Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Patrick Reynolds on his Career as a Self-Syndicated Newspaper Cartoonist

I have long been a fan of cartoonist Patrick Reynolds, who specializes in  features about regional history. I first encountered his work while in some roadside tourist venue in Pennsylvania. Browsing at the gift shop, after giving due consideration to Liberty Bell snowglobes and Terrible Towels, I found a small rack of books focusing on Pennsylvania subjects. In amongst them were several different volumes of Pennsylvania Profiles by Reynolds.

Reynolds was treading the same ground as other local history features, of which there have been many (here's a few we've covered on the blog: Gopher Tales, Romance of Rhode Island, Carolina Hall of History). What sets him apart, I think, is that while historical accuracy is, of course, his first concern, he also recognizes that history doesn't have to be an absolutely solemn affair. So rather than giving us woodcut-style, ramrod stiff personages peering out at us in all their momentous majesty, he cartoons his subjects to lighten the mood. He also recognizes that no one likes a panel cartoon containing a vast sea of text. Reynolds has blended a light touch in both his cartooning and writing into a successful cottage industry of newspaper features. 

Reynolds began his career with Pennsylvania Profiles, and that initial success led to the creation of more features. He produced a similar panel for Texas newspapers, called Texas Lore, a color strip titled Big Apple Almanac produced for Long Island's Newsday, and most recently, the color Sunday feature Flashbacks for the Washington Post. Book versions of all these features are available on his website.
PA Profiles, as they appeared in newspapers

I recently contacted Reynolds and asked for an interview. He wasn't comfortable with a Q&A format, however he proved most forthcoming  in providing some of his history in memoir form (which, I suppose, makes perfect sense given his career as a storyteller). So, take it away Mr. Reynolds:

I was born in Pottsville, PA and grew up in nearby Minersville, in the heart of the Anthracite mining region. 
 I loved cartooning since I was a kid.  In the fourth grade I copied a cartoon from the Sunday Philadelphia Bulletin. It turned out so close to the original that I decided then and there that I would be a cartoonist.

During Grammar School, 7th and 8th grades, I started to write and draw adventure stories that I submitted to Atlas Comics. I believe Marvel owns that label today.  There were other comic book publishers that I submitted my comic strips to, but they all turned me down.  I did some one page history stories that I sent to Boys' Life which ran such a feature.  They, too, rejected me.  In high school, at the encouragement of my English teacher, I expanded my artistic endeavors to oils, pastels, and pen and ink illustration. 

 I started winning poster contests, and in my senior year I won a Scholastic Magazine national art award in the "Lettering" Category.  Meanwhile, during high school, I hit up my father for $350 or so to pay for my enrollment in the Famous Artists Cartoon Course from which I graduated in 1959, the same year I got my diploma from Minersville High School. During my senior year of high school I spent hours and hours, sometimes into the wee hours of the morning, working on a portfolio to enter into the Scholastic Magazine Art Scholarship program.  I did not win.  However, my grades throughout high school hovered just below straight A in every subject.  I graduated class valedictorian. Thus, I was granted an academic scholarship to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY.  At the time, Pratt was the top art school in the country. 

At Pratt, I got my "money's worth" by taking double majors:  Graphic Arts & Illustration; and Advertising Design.  I graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1963, and went to work as assistant art director in an ad agency in Scranton.  After a year, I landed an art directorship in an ad agency in Harrisburg.  Then, in 1965 the draft board came after me.  I always had a plan:  if I could not make it as a professional artist I would join the military and become an officer/aviator.  I had passed the physicals and written exams for the Air Force while at Pratt; just never signed the papers.  Also passed similar exams for Marine Corps Aviation.

Now, being a successful artist, I decided to join the branch of service that offered Officer's Training and the shortest stint after commissioning.  Turned out it was the Army;  eight months to become a second lieutenant and then 2 years of commissioned active duty.  I attended Infantry Officers Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia and was commissioned in the Army Intelligence Service, now the Military Intelligence branch.  I was trained as an aerial surveillance officer, sent to Vietnam, where I was placed in charge on the Imagery Interpretation Section of the Corps Intelligence Detachment.  As a second lieutenant, I held a major's slot.  Also flew as an Aerial Observer where I saw a lot of action.  Flew over 300 combat assault missions, was awarded the Air Medal with ten Oak Leaf Clusters. (One air medal is for 25 missions and 25 hours; an oak leaf cluster is for each successive awarding of the same medal).  Also got the Bronze Star. 
Panels were somewhat reformatted for appearance in Reynold's books

Believe it or not, I did a lot of artwork in and for the Army. Also, I had three artists in my Imagery Interpretation Section who drew updated maps and pictures of enemy weapons as described by captured North Vietnamese soldiers.

After I got discharged in 1968, I held several art jobs and became the advertising manager for a resort in Lancaster County, PA.  At the same time I got married.  My wife Patricia and I adopted three kids:  a Vietnamese, an American, and a Brazilian. 

 I took the ad manager job because I developed my talent for writing while in the Army.  It turned out that my ability to write is most vital in creating my comic strips on history. 

 Also, I stayed in the military; first in the National Guard then in the Army Reserve.  For several years one of my Reserve assignments was doing artwork for the Army New Service which is the Army's syndicate.  I also was an instructor in the Army's Command and General Staff Officers Course (officers who wanted to become Lieutenant Colonel had to take this course).  My reputation as a top instructor was well known in the Eastern U.S.  I used the old "chalk talk" routine in many of my classes where I drew pictures related to the course material to liven up the class as well as give the students something to remember.  For this I was awarded the Army Achievement Medal and the (higher) Army Commendation Medal with two oak leaf clusters.

Meantime, I became involved in local politics.  This earned me a job with the commonwealth of Pennsylvania in the Tourism Promotion Bureau.  My experience as an ad manager of a resort helped.  I wrote press releases and feature stories, put together press kits,  did radio and television appearances, edited several state publications, and traveled around the world promoting Pennsylvania tourism.  Then, my boss resigned to take a similar job in Florida.  I put in for the promotion, and to impress the Department Secretary, I created a cartoon that we could send out to newspapers across the country.   The cartoon would be about an event, a person, whatever, with a tie-in or kicker of a place to visit in Pennsylvania. Here is how I came up with the idea -- in the autumn of 1975 I was in Boston for a Travel Writers' convention. I bought a Boston Globe and the comics section had this great comic strip called "Yankee Almanac" by Larry Gonick.  Wow, says I, I can do a similar cartoon on Pennsylvania!

The Secretary was most impressed, but hired someone from out of state for the job.  When the new boss came on board, I asked him to get a letter of understanding from the commonwealth that would allow me to do "Pennsylvania Profiles" in my own time and I could sell it to newspapers.  That letter arrived the next day.  

I slowly accumulated newspapers and eventually had twenty running the feature.  At the end of the first year, I combined that year's stories into a book.  I tried to get a publisher of Pennsylvania books near Philadelphia to take on the book but the editor said "no."  

 In my jobs as an art director, ad manager, and state brochures editor, I had a lot of experience in buying printing.  So, I formed my own publishing company, The Red Rose Studio, and published the book myself.  I thank that lady editor every day because instead of getting a measly 6 percent royalty, I got much more per book sold.  My Pennsylvania Profiles series of books have sold by the thousands.

I left the state job in 1978, two years after I started the cartoon.  I have never held a job since.  The secret of my success in self-syndication is the fact that I found a niche:  doing illustrated stories (you can call them cartoons) on local history,  particularly stories your history teacher never heard of.  I carried this formula to Texas, New York City, and Washington DC. 

I have tried different methods to market my strips.  I created a mailing piece for Pennsylvania Profiles and Texas Lore. A few days after sending it out, I called every editor. You can imagine the shoot-downs, and the "we have no space..." excuses.  Later, I made personal calls on many of the editors. I could not crack the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh papers.

Sequence of Texas Lore panels, as they appeared in books
For Texas, I first approached the Houston Post.  Having learned that Oveta Culp Hobby owned it, I was intrigued. You see, while in high school during the '50s, the Feds started a new cabinet department, Health, Education, and Welfare.  President Eisenhower appointed Oveta Culp Hobby to be its first Secretary.  Also, Mrs. or should I say Colonel, Hobby was the first Commandant of the Women's Army Corps (WACs).  It was a reward to her by FDR in appreciation for her husband, Governor Hobby of Texas, helping to carry his state for the Democrats in the 1940 election.

 At the time I was struggling with a regional cartoon for the Southern States called "Southern Heritage."  I wanted to Call it "Southern Exposures." but Duke or some such university was already using the name in one of their publications.  Anyway, I sent Mrs. Hobby a sample of my Southern Heritage feature and offered to do a similar one about Texas.  Next thing, her managing editor wrote me and told me to send him something.  Having learned my lesson about "lack of space" I made the Texas feature a vertical 2-column job.

Why Texas, you might ask.  I figured correctly that the Texans are so full of themselves that they'd jump at such a cartoon.  The Houston Post took on the cartoon and ran it until they folded about 6 years later.  The Chronicle ran it for a while during the Texas Sesquicentennial then dropped it.

With the Houston Post on board, I did a mass mailing to all the Texas newspaper editors. Then, my wife and I planned a week-long trip there. I found out that the big syndicates sold their new features to big papers, then offered it to smaller ones.  That is the route I followed in Texas.  I had set up appointments with papers in Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin.

My appointment in Dallas was with the Tribune (actually I forgot the name).  When we got there I was kept waiting for an hour because the editor forgot about the appointment. Once in the meeting he said he was most impressed, then asked if I had shown it to the guys "across the street", meaning the Dallas Morning News.

 I said "No, but I will meet with them if you say one of two things to me: 'No, we do not want it' or 'We will think about it;" because it has been my experience that when an editor says he'll think about it, his answer always ends up being no.  The Trib editor said he will think about it but asked that I give him until Wednesday before I go the the News (it was now Monday).

We left the office and went directly to the News.  Their editor had already told me that they would not see me personally, and asked that I either mail or leave my presentation in the desk at the lobby; so that's what I did.  That Wednesday we were in Austin getting shot down by the Statesman. Afterwards I call the Trib editor and, true to form, he rejected the feature.  (Just desserts --- about ten years later that paper folded.)

Then I called the Morning News.  They were all excited.  As soon as they opened my envelope they tried to call me ... at my studio in Pennsylvania.  Anyway, here I was calling them, and they took it on! I remained with them until they dropped me 20 years later, as they were shrinking their paper.  I never tried to get reinstated, figuring "20 years was enough to give to Texas."

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