A Louie and Bruce Christmas Comic Strip

While going through more boxes in storage, I found this Louie & Bruce comic strip among my papers from teaching cartooning to kids years ago … I think it was 1988.

I know … I thought I had finished writing about my old strip, but chance and fate had other plans.

With Christmas five days away, this strip fits with the season.

This comic strip is unique because I’m not the sole author. While teaching, I had my students help write the strip by first calling out ideas and then dialogue. This way, they saw the strip grow from beginning to end.

I’m not sure why we chose Christmas and Santa for a theme during a summer class, but the theme was fun to work with and caused a lot of laughter and excitement in the classroom … especially the idea of Louie sitting on Santa’s lap as if he were still a little boy.

Merry Christmas everybody, and Happy Holidays.

Teaching Cartoon Art Is FUN

Not long after I stopped drawing my Louie and Bruce comic strip, I began teaching art courses to adults and children. One of the youth courses was Drawing Cartoons, so I used my strips as teaching aids during the 6-class course. About halfway through the course, we discussed anthropomorphism—giving human characteristics to animals or inanimate objects. From that, we created the character, Frank The Dog.

From Frank The Dog came Fred The Dancing Dog and his all-girl entourage. This lesson introduced drawing action and showing movement in the cartoon.

I enjoy teaching children because their ideas are fresh and inventive. This in turn sparks new ideas in my mind. Teaching art to children is an adventure to an end I never envision when I create my lesson plans. And bottom line: children are funny. They make drawing cartoons, which is already fun to do, a delight to do.

When I teach my classes, I have subjects on slips of paper that students choose from a hat. The subjects range from short and tall, narrow and wide, round and square, to various emotions and animals. A random drawing of “short, wide, round, silly, pig” resulted in the pig illustration above. The subject of crazy resulted in the cat illustration next to it. And from a random suggestion, the cat became a slob as I taught them how to refine their drawings.

Teaching at school may be what teachers do for work, but artists teaching children (and adults) at workshops can be a wonderful experience for those of us who can draw it (or paint it) as well as teach it to others. And with a classroom full of different personalities, there’s never a dull moment. Every day is a new adventure. You never know how the adventure is going to end, but it’s fun to find out.

Louie and Bruce Singles, 1982, Part 2

Old jokes and gags were common in Louie and Bruce’s world. I sometimes stole gags from TV, tweaked them, and used them in my strips. The snowball gag above is probably older than my dad, and he’s in his eighties. But it was a perfect gag for Leroy.

Mark Twain said that because of humor, “…All our hardnesses yield, all our irritations, and resentments flit away, and a sunny spirit takes their place.” That sunny spirit was my life in the 1980s, and it transferred easily to my comic strips.

Of course, my sense of humor began when I was a child and drawing comic strips began in grade school, well before the 1980s. But the 80s was a decade of big possibilities that saw me take aim at an adventurous future by getting married and beginning a family. Some people may find the idea of marriage and raising children daunting and downright terrifying. But I went into it happily.

I believe being funny is possibly one of the best things you can do for your health. And if you can’t be funny, at least enjoy the humor around us and laugh. After all, laughter is medicinal for relieving our ailments.

The above strip is a variation of a gag that ran throughout Louie and Bruce at various times. Leroy could perform magic, but he was not a magician. Nor was he a magical being. He had magic ability and no one in his world made a big deal of it. His magic was only a tool to perform a gag, which is what his character was: a tool (used in the nicest way) to play out a joke.

Comedy is a fundamental part of human nature—there’s no such thing as a completely humorless individual. Many of us are drawn to comedians, sitcoms, silly pet antics—anything and everything that makes us laugh. Finding something to laugh at attracted me to the Sunday funnies in the newspapers. Eventually, I copied what I saw. As I matured and understood the process of telling jokes and drawing my own characters, a cartoonist was born.

When I drew comic strips during the 1980s, I was a cartoonist of the farcical. I wrote comedy based on improbable coincidences with satirical elements too ridiculous to be true. My mind buzzed with that kind of humor and it was practically a celebration when I drew it.

My Louie and Bruce strip employs what psychologists call “Affiliative humor.” This involves finding humor in everyday life about things that everyone might find funny. In a comic strip, Affiliate humor can easily become Situational humor, aka the anecdotal sitcom. I was a fan of anecdotal strips such as Dick Tracy and The Adventures of Tintin, and I really loved the humorous anecdotal comic strips such as the early college years Doonesbury strips of the 1970s.

Laughter is good for the heart. And scientific research has shown that laughter not only reduces stress and betters our mood, but it increases our immunity as well.

When I came through life-saving surgery this year, I needed to take a new look at my life and make some changes—most notably, reducing stress. Most of that stress was job related. Changes at my workplace two years ago created a havoc-wreaking environment that put me at the helm of constant problem solving. I cared too much about the quality of my department’s work to watch it crumble from poor design and leadership. I worried about the future of my department and I let those problems follow me home.

The laughter had stopped at work—no one was happy anymore—and I rarely laughed at home. Then something gave and I ended up in the hospital. I decided my job wasn’t worth dying for.

While I healed, I found some of my old comic strips, which had been missing for decades, and I learned to laugh like my old self again. But moreover, I felt truly happy again.

Laughter has become one of my all-time favorite stress management strategies because it’s free, convenient, and beneficial in so many ways.

The above strip introduced Leroy’s new look. Gone was the carrot top, never to return.

I think there’s a special joy from getting a new haircut and hair style—the chance to reinvent yourself and feel different. It’s no secret that a haircut can make us feel good, make us shine, feel more confident.

Of course, some people can get silly about haircuts/hair styles and go wild and crazy with them. I can see the clan at Louie and Bruce doing this. Maybe it’s time to bring my old strip out of retirement. Who knows?

Louie and Bruce Singles, 1982, Part 1

Leroy is Louie’s brother. Louie has a pointed head and Leroy’s is flat. I referred to him as a carrot top—not because his hair was red (which it wasn’t), but because the three hairs that grow from the center of his head reminded me of three stems of a carrot after the leaves have been chopped off.

I drew Leroy’s first comic strip (above) in December of 1981, but didn’t reveal it until a month later in January of 1982. I drew a weekly run of single strips that year, many of them since lost.

The character with Leroy in the above strip is Mike. I didn’t feature him often, though he and Leroy were best friends. Like the rest of the characters, Mike was single. His favorite music was hard rock and his favorite band was AC-DC. His sister, Gloria, became Frank’s girlfriend that year. She was a softer, saner side of the guys and was never fazed by their crazy world.

When Leroy wore hats, readers confused him with Louie because their lower faces looked the same. But Leroy had the magic touch—an idea I stole from Doonesbury, the college years.

I think Leroy’s flat head may have come from Bull, the grumpy, cigar-smoking truck driver, pounding on it. This was a running gag that often ended with Leroy’s head squashed inside his shirt.

I’ll finish up Louie and Bruce with more strips from 1982 in my next post. Until then, peace and love.