Sunday, August 14, 2022

Flower Mound cartoonist continues family legacy

Paul Anderson was 6 years old when his teacher bragged to the entire class one day that Paul’s dad, Brad Anderson, was the famous cartoonist who created “Marmaduke,” the wildly-popular syndicated comic about a mischievous but lovable Great Dane. Every kid in the class was smitten by the weekly tales about that larger-than-life dog, so naturally, their eyes bugged out of their little heads — in a cartoonish fashion, ironically enough.

But all Paul wanted to do was melt into the walls.

“Everyone turned to look at me as she said, ‘Paul, draw us a cartoon,’” said Anderson, now 68 and living in Flower Mound. “Here I am — 6 years old. So I made my best effort, and she said, ‘What is that?’ I explained it to her, and she just said, ‘Oh,’ and turned to walk away. I didn’t pick up a pen [to draw] for years after that. It was just crushing.”

He added, “Later, my dad said, ‘Isn’t that a shame. She really didn’t understand what it means to be a teacher, did she?’”

Brad Anderson, the cartoonist who created “Marmaduke,” died in 2015.

Paul learned countless lessons from his kind and encouraging father in the years that followed. And, just like the kids in his class, he was awestruck by what his dad could do with a pen and a little creativity. Brad Anderson created “Marmaduke” in 1954, and his gags about a dog frequently described as a canine Dennis the Menace became the stuff of legends. At its peak, the “Marmaduke” one-panel weekday comics and Sunday strips appeared in more than 500 newspapers around the world. Brad continued his passion full-time until he died in 2015 at the age of 91.

Paul was never pushed to follow in his dad’s footsteps. But upon retiring from the Air Force, he eventually picked up a pen again in 2003 — this time to help his elderly father. He took art classes and listened intently as Brad critiqued his work. But Paul’s goal was never to be better than his father. He knew that would never be possible. He simply wanted to mimic the beauty behind his work and continue bringing Marmaduke to life in ways only his father could do.

Fast forward to today, and Paul does the comic strip — continuing the legacy his father established 68 years ago.

“People tell me, ‘Paul, we think that we are pretty good cartoonists. Your dad was an artist,’” Paul said with pride. “I knew dad wanted the comic to continue after he was gone, and he knew that everything was going to be OK [with me doing it]. I’ve learned never to compare yourself to others — be grateful for your talents and develop them. It will never be the same as how my dad did it. But he had a tremendous impact on me, and it was his example that defined the path I’m now on.”

‘Stick to the formula’

When Brad died, he left Paul with five years of daily roughs and three years of Sunday pages. That was more than enough to create an easier transition as Paul worked on the finishing touches, and it also drove home the point that when the time came for Paul to create “Marmaduke” content from scratch, there wouldn’t be a need to reinvent the wheel.

That’s because part of the “Marmaduke” comic charm is its unique style. Brad never believed in preaching, teaching, or talking politics. He also never gave the dog a human personality or the ability to speak. “Marmaduke” simply did things a real dog would do, including driving his owners, the Winslows, bonkers and getting into lots of trouble with each installment.

On top of that, readers could tell that the guy behind the scenes had an honest passion for his work — and it leaped off the page in many of the same ways that “Marmaduke” did.

Unlike many famous syndicated cartoonists of his time, Brad was a one-man operation for most of his career. He did everything — the daily rough drawings, gags, layouts, the inking and coloring — and never failed to keep a small notebook in his pocket or by his nightstand so that he could be prepared when a wave of inspiration struck.

One time, Paul’s mother was driving him to school when they noticed Brad’s car sitting off by the shoulder of the road. When they went to check on him, he was simply hunched over in the front seat, drawing another cartoon.

“He told me, ‘I can just feel the creativity washing over me. The ideas come so fast that I can’t write them all down. I don’t know how many I’m losing,’” Paul said while recounting his dad’s words. “It was his passion. He loved every bit of it, and it was there to get people through the day. So much of today’s stuff is based on current events, but my dad always knew that many people wanted to take a break from all the turmoil of life and just enjoy the comics.

“So that was the cardinal rule when I joined him: stick to the formula.”

As for the memories of being a shy 6-year-old who couldn’t draw his way out of a paper sack, Paul realized later in life that he was more of a chip off the old block than he thought. With his dad’s health failing fast, he asked if he could help. Brad certainly didn’t make it easy, but he also saw a hint of drawing talent in his son that could be developed.

“I sometimes look at my earlier stuff and wonder what he ever saw in it,” Paul said with a laugh. “I threw myself into art classes and worked on smaller stuff as I improved, and my dad was always incredibly patient with me about everything.”

‘I look at life like a bowling alley’

While Paul has thoroughly enjoyed continuing his father’s legacy, his journey has not been without a few health scares. His beautiful wife of 25 years, Dorothy, was diagnosed with metastatic renal cell carcinoma 14 years ago and, by the grace of God, managed to get through multiple surgeries and years of complex treatments.

Meanwhile, Paul’s trip to the emergency room in 2015 for what he thought was really bad heartburn turned out to be a massive heart attack that required quadruple bypass surgery.

“It’s like you are the bowling ball careening from side to side, and God is keeping you safe the entire time,” Paul said. “We are both very blessed that it has all worked out the way that it has. We’ve experienced a lot of wonderful things in life.”

As for stepping into his father’s big shoes, Paul says it’s all in a day’s work — and he’ll happily keep doing it, too.

“I could walk down the street and be completely anonymous; no one knows who I am. And yet, it’s nice to hear the joy people get from these comics,” Paul said. “They can go to Netflix, comics.com, and other places to see and enjoy what my dad created all those years ago. Even today, I get so many fan letters from people who don’t want anything other than to say thank you and express what this has meant to them over the years. I’m very grateful.”

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