Bluegrass cartoons from Rick and Donna

Rick CornishEarning my living as a banjo teacher for many years of my life, I came quickly to notice that students tended to fall into one of two groups. Young people, teens through college-aged and slightly beyond, or folks in or nearing retirement. Often it would turn out that the older students actually belonged in both categories, having played some when they were younger, only to let it fall away as career and family responsibilities ate up most of their time.

You’ll see it any festival as well, with groups of mostly younger pickers flailing away until dawn, and sections of the campground given over to retired couples with their fancy motorhomes. People who love the music love it their whole lives.

Rick Cornish is doing things a bit differently. He’s been actively involved in bluegrass music all his life, though not as a profession. His work life has involved writing, though mostly of the dry and formulaic sort for governmental use, while being an active part of the California Bluegrass Association, our nation’s largest dedicated to the music. Rick served many roles in the organization, including Chairman of the Board, all along pursuing his passion for playing the fiddle.

So upon reaching retirement, Rick looked for ways to utilize his writing skills in more expressive ways, composing and publishing a book of short stories, and being close to submitting a second, when a friend issued an unexpected challenge. Could he make up 30 cartoon captions in 30 days?

Never one to let a dare lay fallow, Rick says he was determined to give it a go.

rick“Well, I’m no artist, but I took the challenge and began grabbing cartoons off the Internet and used my long background in Photoshop to manipulate the drawings to comply with my own captions. That was two years ago.

From the start I chose bluegrass and bluegrass-related gags because, honestly, my universe for 40 years has had our music at its center. I eat it and sleep it and, after so long, feel I know it pretty well. So, after trying a handful and feeling okay with the output, I began sharing my bluegrass cartoons on Facebook; I’ve got about 1,000 friends, the vast majority bluegrassers scattered around the U.S. and U.K., and from the start received a fair amount of encouragement. At the end of 30 days it was clear that I hadn’t quite gotten the jokes out of my system…so I’ve just kept going. I did stop for about six months to finish my second volume of short stories.”

You can see many examples of these early efforts of his Facebook page.

Things took a turn recently when Cornish chanced to meet Donna Maklica, another recent retiree from a career as an illustrator and graphic designer. The two hit it off and launched a plan to collaborate on a book of bluegrass cartoons, planning to have 100 ready by Christmas time this year.

What they are turning out now are distinctive images that are quite funny, and unashamedly targeted to Rick’s fellow bluegrass nuts. Both color and black & white cartoons are being produced, and will grace the pages of their as yet untitled collection.

Cornish shared a few examples to show our readers what they are up to.

He will also include an explanation of the cartoons in the book, for the sake of the uninitiated who may find themselves befuddled.

“I’ll write a mostly tongue-in-cheek annotated bibliography providing the ‘deep background’ necessary for appreciating the ‘toons. I’m guessing this will be my personal favorite part of the project, being at heart a writer and not a cartoonist.”

We’ll be sure to post again when the book is ready, or when ordering information is available.

Godspeed Rick and Donna!

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.