Living Our Dreams. How Did Londons Times Cartoon Turn 17?

“….And please remember to set your watches forward one hour”. One hour?  I just fast forwarded mine 17 years.  And where did those years go?  Londons Times Cartoons is 17 years old this March 2014. Holy Smokes. Where did the time go?  Where in the world did it go.  I know I fought some battles and faced some challenges along the way (that seemed like I was walking through a long bad dream), but looking back, it seemed like last week that all this started.

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The last thing I remember after the workplace still looked like Scott Adam’s cartoon “Dilbert” was being downsized from a cubicle and pc to an abandoned warehouse; living on occasional donations of food and small bills from friends.  I received no governmental support. It was March 1997.

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Shifting career gears and goals from producing/editing/marketing to “writing cartoons” at age 44 was not something that Dale Carnegie might have recommended in “How To Make Friends And Influence People”. In fact if I had to write a book about it’s humble beginnings I might have called it, “So you’ve burned every bridge but your dog still loves you”.  And he did.  As did my new calico kitten which wandered up to the warehouse on day. This caused my loyal dog of many years to reassess his reasons to love me but I found “Pat” the cat a new home rapidly and Thor the dog loved me again.

When I launched Londons Times Cartoons, I virtually had nothing.  My car died and with no job I could unwisely spend what little cash I had on another piece of tin, or put it into technology which would help me “build a cartoon empire” (whatever that is).

Thor was with me for nearly ten years of my journey.  What a wonderful administrative assistant.

My skills were very limited.  I can draw a little but not to the level that matched the vision of the cartoon of which I had in mind.  This cartoon would have an offbeat nature ala Far Side, yet not the cartoony look of Far Side (or other cartoons for that matter). If I could eventually create it, my feelings were there was nothing else like it on the market.  I talked to masters in the cartoon industry. I was too naïve to know to leave them alone.  The bigger these icons were, the more friendly and open they were.  Charles Schulz recommended I recruit illustrators who were also fine artists who might do so on spec. He admitted it was a long shot, but long shots do happen, especially in the cartooning industry.

 

 

 

As time went by, I wandered and called around with my shoebox full of cartoon concepts. Sure enough, a bite.  Problem…he didn’t want to do color.  Color was part of my vision but I gave in and figured I could get them colored later.  As time went by a Ca. tee shirt company offered us $10,000 for rights to 12 images (if they were in color).  My illustrator/partner decided color would be good. And from that moment on about 99% of our cartoons were done in color and still are.

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I slowly moved “up the creative corporate ladder” which meant moving eventually to my own place to my favorite mountains in Arkansas; a place surrounded by the most gorgeous natural beauty in the world.  As my instincts suggested, it would be impossible to hike those hills, and not be inspired to write some unique panels.  At one point I was working with eight different top illustrators and writing from 30-100 cartoons per day (not all great albeit but usually 3-5 were marketable).

There’s a lot more to the story. I pretty much took a permanent break around 2001 to return to college and study business as it applies to the Internet at Western Governors.  The professors were fantastic and I learned things that were pragmatic enough to bring into the workplace and facilitate the same or next day.

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I never thought during my pursuit of my own happiness I’d meet the woman of my dreams, Lee Hiller-London , whom I’d eventually marry and as it turns out she, too, loves to hike in the same mountains, and is a wonderful artist and photographer and is building her own brand based on her art and nature/wildlife photography.  We both love what we do and never get bored.  When I was young I used to jokingly say that might happen to me one day; but I never really believed it.  Lee and I have been married since June 18, 2010.

We’ve changed our lifestyles dramatically.  We’re vegans.  We mountain hike 3 or so days a week.  We’re out in nature all the time.  We’re active with animals and the environment.  We have a good life.

I guess there is a moral to this story; several actually.

We are not our last mistake nor are we an accumulation of all the mistakes we have made.

It is never to late and start right where we are and begin working on our dreams.  I was 44.

There will be obstacles and naysayers, lots of them.  And that’s all they are; and best left ignored, or not ignored but looked at as teachers.

There are those who say “Never quit no matter what”. I say that’s foolish. I say quit every single time you feel fatigued, tired, uninspired, etc. It can be from 5 minutes to 5 years (or more).   In my case I needed more knowledge, hence school.

Oh, in the middle of school, I started receiving emails, mails, phone calls etc from every major charity, religious organization, private school, animal cause, environmental cause etc. all wanting autographed cartoons.

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I thought it was some kind of joke.  Finally friends started congratulating me. Why?  For having Google’s #1 ranked offbeat cartoons and gifts.  Several years later also Bing’s #1; and have remained #1 on both search engines since Jan. 2005.

I guess my point is, if I can launch a creative venture mid-life, anybody can.  Please remember 17 years has gone by like a flash so if you plan to start, please get started.

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Rick London is an author, designer and cartoonist.  He is best known for his #1 ranked LTCartoons.com offbeat cartoons and funny gifts Londons Times Cartoons. He is married to popular nature photographer Lee Hiller London who runs the popular blog Hike Our Planet.

3+ Years With The World’s Best Wife & Living In Paradise by Rick London

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I get asked every now and again how I met my beloved wife Lee Hiller-London. I know it sounds “iffy” but we met on Twitter about four years ago and have been married for three years.   We worked together on a project designed to get a Presidential Medal Of Freedom to Dame Elizabeth Taylor. It’s a long story.  Though we didn’t succeed, we created a lot of buzz on Twitter and the White House even called me to “Stop The Campaign”.  That’s an “LOL”.  They were mad.

One of the White House PR outreach interns had given me an important private mailbox that filled up rather rapidly and was overflowing.  I cooperated and stopped the campaign.  We did manage to get the story worldwide with a Reuter’s Wire hit which was fun.    Don’t even ask how it happened.  Neither of us are celebrities (to my knowledge).  But it was fun and we learned a lot rubbing elbows with several.

Lee, a former Power seller of EBay, had finally closed her store when EBay came under new management and the huge crowds that used to be there to buy vintage goods (which was her specialty) had virtually dried up.  EBay Motors and expensive electronics seemed to be all that was left selling there.

The town is made up of probably 60%+ of tourists who fell in love with it and moved here.  I was one of those, as was Lee.  It is easy and fun to call home now. We live right on the edge of the 2nd oldest National Park in America and hike and commune with nature often.  We’ve seen every kind of animal and wildflower imaginable.

Lee had a lot of talent and willingness to learn.  I had returned to school and studied Business Information Management at Western Governors University as a nontraditional adult student about fifty years old.  I think BIM amounts to learning how to navigate the Internet, SEO, social media, pinging, etc.  I am still not sure what all I learned, but I seemed to learn it well.  Digital design was one of the many things.

Lee had been an expert seamstress growing up, so her ability to learn digital design watching me came naturally and she got much better than me at it and had thousands of items in the marketplace within a few months.  I was very proud.  Her items were selling well.  We were designers for household names (Hollywood celebrities) and for our own lines.  We loved, and still love working together, and share the same living room office overlooking Hot Springs Mountain.

June 18th is our anniversary. We’ve now been married a little over three years and I love Lee now more than I did in our courting days.  We’ve learned a lot of things.  We both work in the arts and letters so contrary to what traditional society used to say, the liberal arts was a very good choice of majors.  We work in the same living room office. Sometimes hours go by where we barely say a word but we can “feel each other there”. 

And we have our own little private code symbols to remind the other we’re still here.  To the average couple in which the intense concentration of design is not part of their lives, they might think, “What’s wrong with them?”  And the answer is, “They are supporting each other in their work.  When they’re finished they  will talk…..or hike….or do tai chi, or go to a gallery or museum, or a combination of more than one of those.

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One thing we like to do is communicate to each other on social media.  We once used facebook often but we found it was eroding our motivation to do business so we’ve cut it back to weekends and a lot more work gets done.  This decision was made for summers (since our businesses are so seasonable) and it gives us a chance to design more items; otherwise, though we love our old friends and new ones we’ve met on facebook, if we had our druthers, we’d spend all the time with them.  But we work for ourselves and are our toughest bosses, hence we sometimes make major decisions.

On the other hand we can keep our Tweetdeck open for Twitter. Since 90% of what we do on Twitter is automated and pre-scheduled, we don’t have to spend a lot of time on it.  The only time we do is if a message comes to us that needs answering and one of our associates is not able to answer it.  This may seem mercenary, odd and unfriendly, but actually it is the opposite.  Our friends and followers of our brands have come to expect quality, and for us to provide quality (since we design our own), it takes time, concentration, and the ability to push it through to the marketplace.

There are several schools of thought regarding social media.  When Lee and I started Twitter we did personally interact with a lot more than we do now.   We enjoyed it and still do enjoy it the occasional times we do it.  Lee has a great deal of followers who enjoy discussing nature with her. 

A lot of our business overlaps.  We both do digital designing.  We both work with a lot of the same manufacturers.  When we have an issue or a problem, we know we can talk to each other about it and try to remedy it.  And often it is remedied in a timely fashion as we both understand the issue.

I realize not every couple has this luxury (of working together, living together, loving each other and creating together.   So if a couple asks advice on how we do what we do, I honestly wouldn’t have an answer.  But I do have a theory based on what we’ve done and built.  Try to find things that you have in common with your significant other.  When ground rules are made, make sure to follow them.  Don’t make them for one and not the other. 

Make plans to do things together that you enjoy.  A couple does not have to spend a fortune to love each other; in fact the opposite.  Both of us have performed plastic surgery on our credit cards and pay as we go with cash or debit cards.  We barter when need be.  I’ve bartered my first 8 years (bartered 99% of the time) of my cartoon business.  Lee is at a point, and the economy is ripe for more businesses open to barter and she’s learned it fast.  I still barter when I can, but nothing like what I did to keep my cartoons alive in the early stage of the project.  Barter sustained me when I first started. I had no money.   There are still products and services that are not within my budget that, though I can do without and often do, more often than not, I can barter; and it is always a win-win.

Lee and I hike together, photograph wildlife and photography together (she’s teaching me how), and do as much as we can of things in which we both have an interest.   And that doesn’t mean going out every weekend.

We both love oldies music and discovered Herman’s Hermits, The Grass Roots & The Buckinghams will be playing at Oaklawn Theater next month and we definitely plan to go.    That doesn’t sound like a big deal but to us it is.  And it’s just another fun memory we’ll be able to discuss for years.

Create memories.  Good ones.  Life itself can create the bad ones for you but don’t take them seriously.  Health, economy, etc. etc. all create memories (not necessarily good ones) that are not very much within our control.  The trick is to not take those too seriously, but take them seriously enough to take care of them, and go out of one’s way to create the positive ones.

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Speaking of health, when Lee moved to Arkansas, she was way out of shape and had some extra pounds on her.  She does not mind me telling that, especially that now she has (not dieted) but changed her lifestyle to vegan and is hiking often.  All her old clothes are at the Salvation Army because her new ones are size small to medium and her waste is a 25.  All that happened within 3 years.   Her skin is smooth and young and she wears very little makeup when she wears any at all.

It’s also contagious; no not the cosmetics behavior (I never wear lipstick for instance) J  but the motivation to regain one’s health, shed pounds and clear the arteries.  Both of us have been on the vegan diet (Lee for 3 years and I have for 2 years) and more and more of it is raw food, and nearly always organic. 

Again, I’m not suggesting an individual clones the other.  Lee has plenty of things that she does on her own of which are “within her domain” and don’t interest me, and vice versa, and that’s healthy.

My point, and theory is, so many couples we know focus on their differences, and of course there are and will be differences.  We have decided to focus, not on our differences, (there are plenty), but on our “same-nesses” and how grateful we are to have the life we have.   And that makes our relationship and lives a success, not how much money we make (some months we make plenty and others we’re like dorm students), not how many friends we have (we have friends all over the world, but the friends we see the most often have wings or four legs), etc. 

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And life remains very good. I love you Baby.  

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Rick London is an author, songwriter, cartoonist and designer.  He founded the #1 offbeat cartoons and funny gifts Londons Times in 1997.  It’s been top ranked by Google since 2005 and Bing since 2008. His wife Lee is a popular nature photographer and runs the popular nature blog Hike Our Planet.  She also designs gifts and collectibles from her photography and art and showcases them at her various home decor  and clothing shops such as Lee Hiller Designs.  Both are avid outdoorspersons and stewards for Hot Springs National Park which they hike and take care of weekly. 

 

 

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What Becomes A Legend Least? Fur, Dentistry, And Old Friends by Rick London

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  Lately, it seems, so much can happen in a week, sometimes monumental things that can turn one’s life upside down; one has to wonder if it is bad karma, rancid caramel, Cara Mia Why (you have to be old enough to remember that oldie song pun),  or just life.   As I talk to other friends who prefer their lives to be as drama-free as possible, I am convinced it is “just life”.

       Though I realize from the writings of Emerson, Thoreau, and some of the other masters, events “that happen to us” are really neither bad, nor good; but how we perceive the experience.  Emerson, possibly the first of the transcendentalists claimed we could more or less train our souls to “let go” of our bodies and look down at what occurs, both “good” and “bad” with amusement.  I admire Emerson’s writings greatly, but he wrote them before people got shot with sub machine guns in the streets, and mechanical dental care.

      Though I was not shot by a submachine gun, I was shot several times with Novocain, and even under the influence of nitrous oxide, I was unable to use Emerson’s little tricks and did not find it amusing in the least.  The pain was as I’d remembered the last time I had dental work. I had to wonder if waterboarding could be so horrid.

       Did I mention the fact two teeth had to be surgically extracted and the open wound became infected within a couple of days?  So I was back at the dentist last Friday to take care of that issue.

      Did I also mention that Dr. Eddy chews tobacco and spits when he works.  I keep thinking when he says “Spit”; he’s going to spit at the same time just to make the patient more comfortable.  Doesn’t work.   He is an excellent dentist and a graduate of the University Of Tennessee dental school back when it was the #1 dental school in the country. I guess he does the tobacco thing to “instill confidence” and “make the patient feel more comfortable”.  Perhaps if he’d added a bluegrass band in the background, I’d have bought into the “theme park dental room” but only top 40 pop and country hits played over the overhead speaker system.

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       That was not the worst of my week.  A very close friend suddenly informed my wife and I she was going into the fur business; which is a big no no with me, my wife, my friends, and hers.  We did everything possible to discourage her; that it involves animal cruelty beyond words, but to no avail.  Even the fact that the entire country of Israel has now banned the fur trade, Ireland is scheduled to ban it this year, and Harrods (owned by some guy from Qatar) is the only department store that sells fur in London. The market trend tells the story. In any case,  we didn’t quit loving our friend, or vice versa, and again, I can’t imagine floating through the air in an Emersonesque way, watching innocent creatures crammed in cages, often skinned alive, and taken to market; all in the name of vanity and hubris.  It hurts to discover a friend had such an agenda, didn’t give us a clue, and then went forward with it.  She plays the victim at every turn; and possibly is. She showed no signs of a need to be cruel to animals in order to profit until she started an association with a famous singer, now pretty much on her way down; she never made it that big, but now people barely remember her. Our friend is enamored by her and is very successful, for which we are proud. She’s a hard worker.  I imagine this will be her downfall, and it won’t be a pretty one. Karamel Korn, karma or whatever is a b****.

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       With so much negativity around someone what do they do?  One thing at a time. To nip the dental problem in the bud, it was simply a matter of going to the dentist, let him inflict his pain and spit his tobacco, take my prescribed meds, and relax in my living room. Oh, I can work a bit because its at my computer.

      How does one handle an animal-killing friend?  They simple let-go and grieve the loss of that friend.  In a lot of ways it feels like a death in the family, and in other ways it feels like a total betrayal that someone so close to us would enter such a dirty nasty business.  Fur is an outdated product and nobody has a valid reason to wear it in this day and time, except to pump up their very low self esteem and overblown ego, and is willing to do so at the expense of torturing animals that are mothers, babies, etc.  Aside from feeling like a death in the family, it also feels like such a relief, not having to deal with that kind of deception and insanity. And that is, what it is.  Animal cruelty for profit.

      My dentist is cruel merely by the accident of his profession and I have come to expect it.  He does his very best not to be and sedates me as much as he can while drilling, prodding, etc to make it hurt less.  A furrier is cruel merely on purpose, to skin the precious fur off that innocent animal that causes the same kind of pain as if a human had his/her skin peeled off. 

      A year from now, I will wonder what all the pain was about the week of September 28 through October 5, 2011.  I will have a whole new set of issues, problems, etc., and what I’m concerned about today will be but a vague memory.   But hopefully, if nothing else, I will have all my teeth intact and in good shape. 

      And I will be grateful that my beloved wife Lee Hiller-London and I live on the edge of the most beautiful park in the country, Hot Springs National Park, where, by law, not one single animal can be abused, touched, shot, skinned or anything else.  When Theodore Roosevelt created the National Park system, he was thinking of people like our ex-friend. He knew human hubris would always exist, and innocent animals with no voice did not have any legal rights or defense against them.  Thanks to him, now they do.  Our animals, who we consider our friends and neighbors, will have their fur intact for their entire lifespan.  And about a million people annually visit to see them and the gorgeous forest that is their home, and ours. 

      Have you ever heard of one person receiving that many worldwide visitors to see them wearing an animal fur?  I didn’t think so. A woman today, showcasing an animal on her body reminds one of a woman walking down the street smoking.  It is impossible to tell which is more gross; one just knows they are both very gross.  The woman in the fur is simply a woman with low-self esteem, overblown ego, and waiting for Godot.   The animals in our forest truly are “What Becomes A Legend Most”.  

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Rick London is a freelance writer and designer living in the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas.  He founded Londons Times Cartoons & Gifts which have been Google’s #1 ranked since 2005.  His offbeat cartoons site features 5000+ images and his stores featuring funny tees and gifts over 1/4 million items.  He also founded Shoes That Amuse, the world’s only famous love quotes shoes and gifts.