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It's a bountiful life: Cartoonist draws inspiration from farm animals

Jan./Feb. 2014 California Bountiful magazine
Interview by Lynn Armitage
Photo by Laura Dickinson

Leigh Rubin has cows—and other animals—doing stand-up acts



More online: Rubes cartoons

Leigh Rubin, the creator of Rubes, a daily cartoon syndicated in more than 400 publications worldwide, began his cartooning career in 1978. We caught up with Rubin at his home office in San Luis Obispo County to ask, "What's so funny about farm animals?"

How did you get interested in drawing farm animals?
I've been drawing animals for as long as I can remember. They're just fun to draw. Cows are funny—and so are chickens and pigs and ducks and other farm animals. The animals I draw now are nothing like the real world. I mean, they stand up and talk, which doesn't really work in the real world very well.

Where do you get your quirky sense of humor?
Some would call it sick or twisted. I say it's not really that sick. I just like to look at things a bit differently. We look at a cow in the field and I think, "What could be funny about that?" I try to twist it up and down or try to rearrange it somehow to make it funny.

Where do you find inspiration?
Gum and coffee. And naps. Really, I read a lot, always looking for ideas or a certain turn of phrase. I travel and do a lot of public speaking. When you get out there, you meet a lot of people who open your mind to what's going on out in the world, and you're able to take more stuff in. It's an endless vacuum and then you have to filter it and categorize it.

So you do a daily cartoon. Do you ever feel burned out?
Ask me a little later today.

Are you more of a writer or an artist?
It's 50-50. There's an old adage: You can put bad art with a good gag, but it doesn't work the other way.  They have to really complement each other, unless there is no writing at all, which is really fun to do, too.

What intrigued you about the artistic life?
Just the pure fun of creating. Now I think, "Be careful what you wish for."

In 1978, you started your own greeting card company called Rubes Publications. How?
That's after I left college and I didn't really know what I was going to do. I sold real estate a little. I was a janitor a little bit, all while working with my dad for a total of 21 years in his print shop. I saw this line of really funny cards (by Sandra Boynton) in a pharmacy. I was inspired and thought, "Those were great cards." So I took my knowledge of graphics and printing and started up my own cards.

How did you know you were on to something with the farm animals?
That came as kind of a side thing. I have a friend who lives in Oregon. When I was visiting him, I went to this mom-and-pop store and picked up an ag newspaper. I was unaware that ag newspapers even existed. So I called them up and said, "You don't have an ag cartoon in there, any funny stuff. What would you think of my stuff?" And they went for it.

Have you always been a student of comedy? Is there a comedian that you admire?
Gosh, there are so many. I was watching a Turner Classic movie and they had an old Johnny Carson interview and he was interviewing Dom DeLuise and Bette Davis and Burt Reynolds – all from the '70s. And he was so good, so natural and so funny. I really like Chris Rock a lot. I loved Richard Pryor, too. I like Seinfeld.

You look like Weird Al.
Thank God he got rid of his glasses and I cut my hair.

Do you have any hobbies?
It used to be drawing! I don't have any particular hobbies. I do like to get away – and kind of escape by just hanging out, hiking and mountain biking. Now that we are close to being empty-nesters, I think my wife and I are going to travel more together, which is nice. It's nice to have the option to take off and go for the weekend.

Leigh Rubin sees the funny side of animals

What would farm animals say if they could talk? Leigh Rubin's Rubes cartoons offer some amusing considerations.

Rubes is distributed by Creators Syndicate to more than 400 media outlets worldwide and appears in major California newspapers including The Sacramento Bee, The Orange County Register and the Los Angeles Daily News. For more information, visit www.rubescartoons.com.


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