Jill Murdock threw her head back in laughter as Leigh Rubin shared his comic work with guests at the Santa Maria Times newsroom Wednesday evening.
“His cartoons are just phenomenal,” Murdock said.
Mar Pines was particularly tickled by the comic artists’s panel called Stale Peanuts.
“Rubes was always one of my son’s favorite cartoons,” she said, her husband, Ira Pines, at her side.
With laughter, groans and guffaws, Rubin and his audience explored a bit of family history, shared pop culture and a peek into the artist’s creative process during his special presentation, “A Twisted Pop Culture Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste.” A question-and-answer period led to one-on-one inspiration for young artists in the peanut gallery.
“I read his comic every day, and I think he has very good humor,” said local artist Judy Van Sant before Rubin kicked off the show.
Rubin began drawing when he was 5. That first single-panel offering featured a monster so large he had to flip the page to include a head. His kindergarten teacher and parents laughed.
The game was on.
“I only need a little encouragement,” Rubin said.
Over more than half a century, his works evolved from those crayon creations of the elementary set to one-liners drawn with Staedtler Mars Lumograph Graphite Pencils, size 3B, followed by pen and India ink.
He did double duty running his father’s printing presses while getting his cartooning career off the ground, and today is syndicated in 400 media outlets worldwide. Rubin has also published 19 books, 16 calendars, and his work is available online in a variety of forms, from magnets to T-shirts.
As the crowd took their own pencils to paper to recreate a signature Rubin cow, he shared with them the canvas on which he begins each day: a blank panel, awaiting fresh ideas, new art.
“It’s a wonderful gift to have this little box every day to fill, hopefully, with something funny,” Rubin said.
Slide presentations of panels ran the gamut of pop culture influence on Rubin’s work, from his earliest influence, Charlie Brown, to modern technology. There were riffs on music culture, from Elvis to Bob Dylan to the Beatles. Variations on favored comic strips including Dennis the Menace, Dagwood, from the comic strip Blondie, and Spencer Tracy. He pulled in the art of Dr. Seuss and Chuck Jones.
He tipped his hat to the mouth-shredding breakfast cereals of yore, over which scads of children pored through the morning comics, and the marketing characters used to promote them. And, of course, no panel could be complete without days spent on love and pharmaceuticals, not always interlinked, but occasionally, and not-so-subtly so.
“You take for granted that when you see the comic in the paper, it looks so easy, but it takes some work. Every artist has his style,” he said of emulating those originals with his own comic twist.
He clued the audience in to upcoming favorites — the Beatles will reappear in an April 15 comic he’s excited to share.
“All this stuff is going on at the same time. It’s such a rich time in American culture,” he said, referring to his formative years in the mid-20th Century.
Rubin said he is particularly touched by newspaper readers who take the time out to contact him, particularly when they are working on special projects and want to include his work. He shared a photo of one such fan, displaying a quilt made of his own take on dinosaurs during the “Curvaceous Period.”
From food to flatulence, the horrors of discovering Pinocchio at the age of three to “Reptile Disfunction,” Rubin kept the crowd chuckling. Even his own family members in the crowd — his wife, Teresa, son Jeremy and brother Paull — continue to laugh at his inquisitive mind and twisted sense of humor.
Even when asked if he’ll retire “like Gary Larson” or draw until his death “like Charles Schultz,” Rubin kept it light, noting the life insurance was paid up, he was still drawing and anything could happen.
Meanwhile, he’ll continue drawing until he makes it big, or as long as his audience will have him.
“You never know where ideas are going to strike, or where they’re going to end up,” Rubin said.