The sports-focused comic Tank McNamara is turning 40 on August 4! We're celebrating this milestone with a special blog post from Tank McNamara cartoonist Bill Hinds.
40 years ago there was no ESPN, 24-hour sports talk shows or Jim Rome show. There was no Internet with instant sports news and gazillions of fans commenting on that news.
But beginning in August of 1974, there was Tank McNamara.
Jeff Millar was a twice-a-week humor columnist and film critic for the Houston Chronicle. He decided he should share his wit with a national audience. Eliminating the humor columnist route, due to high traffic, he landed on the comics page. There was a new show in town - Doonesbury. That was the type of humor Jeff wanted to write, but the niche he saw to pursue was sports. He was ready to go, except for that whole drawing thing. That's where I stumbled into the story.
I was born in Houston, Texas, in 1950. When I was very young, I had decided on three possible careers: clown, magician or cartoonist. My father, the oral surgeon, wasn't thrilled.
MAD magazine, CARtoons magazine and comic strips won me over to cartooning.
Before my sophomore year at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, I drove up to offer my cartooning services to the school newspaper, the Pine Log. They wouldn't even look at my work because they already had a cartoonist. It's a long drive to and from Houston for that reaction.
I started doing freelance work for the Houston Post. After a semester or so, the Pine Log figured if my work was good enough for a major city newspaper, it might work for them, so I became their cartoonist and won two Texas Intercollegiate Press Association awards.
I graduated in 1972 and began showing my portfolio around Houston to ad agencies and publications. I worked for a while at a small animation studio that did the cartoons for the scoreboard at the Astrodome. I was advised by people to pursue advertising work, because there was more money. I, however, was interested in newspapers - specifically, syndicated comic strips. The features editor of the Houston Post, who had been using my work on a freelance basis, called me in for a meeting with the managing editor one day. They wanted to hire me as an editorial cartoonist when their present guy, Bill Saylor, retired. I remember the editor who knew me bolstered my case by saying I would draw whichever viewpoint they wanted. It didn't work out (did Saylor ever retire?) but I would have been a terrible editorial cartoonist.
I kept showing my portfolio and waiting for Bill Saylor to go fishing. One of the people I showed it to was the Houston Chronicle cartoonist, Clyde Peterson, pen name C. P. Houston. He introduced me to the features editor, Jack Loftis.
One day Jeff Millar walked into Clyde's office and asked if he would be interested in drawing a comic strip. Clyde wanted to create his own comic strip, not draw someone else's, but he knew this 23-year-old kid who might do it. That's how Jeff and I met.
While we were working to develop a comic strip about sports, Jack Loftis hired me as a staff artist for the Chronicle. I loved the Chronicle job. People would bring me articles, which I would read and draw a cartoon to go along - in any style I chose.
When we were ready to show the comic strip, Jocks, to a syndicate, we had three weeks of samples. Only one strip featured the character who would become Tank McNamara. Jack introduced us to a fellow with a connection to Universal Press Syndicate who submitted the samples for us. I knew there would probably be many rejections by many syndicates. I explained to Jeff that we should be prepared for some disappoint - THE SYNDICATE BOUGHT IT!
OK, I'm 23 years old and we have a contract for a syndicated comic strip. Take that, Pine Log!
As we developed the strip, we were told that the name Jocks would never do. Also, they wanted to build the strip off of one character, the big ex-jock sportscaster. Credit for the name Tank McNamara has been claimed by a number of people. Tank has been running in as many as 350 newspapers for four decades. There is always fresh material supplied by the world of sports, but today Tank is competing with sports commentary that doesn't have a week-plus lag time between creation and publication. So, I am concentrating on themes instead of events. I say I because Jeff Millar passed away in 2012 and I have been writing Tank since. I had 38 years of tutoring by Jeff, so it was a smooth transition.
During the last 40 years, I have created other cartoon features. I illustrated According to Guinness for about 10 years. I produced two oddly-shaped Sunday cartoons for the Philadelphia Inquirer Sunday comics section, Longshots and Clown Alley that ran for several years. I created Buzz Beamer for Sports Illustrated Kids magazine in 1989, and it has been running there ever since. I also animated more than 50 Buzz toons for SIKIDS.com. In 2001, at legendary Lee Salem's suggestion, I created the comic strip Cleats about kids' sports, which ran for nine years and is in reruns on GoComics.
Jeff and I had collaborated on another strip, Second Chances, in the 1990s. The two main characters in that strip now live on in Tank McNamara as Tank's neighbors, Nick and Kate.
I have created a Tank McNamara Facebook page where I can make a more immediate response to things that happen in the world of sports.
I expect the next 40 years of Tank will be very interesting.