CMM: When did you first develop an interest in art and drawing?
Bruce: I was born in upstate New York and in the early 1960s my family moved to South-Eastern Pennsylvania…the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country! I attended a rural grade school and quickly found out that I could draw. The television show Batman (starring Adam West) was popular back then and I remember to this day staying in the classroom during recess (while the other kids were outside playing) to draw a version of Robin in order to earn some extra money to buy ice cream at lunchtime. An extra nickel went a long way in those days!
I would spend my after school time drawing and drawing and drawing…after I did my homework, of course. I remember drawing with some pastels from my mother’s John Gnagy art kit. John Gnagy was a popular T.V. artist in the early 1960s and my artistically inclined mother had purchased the studio art kit. I remember drawing a green colored glass vase (that sat on the living room coffee table) with pastels from the kit. I can still see the image in my mind…but unfortunately the drawing is long gone.
When did you first decide to focus your talents on drawing cartoons?
Even though I did reasonably well drawing realistic objects…I gravitated toward drawing cartoons. This is most likely due to my father having an interest in this art form. He even had scrapbook albums that he had filled with cartoon clippings from the top cartoon-rich consumer magazines of the day. I guess that I saw these cartoons brought my father great pleasure and as a youngster I wanted to do anything to please my dad! My father was a chemical engineer by profession and in order to take a break from all of the tedious work that comes with that job, he would relax by sometimes reading comic books…Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Gyro Gearloose, etc. I believe my dad also wanted his kids to enjoy the humor and relaxation of comic books just the way he had had the pleasure of doing when he was a kid. So, you see cartoons and comics were ALL AROUND me growing up.
I started entering drawing contests locally and via magazines. I won First Place in a contest where the artist had to draw their father in cartoon form. I pictured my dad with a crash helmet on, wearing a suit and tie and holding some test tubes with other chemicals exploding all around him. I also won a number of other drawing contests, one of which was a prominent competition sponsored by our local newspaper who had a Christmas card design contest.
Soon thereafter I got my biggest break. I won a cartoon drawing contest that was featured in the back of BOYS’ LIFE magazine (a magazine for Cub Scouts & Boy Scouts). At this point, I was HOOKED on CARTOONING!
Did you go to school to study art or drawing?
In my high school art classes I explored many other forms of art including painting (oils and acrylics), pastels, charcoal, sculpture, wood working, leather craft and many more…but I’d always return to doing the art form I loved…CARTOONING! I was not only interested in the fun drawing aspect of it…but I was also interested in the humor part of it as well. It made me feel good to make people laugh!
After graduating high school I attended a local prestigious Art School. But it was only for a short time. At the school I was learning things such as printmaking, design, etc. which was all well and good…but I came to realize that deep down, I just wanted to earn a comfortable living from doing what I loved best…drawing cartoons. Since the “Golden Age” of magazine cartooning was drawing (pun intended) to an abrupt close and the odds at making a decent living from drawing magazine cartoons was slim to none…the only cartooning alternatives (back in the early-mid 1970s) was either animation or syndication. This was in the days before computer animation existed so the idea of me sitting at a drafting table repetitiously drawing the (almost identical) animation cel for a film did not interest me. Besides I wanted to “do my own thing” and draw my OWN characters. At that point I was head strong into the choice of creating my OWN characters (and starve) rather than draw someone else’s characters (and eat). I was taking the “starving artist” syndrome to a whole new level!
How did your Christian beliefs influence your early cartooning career?
In the early 1980s I became a Christian and I suddenly realized that this (what I had previously thought) “useless talent” could be used positively for God’s Kingdom. After all, He is the One who gave me the talent (and desire) to begin with and now after all of the previous years of training and trials and tribulations regarding cartooning, I was now offering it back to Him…in hopes that he could use it for His glory!
During the late 1980s and early 1990s the comic panel “The Far Side” was IMMENSELY popular. At that time, I feel that God inspired me to create a religious/Christian version of The Far Side. I would later name this cartoon feature GOOD MEDICINE (referring to laughter as good medicine as mentioned in Proverbs). After drawing around 120 GOOD MEDICINE cartoons and receiving endorsements from Johnny Hart (creator of ‘B.C.’ & ‘Wizard of Id’), Bil Keane (creator of ‘The Family Circus’), Christian cartoonists Rob Portlock & Robb Suggs, and others, I assembled them in book form and pitched it to a number of Christian publishers. I ended up with a few publishers that took a second look (and these publishers were kind enough to “endorse” the GOOD MEDICINE book) but no publishing contract. I then decided to self-publish the book and set about figuring out the costs, distribution, etc.
Through a series of circumstances, God provided the funds to do a print run of 5000 copies. I was able to secure a list of Christian bookstores in the U.S. I worked up an 8 X 10 promo sheet and began calling and faxing hundreds of bookstores. All told, I ended up with GOOD MEDICINE selling in 300-400 bookstores nationwide (mostly in Christian bookstores…but even in some secular bookstores too). It was gratifying to even receive re-orders from some bookstores too! Additionally, I was able to further talk about GOOD MEDICINE as God opened up the doors for me to be a guest on a number of Christian radio shows.
Where do you see yourself taking your cartooning in the future?
It’s been a wild ride so far and I guess the ride isn’t over just yet. I’m amazed looking back over the years and seeing how God was working behind the scenes (unbeknownst to me) regarding the cartooning gift he has blessed me with.
Since GOOD MEDICINE came out I have been blessed to have my single panel cartoons in numerous titles from Chicken Soup For The Soul books as well as running my comic feature BOW WOWS & MEOWS on the web. The feature is endorsed by such greats as Mort Walker (creator of ‘Beetle Bailey’), Glenn McCoy (co-creator of ‘The Flying McCoys’), Leigh Rubin (creator of ‘Rubes’) and others.
Recently, I have been thinking of doing a GOOD MEDICINE #2 book and have thought of a number of cartoons that could be included. I may eventually do a Kickstarter campaign with it to see if there is any interest. In the meantime, I launched a website where many of the cartoons from the original GOOD MEDICINE book can be licensed (for a nominal fee) for use in church newsletters, flyers, websites, Power Point presentations, etc. Feel free to check them out. I hope the cartoons bring you a smile or two (or three) and to God be the glory!
Bruce Robinson is an internationally published cartoonist and his work has been seen in numerous trade and consumer periodicals, newspapers, greeting cards and websites for many years. His cartoons have appeared in such publications as the National Enquirer, The Saturday Evening Post, Woman’s World, Highlights For Children, Boys’ Life, and more, as well as in numerous Chicken Soup for the Soul titles.