Today’s “5 Questions with…” interview features Kevin Whitlark. This former bouncer who is an expert in 3 styles of the Martial arts, and who is a volunteer high school defensive football coach in his spare time, is not your typical cartoonist….
Andy: When you were growing up, were you always interested in drawing, and specifically cartoons?
Kevin: I was always interested in drawing, and did so as long as I can remember. I never drew cartoons as a kid, not to say that my art didn’t look like cartoons; what 3 – 8 year olds’ doesn’t?
Andy: Good point. When was it that you realized you could actually earn a living as a cartoonist – Did a family member or friend point out you had talent, or was it something you knew you wanted to do?
Kevin: As a kid and young adult, I was always referred to as the artist in the family. “Kevin can draw anything”, “My brother should be an artist”, “He is amazing etc..” This came from family members and friends. I entered a contest in first grade and won. I did the same thing again in 5th and 7th grade, and won. My art ended up on the principle’s wall in his office and the public library. Even with so much ability and praise, I had no desire to become a “money making artist.” It was not until I was bartending in college at South Carolina, when someone saw me doodling on a napkin and asked if I was an artist. “Part time,” I said with a chuckle, but when they offered me $500 to do a T-shirt design & poster, and it took me less than two hours to create, I had to admit I enjoyed it very much in so many ways. Plus I was making $250 bucks an hour! It got my attention. That kind of stuff happened all the time for several years. After college I decided to find out if I was really cut out to be an artist. I moved to San Francisco, lived in a warehouse, and had cash in a box to feed myself for a year. I ended up staying for almost three years and I freelanced around the city. I then began studying greeting cards in the stores, and after reading and viewing thousands, I decided to put together a portfolio of greeting cards. I submitted 18 greeting card designs with copy to Recycled Paper Greetings, Inc. At the time they were like the third largest greeting card company in the world, and I loved their card lines. They rejected my submission. I was shocked! I decided to start my own greeting card company. I found a printer and the rest is history; I built up national accounts and rep groups, and eventually sold my company to a very large greeting card company. Now I’m just an artist in a studio, writing copy, and painting and illustrating.
Today my greeting cards are published all over the world by the likes of American Greetings, Universal Press Syndicate, Imagination Projects, and SELLER’s Publishing, to name a few. To date, over 1,000 greeting cards have been published, putting the actual card count around 70 million of the 1000 designs. This has been a twenty year ride, and it’s still building up steam. Note, Recycled paper Greetings, Inc., is my largest publisher now!
Andy: Slacker…only 70 million? I know you currently have a series of new puzzles on the market. Can you tell us what they’re about and where we could get them?
Kevin: Licensing, licensing, licensing! My art has been licensed on an array of gift stationery products and puzzles that have become very hot. The concept is based on searching and finding – similar to “I SPIED” or “Where’s Waldo.” My series of puzzles is based on the 100 & 1…theme. www.onehundredandone.com is being built right now and it is dedicated to this art (go to Puzzlesforsale.com for now!) There are almost twenty designs on the market. These Jigsaw puzzles can be found at Target, Wall Mart, K Mart, Barnes & Noble, Books a Million & Borders Bookstores. 100 Cats & a fish, 100 Elephants & a mouse, 100 Dogs & a cat, 100 Chickens & a worm, plus 17 more. My art can also be found on games, books, calendars, notebooks, wrapping paper etc...
Andy: My son has 100 Frogs & a Fly and loves it, thank you! Aside from being a syndicated cartoonist, you are a black-belt in karate, Father of 6, a High School Football Coach, and a one time bone-breaking bouncer for your famous family owned bars & restaurants in Columbia, SC. How do you make the mental switch from tossing drunks and tackling dummies, to drawing cuddly cats & dogs?
Kevin: Syndication is only part time. I mostly write and illustrate children’s books with Scholastics, and soon another large publisher. Check out my two Christmas parodies “The Twelve Dogs of Christmas” and “The Twelve Cats of Christmas” both published by Scholastics (Which my six kids love at school). You can find my books at Barnes & Noble & Borders. I have book signings in November and December in Atlanta, GA., & New York City. To answer your question about bars & ass kicking, it was just a novelty I accepted. I got my first black belt when I was 23 (American free style taekwondo) and another Black belt at 28 (Hapkido). I have been studying Aikido for over 15 years, and only teach that style now. The bars my brothers and I owned, are Rockaways & Pizza man, both for almost 30 years. Even-though I played linebacker in college, I was not a big bruising bouncer. I was lean, quick and smart, and I didn’t really have to toss so many people as I had to convince them to leave. The only switch you speak of is really more like an escape or a therapy I got, and still get today. My six Children, Erin, Forrest, Kate, Mary Grace, Anna Elizabeth & Liam are all the therapy in the world, and are the life of my life. I am a very fulfilled human being.
Andy: You definitely fit the bill as an Old-School type of guy – What is it you love so much about the Original Retro Brand?
Kevin: Yup, I am old school. I am a paradox when it comes to my profession and my physical make up and history. Truthfully I am just a kid having fun and enjoying everyday. The Original Retro Brand to me is what keeps everything clean, simple and true. I have a wine cellar, and some of my reds are 30 years old (valuable?) and they are brought out for special occasions. The bottle will become empty and it will be history. A good memory but gone. Original Retro Brand allows me to enjoy every day and reflect, and to always remember where I came from and why that is so cool and important. Good wine gets better with age but ORB last forever! I have a great selection, too!
I want to try one of those Reds! Thanks to Kevin for putting down his pencils for just a few minutes today. With the holidays approaching, I highly recommend filling your stockings with Onalark products (after you buy a few dozen Original Retro Brand shirts of course!).
If you are a big fan of the Original Retro Brand, and want to be featured on “5 Questions with…” please forward a picture of yourself wearing Original Retro Brand gear, and a brief description of what you do for a living to firstname.lastname@example.org If we like what we see, you may be contacted for an interview. You don’t need to be a bad-ass blackbelt & cartoonist like Kevin to be featured, and we’ll even send you an Original Retro Brand T-Shirt if we decide to post your story!