Professional Cartoonist Offers Summer Cartoon Camp
By Bonnie Mentel
Ron Wheeler has been a full-time cartoonist since 1980 and has spent most of his career working for Christian ministries and publishing companies. His religious cartoon booklets have sold over 50 million copies. About 10 years ago, when his daughter became interested in becoming an art teacher, he decided to run a cartoon camp at their house to give her a taste of what teaching would be like.
“The cartoon camp really took off. People seemed to really want to know what it was like to be a professional cartoonist, because a cartoonist is a really unusual profession,” Wheeler said.
He has enjoyed being able to give kids the ability to explore their creative talents through his summer Cartoon Camp.
“What I do is go through some of the things I did as a kid to become a cartoonist,” he explains. “I studied this magazine called Mad Magazine. A lot of people of my age bracket, baby boomers, loved reading Mad Magazine and that influenced my drawing style. I would trace those characters as a way of learning how to draw.
“Another thing I did was I played with modeling clay,” he recalls, referring to the modeling classes during summer camp. “You can cartoon with modeling clay and be more creative than you can with pencil and paper. You can easily change something with your hands. If you don’t like it, you can easily pull off that part and make something different. Modeling clay allows you to see your cartoon character from all the different angles. You don’t just see it with your eyes, you feel it with your hands.”
Wheeler also teaches about writing comic strips and what goes into it. He had a comic strip called “The Adventures of Jeremiah” that ran for 20 years in a weekly Sunday School magazine.
That was not his first successful cartoon character. When he was a college student at the University of Nebraska, he had a very popular cartoon strip called “Ralph” and achieved a lot of success and recognition from that.
“But the success I had in college did not translate over into the business world. People don’t care about what you did in college. They care about what you can do for them now. I had the passion to be a cartoonist, but not the passion to immerse myself in the business/corporate world,” he said.
Wheeler ended up getting fired. He felt that he wasn’t really qualified or equipped emotionally to fit into that world.
He experienced the devastation of going from being extremely successful in college, even being crowned Homecoming King, to finding himself living in strange city, being fired, and not knowing what to do with his life. It was a difficult transition.
“I eventually placed my faith in Christ through that journey. As a result, the Lord opened up to me the opportunity to do cartoons on a full-time basis for Christian ministries and publishing companies,” he said.
Wheeler had moved to Kansas City with the hopes of getting a position at a newspaper syndicate. He was able to work there for 8 months before they decided that his strip wasn’t what they were looking for. He found himself living off of savings and unemployment during that time.
“It was at that point, I said, ‘God, I give up’ and I put my trust in Christ. The very next day, I walked across the street from my apartment looking for a job sweeping floors or doing anything, and it turned out that this company across the street from my apartment had been looking for a cartoonist for three months. They hired me and put me to work that very day and that’s where I got the commercial art training that I needed to do eventually branch out and do work for Christian ministries and publishing companies,” he said.
Along with his religious cartoon booklets, Wheeler has also had several books and CDs of clip art and comic strips published. His illustrations can be found in Sunday School curriculum, VBS materials, magazine articles, and book covers. “Stinky Stevens,” a children’s book series, is his newest project.
He is offering three cartoon camps this summer. Two camps are for elementary students (minimum age 8) and one is for middle school students and older (minimum age 11). Adults are also welcome to register for the camp. The camps are $150 and include all art materials and a free cartoon camp T-shirt.
The camp sessions are located at 9818 Summit, Kansas City, MO and registration is available online at www.cartoonworks.com. For further questions, email Ron at Ron@cartoonsworks.com or call 816-941-9221.
Check out more summer camps in the area with our Summer Camp Guide.