US - A life-long attachment to cartoons and the countryside has enabled and inspired a US country boy to show rural America the importance of laughter.
Raised on a small farm in Sherwood, Michigan, cartoonist and humourist Jonny Hawkins has always been involved in agriculture.
And after almost 30 years, he has built up a corpus of over 40,000 cartoons, many appearing in farm publications such as Farm Journal, The Progressive Dairyman, Cattle Business Weekly, Acreage Life, Country Folk’s Magazine, Farmer’s Exchange and Farm and Ranch Living.
“I have been drawing cartoons since I was a toddler, but began selling them to magazines in 1986, while in college,” says Jonny. “I drew cartoon portraits at country festivals over a stretch of 20 years.”
“I still live outside the sleepy village of Sherwood, 3 miles from my childhood home. We have a dog and 12 cats and claim the neighbour's 75 sheep as our own. We love the wool-to-wool carpeting.”
Growing up, Jonny’s smallholding had seven horses, ducks, cats, dogs and five beef cattle bought by his dad.
Much of Jonny’s work comes from a practical knowledge of the industry and also his mother, a dairy farmer’s daughter and wildlife artist.
Jonny adds: “She also loved to paint horses and farm scenes and sold them to local farmers.
"Many farmers surrounding us display her barnwood paintings and paintings on cross blades, saws and fungi. She handed down her gift of art and her love for the country to me.”
Neighbouring dairy farmers often got a visit from Jonny in his childhood days, when he would often lend a “helping squeezing hand”.
Through the summer he baled hay for local farmers and the family horses and as a teenager worked in the corn fields.
“We live near seed corn capital of the world and consequently, the companies - Pioneer, DeKalb - now owned by Monsanto, Remington - would hire teens to pull the tassles of the female corn so they wouldn't cross-pollinate.”
This process, known as detassling, still goes on today and Jonny’s 16 year old son, Nate, spends his summer with crews of workers detassling for Pioneer.
Where is Inspiration Found?
Ideas come from a mix of sources and very often from real life scenarios, explains Jonny.
“I love to play with words, as they are a springboard to great cartoons,” he adds. “Mixing animal behaviour with humans also serves as inspiration and utilizing modern buzzwords and likes are good places to mine for golden ideas."
Coffee shops and diners are popular haunts to overhear the latest trend expressions or current affairs, says Jonny. Different personality types can produce great ideas and cartoons.
Recipe for Success?
Jonny admits he doesn’t really know why people like his cartoons, although emphasises the importance of reflecting the readers sensibilities. Surreal, day-to-day or absurd occurrences can all invoke a response with a reader.
“They see themselves in a similar dilemma or they identify with a humorous expression or behaviour I convey - or maybe they just like my round nosed, bulgy-eyed characters," explains Jonny.
“Country folks and farmers like the cartoons, because the laughter it evokes is good for their tired and hard-working souls.”
Jonny sees sharing a laugh as part of the fun for the agricultural community. He thinks the ability for “salt of the earth people” to “harvest good feelings” is important and he hopes he can carry on spreading laughter for many years to come.
Top image via Shutterstock