Monday, February 26, 2018

On Growing Up Walt Disney

When I was growing up, every Sunday night, there was a television show called The Wonderful World of Disney. Maybe you remember it. It was always hosted by Walt Disney (despite the fact that Disney passed away two years before I was born) and Mr. Disney, Walt, was my first and is still my longest lasting hero. When my dad asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I told him I wanted to be Walt Disney. I learned how to draw the Disney characters at a very young age and I used to dazzle my friends and schoolmates with my drawings.

My dad wanted more for me. He told me there were more starving artists than there were anything else.

What he didn't get was I didn't want to be JUST an artist. I wanted to BE Walt Disney.

Fast-forward to the late-eighties. I was working in a factory (Douglas Aircraft), about as far away as I could have ever imagined from being Walt Disney. But it wasn't a secret that I was both a Disney fan and an artist. Many told me I needed to go down to the Disney studio and "go get a job there," as if that was all there was to it. And, at the time, I would have been thrilled to be offered the opportunity. However, I didn't have the schooling and there was no way in. It wasn't like it was in the 20s and the 30s where "decent" artists just showed up at "Disney's" and showed a handful of drawings to a guy and was given a desk. This was Eisner's Disney. Pretty much a different place altogether.

Another thing many people at the airplane factory told me stuck though. "They sure don't make comic strips like they used to. Have you read the comic strips in the newspaper lately? They're not even funny."

Challenge accepted.

At the time, I was reading Disney comics reprinted by Gladstone publishing and Disney was starting to branch out and publish their own new comics, much of it based on the Disney Afternoon batch of characters. I had grown up reading Carl Barks' Donald Duck comic books. And I was a bit of a punster myself. Ren and Stimpy was tweaking the heck out of cartoon expectations and I decided I wanted to fall somewhere in between. I wanted to have a character that was antagonistic and cutting-edge, but maybe the rest of the cast of my characters would be more like Disney characters. And I landed on the idea of a Pet Peeve. And since he's a pet, he's got to be someone's pet. I had always loved Tolkien's books and fantasy in general. My brother was very involved in the local Rennaissance Faires. So I set my fictional world in a fractured fairy tale-like fantasy world that was populated with cartoon versions of knights, elves, dwarves and dragons. And since Peeve had to be someone's pet in order for the pun to work, I made Peeve's straight man a pudgy little elf named Elvin. And that's how "Elvin's Pet Peeve" came to mind.

The idea was to do a series of comic strips and have them syndicated to the newspapers the same way Peanuts, Ziggy and Garfield was.

I studied hard. I studied copyright and trademark law. I studied how the Disney artists used to draw their comic strips. And I studied syndication and distribution of comic strips. I even stopped by the Long Beach Press-Telegram offices to see if I could interest them in running my comic strip locally (they weren't interested). In the meantime, hoping for a grass-roots interest, I put my high school print shop knowledge to work and made T-Shirts, caps, and other screen-printed items. I even sponsored a softball team and had a four-page newsletter that co-workers took home to their kids. I was so convinced Peeve was going to be a hit, I bought a personalized license plate for my car that said PEEVE. I wanted to get it before someone else did!

I was highly motivated. I drew 185 Elvin's Pet Peeve comic strips as well as three and a half comic book-style stories (there were four, but only three were fully-inked) before I shelved it to focus on going to school for graphic design (I decided to study graphic design, which was something I excelled at in high school) after I was laid off from Douglas.

From there, I went into a graphic design career, holding Art Director positions at a swimwear company, web design company, screen printing company and then moving into advertising. I revisited Peeve briefly when I was working on potential animated properties with Joe White. But then I moved to Colorado, got married, had a kid, etc. All the things that one does when one grows up.

And then life hit me like a bus.

My wife of ten and a half years was gone. My daughter was fast-approaching her teenage years and I was left with little more than a handful of unrealized dreams.

And a box full of Elvin's Pet Peeve comic strips. All sealed in plastic.

And I realized that this is a wonderful time to be an artist. We have the Internet. We have Do It Yourself filmmaking, publishing, print-on-demand books, T-shirts, digital studio-quality recording, wide-reaching distribution. The only limits are your imagination, inventiveness and wherewithal to get off your tail and do good work.

So I found myself pondering what to do with it all. And, after much prayer and soul-searching, inspiration struck. I'm gonna do it all! And I'm going to tie it all together with the re-launch of the TV show that I did right after Lori passed away (The Creative Underground... it started out as an online radio show in Colorado Springs, CO, then was part of PADNET, Long Beach's cable-access channel and aired simultaneously on my YouTube channel). With the re-launch of The Creative Underground YouTube channel, now focusing mostly on what I'm doing (although I'm sure I'll highlight other artists from time to time, as has been my want), I've come full circle to that kid who's head took up most of the TV every Sunday night.

I have my chance to be Walt Disney!

Everything I'm doing I've cribbed from my hero. His TV show was basically a commercial for whatever the studio was doing. And that's what I'm doing too. It is my hope that you come away inspired to do your own BEST creative work.

So check out the show. Every week, we're going to go behind the scenes on something I'm working on, be it the "Elvin's Pet Peeve" comic strip (which should be soon available to view every week at the soon-to-be redesigned, my writing (check out my books at Amazon), or my music (which may or may include my cohorts in Third World Sun... I'm using a piece of one of the band's new songs as the Creative Underground's new theme song).

This week, we're gonna watch me draw the first "Elvin's Pet Peeve" comic strip since 1992. I hope you enjoy it. Click here to watch.

Also, please note: Just as I've left all of my blog posts here on this blog from over the years, all five of the previous Long-Beach Creativity-based episodes (1x01-1x05) of The Creative Underground video show are still available on the YouTube channel. If you're so inclined, just scroll on down to find them. Also, I think there are a couple clips of the band as well that I hosted there when the channel was more or less dormant. I left them there for your enjoyment. The new episodes are labeled 2x01 and 2x02, etc.).