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Cartooning, For Some Still A Hobby, For Others, A Serious Business

Posted in: Front Page Stories
Dec 2, 2008 - 1:07:06 PM
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While painting consumes most of his time, Sean Boyce of North Falmouth still cartoons daily. He termed it “a hobby with an ulterior motive” as he has dreams of one day making a living at it. While he enjoys painting, he said, cartooning is much simpler because it involves only ink and pen. “Cartooning is easier. All you have to do is get the lines right whereas painting you have to get the lines and the color right,” he said. Samples of Mr. Boyce’s cartoon strip, and other work, can be found at CHRISTOPHER KAZARIAN/ENTERPRISE
FALMOUTH- Could the next Gary Larson, Charles M. Schulz or Jim Davis come from Falmouth?
It may be far-fetched, but that is the aspiration of three cartoonists who have ties to the area, all of whom are at different stages of their development. For one it is now merely a hobby; a second, yet to have published cartoons, is more serious about the craft, honing his talent daily; while for the last it is a passion that has been recognized with his art appearing in local publications.
At one end of the spectrum is Luke Alfano of Blacksmith Shop Road, East Falmouth, a 2003 graduate of Falmouth High School.
When he was a child, he said, he liked to draw but had not done it for years until about three years ago, when, out of boredom, he picked up colored pencils.
His inspiration, he said, was an orange tabby named Kitty Mitts at Deer Run Veterinary Services, which his father, veterinarian Frank J. Alfano, owns, and where Luke works as a veterinary technician.
One day, the younger Mr. Alfano said, he drew a cartoon version of Kitty Mitts on the office’s dry erase board. “Some of my co-workers thought it was funny,” he said, thus beginning an outlet to enhance some of life’s more mundane moments.
Although he had taken art classes in high school, he had no formal training, but he received positive feedback from friends.

Inspired By ‘The Far Side’
Luke Alfano’s comics detail the adventures of himself and a cat, Mario. Here the two try to sneak past border patrol by switching identities. Luke began drawing the comics three years ago when he began drawing pictures of Kitty Mitts, an orange tabby, at Deer Run Veterinary Services where he works.
His cartoons, which he described as single-framed and inspired by Gary Larsen, famed illustrator of “The Far Side,” are personal in nature, reflecting the adventures he and Kitty Mitts, whom he has dubbed Mario, have together.
There is one of Mario videotaping Luke dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” with his paws covering a portion of the lens. Underneath the caption reads, “Rare footage of Luke dancing to ‘Thriller.’ ” Another has Mario the cat driving a car with Luke in the passenger seat with no caption underneath.
Some are admittedly a little violent, while others are meant for all audiences.
He draws the cartoons in notebooks, he said, “because they look more primitive with lines crossing them.” While he admits that “it is just a hobby,” he takes pride in the ones that have come out better than others, having scanned them and posted them online for friends to view.
At one point, he said, he was cartooning on a daily basis, but has slowed that pace, drawing only occasionally. Aside from the tales of Mario and Luke, he also has created his own comics with zombie characters.
Mr. Alfano said he has enjoyed comics since he was a child. Along with his cousins, he said, he would often draw, inspired by comic books like X-Men. These days, he said, he finds pleasure in the comics of Harry Bliss, as well as those of Darby Conley, creator of “Get Fuzzy,” a strip that involves the author and his two pets, a dog named Satchel Pooch and a cat named Bucky Katt.
To cartoon for a living, he said, would be a dream job. “I think it would be a fun occupation to be able to do what you have talent to do,” he said. Yet, he is somewhat realistic, noting that drawing cartoons for him is more of a pastime than anything else.

A Multi-Talented Artist
“Biff the Cyberpunk,” a daily comic strip created by Sean Boyce, is set in the post-apocalyptic future and is intended as a satirical look at society. This sequence is part of a narrative in which Biff has to save Santa from Internet hackers.
For Sean C. Boyce of Wild Harbor Road, North Falmouth, cartooning is a daily ritual, falling somewhere outside of a hobby, but short of a career. “I do have some long-term goals of being syndicated, but right now I am concentrating on my painting,” he said.
A 1985 graduate of Falmouth High School, Mr. Boyce has dabbled, at one time or another, in music, film-making, painting, and cartooning. Following high school, he briefly attended the University of Massachusetts Amherst before receiving an associate’s degree in culinary arts at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1992.
That training has helped sustain him financially as he works as a full-time chef at Gosnold in Cataumet, a job he has held for over a decade.
Yet, it is clear his creative outlets are a source of joy for him. During his college days, he performed in the band “Date with Jan,” performing in venues throughout the Northeast, aspiring to one day be a rock star.
He has made two movies, one called “Deputy Bob,” that premiered at the Woods Hole Film Festival in 2003. Another short, “Day of the Noodle Eaters,” has yet to be finished.
In the past 10 years, he has dedicated himself to painting, an outlet he has achieved some success in, having shown his work throughout the state. His paintings, impressionistic in nature, are often of cityscapes and various locales throughout the state. His work can be seen at

Comic Book Convention in NYC
Of all these endeavors, however, Mr. Boyce is most fond of cartooning. It started in the fourth grade, he said, when his mother took him to a comic book convention in New York City, a way for him to connect his fondness with the Marvel Comics’ Spiderman and Batman series to real life.
“It blew me away, seeing the cartoonists and comic books and just being in Greenwich Village. I will never forget it,” he said. “I remember thinking, ‘I want to be in a cool shabby apartment just drawing comic strips.’ Now I don’t think I would go to Manhattan anymore. I would be happy with a studio in Boston.”
These days, Mr. Boyce dedicates himself to drawing a daily comic strip for “Biff the Cyber Punk,” his own creation that is inspired, in part, by the works of Philip K. Dick, author of, among other works, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” which was the basis for the 1982 science fiction movie “Blade Runner.”
The strip is a social satire set in the post-apocalyptic future and is centered around Biff, his friends, and family, Mr. Boyce said, intended as a way to delve into issues of humanity and life.
His focus is less on the drawing and more on the narrative, dialogue, and characters. His one suggestion for those looking to pursue a career as a cartoonist relates to this idea. “They say read, read, read, whether it is magazines, books, hard stuff, or easy stuff,’ he said. “A strip is designed to be similar to journalism, which is why reading is so important.”
Three years ago, he submitted samples of his Biff strip to several of the national syndicates, companies that supply newspapers and other trades with cartoons, but never heard back.
“Cartooning is very competitive,” he said. “I think there are about seven major syndicates and they get roughly 6,000 entries a year. Out of that they probably pick three.”
That does not deter Mr. Boyce from his dream. “Who wouldn’t want to sit in a room and draw pictures all day?” he asked. “It is pretty easy and fun once you get set up, but there are so many talented people trying to do it. It is like a lot of the cool fields in the arts.”
While these are admittedly high aspirations, Mr. Boyce continues to perfect his craft with the idea that it can only be beneficial. “If I am going to be a cartoonist, you have to do it really, really well when you care competing against people like Charles Schulz and Jim Davis,” he said. “Those guys are juggernauts. While I am probably not on a par with them now, hopefully I will find out someday if I am.”
His expectations are simply to keep cartooning every single day. “It is all about perseverance,” he said. “I am going to keep doing this and keep trying, but I am not going to lose my mind out of it.”

Published Cartoonist
This is one example of Stephen Wesley’s artistic talent, who has drawn comics for, among others, the Cape Codder and most recently the Cape Cod Voice. He uses quill and ink and scans the work into a computer, touching it up in Adobe Photoshop.
Of the three, Stephen J. Wesley of Fountain Street, Mashpee, has been rewarded for his talent by seeing his work appear in print. Originally from Plymouth, Mr. Wesley moved to the Cape in 1985 when he was hired at the Pennysaver as a paste-up artist. 
It is there that he met his wife, Donna F. Wesley, who had a desk right next to his. “She played piano, and I played the violin, and we hit it off immediately,” he said. Their first date was to the Cape Cod Conservatory. “She went to Hyannis and I went to Falmouth,” he laughed. “We didn’t know there were two conservatories in the Cape.” They both thought the other had stood them up.
It was while he was at the Pennysaver that Mr. Wesley, who has a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Southern Massachusetts University, was able to apply his cartooning skills to something meaningful.
He attributed those skills, in part, to genetics. “Both of my parents drew and both were very good,” he said.
His talent first became apparent in first grade, he said, when he was asked to draw a Christmas scene for one assignment. “I could see the picture in my head and put it on paper,” he recalled. “Even my teacher was astonished, and my piece went into the Plymouth Public Library.”

Humor In The Ordinary
As to why he was drawn to comics, Mr. Wesley referenced a Groucho Marx film festival his father took him to around the age of 10. “That changed the way I viewed the world,” he said. “I wanted to be Groucho Marx. He could put anyone down, from the average Joe all the way up to the tough guy. After that point, being funny was important to me.”
His artwork reflects that ideal, he said, as he tries to find humor in the ordinary, often scribbling his ideas on napkins or receipts when something strikes him as interesting. And it is through cartooning, he said, that this comes through the best. “I can paint really well, but when I cartoon, that is when I really feel like I am saying something. It comes from my head and the way I view the world, which is funny,” he said.
His other inspiration is drawn from a variety of sources, he said, especially the late cartoonist Charles Addams of The New Yorker as well as Gary Larson. He points to the bizarre sitcom of late 1970s to early 80s, “Soap,” as well as the work of film director David Lynch, creator of “Twin Peaks,” as the types of themes, and message, he aspires to create in his work. “It is something of a serious quality, but there is humor involved,” he said.
He references one cartoon, in which a young boy orders a drink from a waiter inside a restaurant, as an example. It is a single frame with the caption, “I’d like a Shirley Temple, shaken not stirred” underneath.
Like Mr. Boyce, Mr. Wesley has a broad range of interests, ranging from painting to a short stint in stand-up comedy to writing to music. Of all, however, cartooning has garnered him the most attention.
His work first began to appear in print in the late 1990s, following several changes of ownership in the Pennysaver. His first piece accompanied a story on the housing market. It depicts a realtor pounding a “House for Sale” sign in front of a Cape Cod shingled-home as a prospective client, a couple, stand in the background.

Drawing Scenes
He did similar work for the Cape Codder over the next two years, drawing cartoons that accompanied stories, while also creating similar cartoons for advertisements. During that time, he said, “my style evolved from drawing cutouts to more of a splodge, or scene.”
Perhaps his greatest compliment came from a friend who worked at the Cape Cod Mall in Hyannis. “They told me they didn’t read the Cape Codder until after they saw my cartoon appear in it,” he said.
After two years as an artist there, Mr. Wesley left when the company consolidated its offices off-Cape. “I didn’t want to make that commute over the bridge,” he said, at which point he began freelance assignments, often working for Margo Tabb Graphic Design. For one assignment, he illustrated a Commonwealth Electric educational booklet on energy savings.
He has seen his work turn up in unexpected places. He once drove past a Snow & Jones truck, a plumbing company, emblazoned with a cartoon of an inspector holding up a magnifying glass to a cup of water. “That was pretty cool to see my drawing about eight feet tall on the side of the truck,” he said.
Over the past few years, he has worked in a number of local bookstores and is currently employed at Inkwell Bookstore on Main Street in Falmouth as an assistant manager. He has put his talent to good use there, with his cartoons featured in the store’s monthly newsletters.
Earlier this year, Mr. Wesley was hired as a cartoonist for the news magazine, The Cape Cod Voice. His first cartoon for the magazine poked fun at Senator Edward Kennedy’s opposition to the Cape Wind project and appeared in June, the same month it was announced the senator was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He was paid $100 per cartoon and plans on framing a copy of his first check he received for the work.
Unfortunately, the work has since ceased, with the unexpected announcement that the The Cape Cod Voice suspended its publication last month. “That was a huge disappointment when the magazine closed because I liked where I was going with that,” he said.
Yet, that stint, he said, has motivated to work toward perfecting his talent. “I really want to pursue this,” he said. “My ultimate goal is to appear in The New Yorker...When I draw, it is like meditation. All my troubles lift away and I seem to lose all sense of time. It is very spiritual.”