Anyone who’s opened the Los Angeles Times to check out the “funnies” has seen Rubes. We wanted to know about the creative process that joins images and words to make these clever, often hilarious, cartoons. Creator Leigh Rubin generously offered to spend some time with WinRs.
How did you wind up writing cartoons?
I’ve always loved to draw and had wanted to be an artist from a very young age. The first cartoon I ever drew was in kindergarten. I also enjoy a good joke and it’s especially fun making them up so if you put the two skills together you have a cartoonist. Seems like the perfect profession for someone with absolutely no other marketable skills.
As a cartoonist, you both write and illustrate. Do you come up with your commentary first or doodle until an idea strikes you?
There really is no one way. Sometimes I doodle for a bit until an idea hits me just right or I may think of a phrase or hear a comment that someone says. There’s no real magic formula. If there was I’d bottle it and make a fortune selling it to other cartoonists.
Do you consider yourself an illustrator or a writer first?
Sometimes the writing is the main challenge. I really strive to make the captions just right. They have to fit the cartoon without giving too much away and leave something to the reader’s imagination. That’s the important part to me. I want the reader to contribute something to the cartoon. That’s what makes it art. Of course, having a funny picture along with the right words can be a bit tricky but that is the fun and challenging part.
What kind of hours does a cartoonist work? Do you ever get cartoonist’s block?
You call this work? Ha! …But seriously, my boss is a real jerk. He’s not going to see this interview is he? He makes me draw at least one cartoon per day but quite often he’ll make me draw two a day because I’m often out and about the country doing my goofy cartoon presentations and speaking engagements. I am going to be hitting the road even more often this year as I have a nifty new 25th anniversary cartoon collection coming out in March so I am sure my evil boss will be working me extra hard to make sure all my cartoons are drawn before I leave town…Cartoonist’s block?…Listen, I had a colonoscopy when I turned fifty and I guarantee you, after that there wasn’t any blockage whatsoever.
You were originally self-syndicated. What does this mean?
Self-syndication means that in addition to writing and drawing you also have the opportunity to call on editors, make the sales, send out promo material, do the billing, chase down the people who don’t pay you, etc. , etc., etc. It is not for the faint of heart and I did it for the first four years of Rubes. Being self-syndicated gives you a terrific appreciation of what syndication sales reps have to do on a daily basis, only most syndicates represent many features, so the reps have many features they must know inside and out…and there’s a lot to know.
How did you become widely syndicated in newspapers? Did markets approach you after you had built up a following or did you try to get people to take a chance on you?
My first paper was the Antelope Valley Press in Palmdale, California. I had met the entertainment editor when he wrote a feature story about a book signing event I was doing. We became friends and he, as well as a couple of the other editors at the paper wanted to know if I’d like to draw a daily cartoon for them. That was my first “big” break. After I drew about one hundred cartoons I started contacting all the major, as well as some of the smaller syndicates, but they all turned me down. Looking at their reject letters now makes me laugh. I’m a firm believer in persistence. I don’t easily accept “no” for an answer, so I started calling on newspapers myself….Big papers, little papers, weeklies, college papers, it didn’t really matter. Within a year or so I had built up a client list of around 160 papers…all while I was working a full time job. I only wish I still had that kind of energy! I did have a couple of papers approach me but as my dad used to say, “Don’t wait for your ship to come in, row out and meet it.” He was right. If I hadn’t made hundreds of phone calls and sent out an equal amount of letters I’d still be standing on the dock.
You give cartoon workshops and presentations all over the country. Do you find there are a burgeoning number of cartoonists out there?
Yes, it’s amazing how many closet cartoonists are out there are of all ages. From little kids, to teens to adults and that includes senior citizens. People really do love cartoons and cartooning and not just for financial reasons. They enjoy the fun of just being creative for the sake of being creative, which is absolutely wonderful.
Are the markets shrinking for cartoonists as they are for writers?
The newspaper market has definitely shrunk. There used to be many two or more newspapers towns but those days are gone. Still, newspapers will be around for a long time and with the internet it’s wide open. The trick will be to see how to get paid for your writing and cartooning on the internet. Some people have figured that out and I am certain that there will be new avenues that no one has even thought of yet to make a living writing and cartooning so I do remain optimistic.
If someone wanted to get into cartooning, what advice would you give them?
Stay in school, study hard, become a doctor or a lawyer because I don’t need the competition!
What’s up next for you?
I’ll be hitting the road in a week or so bringing the Rubes cartoony show to San Antonio. In between private speaking engagements I have lots of public events lined up. With the new book, The Wild and Twisted World of Rubes coming out this March it will be extra fun. It’s wonderful sharing laughs and connecting with a live audience. Nothing beats being a sit down comedian.
Thank you so much! You can pre-order The Wild and Twisted World of Rubes at Amazon, and you can learn more about Leigh at his website.