Cartoons are a passion for Duane Abel.
He has been drawing a comic strip for 25 years.
Now the 41-year old artist has added Montana to his list of two dozen small town weekly newspapers, from as far as away California, to New York and even to Alabama.
“I target small town newspapers because I live in a small town in Ohio. I started in a small Ohio weekly newspaper and I love small towns. I love small town newspapers,” he said.
When it comes to his cartoons and strips, Abel says he doesn’t have to look far for inspiration. “I am not as confined as Charles Schulz was. When he started to draw Peanuts, he had to draw in four boxes. It (Peanuts) was sold to papers as a space saver. It could be run horizontally. It could be run vertically. It could be run in a square.
“I can do whatever I want. If I want to do it in two panels, I can do it in two. If I want to do it in three, I can do it in three.
“If I want to do it in one single panel, I can do it that way. The great thing about being a cartoonist is you are the one who is in charge,” he explained.
“Even with 2020 being a difficult year on everyone, part of it is what you can control and part of it is what you can’t control. I just try to focus on what I can control. Truthfully, as 2020 goes, I had one of my best years as a cartoonist because I was able to tap into some other avenues that I had not done previously,” he explained.
“I have been selling more gag cartoons to national magazines. I just wrote and illustrated a children’s book that is going to be out this June,” he said.
He also has gotten involved with more than 1,000 schools in 41 states around the country. “That is an estimated half a million students in my career,” he said. “The goal is to reach all 50 states within the next year.
“Sadly to say, most of that is going to be done with virtual assemblies. I may not be able to travel, but I can still speak to a lot of schools.”
He did add that if he ever was able to have an assembly in schools in Hawaii, his wife would also make the trip. “That would be the one trip that my wife would be able to tag along with if I were able to travel,” he explained with a chuckle.
Still, he admits that he has missed a lot in the last year. “I miss the students. I miss seeing a large gymnasium filled with students. But, I don’t miss traveling. That is the one thing that I never enjoyed. Every town I go to is beautiful in its own way and everyone is very proud of their home town.
“Truthfully, I want to see where I am speaking. I want to see my audience. And then I want to see myself going back home. I am a horrible tourist in that respect,” he said.
Abel is also involved in television and podcasts. He had a local Saturday television show on a local Ohio station – “Cartooning with Duane.”
But that stopped when COVID hit the state. “Right before COVID, we were going guns a-blazing recording Cartooning with Duane and having it be a weekly Saturday morning feature. Then COVID hit and you can’t be in studios as much any more. My producer took a job out of state so that is probably going to turn into a web-only series that I’ll take care of myself,” he said.
“I am one of those people who is – just never mind, I’ll do it myself.”
For Abel, it is a matter of looking at the positive.
“There is something special about turning on my phone and presenting a program, knowing that you are being beamed to a school on the other side of the country and then 45 minutes later I am back in my living room,” he said. “It is a beautiful, beautiful thing,” he added, laughing.
Since he is not traveling as much, Abel has been able to reach out to more newspapers. “Maybe, it will make your readers just laugh. I know most weekly newspapers do not run comic strips.
“To me, a newspaper is not complete unless it has a comic strip,” he said, explaining that he can have a corner on the market by targeting the small town weekly newspapers. “I love that aspect of it.
“In the world of small potatoes, I am a Tater Tot. I have no problem with that,” Abel said.
While other cartoonists may have bigger paychecks, Abel said that they probably envy his workload. “I would love to have their readership and their money. We both have things that we envy about each other.”
Abel said that people can find him at www.corkeycomics.com. “My link and information is on every single comic strip.”
They can also follow him on Instagram and YouTube.
For Abel, a main character for his comic strips is named ZED.
“ZED is walking, talking dryer lint,” he said. “I work out of a basement studio. Believe it or not, every single cartoonist, whether they are small potatoes like me that appear in weekly newspapers or if they are syndicated in every single newspaper in the country ... most cartoonists work from their homes – either in their basements, attics, garages or the spare bedrooms. They are wherever their spouse allows them to work.
“I have always worked out of a basement studio. Through the doorway of my office, I can see the washer and can see my dryer – just like when I was growing up and 15 years old in my parents house.”
“If you stare at that all the time, that is where the ideas come from laundry hampers, fabric softeners and dirty laundry.”
He said the name came from years of being one of the first being called in alphabetical order. “I wanted a character that came all the way at the end of the alphabet.”
He also wanted a name which would appear before Ziggy in any alphabetical list of comics. “It (Ziggy) is one of my favorites.”
When it comes to inspiration, Abel said he just looks at all the stupid things he has done during the week.
“When I was doodling as a teenager I began to wonder what if a little creature popped up out of the washing machine at this very moment?”
Abel said that he started young. “I began selling cartoons to small magazines when I was 12 years old and began drawing ZED for my hometown newspaper when I was 15 years old. By the time I graduated college ZED had already put out of business two newspaper syndicates and one book publisher...but he still says that it was not his fault,” the cartoonist said.
“Luckily ZED has been adopted by a very loving family (based upon my own childhood) with the exception that ZED’s adopted family comes with two boys Brian and Clyde. Brian is Zed’s best pal and the kind of friend that I wish I would have had when I was a kid. Clyde is easy to spot because he always wears a bucket on his head.
“This is because when I was growing up on grandma and grandpa’s farm, I would scare the cows with a huge bucket on my head. My grandma told me to draw up a character in my strip that always wore a bucket on his head and being a good grandson, I listened,” Abel added.
He said that he tries to look on the fun side, not take life too seriously and take a moment to smile. “Comic strips are great for that.”
He added that his goal is for a family-friendly comic strip that is never topical or political so it could be enjoyed today or even 50 years from now.