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Mark interviews cartoonist Leigh Rubin of Rubes® the internationally syndicated single-panel cartoon that he has been creating since November 1984.
Prior to the interview, Mark shares a few comments from recent episodes and Twitter, and the says a word about this episode’s sponsor, Findaway Voices.
You can learn more about how you can get your work distributed to retailers and library systems around the world at starkreflections.ca/Findaway.
In his personal update, Mark shares:
- What he is doing on the Obsessions anthology project
- A forthcoming $0.99 price-drop promo for Stowe Away, the latest release in his Canadian Werewolf series.
- How he “met” Leigh after creating a short dad joke video entitled “Dramatic Exit” inspired by one of his Rubes® cartoons.
In their conversation, Mark and Leigh talk about:
- The two things that Leigh excelled at in Kindergaten. Napping and cartooning.
- Pushing the boundaries in his cartoons from those earliest days.
- The encouragement received from his third grade teacher, Mrs. Mullin.
- The two kinds of people an artist usually remembers: the people who encourage you, and the people who don’t
- How seeing a line of greeting cards from Sandra Boynton were part of the inspiration for Leigh to start his own greeting card company
- All of the work “hitting the street” involved in selling greeting cards, including buying space in industry trade shows, having racks built, and making numerous sales calls
- Learning about industry practices such as retail slotting fees for prime merchandising space in a store
- The powerful and positive impression made from a series of terrible musical puns that Leigh drew up, and how that led to Leigh’s first book, which migrated into three volumes called: Notable Quotes, Encore, and Amusing Arrangements
- Selling more than 40,000 copies of his books without having a major publisher or distributor for them
- The evolution of greeting cards to books, books to a book signing, and a book signing to a daily cartoon gig at a local publisher, which eventually led to being a syndicated cartoonist
- Working through numerous and consistent rejections with the queries that Leigh continued to send out, until finally picking up 150 different newspapers to start carrying his cartoons
- Why Leigh investigated the college newspaper scene, and the benefit and down-side of that market
- Discovering Creators Syndicate and the initial nice personal rejection Leigh received from them
- Leigh’s view that not all rejections are a bad thing
- The pilot episode of a television show that Leigh created with Ryan Johnson (a movie and television show break-away prop maker) called Drawing Inspiration which is a behind-the-scenes look at their weird jobs that depend entirely on creativity
- How, once the daily blank cartoon sheet is taped down to Leigh’s desk, a cartoon must appear, whether it takes 10 minutes or 5 hours.
- The cancellation of so many events, and migrating into a virtual event, which Leigh had just done the evening before this interview (link in show notes)
- How two different cartoonists adapted the same topic/theme into different cartoons (as demonstrated on the aforementioned virtual event)
- The importance of leaving something to the reader’s imagination in humor
- Why big brands should support artists instead of only sports stars because they are constantly running marathons
- And more . . .
After the interview, Mark reflects Leigh’s discipiline of sitting at the empty page for 5 minutes or 5 hours, whatever it takes, the persistence he showed in the fact of rejection, and looking for specific niche markets to break into with his work.
Mark also shares the opportunity for people who comment on the episode show notes at starkreflections.ca to win one of Leigh’s signed books.
Links of Interest:
- Leigh Rubin’s Website
- Drawing Inspiration – Pilot Episode
- When Cartoon Worlds Collide
- Dramatic Exit – Short Dad Joke Film inspired by Leigh’s cartoon
- Episode 151 – Wellness, Well Played with Jennifer Buchanan
- Mark’s Feed The Obsession Kickstarter
- Mark’s Canadian Werewolf Series
- This Time Around (Book 0)
- A Canadian Werewolf in New York (Book 1)
- Stowe Away (Book 1.5)
- Fear and Longing in Los Angeles (Book 2)
- Findaway Voices
- Wide for the Win Submission Form
- Patreon for Stark Reflections
Leigh Rubin is an accomplished author and cartoonist. He has written 20 books. 2019 marks the 35th anniversary of Leigh’s internationally syndicated cartoon, Rubes®, which is now, distributed by Creators Syndicate to hundreds newspapers and media outlets worldwide.
His work has been featured in film, television and advertising. Leigh also enjoys a busy schedule giving thought-provoking and entertaining presentations on art and creativity at conferences, as well as professional organizations all around the country.
In 2018 Leigh began his tenure at Rochester Institute of Technology as the college’s first Cartoonist-in Residence.
In addition, on November 7th, 2018 Leigh and his co-producer Ryan Johnson premiered the pilot episode of their new TV show “Drawing Inspiration” at a special East Coast showing at RIT.
Leigh also enjoys a busy schedule giving thought-provoking and entertaining cartoon presentations at conferences, as well as professional organizations all around the country.
The introductory, end, and bumper music for this podcast (“Laser Groove”) was composed and produced by Kevin MacLeod of www.incompetech.com and is Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
Below is an automated transcription of the interview segment of this episode.
(The transcription has not been human-verified)
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:00:00] Hey, Lee. Thanks for joining me here today.
Leigh Rubin: [00:00:02] Hey, it’s my pleasure Mark.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:00:04] So I want to get back to when you first got started and I know you have an entrepreneurial background, not just the creative background, but the entrepreneur. Where did, where did, uh, cartooning, where did it all start for you?
Leigh Rubin: [00:00:15] Uh, well, kindergarten it’s you really want to go way back?
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:00:20] Lets go back to kindergarten.
Leigh Rubin: [00:00:21] Okay. There was, let’s go back in our time machine to kindergarten. Um, I had, uh, you know, There’s two things I excelled at in kindergarten and it was napping and drawing, or I don’t know, maybe excels a little over overblown that I enjoyed. And like, say, if you were to ask my wife, she would say not much has changed from there.
Um, and. I did this cartoon, you know, crayon on that rough paper that you get in kindergarten. So this is, this is like 1962 or whatever. So I, uh, it was a picture of a giant and the giant was so big. I had to, I could, that could be created for you right now. If you want to see it, no one else can, I can provide the, uh,
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:01:11] We’ll put it in the show notes.
Leigh Rubin: [00:01:14] So it was, uh, it was a, um, The giant was so big. I had to put his head on the other side of the piece of paper. So it looked sort of like this. I don’t know if you can,
I don’t know if you can see it or not. Where there, there we go
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:01:39] Oh, okay.
Leigh Rubin: [00:01:41] So you can see the head there.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:01:45] And you’re already pushing the boundaries.
Leigh Rubin: [00:01:47] Yeah, pushing the bounds, breaking the bridge, the fourth wall or whatever. It might like my, a kindergarten teacher loved that and my parents loved it and thought it was just really hilarious.
And even though to me, it was to solving a problem pretty much like every day is solving a problem when you’re. Creating a cartoon. So again, not much has changed then. And then I jumped ahead. I mean, I drew all through way through elementary and junior high and high school.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:02:13] And now were you always drawing, uh, in the margins of, of your notebooks for, or did you have a separate notebook just for sketches or what, what was going on there?
Leigh Rubin: [00:02:23] Uh, no, I just did whatever I did and I had a whole separate piece of paper. I don’t think I really doodled on, um, on my actual work. Right. Unless my actual work was art.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:02:36] Then, then you were in your, your, in your glory, right?
Leigh Rubin: [00:02:38] Yeah. Yeah. Then it was great. But, uh, you know, I had a, I have to say I, my kudos and my, uh, to my third grade teacher, Mrs. Mullen, who was watching last night, by the way.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:02:49] Oh my God. Really? That’s amazing.
Leigh Rubin: [00:02:51] No, I’m still in touch with her now. She’s great. She really encouraged me and really, uh, you know, uh, complemented my art. So all those many years ago, and look how far it got me.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:03:04] Well, let’s talk about Mrs. Mullen for a second, because I want to think about when you had this affinity for art, right?
You wanted to draw whether or not it was humorous right away. Right. It was just, it was the love of art. And then mrs. Mullen, you said was, uh, was one of the people who encouraged you.
Leigh Rubin: [00:03:20] Yeah. She’s my third grade teacher. And I remember doing this weird cutout thing with that kind of, what did I construction paper and white glue and, you know, the clunky little rounded scissors and stuff.
So you don’t poke yourself with them when you’re, you know, they’re like little tiny, these are
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:03:36] safety scissors. Yeah.
Leigh Rubin: [00:03:37] Yeah. Okay. Yeah. So that’s, I remember doing this art project where I’m cutting out little curly cues and you’re gluing them down. A little piece of paper in the whole thing was only probably like three by six inches.
And she really liked it now. I have to say, maybe she was like that nice to all the kids, you know? Oh, that’s such a good job, you know, but, but I took it to heart. You know, all I need is a little encouragement and then it’s off to the races.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:04:04] Oh, that’s good. Well, I mean, how important then is encouragement to a budding artist?
Leigh Rubin: [00:04:10] Oh, I think it’s really important. I mean, I’m sure you know that, and you’ve talked a lot of artists, there’s, there’s two kinds of people, people that encourage you and people that don’t and you know, and the people that generally encourage you, you tend to remember, or you remember both, you don’t remember anybody in between.
There actually are three types of people. And I mean, my folks were always really encouraging of, um, What we need, you know, whatever my brother and sister I wanted to do with our lives only, they had pushed us into this smart careers. My, well, my sister’s a veterinarian, so okay. She did. Okay.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:04:50] And, and you draw a lot of animals.
Leigh Rubin: [00:04:52] I draw a lot of animals. My brother’s a musician, so there you go.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:05:01] Yeah, not too bad, not too bad. For example, one of the things my mom, uh, cause I I’d always wanted to be a writer and I used to say that and she would point out if there was a TV show where there was a writer and, and there was the writer, you know, buying spam.
Cause that’s all they could afford to eat and stuff like that. And she’s like, you better get a good job if you want to be a writer. So, I mean, they were very supportive because they wanted to make sure I could be, you know, fed and have shelter and stuff like that.
Leigh Rubin: [00:05:27] Well, I’m here. You are at work
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:05:30] Somehow it works. Yeah. So at what point did, did this love or this passion? I, at what point did that become something that was feasible, um, to live at?
Leigh Rubin: [00:05:41] Uh, well, it. It wasn’t right away around 1978, I had a, I mean, at one point that I made the cutoff cause there was a whole bunch of stuff in between, but really 1994 was when I quit two full time jobs and only went to one full time job.
Pull back story behind that. But I, you know, I worked for my dad, he had a printing company, so, you know, family business.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:06:10] Right. And as I understand, I mean, you, you became an entrepreneur early on with, with, with an art related, right? With, with greeting cards.
Leigh Rubin: [00:06:20] Yeah, I started, I had seen a line of cards by Sandra Boynton.
Uh, who who’s still very popular to this day, uh, through, at a pharmacy. And I thought, God, her drawings are so simple and great. And, and they communicate so much with, you know, not that much detail, which is great if you’re a lazy artist and I’m not saying she’s like, I mean, who doesn’t want to be a little bit lazy sometimes.
Right. And. So I thought since I already knew how to run a printing press and do you know, this is where you, before computers even close to more available, this is the mid seventies and this, this is like late seventies. I thought I’ll start my ingredient card company. So what an idiot, that decision that was having no idea.
Usually I just jump into these things and it, yeah. And actually it worked out really well. I had, um, You know, I had racks made and sell Salesforce lined up with going to trade shows. I mean, there was a whole, like you see
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:07:19] You actually hit the street then and were basically selling your wares at different shows.
Leigh Rubin: [00:07:24] Yeah. I’ve actually, I went to the Los Angeles stationary show said walk up to the sales reps and said, I want to start my ingredient card line. Would you be interested in representing it? And they go, well, we’re, you know, and I had, maybe you had a couple of samples and they said, uh, yeah, I mean, it’s true.
Buy some space in our booth at the, at the national stationary show in New York. Okay. And it was just, they were astounded that I actually did it. Okay. I got this rack. I got this stuff. Here we go. So I flew back to New York for the national stationary show in 1979 and 1980, uh, and started a massing up like a national sales force to do this again.
Then I had the meat production, so there’s the whole production thing. And my dad’s shop was not equipped. So I had to hire a commercial printer.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:08:15] Oh. So like it was a, it was a relatively small print shop then.
Leigh Rubin: [00:08:19] Yeah, it was a mom and pop, like instant print shop, which are so rare that I don’t even think they exist much anymore.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:08:28] And then what happened? So when you went to these fairs and you went to New York and these different places cause you’re from California, right. Um, did that mean that suddenly you got orders from different, uh, distributors or chains? Or how did, how did that process work?
Leigh Rubin: [00:08:44] Yeah, I have, I probably, I have all this paperwork somewhere still because I never throw anything out, but yeah, we started to get orders from a change towards of 20, 30, 40 stores, a lot of individual mom and pop stores because different sales reps, rent represented different parts of the country.
Um, And I think this was mostly U S I don’t think I shipped to Canada at that time. Uh, but yeah, so I had a lot of the country covered and so I was getting all these orders. So I had to get warehouse space. So all of the, I mean, it was forced into all this kind of, and my mom was really supportive of this and my dad was so in addition to running the press, I was also doing this and shipping stuff out.
And this lasted a couple of years and I was getting kind of burnt Eric cause I’m working two jobs and having to do all the creating. Um, but it was a whole lot of fun and a great, great experience to understand that how this all works. And how you, you know, you don’t think about it, but stores have a thing called slotting fees, which you may be familiar with.
And it’s essentially, it’s a way to bribe the store to get your stuff in.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:09:54] Yeah.
Leigh Rubin: [00:09:55] Pay the fee. So you get, it’s like a pay to play kind of a thing only, you know, that you. I didn’t really experience that, that I was so small time or small potatoes, like these big, big card companies, you know, that, that controlled the market, American greetings or hallmark at the time.
And what is, what is left hallmark, American greetings still around, but all the greeting card companies there have been so much merger.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:10:20] Yeah. They kind of merged into one another and many are like the book industry.
Leigh Rubin: [00:10:25] Yeah. Yeah. It’s unfortunate. Yeah. In a whole lot of ways.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:10:29] So you were doing not only running the business, handling the management of it, but you were also doing the artwork that you hadn’t hired any other artists.
Leigh Rubin: [00:10:41] It was just all, all Lee. Who can afford another artist? So yeah, it was all my own artwork, my own. I thought of all the old, my own captions. Some of them were terrible. Maybe a lot of them were terrible. But it was, it was a whole, it was a lot of fun, but like, again, I, what happened is I got kind of a burnt out on this pan.
I think it will. What do I need to do to, to change this up and maybe take it in another direction because you know, you have to maintain, I had 64 different designs and racks. I mean, there’s a whole logistics thing in it. And I was just so small and not organized enough. I mean, I was organized enough.
That I could fill my orders, but I didn’t understand upscaling, like, which makes a successful business really successful. I mean, I could get it to a point. Uh, so then I thought, why don’t I, somehow I use the same character. You know, I had the same character that I turned into animals and all sorts of little creatures and people in these, on these greeting cards.
And I turned it into a musical note. I turned that character into a musical note and heads and just. Print it up about 12 terrible puns and matted and framed them or mad at them. Excuse me, mad at, in shrink wrap them and started just doing some street fairs. And it was just amazing. The, the response to these terrible musical.
Oh yeah. I mean, I can solve $1,200 in a weekend at like Westwood near UCLA out of street. Fair. Well, when that was money.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:12:19] Yeah.
Leigh Rubin: [00:12:20] And that wasn’t like a month to rent, you know, in a lot of places or even not even, it’s probably a lot more than that. A lot of places, but
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:12:27] yeah, cause we’re talking about the eighties
Leigh Rubin: [00:12:28] 1980 or so, um, 1980 to 81, one of these street fairs, a guy who came up to me and you said, you know, these would make a great book.
And I thought, well, I only have 12 of them. So I liked this idea
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:12:47] calendar.
Leigh Rubin: [00:12:48] Well, what would it turned into was I went out and bought a musical dictionary and then over the course of, I dunno, a week or two created enough for a paperback. So I thought I’m going to print my first book. And, um, of course my dad didn’t have the.
Facilities to do that. So I had to go to a commercial printer and printed thousand books.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:13:14] Oh yeah. Cause back then there was no printer.
Leigh Rubin: [00:13:16] Yeah. This is a little paperback. And, but, but what was really cool is I had this, all these connections already from the greeting cards that were selling to gift shops.
So I said, okay, I got this book. Then I made mugs. I had, there was a local place in Burbank, California, and I had mugs made, we did print the pads with these notable quotes on them. And the, I made it my mission to sell those for 5,000 books because my parents did not really appreciate having cartons of books around and
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:13:48] in the living room, like a piece of the first
Leigh Rubin: [00:13:51] two really dominant changes in the U S at the time, Dalton, bookseller and Walden books.
Uh, I don’t know if you remember any of these walk by Barnes and noble and borders and both are gone. And now what borders has gone to, uh, and I took these into the stores. I took them on consignment and they used a certain color form for them if they’re on consignment, but I was just blown away how these things started to sell off the counters.
Cause I had little. A little, a point of purchase things made. So they went from the whatever pink form. It was for the consignment to the Brown forum at Bidalgo Dalton. I remember it was, I think it was a Brown farm. They’re buying them now directly
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:14:35] his buys and stuff like that.
Leigh Rubin: [00:14:36] Yeah, that’s great. And I sold the first printing of 5,006 months.
Whoa. And I went on to sell a, it went into eight printing, so I sold about 40,000 copies of that book. Um, wow. Is that,
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:14:52] is that book still available now in, in like new format?
Leigh Rubin: [00:14:55] Well, I would walk you into my garage and look at the few that I have left. And it’s so weird. Cause just this week I got an email from a person, either in Nebraska or it actually went to my syndicate and there, they didn’t know what to do with it.
So I got, they wrote to me like, we don’t think we have the rights to this, but they wanted, the guy wanted to make copies and of cartoons and you just email them to friends. So I said, I’ll take care of that one. So I just gave, I go, if you want to use it, that’s fine. I do have copies of all. There’s actually, this went into three different volumes.
I did a notable quotes, Encore and amusing arrangements, all of them, multiple printings, but between a notable quotes and Encore, I did a terrible book because I exhibited, I bought a booth at the American booksellers association show in Anaheim, and it was all a book about sharks and they were all the rage.
Yeah, sharks are people too. And thank God most of them accidentally got pulped. Cause it was a terrible book. And if you can find one good luck, it did get published in Australia though. My first foreign deal. Really? Yeah. So, um, so
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:16:06] I ha but I do have to ask, so any of these books that you initially did yourself, did you ever license the rights to apart from Australia?
Did you ever license the rights through a publisher?
Leigh Rubin: [00:16:16] I did not really. I did not.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:16:20] Can you still maintain all the rights to them?
Leigh Rubin: [00:16:22] I do have all the rights and there, I have some on magnets now that people can buy some magnets of them, but I still think there’s a market. What happened? I shouldn’t say I didn’t really license the rights, but I made a.
A distribution deal with Alfred publishing, uh, really a prominent music publisher who was started. We got into the gift and of the, you know, display bit for music stores and they were happened to be very close by my dad’s shop. They were in like a Sherman Oaks, California, which is my dad’s shop was only a few miles away from there.
And we, I worked with them for several years, uh, and. They took over all distribution. Thank goodness.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:17:06] Oh no, no longer in your garage.
Leigh Rubin: [00:17:09] No, no, that was way back then. No, I have whatsoever left now and a few mugs. I don’t know if you can see that bookshelf behind me. There’s three of the notable quote mugs.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:17:19] Yeah. Okay, cool. Yeah. I see three of them there. Yeah.
Leigh Rubin: [00:17:25] See if I can.
Yes, you can see this it’s well, so much for the rhythm method.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:17:37] Get them all.
Leigh Rubin: [00:17:39] I’ll send you that art, if you would like.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:17:40] Yeah, that’d be great. I’ll post that in the, in the show notes so that listeners can go and take a, take a look at that.
Leigh Rubin: [00:17:47] That was one of the, one of the first ones. And there’s, I mean, it’s ridiculously simple drawing, but the gags still hold as witnessed by the.
Guy that’s emails me from, you know, the, the book’s 40 years old.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:17:59] But, but, but, but you’ve sold over 40,000 copies. I mean, most books printed in the U S sell less than a thousand copies ever. That’s a, that’s a huge, huge undertaking. And, and it wasn’t true, like Anderson McNeil or one of the, you know, one of the publishers that usually does books in that style.
That’s quite amazing.
Leigh Rubin: [00:18:20] No, no, it was, yeah. I just, I, you know, once I get something under my skin, I like to follow through on it. And again, who wants all that stuff in your parent’s garage?
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:18:32] So, and, and I’m surprised because, I mean, you’re nationally syndicated, cartoonist, and have been for 20 or 30 years. Uh,
Leigh Rubin: [00:18:41] well, I’ve been with creators syndicates since 89.
I started it in 84. See the book, the book, everything, the greeting cards led to the books. The books led to more, some book signings. The book signings led to me doing the daily cartoon. Oh, that’s
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:18:57] how you got to the daily cartoon was met with some of them. One of the book signings.
Leigh Rubin: [00:19:01] Uh, no, I, my wife got a job teaching in, uh, Palmdale, California.
So we, I did a book signing. At the town right next to it called Lancaster. This will mean nothing to anybody unless you know that the Southern California area, I think it was a Walden books. And I was doing a book signing there and the local newspaper, the antelope Valley press, uh, had an editor come out, their entertainment editor, and he did a story on it.
Um, and I became friends with him and I’m still friends with him. Um, and he said, how’d you like to do a. Cartoon a daily cartoon for our paper. It was a four day a week paper at the time. It’s been seven since very shortly after that. And I said, well, sure. Cause that’s really what I’d love to do. I had no idea how to get into it.
And he said, uh, okay. And it took six months to convince the publisher. This was a good idea. Yeah. Uh, and, uh, so I, November 1st, 1984 was my first daily cartoon. Wow published. And it’s been just nothing but a, a joy ride ever since.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:20:05] Well, yeah. So it started off with this, this local, what was the distribution?
It had to have been what, 10,000 maybe?
Leigh Rubin: [00:20:12] Uh, they, they had, it was called controlled circulation. So I think everybody got one. It was a that way they could charge more for the advertising. And this is when they, they had the dominant market in the antelope Valley, the LA times and the LA daily news tried to get into that market.
But this was far enough away from LA that they controlled it. And essentially, I think they still do all of their circulation is nothing like, it was like so many papers these days, but I got my start in the AAV press and, uh, From there. If you don’t mind me boring you with every little detail.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:20:51] No, I’m, I’m fascinated to see how that happened.
Leigh Rubin: [00:20:54] Well, the, the, uh, I became friends with the staff there and it was just a wonderful time. It was a great time at that. This is when newspapers were still pretty booming. Yeah. And the, um, the editor there, Fern, Lawson, who, again, I’m still in touch with he’s in his nineties now, but great guy. Um, uh, After about a hundred cartoons, he wrote this recommendation letter for me, and I took that recommendation letter and I used it and I wrote to every syndicate that I could think of major and minor, uh, see if they’d like to pick up my work.
And every one of them rejected me as, as is very typical in, you know, any author thing. So I thought, well, okay, now what I’m going to do, you know? So then I bought a list from editor and publisher, and I did a mailing out to, I don’t know how many newspapers and. Zero response from that. Okay. Well, I’m doing these daily cartoons.
I don’t want to do it for just one paper. I want to do it for a lot of papers. Right. Um, and I know, uh, there were very popular cartoons at the time, uh, by Matt graining of ma of the Simpsons and Linda Berry, uh, of Linda Berry, uh, and. They were very popular in college newspapers. And I thought, well, if they’re popular college newspapers, maybe that’s a great market.
So I. Again, this is pre-internet. I hopped on my motorcycle during lunch break for my dad’s shop, rode down to the van. Nuys library found this big book of that listed all these newspapers, photocopied all the college newspapers and went and went back to my dad’s place. And whenever I could on a break, as long as I got his work done, I would call every paper there on that list.
And one. So to see if a, they would want to first see my samples and if they want to see him, I would mail them with a little return card in them. Right. And this went on for about a year. I got a hundred, about 150 papers. Doing it that way. It was a fantastic market.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:23:07] You, they picked you up, but not, not 150 rejections.
Leigh Rubin: [00:23:12] Well, I got plenty of those. Those two are people that weren’t distressed, you know, interested in whatnot. There was also a noble notice and editor and publisher, which helped me get a few other papers throughout the U S but college papers were by far. The most successful way. The great thing about college papers is the editors are cool and they’re young.
And I was very close to their age, essentially. They were just probably late teens, early twenties. And so was I, so I think maybe that helped.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:23:40] Yeah, they, they, weren’t the J Jonah Jameson to your Peter Parker
Leigh Rubin: [00:23:44] right now. They were, they were, they were, you know, I was what, 23, 24, 25, whatever it was. Yeah, it was around 19.
Yeah. So I was right around that age and, uh, that was a great part. It was easy to get in or relatively easily. The bad part was editors come and go in college papers. Like you can’t believe because they grew
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:24:05] almost a yearly. Right.
Leigh Rubin: [00:24:06] So I had to get her to resubscribe all the time. So I was doing the drawing, the billing, uh, the phone calling the promotion, the printing, uh, and working for my dad.
At the same time. So I have no idea how he had that kind of energy when you’re in your twenties. I guess that’s just the way it is
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:24:28] work. Three jobs it’s okay. Yeah.
Leigh Rubin: [00:24:30] And all the meantime, I kept trying to get syndicated, you know, through other, uh, papers and I did pick up some dailies, uh, San Antonio light no longer in business.
I’m sad to say that was the first major U S daily. That picked me up a really nice editor there. A guy named Jeff Cohen. Wow. He went on later on to the, the top guy at the Houston Chronicle. Wow. Which is super
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:24:55] cool. So how did syndication happen then? Was it a, an editor somewhere that said, Hey, we need this or you
Leigh Rubin: [00:25:04] just know they all turn doors.
Now they just turn me down left and right. Over and over again, I have multiple rejection, even from a syndicate that I had written to, they turned me down an editor sent, it was Tribune media. Uh, they, they, it was Jeff Cohen that did that. He said he liked my cartoon so much. He wrote to them and they said me the rejection.
So I was like, Hey, you already turned me down once she can’t turn me down. I didn’t even ask you the second time. Um, But I have all those rejections on that shelf. That’s right behind me in a book. And they’re fun to look at now. Um, cause it was like, ha I win. Or did I, I guess I got what I, I got what I wanted.
Yeah. But I remember a great lesson that I learned is you, you know, And, um, I generally am really nice to people anyway, and people appreciate that, but I had called the Cincinnati Enquirer or one of the papers in Cincinnati and asked them, um, to talk to the editor and whoever it was that answered the phone.
She told me that, uh, the, I don’t know the other wasn’t in or whatever. Maybe she’s being nice, but she goes, have you heard of this new syndicate in Los Angeles called creator syndicate? And, uh, I had not. But she gave me the contact info. So I contacted creator, syndicate and promptly got a reject from the founder, a guy named Rick Newcombe.
Uh, and he was really, it was a very nice personal reject letter. It wasn’t a form like you get from so many others for a year submission due to the large amount of volume. We get all that kind of stuff. Uh, but that’s. Didn’t stop me. I wrote to other syndicates. I wrote to the Los Angeles times the kid, and they kept it and were kind of interested for a while and then sent it back.
Um, and what happened? Oh, uh, I took that same submission again, wrapped it up on a new, uh, cover letter and sent it to creators again. And then, uh, I was about to leave the hop on my pond of seven 50 and ride back to my, to a dental appointment. And, uh, I got a call from a, a vice president at creators and they can say, Hey, we love your stuff.
Um, please don’t sign with anybody else. Like, like there was a line of people
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:27:32] And you’re like, well, I don’t know. We’ll have to think about it.
Leigh Rubin: [00:27:34] And I was just like, Was one of those really. Okay. Uh, you know, it was like, I was floating on air. I was like, wow, how did that happen? But it’s just like pounding, constantly pounding and pounding away.
And. Um, I’d like to know if there was an easier way for this to happen. Like, you know, uh, Randall, you know, uh, William Randolph Hearst is your, uh, you know, supporter and puts them in all the papers. But that would have been like a hundred years ago or whatever, 90 years ago,
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:28:06] it seems like, uh, No. We talked about the encouragement that, you know, artists, it’s always good to have that person who encourages you, um, and you know, recognizes the talent or the, or the passion, even if the passion’s there, the talent will come with time.
Leigh Rubin: [00:28:24] the
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:28:24] persistence, I think is also critical because it’s not like you, you gave up after five rejections, right? You, you kept at this while working multiple jobs.
Leigh Rubin: [00:28:34] Well, exactly. That’s that’s exactly right. Because something, my wife used to say, you’re a gift is persistence. Not as she never says, that’s my art.
So it’s like, well, yeah. I mean, it’s like, well, no one said they couldn’t do it. I always figured, well, someone else is doing this. Why can’t I do it? In fact, um, if there’s a, a good day example that I kind of skipped over, I think of not all rejections are a bad thing. Uh, this one particular syndicate that I wrote to, uh, this is in 1985, it was called McNaught syndicate.
They were out of Connecticut and they syndicated Heath cliff, you know, You remember that? Oh yeah. Well, it’s still around. It’s with creators syndicate now. Anyway, I got a nice letter from the head guy there and he said, you know, we love your cartoons and we’d be really interested in syndicating it, but there’s one problem.
And all they’re all rejections letters say this there’s one problem because your gags are too good for your heart.
Okay. I took that there’s encouragement. So I took, uh, I took some time actually. I was getting married in two weeks. So after we got back from the honeymoon, I, my dad gave me a week off from work, which is one of the benefits of working, you know, with my dad. He was a fantastic boss and very understanding and encouraging.
And I took a week and completely changed my art style. Really, I would say improved my art style and probably it’s unimproved since then, but it worked then I really got into it and then I resubmitted to a mic not and never heard back, but the fact that I was able to improve my art style, I think helped me quite a bit later on, um, with creators.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:30:23] Okay.
Leigh Rubin: [00:30:23] Wow though. And I’ve been with them that I’ve been with them since 1989
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:30:28] on is fantastic. So I was fortunate enough to, to get, to watch the pilot episode of, of, of a television program that you and a co collaborator put together. And my apologies, I can’t remember his name.
Leigh Rubin: [00:30:44] His name is Ryan Johnson.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:30:46] Yeah. So in that, one of the things I found most fascinating was. The behind the scenes. And I had no idea the size of the box that you’re drawing it. Right. Cause when we see it in the newspaper, it’s this little, little thing getting, I had no idea it was right. This giant piece of it. What was it? What size is that?
Leigh Rubin: [00:31:08] It’s only a it’s the box itself is eight by nine. Okay. But the paper is a nap by 14. Yeah. So
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:31:15] large. And that’s, that’s where the original sketches you sit down and I’m curious to. If for you to share a bit of your process, you sit down in the morning and there’s you stare at the blank page. And then what happens?
Leigh Rubin: [00:31:26] Yeah, mostly lately. It seems to get into the afternoon before I stare at the blank page. And like yesterday you didn’t, I didn’t, I didn’t, I sketched a little something, but it wasn’t a complete thing, but I do have an idea for the day. Thank God. Yeah. I sit down and I will use my pencil and my eraser and I doodle around until an idea will pop unless I happen to wake up in the middle of the night with one, which is always a blessing.
And I’ll sit there until an idea comes. Not without going, playing with the dogs or getting some water or taking a break or having lunch. But the rule is, as you saw in the pilot, if it’s taped down to my desk, it has, the cartoon must appear whether it takes 10 minutes or five hours. I prefer the 10 minute ones.
It’s like a bit more fun. Yeah. Well then it’s like, I have the luxury of time and I can screw around with the cartoon or put more detail in if I want or. You know, you don’t want to be around that grub CG cartoon.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:32:27] So the pilot episode, this, this, this program, uh, what’s the Genesis of that. And can, can you just explain to my, to my listeners a little bit about this, this program?
Leigh Rubin: [00:32:37] And you’re welcome to put that in your show notes. So if anybody wants to see that,
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:32:40] yeah, yeah. I will include a link too.
Leigh Rubin: [00:32:43] Uh, Ryan, it was like, he is he’s the videographer. He did a lot of commercial work for local businesses around where we were in our area that California central coast. Uh, but he also retooled and started a breakaway prop business.
Uh, with breakaway bottles and chairs and I mean, pretty much anything you want, you can make, as you saw in the pilot, it’s really phenomenal. Um, and if you have ever seen any of his, uh, if you’ve ever watched a show on Netflix or Amazon, where things break pretty much count on you got it from him. He’s not the only one, but.
He’s he makes them for tons of shows when shows were in production.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:33:32] Yeah.
Leigh Rubin: [00:33:32] Okay. Really hurt. It really hurt. Although he’s up and running again now, thankfully, um, I just talked to him this morning, but
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:33:40] he’s going to breakaway masks
Leigh Rubin: [00:33:41] now. Uh, yeah. Well, that’s, uh, that would be good. You don’t want,
that’s a bad idea. Is that terrible? But.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:33:53] But no, I saw a, if you were, there were like rubber guns. So if you needed to whack another actor on your head, like to knock them out or whatever,
Leigh Rubin: [00:34:04] it’s just also, it’s just anything. I mean, he figures out how to make it. And every job is different, you know, which was fascinating to me, but he gave me this idea. It was several years ago. Well, there’s more than several cause we working on this thing for eight years, um, He produced a show, uh, produced, directed shot.
It wrote it as much as he wrote it. A reality show called American dragster and he sold the show to ESPN. And it ran for two seasons that was going to a third season, but one of them, one of the sponsors backed out and Pete, no, he be happy to tell you that story. Well, maybe not so happy. Cause he had to return a bunch of sponsors have money cause he couldn’t hold it together because you lost one of your major sponsors because they, whatever you were doing something else.
Uh, but he was such a perfectionist on the show. Uh, and I thought, wow, that’s so cool. I don’t know anybody else that’s ever done a reality show. And I thought, what if. What if we did what it was like live the day of a life of a, of a syndicated cartoonist, which is a terrible idea actually. Cause that’s not that exciting, but that’s what I, I can remember shooting him an email, um, so many years ago and said, I’ve got a crazy idea.
I want to run by you. And cause he had done some video work for me. Before for my speaking engagements stuff. And then he said, yeah, well, let’s, let’s talk about this. And he goes, he really likes the idea. You’ve got to come up with a concept though. And so I came up with a concept that changed and changed and changed over time.
And we shot tons of footage over a years to figure, figure out the formula. And we finally settled on this really. I think it’s a very unique idea in that. We both have weird jobs that depend entirely on creativity. Uh, and there, there are a lot of other people out there that are innovative and creative, and our idea was to go behind the scenes and, and see all these jobs, how they work.
And at the same time I’ll be creating cartoons about them. And maybe he could make props for them. I don’t know if that would, you know, it’s a little, that’s kind of loosey goosey, you know, Because we want to keep it that way. We want to keep it open and we have a really good rapport and there’s some fun banter going on.
And on the, he says he’s a silly side kick. And sometimes I feel like I’m the silly sidekick. Uh, but we, in that, in that pilot episode, we worked together on a major project, the big life cow. You know, went surfing in, uh, zip lining and, uh, you know, and wine. Yeah, it was great. That was, that was such a blast to work on that.
Um, and. We have a, we did our premiere in Portland at design design week in 2018 West coast premiere. We did an East coast premier at Rochester Institute of technology later that year to a full house. And they loved it and it ties in so well with what they do there. So, um, before COVID we were working on, uh, getting, uh, some sponsorship to get the first season done because we’ve got.
To do it. I mean, we, and everybody loved this whole concept of the creative concept behind it. And I certainly think other people would be interested in this. And with enough humor and we break the fourth wall a lot and you’d show the camera man, and the shots too, and all that, which is fun because it’s like, okay, we’re going behind the scenes of behind the scenes.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:37:49] great. Actually, a drawing inspirations, the title, correct?
Leigh Rubin: [00:37:53] Right.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:37:53] Yeah. I mean, for, for, for creators, for writers, it was like, Oh yeah, this is, this is great because understanding how other people. Do things, right? Like we all watch movies. So we understand a little bit more about some of the props that are built for it.
We all laugh at, you know, your cartoons now on a daily basis, but we don’t see the behind the, you know, behind the scenes and how important the one cow character is when you want to bring it to life.
Leigh Rubin: [00:38:21] No, it’s just, it was in it’s fun and it’s different because I like to do stuff besides sitting at a desk.
No, that gives me a good reason to get out and do some traveling and, you know, have some fun. I meet really cool people. So, and creative people. Cause you know, it’s more inspiration for me, the draw cartoons, which is, which helps.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:38:44] So, uh, the, the one sort of last, uh, segment of what I want to ask you about is, uh, you and Phil Hans did this event last night, which was a virtual event that I got, I was fortunate enough to get to watch and, um, You normally would do these in person at libraries?
Leigh Rubin: [00:39:01] Yeah. Every well, every year, Phil Hans is the editor cartoonist for the Wisconsin state journal, a fabulously talented, well, you saw his work and it’s all up on YouTube now.
So you can see the entire event from start to finish. This was our first. Live event because yeah, I had done, I’ve done at least probably 10 live events with him. Every year I would travel to Madison to do the world dairy expo, which is this international, uh, exposition of all things, things, dairy, all the equipment and you know, all the things that take to move the dairy industry forward and keeping up on the technology and all the ancillary businesses.
And plus it gives me a great reason to eat. It’s just incredible cheese and of all the ice cream I want, which is Andy. And I met Phil as you know, I met Phil when I was in Madison and we started doing these events together at Lee, at the Madison library and the Verona library in Verona is this very nice suburb of Madison.
And it’s become this tradition that every time I go, we booked two nights a year. And it’s, it’s been, it’s been great up until this year when. We the whole expo got canceled and everything got canceled. So, um, as it happens, I was working with a friend of mine who is a, uh, professor at Wagner college on Staten Island.
She’s the president of the deadline club, which is the society of professional journalists of New York city. And she, I had an event booked for her. I live in Manhattan on the 30th of April, which of course got canceled. Right. So, and then, uh, we, I said, well, I’d be happy to do a virtual event. I have no idea how to do this.
And she said, great. And I told her about filling goes, well, this is an election year. What a great combination that would be. So Phil and I had never done a virtual event together, but we had a bigger audience than we’ve ever had at our live events. And we’ve had really good audiences and from the results and the emails and texts I got, it seems to have gone over quite well.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:41:13] Oh yeah. So many things to love about, about that. So Phil, as a, as a political cartoonist, Right. And you as a, as a cartoonist with, you know, kind of free reign, not focused on politics. Um, I mean, I loved seeing, uh, the, the, the presentations you both gave, but then there was a segment where you both did a back and forth and you played upon like the same.
Let’s say inspiration or the same theme, but you could see how he used it with very specifically, mostly for American politics and how you used yours in the same. Context, but in a different, like, you went in a different direction, like with often with animals. Yeah.
Leigh Rubin: [00:41:58] Yeah. He’ll do, he’ll do something. I’ll do something.
We back and forth how we, how we approach the same subject with an algo strictly. Goofy humor or whatever it is that I do. And he’ll do the editorial side. Now, what you didn’t see a lot last night was very specific Wisconsin stuff since he is in the capital of Wisconsin. Uh, so we, he kept it more national and of course, well, it is an election year and there’s plenty to fun of.
So he was, he was just doing great. Yeah. I mean, it’s, it’s really fun how he draws the president and how he, you saw some of that, how he can draw Biden. Yeah. Yeah, he had,
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:42:38] yeah, he had a lot of, yeah, a lot. I’m very caricaturists uh, um, in drawings. So I think one of the things that I found fascinating was in your discussion, there was a few things that you usually typically prefer to avoid anything too topical.
Cause you want it to be evergreen. Right. Or you also, and that was the one with the elephant, with the stuff hitting the fan where you showed a technique that you use to hide the work because you can’t right,
Leigh Rubin: [00:43:07] right. The double bubble,
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:43:09] the double bubble. Yeah. That was I, I was fascinated by that because I never, I never thought of it just like, we all know what you mean.
Leigh Rubin: [00:43:16]Well that’s so much of it depends on contextual. And, and what is it called? Um, cultural literacy. Right. You get the joke of people from other countries don’t have the same idioms or expressions in the States. Although, I mean, Canada, the U S or there’s so much back and forth, there’s probably a ton of crossover.
Not always, but, um, but you know, when the stuff hits the fan, it’s pretty well known. If you ever saw the movie airplane, you know it from there.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:43:47] Of course.
Leigh Rubin: [00:43:49] So, uh, And I, and I really have a, I take a lot of pride in not leaving stuff up too. The reader’s imagination, because I think I kind of highlighted in the thing last night because people are smart.
Yeah. And if you give them a little, just a little hint of something, they’ll, it makes the joke more real rewarding that way. And I have, again, I have nothing against slapstick. You know, all, let’s throw a pie in the face with it, but if you can add another layer of a subtlety into that, I think it goes from, from the ridiculous to the sublime, to the ridiculous back of the sublime right then.
And it just, it that’s really fun for me, if you can, multi-layer something in Hm. That, that, that, cause you get bored doing the same thing over and over again, which of course is stupid for marketing because you don’t see my characters on toothpaste. Or
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:44:39] crashes, but I always thinking like last night we was just talking about, Oh my God, that would make such a great cartoon on a mask that I would wear around.
Leigh Rubin: [00:44:50] You have that mask of my face and the guy that makes the guy that does that also does my tee shirts. There you go, he can put cartoons on mask. If you, I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s a market.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:45:01] No, no. As I was looking at it going, well, I like to make a statement when I’m out there. Right? Like normally it’s either skull masks or Spiderman or something like that, but it’s like, if I could make people laugh every little cartoon, but then again, people might get too close.
Right. Try to read
Leigh Rubin: [00:45:15] it. Sure. It kind of ruins the whole six feet
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:45:17] thing. Right. So the thing I kept coming back to is. Cause, I mean, I have not seen all of your cartoons, um, but I was looking up and going, Oh my God, I remember that one. That was so great. Or, Oh my God, I’ve never seen this. I’ve I can’t wait to share this with a friend.
Can people buy, uh, books of your cartoons or they are any available?
Leigh Rubin: [00:45:38] There it fall on Amazon everything’s on Amazon suite. There was one with a very small print thing that I did with the, although that is, I think there’s only two that are digitally available. The pop culture cartoons. I think there were only a thousand of those printed because it was very special.
I did it with the Rochester, Democrat and Chronicle. Right. Um, And there are so few of those left, I used to sell whatever. I, you know, if I’d go to the world Derek’s but I’d bring them right. If I do a lot of events, but I don’t even do that anymore. Cause I have so few of them, so they might be online, but digitally they’re available.
And I think most of the books, if not, you know, with the use marketplace on Amazon, everything is there. So, yeah, it is. It’s all out there. Thanks to resellers and reasoning. You know, you’ll buy a book for a penny and pay 10 bucks for shipping.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:46:30] Yeah. Well, a very last question that is, uh, knowing what you know about the journey and the path that you’ve taken, uh, as an artist, as, as a humorist, as a, as a creator, as a cartoonist, as a, as an entrepreneur, as a business person, what, something that you would go back and tell, uh, Lee in grade three when he was in kindergarten, when he was sketching those things, is there any advice you would go back and, and, and give
Leigh Rubin: [00:46:58] him pay more attention to the science man and the math STEM STEM you idiot.
Don’t become a cartoonist. What’s wrong with you? I mean, I don’t, I don’t, you know,
I mean, this was my chosen path, you know, I don’t know that I would have changed anything. Um, I’m sure I’ve made mistakes along the way. I mean, who doesn’t, you know, if you let me know if you find somebody okay. Lots of them, but I can’t think of anything. Cause I, everything I. Set my goals for if you want to call it that I actually miraculously achieved, but not really not miraculously through a lot of frustration and headbanging and persistence.
You know, you’ve heard all this stuff before a million times. It’s so rare as the overnight success that it really isn’t. I mean, maybe there is.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:48:02] 10 20 years of hard work.
Leigh Rubin: [00:48:04] Yeah. It, maybe you to see these child stars that become huge. Well, no, they put in years of work before that, you know, even if it’s just a few years, they’ve been working their butt off for what, you know, and then, you know, I like to think.
You know, so much if I can give a plug for artists here. Yeah. You know, all of these big sports brands, always market to sports stars, you know, like Nike and Adidas and whatever. Well, I think, I think they should like sponsor artists because we’re running marathons for our entire life, our careers don’t only last a short amount of time and we certainly don’t get.
$500 million for our work, you know, hell we’d have a lot more competition if that was the case. Right. So, I mean, how do we, how do we get these guys on board here with this? Come on. What about the rest of us schmoes that aren’t athletic. I’ll wear a Nike thing. If you want to pay me, I’m
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:49:06] lucky pen as well, right?
Leigh Rubin: [00:49:09] I’ll go for it. It’s the art, the artists companies aren’t supporting us like that. I mean, I have my favorite pencil erasers, but I don’t think they have the budget that Nike has. So
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:49:22] you remind me of a Monty Python sketch as the, uh, the, where they’re all in a stadium, watching the novel writing. I could just see there’s there’s the daily cartoonist with his blank canvas and.
We’re just going to watch him come up with something.
Leigh Rubin: [00:49:34] Oh my God. The pressure exciting. As exciting as a reality show, watching a guy draw
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:49:42] fully. Thank you so much for hanging out with me. Please let my listeners know where they can find out more about you.
Leigh Rubin: [00:49:48] Uh, well, I got, you know, all the social medias at rubes cartoons are U B E S cartoons. Uh, and that would be like, you know, Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn, or I don’t know if it’s LinkedIn.
I mean, I am on LinkedIn, but you know, Instagram and, you know, rubes cartoons.com. Um, and I’m reachable through all of that. And I don’t know if you’ll have any of that in your show notes, but
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:50:13] you’re put it all on the show notes. I appreciate for you
Leigh Rubin: [00:50:15] to do that. And, uh, and Hey, if there’s any big sponsors out there, want to sponsor a TV show on I’m down with that.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: [00:50:22] Okay. I’ll put the feelers out there. Lee, thanks so much for hanging out with me.
Leigh Rubin: [00:50:27] Oh, thanks so much, Mark. I really appreciate it.