Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Drawing on humor — Cartoonist says it all, 1 frame at a time

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Humor is a common accessory to fishing. There’s plenty of time to exaggerate a funny story while waiting for the fish to bite, or to share a joke when a day on the water inevitably leads to an evening at the watering hole.

David Booth, of Soldotna, has heard them all, he figures, in decades spent guiding fishing trips on the Kenai River and in Oregon.

“I’ve heard a billion jokes, sitting around with guides and people like that,” he said.

But instead of the standard fish story format, where humorous tales are drawn out as long as exaggerated fish lengths commonly are, Booth went in the opposite direction. He channels humor as succinctly as possible, without a word being spoken.

Booth is working on developing a career as a cartoonist. It’s something he’s done off and on as long as he can remember.

“When my mom found out I was really doing this she sent me some stuff I did when I was really, really little,” he said. “She sent me these things, drawings and little pictures, and some of them I was amazed I was trying to express such abstract ideas, like throwing baseballs and multiple frames and stuff. So I kind of went back in my mind and went, ‘That’s right, I’ve kind of been doing this for a long time.’”

Booth grew up in the Lower 48 and guided on the Rogue River and others in the Pacific Northwest for about 15 years. In the early 1980s he started traveling back and forth to guide on the Kenai, then moved here full time after about three years of back and forth.

“I’ve been questioning that decision ever since. I haven’t been Outside for 25 years. I need to remind myself why I’m here,” he said.

He supplemented guiding with cooking during the winter periodically in local restaurants. But eventually the lifestyle of both began to wear thin. Now age 60, the years of rough living have taken their toll, and Booth prefers to coax expressive looks out of the characters he draws, rather than wrestle 50-pound kings out of the river, and tend to computer programs and color designs, instead of hot ovens and spitting griddles.

“I decided I was gonna quit drinking, which, that is one of the downsides of being a fishing guide for as many years as I did. It becomes a habit and of course Alaska doesn’t beat that down. It kind of likes that. And I got to the point where I realized working in a kitchen, that’s not conducive to stopping drinking,” Booth said.

Booth found himself in a new stage in life — divorced, sober, without all his old friends from his drinking days, and in need of a new career. He decided to redraw new parameters in his life.

“When I finally quit guiding, about a year after that I decided I was just going to do this. I got to the point where I really couldn’t work all the jobs I used to work. I really used up my body pretty bad,” he said. “So I decided to just start cartooning. The more I did it, it appeared I had a real talent for it, and the humor. I have a pretty deep well of life experience and that’s what a cartoonist has to have.”

Booth works under the moniker of Cabin Fever Artworks, and Alaska themes dominated his early strips — wild animals, river guides and the like. Then he hit on polar bears and the controversy over global warming, which he used as the basis of his current strip, “Thin Ice.”

“Polar bears, whales and elephants are my favorite animals. Any one of them, I’d hate to see them go away,” Booth said. “When I realized there was a plight with the polar bears and the whole global warming thing was being dismissed as nonexistent, I said, ‘Well, this is something I feel like talking about.’”

The strip was brought to the attention of Polar Bears International, and is featured on its Web site, www.polarbearsinternational.org/cartoon-corner.
“Polar Bears International noticed my stuff and invited me into their family and said, ‘How would you like to be our official cartoonist?’ And I said, ‘Yahoo.’”
His work is focused on simplicity, being able to evoke a thought, emotion or expression subtly with his characters.

“I’m fascinated sometimes when I try to make one of my bears have a certain expression and body language and I can’t make it happen, and it’s because I’m trying too hard. The next thing I know, there it is. There’s what I’m looking for,” Booth said.

He’s experimented quite a bit with color, starting out doing meticulous shading with color pencils. Nowadays he’s moved most of his process onto the computer. He starts drawing an image by hand, then scans it into the computer and uses a variety of programs he’s taught himself to add colors, definition and other flourishes.

“I really love it, that’s the thing. It can be tedious in some ways to do it right,” he said. “The trouble is I’ll start out with a cartoon, part of it is really, really simple, then I’ll look at it then I’ve got to do this and do this and I need to add a background to it — there’s a lot of tricks to make it as cool as I possibly can. I’m learning more and more tricks every time I do them.”

Booth estimates he has 3,000 to 4,000 images. He can produce up to two or three cartoons a day if they’re simple ones, or he may spend a few days just tweaking one. He sells merchandise of his work online at www.cafepress.com/fishgod, and has a Web site, www.cabinfeverart.com. He hopes to one day have the strip syndicated. In the meantime, he’ll keep drawing what he has to say, one frame at a time.

“I see myself as a Buddhist, I guess,” Booth said. “It’s a Zen kind of thing for me. It’s challenging and satisfying to try to say everything in one picture.”

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