The GoComics "Meet Your Creator" series brings you firsthand insight into the lives and careers of your favorite cartoonists. Each week, we hand over the keys to one of our talented creators, who share their inspirations, achievements, creative processes, studios and more! Read on to hear from this week's featured cartoonist: Rob Harrell of Adam@Home and Big Top.
My first published comic strip was about a cat named Henry and a Blob named Bob. It wasn't great, but I was in 4th grade at the time, so I try not to beat myself up about it. And to say it was published is kind of an exaggeration. It ran in a magazine called Freak Out that my friend Chip and I came up with. We sold subscriptions to our friends and classmates for a quarter. It lasted one issue and we had to give the quarters back. It was an early lesson in the harsh realities of publishing.
I was inspired by Walt Kelly, Charles Addams, Peanuts, Doonesbury, Mad Magazine and Bloom County, so I continued to cartoon through middle school and high school for the newspaper and yearbook. Attending DePauw University, I ran a regular strip in the paper called University Blues. Looking back, I'm forever grateful that it was turned down when I submitted it for syndication.
Another strip I sent to the syndicates was Fester's Travels, featuring the daily adventures of an elephant, an alligator and a frog traveling around on a mechanical horse. Hard to imagine how the syndicates passed on this gem. Perhaps it was the awfulness.
After attending Ringling School of Art and Design, I worked as a freelance illustrator for several years in Indianapolis - doing drawings for mac n' cheese boxes and diagrams of cardboard, among other things - until that voice in my head telling me to do a comic strip got too loud to ignore.
The entire idea for Big Top came to me during a flight to San Francisco. I was drawing in my sketchbook, and realized the little girl next to me was watching. So I drew a bear with a unicycle. Then a lion and a monkey and a clown. By the time we landed, my mind was in overdrive. I worked nonstop for the next couple of months and sent off my submission.
Universal Press Syndicate launched Big Top in 2002, and to say it was exciting is a huge understatement. There was much jumping up and down and a lot of yelling the day I got the "yes" call. I can't say enough amazing things about Universal. They have made me feel like family a hundred times over.
A few months in to the strip, I drew a little poodle character named Dusty - an unfiltered, unabashed jerk of a poodle who was just there for a punchline - and he never left. He was just so much fun to write for. In some ways he became the id of the strip, while Wink, the unicycling ex-biker bear, was the warm, fuzzy heart.
Not to get all maudlin, but a few years later my wife and I moved to Austin, Texas, and I promptly got sick. It was a weird, rare form of cancer, and I eventually lost the sight in my right eye. I only bring it up because of two things. First, it led to one of the coolest things ever. While I had my surgery, an amazing lineup of Universal cartoonists stepped up and filled in for me. Each took one day, and did my strip in their style. It meant the world to me, and I can't thank them enough.
The other thing that happened was medical bills. Mountains of them. This led me, in 2007, to end the run of Big Top and take a (shudder) "real job." It was one of the hardest decisions I've ever made, and I still miss those characters daily.
I kept at the artwork whenever I could. I did quite a bit of figurative painting, and ended up having some solo shows here in Austin and in San Francisco. It was incredibly rewarding, but I really missed doing the strip.
In 2009, I was approached to do the art for Adam@Home, and I jumped at the chance to get back on the funny pages.
According to the comments section, it wasn't exactly a seamless transition (I'll find you some day, Hurkscrunner3672!), but I eventually settled into doing the strip in a way that made myself (and Hurkscrunner3672) happy. It's been a fantastic experience, and I took over the writing duties a few years back.
Since then, I've been busy! I got to work for Mad, which fulfilled a lifelong dream. I did a series of pieces called "Pondering the Really Meaningful Stuff." Here's the first one. Not for the faint of heart "_
In 2013, Top Shelf Productions published my first graphic novel, Monster on the Hill. Doing a book allowed me to stretch my drawing and storytelling wings. One of my favorite things is creating a new world and inhabiting it with fun characters. Set in an alternate 1800s, Monster is the story of a depressed monster and how he gets his groove back.
In 2014, I put out my first middle-grade hybrid novel, Life of Zarf: The Trouble With Weasels, from Dial Books. It tells the story of a troll trying to survive middle school in a fairy-tale world. The second Zarf book, The Troll Who Cried Wolf, came out in September. Writing and drawing these has been an absolute blast.
I almost forgot to talk about process! It's pretty simple, really. I write my strips at one coffee shop near my house, and I do my writing for the books at a different coffee shop. They have different vibes, I guess. I've tried writing at home, but it's waaay too quiet during the day. I think the noise of other people soothes my brain and lets me get creative. Or weird. Choose your adjective.
I do all of my drawing in my home office on a Wacom Cintiq. I made the switch to digital in 2007 after all the eye stuff.
Finally, here's the traditional studio photo! Please don't mind the mess. When it comes down to hitting deadlines or straightening up, deadlines win every time.
So, I'm not sure what's next. There's a third Zarf book coming out in 2016, then I guess we'll see! As long as I get to keep writing and drawing, I'll be happy as a clam. Assuming clams are happy.