Leigh Rubin is more than just a punster with a pencil sharpener. The nationally known cartoonist and creator of "Rubes" is also a Nipomo dad and husband, a traveler, a reader, a researcher, a nerdy history buff with particular interests in travel, art and behind-the-scenes experiences.
“I’m always looking for inspiration all around me in everything I do,” Rubin said.
On Feb. 28, Rubin will present a special presentation on his view of cartooning’s place in pop culture at the Santa Maria Times, including the interconnectivity of the arts, and insight into the world of syndicated comics. The free event, which is open to the public, begins at 7 p.m. at the newspaper’s headquarters, 3200 Skyway Drive, in Santa Maria. Participants will be invited to draw along with Rubin.
“It’s a little unusual. It’s my take on pop culture as seen through comics of the past up through current day. Pop culture is our culture. When we look back, the things we hear on the radio, see on television and in art, even the cereal we eat, those are the things historians will look back on the culture of our time,” Rubin explained.
Rubin has long given presentations at newspapers across the country that carry his single-pane cartoons. He’s also presented at corporate events and conferences.
“Today, with the internet, we’re really tied together. The way each thing ties together, how ads or music or the media we read, is really pretty interesting,” Rubin said.
In 2016, Rubin released a book on the subject. “Rubes: Twisted Pop Culture” includes more than 250 full-color Rubes frames illustrating pop culture.
“Humor crosses over cultures through technology. That’s what’s fascinating. The idea that a show can go international, music spreads worldwide, movies, the things we eat. Western pop culture is well-known around the world,” Rubin said.
Rubin, born in New York and raised in Southern California, knew from the age of 5 that he would be an artist. Early influences included a thick book of "Peanuts" cartoons by Charles Schulz.
“I knew I wanted to be an artist, and this was as close as it was going to get,” Rubin quipped.
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He later found inspiration from cartoonists Charles Addams, B. Kliban, Gahan Wilson, Gary Larson and Dick Guindon.
In his teen years, Rubin began selling hand-drawn greeting cards, and for 20 years, while working for his father’s printing business, he chipped his way into the newspaper industry. His first big break came at the Antelope Valley Press.
“I didn’t have a plan B,” Rubin said.
He maintains a large collection of rejection letters along with a growing collection of works 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.
“I like all that single-panel is. It’s quick and to the point. If you can make people laugh, be funny, that’s No. 1, but if you can do it in a different way, that’s the best. Slapstick is fine, but people aren’t stupid. They can think for themselves. Talking head strips don’t take advantage of people’s ability to figure out what’s off screen,” Rubin said.
He equates single-pane comics to oldtime radio of yore, or today’s podcasts: sound-driven storytelling that leaves plenty to the imagination.
Rubin both shies away from and embraces technology. A look at his phone reveals his favorite podcasts -- "American History Tellers," "Myths & Legends," "How Stuff Works," "Part-Time Genius." The internet serves as a research tool and gateway to entertainment, but he works in silence and cherishes films and television series that highlight pre-internet ages whether seriously or with comedy: "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," "The Crown" and "The Windsors."
“The internet has put a lot of pressure on newspapers. A lot of papers have gone under and cut back. I don’t know any cartoonist who hasn’t been affected by that. At the same time, you’re opening up the world. I get reprint requests from around the world. This morning, I got one from England. Social media, either love it or hate it or somewhere in between, it’s here; you have to find the best way to make use of it,” Rubin said.
He sees himself expanding into TV and video. He has worked with Santa Maria’s Ryan Johnson to create, develop and produce a show that will premiere in Portland, Oregon, in April. The show is part travel documentary, visiting people behind the scenes to find out what inspires them to do the jobs they do in science, arts, technology and music.
“I like the idea of extending into the world of TV and video, and plan to keep doing the daily (comic strip). The daily is a challenge, a fun mental exercise. It keeps my mind going all the time. I’m constantly looking for new fodder,” Rubin said.