5 Questions With Cuyler Black

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Today's guest is cartoonist Cuyler Black, creator of Inherit the Mirth. Cuyler grew up in Ottawa, Canada and had his first regular, albeit short lived, comic strip, Ollie the Alligator, in a local weekly newspaper. At 17 his second strip, Furtree High, was in the Ottawa Citizen and lasted 6 1/2 years. After graduating with a degree in English Lit, Cuyler acquired a Bachelor of Education and taught high school English, History and Special Education, while continuing to do freelance illustrations and part-time youth ministry. Returning to comic strips, Cuyler produced a new syndicated strip called The Swan Factory. He ended this strip after 2 years to focus on full-time youth ministry. In 2003 a new cartoon creation that he had begun on the side was taking more of his attention and in 2008 became his full-time work. Inherit the Mirth, combines Cuyler's love of cartooning with his Christian faith. He currently resides in Danbury, Connecticut.

Now, without further delay, my interview with Cuyler Black:

Hello Cuyler,

1. How did you get started drawing cartoons?

I've been drawing ever since I could hold a Crayola. My Dad would bring home scrap paper from the office and I'd draw, draw, draw. When I was 10, I had a weekly comic strip called Ollie the Alligator in a local paper, after a journalist at a party my parents threw was shown my cartoons. I lasted a few months and then got bored. When I was 17 I gave it another shot with a high school strip called Furtree High that was accepted by the big local daily paper, The Ottawa Citizen. I don't know how long they thought I was going to last, but I'm sure they thought it was a good PR move to give a local kid a chance. The comic ran daily for the next 6 1/2 years, right between Garfield and Blondie. I ended it after university, to try something else. While I was teaching at a high school, I began yet another strip, this one syndicated, called The Swan Factory, about a health club. It ran for a couple of years in a dozen papers. No one now would likely remember it. I ended it in order to pursue full-time youth ministry, moving from Canada to Connecticut in 2000.

2. What led you to start Inherit the Mirth?

As a youth minister I saw greeting cards for sale in Christian bookstores. I thought they were all pretty much the same -- often sappy, sentimental, with a Bible verse attached. I wondered why there wasn't much, if any, humor? I decided I'd try to create something along the lines of cards that had a "The Far Side meets the Bible" tone to them. Inherit the Mirth was born. I printed up a bunch of cards and began selling them at a stationary store owned by a friend, right next to the church I was serving. They sold well, and so my friend and I did prototypes for a few other products -- a calendar, magnets, mouse pad, posters -- and exhibited at the National Stationary Show in New York City in 2003. Inherit the Mirth caught some attention and as a result, a few licensing agreements were signed with various established manufacturers/distributors in the Christian market. That was the beginning of building the brand.

3. I see people chuckle at your cartoons, at least the ones I have on my wall at work. What kind of responses do you get to your work?

Overwhelmingly the responses are enthusiastically positive. Many people are grateful that someone is creating this style of humor for Christians, as it reflects their own, or validates it and encourages them. Most Christians I've encountered believe that God has a tremendous sense of humor, as does His Son. People sometimes tell me that they use Inherit the Mirth cartoons as a witness tool as well -- you don't necessarily have to be religious to get many of the jokes, as I deal often with Biblical characters who are still well-known icons regardless of whether you know your Scriptures or not: Adam & Eve, Noah, David & Goliath, Jesus and the disciples, etc. Laughter helps break through barriers. And if folks don't understand the cartoon, an explanation opens communication. Once in a while, a sourpuss will decide that Inherit the Mirth is an affront to God, but I'm quite confident that such a person doesn't really know Him very well. My cartoons draw inspiration from Genesis 21:6 "God has brought me laughter."

4. How do you balance your humor so that you don't go "too far?" Obviously you feel Christians should laugh.

I like to think of my humor as being playfully reverent, or reverently playful. I love God. I'm excited to help emphasize an often under-appreciated facet of His personality -- His humor. I always pray that He'll keep me within boundaries acceptable to Him. When it comes to having some fun with folks like Moses or Noah or the disciples, for example, I see them as fair game for some affectionate laughs at their expense because they're human like you and me, with flaws and foibles. When it comes to Jesus, I\ll use Him in my cartoons but never make fun of Him. The humor will lie somewhere other than at His expense. And speaking of Jesus, I believe that much of His ministry involved a core message of "Hey, people, lighten up!"

5. Your company is growing and you have given people an opportunity to fund-raise using your cartoons. How does that work?

Inherit the Mirth has a fundraising kit that can be sent to any church or organization looking to raise cash for their particular project. Usually it's youth groups that participate in the program, looking for something other than the same old candy bars and Christmas wreaths that get sold. Kids love to sell Inherit the Mirth stuff because they find it funny, which motivates them that much more.

Thank You so much Cuyler!

Well there you go. Make sure you check out Cuyler's cartoons at Inherit the Mirth. You won't be disappointed, and you just may laugh out loud!

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Cuyler's humourous Old Testament and New Testament summaries just got hung up on my office door today. I'm looking forward to hearing peoples' reactions... =) Stan

PS: Paradoxically, I think Jesus' core message was both "lighten up" and "get serious!" "Lighten up" on what we in our selfishness think is important, and "get serious" in honouring God in all of life.