Laughter is good for the soul. No, no wait. Laughter is good for the body and soul, and no one knows that better than those artists who ply their talents in an industry that continues to generate guffaws, chuckles, smiles, or just a confirming nod that itself says, “I get it.” Enter the cartoonists.
On April 20, the Mattapoisett Council on Aging hosted an hour-long conversation with award-winning cartoonist Rick Stromoski, whose view of the human condition and all its really humorous pratfalls was as delicious as it can get outside a bakery shop.
Stromoski had a dream. He wanted to draw and tell funny stories through his artwork. He was enraptured by Charles Schulz and thrilled by what he eagerly consumed from MAD magazine as a youth, but it was a grade-school teacher who really helped Stromoski explore the depth of his burgeoning talent. The teacher made a deal with the young Stromoski: If he did his schoolwork and kept his grades up, she’d allow him free time to draw. He had to keep a B-average. He scored an A. BINGO!
But when it came to moving on into the higher-education phase of life, college was not for Stromoski. Coming from a family of 12 children, tuition for college was out of the question anyway.
“I studied everything from books and artist’s magazines,” he said. “(MAD magazine) had no sacred cows, everything was on the plate. There were about 12 artists, and they were all my heroes.” He said each artist had their own style, thus he learned a variety of techniques and methods for not only drawing comic pieces but finding the humor to deliver it in his own way to the public.
“Ideas come from first and foremost focusing on one thing, (such as) word play, drawing cliches … cartoonists tell stories with or without words.”
Stromoski is the creator of the popular strip “Soup to Nutz.” He explained the process for submitting cartoons to publishers and newspaper syndicates and the thrill of receiving his first paycheck, the princely sum of 7 dollars. But that didn’t matter, he was doing what he believes he was always meant to do, create humor out of everyday life.
Like so many who have gone before him, Stromoski gets his best ideas from his own, rather large family. “Dinnertime in a family of twelve is like a zebra running on the Serengeti!” he said.
The tools of his trade may have changed over the decades, but the origin of humor remains much the same – people.
Today, instead of drawing on paper using inks and colored pencils, Stromoski uses digital software. “It’s an amazing tool,” he said, explaining that using a touchpad is much like traditional drawing methods, only more forgiving. “It’s improved production.”
There is a major downside, however. “We don’t produce original works of art,” he said. Today, drawings done by famous cartoonists can earn vast sums, but the art market is a fickle creature. “People don’t really buy that much anymore.”
What has happened with the advent of computer graphics is the speed with which cartoons can be created, freeing up artists to do other artistic pursuits. For Stromoski, that is producing graphic novels.
This genre of publication is on the rise and is giving cartoonists a new place to create, not only the single-pane gag but full, two-page spreads with a story line that captures the attention of the young and or the young at heart. It is also saving careers.
Stromoski lamented the slow death of print media at not only killing off news, especially at the local level, but also the outlet by which cartoonists reached an audience. But the graphic novel is filling that void. Where his comic strip “Soup to Nutz” enjoyed 18 years entertaining its followers, now through the graphic-novel format Schnozzer and Tatertoes have come alive.
He said the target age for his graphic novels is the six to nine-year-old camp, but I reckon anyone who likes the silly, weird or just plain funny stuff will want to tag along with these characters as they (as his promotional material asserts) “… TAKE A HIKE … an epic journey as they encounter killer bees, quicksand, angry bears and even nose spiders (Sterling Publishing Company, Incorporated 2023.)” To learn more, visit rickstromoski.com.
By Marilou Newell