Wednesday, July 16, 2008

We're Looking for People Who Like to Draw.

Those words filled me with excitement when I was a child. I saw the familiar ads featuring the likes of illustrators Norman Rockwell and Albert Dorne, and envisioned the thrill of taking lessons authored by them.

My parents were encouraging--still are--and so when I was in the 7th grade, they arranged for me to take the adult version (not the children's version, mind you!) of the Famous Artists Schools Cartooning Course. I was in for a treat for invaluable lessons on humor strips from Al Capp ("Li'l Abner"), adventure strip lessons from Milton Caniff ("Terry and the Pirates" and "Steve Canyon"), editorial cartooning from Rube Goldberg (our founding President of the National Cartoonists Society, and person for whom the Reuben Awards are named), and magazine gag panel lessons from Whitney Darrow, Jr., just to mention a few.

I learned so many things to help a budding cartoonist hone his skills and pursue a career with professionalism. About the same time, I also took a humor and gagwriting course via correspondence with Joseph Mahoney, a retired writer for Jackie Gleason and gagwriter for a host of magazine cartoonists.

Where would a young 7th grader in NC make such a NY connection? I had an insatiable desire to learn everything I could about cartooning. And, from multiple trips to my local library, scouring all trade journals on the field like Gag Re-Cap and Jack Markow's cartooning column in Writer's Digest, I found a few leads.

Eager to put my newly-learned skills to the test, I started submitting cartoons to The Saturday Evening Post, True, Esquire, Field and Stream, The New Yorker and waited with bated breath by the mailbox for all those checks to start rolling in. Of course, I amassed quite a collection of rejection slips instead, which were thrilling in themselves, as sometimes a kind cartoon editor would include a personal note of encouragement to go along with the form letter. And even the form letter said they hoped I would "consider them in the future." So, the door was still open!

But one of the first cartoon markets I approached before sending to the national publications was Carolina Country magazine. I sent a batch to them figuring I would have a better chance with a local market than hitting it big time with The New Yorker right off the bat! Alas, even my home state magazine sent the familiar, polite rejection slip.

Fast forward to the 1980's and 90's, after several years in journalistic illustration with Raleigh's News and Observer, I had finally gotten to the point where I was getting consistent calls for freelance work and left the paper to work from my home studio. Around 1994, I had a call from Carolina Country to do their cover for their corporate magazine. That cover, won me my first Best in Illustration award in the National Cartoonists Society's 50th Anniversary Reuben Awards.

cover for 1994 Carolina Country magazine
copyright, J.Pittman, 1994

It was a special victory for a kid who had persevered, despite being rejected by them and so many other publications years earlier.

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