Cartoons from the Zeitgeist

Over the last year or so my son Tom and I have been collaborating on a big batch of gag cartoons – Tom wrote the ideas in New York City, between working at NYU and doing frequent standup in clubs and bars, and sent them over to me here in Bucks County, where I drew them up when I had time. I’m happy to announce that we’ve finally assembled them into a book titled Zeitgeist Meetup, and we’ll be signing copies at The Mercantile, 444 N. Main Street, Doylestown, on Sunday, December 11 from 1:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Tom’s humor has a young, New York-type viewpoint, with some ideas coming from his everyday experiences in the city doing improv comedy, some reflecting his standup style of wordplay and visual puns, and a few short-story cartoons like “Bushwick Self-Defense,” “The In-Convenience Store,” and “The Kool Aid Spectrum.” Our book riffs on lots of topics that are in the ‘zeitgeist’ right now— from food trucks to Bigfoot to crickets to Elvis – all just for fun. We want people to laugh!

Tom has been involved in comedy for over 15 years, leading an improv comedy group when he attended Holicong Middle School and CB East, continuing through college at American University and comedy clubs around Washington DC, and now in NYC.

I’ll also mention that two of my latest New Yorker magazine cartoons have been chosen to be in the “2023 New Yorker Day-to-Day Calendar,” which I’ll have there at the Mercantile on display, and I’ll have some of my humorous holiday greeting cards for sale too, so I hope you can come and say hello!

There is plenty of convenient parking at the Mercantile since it’s right in the Doylestown Shopping Center, in the space where BonTon used to be. The Mercantile is a collaborative store that showcases creative small businesses, so there is a ton of great gift items to browse after you’ve chatted with Tom and me – they have beautiful housewares, accessories, vintage items, baked goods, furniture, jewelry, gifts for men and adorable stuffed animals for kids. There are even places to sit down and have a snack when you’re tired of shopping – you can’t beat that!

Zeitgeist Meetup sells for $12.95, and if you can’t make it on December 11 but you want a copy, just let me know. And if you went to CB East with Tom or were in his improv group, please just stop by to say hi, we’d love to see you!

My Illustrations for the Children’s Book “A Grand Slam Birthday”

Now that the Phillies are in the World Series, it’s definitely time to write about a new kids’ book by my friend, author Chrysa Smith, and illustrated by me – A Grand Slam Birthday. Chrysa brings back the lead character from her book The Upside-Down Gardener, Dory Oslo, for a delightful story that makes a perfect birthday party gift for youngsters – or a holiday gift, since that season is coming up too!

Chrysa describes the plot like this: When Dory Oslo arrives at her cousin’s birthday party, nobody looks like they’re having too much fun. In fact, the kids are lined up against the wall. But Dory turns up the excitement once again as her cousin opens her gift and finds something that turns the party inside-out and into something quite unexpected—and FUN! Dory, her cousin Izzy, and their friends learn a thing or two about having fun, trying new things, and having confidence in yourself.

In illustrating Grand Slam Birthday I started with pencil sketching the whole book as usual, for example these double-page spreads :

Once Chrysa suggested adjustments to the sketches, I transferred the revised drawings to illustration board and started drawing and painting finished artwork with acrylic paint washes. Because of the birthday party theme and the surprise gift involved, it made for some colorful pages:

As you may have guessed, an impromptu baseball game figures into this story – Dory after all is a tomboy! It’s a fun story that also helps kids think differently about trying something they may think they’re “not good at.”

You can order A Grand Slam Birthday online from Chrysa HERE – and if your child’s school would like to have Chrysa do an author visit (in person or through zoom), she has some great programs that help teach and inspire the kids to write on their own. Send Chrysa a message to inquire about how she can spark the imagination in your students! You can also meet her in person, selling this and her other books, at the Warminster Kris Kringle Holiday Market this coming Saturday, Nov 5 from 9:00 AM – 12:30 PM, at 300 Veterans Way, Warminster, PA.

Bills! Bills! Bills!

I recently painted the cover art for another fun book by author James Miller, whose previous book, The Book of Jims, I also illustrated. This one is another compendium of historical figures having the same first name, William or Bill. Bill’s! Bills! Bills! is the title.

I started with a very rough pencil sketch of the Bills to be shown on the cover – William Tell, Buffalo Bill Cody, William the Conqueror, William Shakespeare, William Penn and Bill Clinton.

Jim also asked me to include a red-billed toucan, a spoonbill and maybe a hen, along with some dollar bills and cable bills, so I worked those into the drawing and tightened it up a bit by tracing it in felt tip pen.

I then made a rough color sketch, coloring in a scan of the drawing and placing the text.

I consulted with Jim on some details of the drawing & text and painted a finished illustration to drop into the design. He’s awaiting publication now. I think Bills! Bills! Bills! will be a fun & interesting read – especially to other Bills – but also for anyone who likes quips and quirks of history. 

Illustrating “Robbie to the Rescue!” Part 3

(To read Part 1 and 2 of this process click HERE and HERE.)

After I did rough color sketches for Laurie Nowlan’s entire book, I started transferring the drawings to illustration board and painting. I use prismacolor pencils to outline my characters and acrylic paint, thinned with water to the level of a wash, to paint the colors. You can get nice vibrant hues using acrylics, which brightened up the autumn pages at the beginning of the book.

This story follows two brother robins as they go on a southern migration to Florida, the twists and turns they encounter along the way, and how they help each other as siblings. They encounter a nasty storm, which knocks the younger brother, Robbie, for a loop.

The older brother, Ben, has trouble with one of his wings, and suddenly little Robbie is the sibling that has to look out for his older brother.

Robbie steels himself and finds the strength to get both himself and his brother out of danger.

And to see the sunny conclusion of the story, you’ll have to get the book!

Since the cover art is so critical to the appeal of a children’s book, the author and I went through several sketches of the cover illustration before we settled on the right scene and feel for it. We wanted Robbie alone on the cover, but did not want to give away too much of the climax of the story.

I envisioned Robbie swooping through the stormclouds with a determined, serious expression; and after discussion with Laurie we tried a more cheerful look and we both liked it better.

I did a color sketch and added some lightning to create a little more excitement –

and then painted the finished art.

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“Robbie to the Rescue!” is available now through BookBaby HERE.

My Cartoon in the UK

Every once in a while I am asked for permission to print one of my cartoons that is of particular amusement to people who sing in a choir. I received such a request last week from a choir in the UK, who rehearse at the delightful-sounding address of Worlds End Lane, Orpington, Kent. Here is the program cover for their concert, through which they hope to raise money for two worthy causes.

Illustrating “Robbie to the Rescue!” Part 1

I recently completed illustrating a new children’s picture book, written by Laurie Nowlan, Robbie to the Rescue! It’s a lovely story about brother robins and how they help each other through the younger brother’s first southern migration. I think it’s a very good sibling story, with lots of touches that happen between real brothers and sisters, so many children will relate to it.

I first spoke at length with the author about how she imagined the characters and the flow of the story. Laurie is a retired teacher and has been writing for a long time so she had already given this much thought. I di some black and white and color sketches of the brother birds and more or less used them as my prototypes when developing the page art – although you’ll see some colors changed.

With the author’s suggestions I laid out the text and drew pencil sketches for each double page spread. I drew a very loose pagination, which just helps me visualize a variety of page setups before I design, like this –

Then I drew pencils of each spread like these samples.

I’ll explain the next steps in the process in my next post.

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“Robbie to the Rescue!” is available now through BookBaby HERE.

Free Coloring Book for Children

Last year I created some artwork for Mike DeSantis’ CPA website and in the process Mike introduced the idea of using a little cartoon of his dog as a friendly mascot for the business. Mike had used “Bart the dog” as a fun part of his business before, telling long-time clients that Bart helped around the office – he even gave Bart a phone extension on the menu!

After the pandemic hit, Mike searched for an idea that could honor the workers in healthcare and also help children through a worrisome time in their young lives. In thinking about the Bart cartoons on his website, he came up with the idea of a coloring book for youngsters that would teach safety tips on staying germ-free during flu season. The book, called “Keep the Germs Away,” is dedicated to all the doctors, nurses, hospital workers and first responders who risk their lives on the front lines to help others, and I drew the illustrations.

Mike has donated 100 copies of the book to Doylestown Hospital’s Children’s Village. Each coloring page has a simple suggestion supporting good hygiene for children, and features Bart the Dog, the friendly mascot of DeSantis & Co., P.C. The director of Children’s Village, Teri Windisch, said of the gift, “Our kids and families loved the “Keep Germs Away” coloring book from Mike. What a great way to reinforce what they have learned during this tough time!”  The coloring book is also available to anyone for free download from Mike’s website www.descpa.biz and he’s allowed me to put it on my site too, free on this page HERE. So get out your markers and sharpen up your pencils!

Icon of Poodlehood

I’ve illustrated six children’s books for author Chrysa Smith’s Adventures of the Poodle Posse series, a string of stories that details the wags and whimsy involved in raising a bunch of very personable pooches. While each book focuses on one or two poodles who wander into the saga, the one constant character is Mrs. Flout, the bouncy lady whom the dogs have ‘adopted’ as their mom.

Chrysa visits schools to read her books and promote reading and writing to youngsters, and often for Catholic Schools Week and Read Across America Week she is busy traveling and presenting. She delightedly receives quite a few hand-drawn pictures from the kids of her poodle pals, but this past week’s surprise was unique: one particular teacher dressed up as Mrs. Flout (whose hair is uncannily similar in texture to a poodle’s) and sent Chrysa a photo –

I think when you start having people dress up as the characters in your books, you have really done something special. Congratulations, Chrysa! Mrs. Flout is now an official Icon of Poodlehood.

Chrysa’s books have all received the Mom’s Choice Award, which honors excellence in family-friendly media. If you know some youngsters who love fun stories and especially if they love dogs, please take a look at Chrysa’s selection of fun books on her site HERE.

Illustrating the Maasai

Almost ten years ago I illustrated the African folktale The Lion, the Ostrich and the Squirrel for the Maasai Cultural Exchange Project. I learned much about the work of MCEP in doing this book, an organization that helps to build wells in Kenya and pay for education of women and children. I helped frame the actual story, which involves all animal characters, by suggesting we start the story by showing a common Maasai family tradition: the grandmother gathering the grandchildren under an acacia tree to tell stories. A friend of mine asked me to make this cover illustration into a notecard for her. I’ve just added it to my Etsy line of illustrated cards, and it can be seen and ordered here.

This is pack of 8 notecards (blank inside) and 8 ivory envelopes. Printed on the back of the notecard is a description of the scene: “The artwork shows the Rift Valley of Kenya, a region of many Maasai villages. A grandmother making bead jewelry while seated on a cowhide tells her grandchildren a folk tale in the shade of an acacia tree. An enkaji – a home made of mud and sticks – is behind them. A father and son herd goats in the background, and behind them is a fence of acacia branches, which encircles the villages to keep wild animals from entering.” When I drew the illustrations for this book I had the kind cooperation of several Maasai visitors who explained specific cultural details in the drawing, so the scene is authentic.

The 8 cards (same illustration on each) in this pack are 5 1/2″ wide by 4 1/4″ high, which is a typical ‘invitation’ size notecard, taking regular first class postage. The cardstock is made from partially recycled paper and the cards are printed in the USA.

If you would like a notecard of this sort customized by me to include your personal message or a custom-drawn illustration, please contact me through my Contact page to discuss your ideas and my illustration fees.

I am happy to say that The Lion, the Ostrich and the Squirrel is in schools and libraries in Maasailand, and is especially useful because the story is written in both English and Swahili. The book is available for purchase, with proceeds going to MCEP, here.

Illustration for a YA Book Cover

A recent commission of mine was to make illustrations for a novel written by a middle school student. The student has ADHD and is also a gifted and eager writer. He writes insightfully about fitting in with middle school culture.

After reading some chapters and poems that comprise the book I decided to create a sketch for one poem that is set under a tree – its theme seemed to encompass the message of the book. I thought it could be used inside the book as a page illustration with the poem, and perhaps could be used for the cover as well.

I designed my rough pencil sketch looking down from above the main character under the tree, so it would work on a page and also with the title if needed. I hand-lettered the title with ink and brush.

The family of the author liked the image and wanted it for the cover, but thought some extra middle schoolers should be added. I drew a circle of friends separately –

and dropped them into the tree scene.

Then I colored the art digitally and reversed out the text – the finished book cover is below.