I have met Ralph Smith a couple of times. Every time I see him, he has a big grin on his face. He could be the happiest cartoonist I ever see at the NCS Reuben conventions. He wrote a reminiscence of his life and times for Stripper's Guide titled Ralph Smith: Life in the Funny Papers. Part one is here. (EDIT: part two is now here, and galleries of Ralph's cartooning are here and here.)
That smile is an important bit of armor. Being optimistic, like Ralph, sure can help when you are a cartoonist. Ralph is no stranger to success or failure. He's worked on a number of comic strips. And he's also had disappointments: the demise of his first syndicated strip -- the same year as his friend and mentor Dik Browne passed away. Then, he picks himself up and fights; pitching an editorial panel and co-creates a new syndicated strip.
Ralph was, like a lot of cartoonists, born in Ohio (in the same town as Richard Outcault). After high school, he did a four year stint in the Air Force, then 2 years at the Ringling College of Art and Design. He was fortunate to land a job in the art department of the Sarasota Herald Tribune, where, for ten years, he did paste-up, illustration and cartooning.
"One of my jobs was to illustrate a daily column called 'Hotline.' It was a reader-generated Q and A thing wherein readers sent in questions ranging from bad bargains in town to how to get mildew out of dressers. I did 2 cartoons per page, every day, for nearly ten years. It was like boot camp. Drove me nuts because I only saw the column about three hours before the art had to be with the engravers."
He met HAGAR THE HORRIBLE creator Dik Browne when he intentionally tagged along with a reporter. Dik and Ralph hit it off, and he joined Dik, and his sons in creating the popular King Features daily for a number of years.
He submitted a couple of strips to King Features. One of them, CAPTAIN VINCIBLE, about an inept superhero, was green lighted. It ran for about six years beginning in 1983.
"Dik’s health deteriorated rather quickly and he died on June 4, 1989. I miss him as much today as I did that day. He was one super man. I learned so very much from him, and only part of it was about how to produce a comic strip. A comic as successful and loved as Hagar must go on, so everybody went back to work."
Ralph continued with HAGAR for four more years, and then became Fred Lasswell's assistant on SNUFFY SMITH. But working with Fred was "not a good fit," and Ralph was, ostensibly, now out of a cartooning job.
He called his old paper and proposed a regular freelance editorial cartoon. They said OK!
Ralph also contacted his friend Bill Schorr and they collaborated on THE GRIZZWELLS.
It's a wonderful remembrance in his own words, and shows how fearless you have to be to be a professional cartoonist. And this is only part one.
Go, read: Ralph Smith: Life in the Funny Pages, Part I
And Part 2 is now here.