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 Today  -   Sunday, October 19, 2003

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Drawing on life
Local cartoonist puts his own brand of humor in new book


Palladium-Item photo by Joshua Smith

Local Book: Armed with a sense of humor and a black marker, Jon Carter draws a cartoon on Oct. 10. Carter's new book "Funny Files" is now available. Carter will be signing copies of his new book from 6-8 p.m. Oct. 25 at Hastings Entertainment in Richmond.

At a glance

  • Richmond cartoonist Jon Carter will sign copies of his new book, "Funny Files," from 6-8 p.m. Oct. 25 at Hastings Entertainment, 4601 National Road E. For information, phone (765) 939-9546.

  • To view many of Carter's cartoons and for information about his book, visit his Web site,

    Cartoonist picked up a pen at an early age

    Jon Carter started out like many artists. He doodled in school.

    As a boy, his late grandfather, Bruce Carter of Boston, Mass., was an influence.

    "I would visit him several times a year. He had a little woodshop. He was a fix-it guy and he had a little craft shop. He made kits of toys, he did magic shows for kids and of course he had drawings he had done," Jon Carter recalls. "It was the entertainment aspect of making people happy that I liked."

    He noticed that he enjoyed drawing and other people encouraged him to draw.

    He moved to Hagerstown as a teenager. After graduating from Hagerstown High School in 1989, he and a friend, Vince Nirich, took some drawings to the local newspaper, the Hagerstown Exponent, which started publishing the cartoons.

    And Carter started working at Welliver's Smorgasbord. He continued working there until 1996.

    "I started out doing dishes and then was a cook," he said. "It was hard work but it was fun, like a family. I drew everywhere, drew portraits of the people who worked there. Sometimes I still get calls after someone finds something I drew."

    He left his mark on an outside wall at Welliver's. On part of the building that faces an alley, he painted a large mural of the restaurant's founder, Guy Welliver, and other staff. It's the largest cartoon he's made.

    He moved to Richmond in 1995 and was a student at Indiana University East. Seven years ago, he had a one-man show in the college's Whitewater Hall. "I'd like to do that again sometime."

    Although his style has stayed generally the same over the years, it has evolved. "You pick up little things over the years."

    His humor is compared to Gary Larson, who drew the offbeat panel, "The Far Side." His characters have wacky expressions and feet that seem to have hinges.

    He earned a bachelor's degree in general studies from IU East. It was there that he learned more about using computers. He credits an IU East teacher, Tom Thomas, with teaching him about the intellectual, conceptual side of art and its business possibilities.

    Self-publishing technology makes book possible

    It's hard for Jon Carter to imagine a day when he wouldn't draw cartoons on paper in India ink - but 21st-Century technology is what has allowed him to self-publish his first book.

    Having 14 years of cartoon panels to draw from, Carter found that putting together the book was not a lot of hard work. It was a matter of choosing which panels to publish and then laying out the book. He sent the book off to a publisher, who printed it, and Carter has to pay for the books when he wants them.

    His initial investment was a $300 set-up charge. He pays about $4 per book when he orders more.

    But the technology Carter used to publish the book ranges from old-fashioned ink drawing to digitized imagery. Funny Files cartoons start as pen-and-ink drawings. He draws in a studio room in his Richmond home.

    "I've experimented with different media but I like India ink," he said. "You dip it and draw. There's just something about the line weights and the rich black. I'm just very into the actual material piece."

    When the drawing is done, he uses a scanner to get it into a computer. On the computer screen, using Photoshop software, he adds details such as halftone shading, and then cleans it up and stores it. Many of the cartoons are on his Web site and can be viewed in either color or as black and white line drawings.

    When someone wants a cartoon, he can send it out by e-mail.

    For the book, all he had to do was lay out the cartoon panels, two on a page. There are 104 pages of cartoons in his book.

    "I saved them on a disk and sent them to the publisher that way," he said.

    "Maybe the hardest thing was coming up with a cover," Carter said. "When I came up with the idea, it just hit me, and once I had the idea, it was just easy."

    Carter's cover is a full-color cartoon of several of his characters spilling out of a funny file cabinet drawer.

    When Carter decided to get serious about publishing a book, he found many companies willing to print his book. He did some research and found a publisher he liked.

    "This publisher, Page Free Publishing, can do everything," he said. "They were recommended by a friend and I thought they had a pretty good deal. Then I shopped around to make sure it was everything I wanted."

    The more services provided by a publisher, the more investment is required. Carter saved money by laying out the pages himself and shipping them to the publisher on a computer disk.

    Self publishing, Carter said, has been such an easy process that he'd recommend it to just about anyone.

    "Even for someone that just wants a small run of 100 or so, like a small family geneaology, this is affordable and easy to do," Carter said.

  • Jon Carter hopes people will laugh when they find out he has published a book. After all, his book is called "Funny Files" and it's a collection of cartoons.

    Carter, 32, creates a local editorial cartoon for the Palladium-Item and has been drawing the Funny Files panel for the past 14 years. He's now embarked on what he jokingly calls "shameless self-promotion" to sell his book.

    For Carter, hawking his book is only the newest phase of his career as an independent cartoonist. He has been drawing professionally since he was 18 but always before he's had a regular full-time job to support himself. Now, with encouragement and support from his wife, the former Amy Severance, he's working on his dream.

    Laid off in May from his job as a forklift driver when the company he worked for was sold, he's used the down time. "I'm kind of at a crossroads," Carter said. "I could take a regular day job or concentrate on this."

    Along with his book, Carter is making contact with others in the cartoon industry. He's hopeful that he might work with another independent cartoonist or two. He's exploring other possibilities as well.

    He has talked with a cartoonist in California who "has a great premise. I think we're going to partner and shop it (the cartoon) around the syndicates."

    Carter's says his formula, if there is one, "is the combination of two unlikely items." His characters often have dialogue that makes the drawings similar to a sight gag.

    "You can't really describe your thought process intelligently," he said. "You get ideas from everything, your environment, something someone says, something you see. You just know when you get a good idea, 'I've got to draw that.' It's a mysterious process."

    Carter likes drawing the cartoons.

    "The art's easy for me. The writing is the hardest part. When I'm thinking, it's about half hatched," he says. "But writing is of the utmost importance. Good writing can carry the art better."

    He hopes the California partnership might allow him to draw the characters to go with another person's words.

    He's also pursuing several related areas.

    "I just started doing a two-page spread in a children's magazine," he said. "I'm also talking to a greeting card writer in New York and I'm working with a rabbi in Chicago ... who does fun, educational things posted on the Web. I'm also doing a digital animated story book."

    Carter has explored syndication with mixed results. He has tried to sell his Funny Files cartoon to syndicates, which would then market it to newspapers and other publications. He's not been able to get one with a major syndicate.

    And he would rather not go to work for another cartoonist, such as Muncie's Jim Davis, the creator of Garfield.

    "When you're under someone's thumb, you're using your talent but it's someone else's vision. I want to be creative. If I was ever to take a job working for someone else, the last thing I would want to do is come home and sit at a computer" creating cartoons," he said. "If you're really serious about what you're doing, it's a lot of work."

    Jon Carter's Book Funny Files, A Collection of Cartoons.

    Originally published Sunday, October 19, 2003


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