and realize many times they are still inspirational in their layout and perspective and use of blacks vs. white areas which has helped me in creating my own work.
Gordon: You have a great website. When was it developed?
Many reputable web hosting companies don’t even have Windows-based servers to host those kinds of web sites anymore. It caused a complete malfunction of my site, so I had to resort to rebuilding and restructuring the entire look and layout of my site and I decided to incorporate WordPress into the functionality of it all. With WordPress, you get entire flexibility offered up, such as developing a personal theme (making your custom them out of the child theme that initially comes with WordPress), and then you can code the site using specific scripting, such as PHP scripting that helps a site perform and maintain it's the appearance in certain ways. You can incorporate plugins that work specifically with WordPress and they also help greatly in what a designer wants a website to do. So I then realized with all of the creative sides to assignments and other parts of my cartooning, it was best to hire a professional to assist in how I wanted the new layout to act....which was about five years ago. There are about ten thousand pages throughout my site that make up my catalog, along with over 5,000 separate cartoons I make available for licensing in over 60 separate categories ranging from computer cartoons to religion cartoons. I've also realized having a blog is additionally as important to a site as anything else, so I write about various aspects of cartoons, cartooning, and cartoonists at my Toonblog at https://danscartoons.com/toonblog/
Gordon: Thank you for an exceptional Interview!