Make His Nose Bigger

29 Aug

By Mark Saunders

This is the blog in which I admit to being a gag cartoonist.  Because I’ve already admitted to once owning a Yugo, I have nowhere to go but up.

Gag cartoons are known as magazine filler.  That’s pretty much how I started cartooning, too.  As part of a team of U.S. Navy journalists assigned to the Seabees, I was partly responsible for putting out a monthly magazine whenever we were on an overseas deployment.  To fill up copy space, I started drawing cartoons.  A lifelong doodler, I took to cartooning like a hungry shark at a surfing contest.

This was before they had books teaching you how and where to send gag cartoons.  Fortunately, Writer’s Digest Magazine had a weekly column on cartooning and that’s where I received my first lessons.  The process was simple.  Usually, a cartoonist would draw a batch of gags, maybe ten, and send them to an appropriate magazine.  The magazine would buy or hold what they liked and send the rest back.  I sent my first batch of cartoons to Playboy Magazine.  They were, of course, all rejected, but it was the best rejection a newbie cartoonist could hope for: a real letter, signed from the cartoon editor, and carrying the embossed seal of the magazine.

Undeterred, I sent the same batch to a new magazine looking for “Playboy-style” cartoons and they bought three.  I was on clouds nine through fifteen.  Unfortunately, the only person who could find the magazine with my cartoons in it was my grandfather, a retired Western Pacific railroad man.  He located the magazine in a cigar store in Oakland, California, stashed among all the other, ahem, adult magazines.  My grandmother cut my silly cartoons from the magazine and placed them in the family Bible. On one side of each tear sheet was my cartoon, on the other was a story about a man’s throbbing missile or a woman’s heaving breasts.  

Years later, long since out of the military, I partnered with friend and fellow cartoonist, David Boxerman.  Together we created and syndicated three weekly cartoon panels.  The first panel, “The New Epicureans,” ran in several newspapers, including the San Jose Mercury News, where it lasted five years.  A month after launching the panel, the food editor asked me to reduce the noses on the drawings, because, as he said, their audience was sophisticated.  Three years later, we ran a caption contest and received more than 500 entries.  After reading most of the entries, the food editor called and told us we could make the noses bigger again.  His audience wasn’t as sophisticated as he had thought.

While working in the Silicon Valley during the early eighties, I joined a San Francisco Bay area group of cartoonists and writers.  A few members were stars of the cartoon universe, such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”), Hank Ketcham (“Dennis the Menace”), and Gus Arriola (“Gordo”).  Most members, however, were like me: no name cartoonists who had been drawing since they were in diapers. 

Our monthly dinner meetings usually featured a guest cartoonist, such as Garry Trudeau (“Donnesbury”) or Sergio Aragonés (MAD Magazine, Groo the Wanderer), to name two.  The special guest would give a “chalk talk” and draw a few ‘toons while delivering a presentation.  After, we’d hold a question and answer period.  A fellow member—his name was Art—would always ask the same question: “What kind of pen do you use?”  I suspect he thought there was magic in a specific pen and if he could find the right Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo pen, his career would be set.

So this is for Art, wherever he may be.  At first, I drew cartoons with a basic black marker pen, sometimes an extra fine Sharpie.  Later, I used a software program called SuperPaint on a Macintosh computer.  When The Saturday Evening Post bought one of my cartoons, they asked for the original.  I told them I had created the cartoon on my computer and I wasn’t sending them my machine.  The editor wrote back to tell me they had a policy of not accepting “computer generated art” but didn’t think my drawing looked as if it came from a computer.  They paid me and ran the cartoon.  No magic involved.    

The Carmen Memoranda sketch accompanying this blog was not the one purchased by the Post; however, I’ve included it as an example of the cartoon style I employed using the computer.  The Retired Realtors gag is an example of my marker pen style.

When my wife and I lived in Mexico the first time, I created a cartoon panel, “Mas o Menos,” for the local bi-lingual weekly newspaper.  Some of the cartoons are included in my book Nobody Knows the Spanish I Speak as, dare I say, filler. 

Questions, suggestions, objections?  Feel free to contact me at:

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Posted by on August 29, 2011 in Uncategorized


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