LTCartoons Is 22 Years Old. This Is How You Do It by Rick London c2019

These days, I probably move a little slower, my hearing is not as good, and my fashion statement includes 2 pair of navy sweats that fit fairly well.  

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I launched Londons Times Offbeat Cartoons and Funny Gifts on March 19, 1997 (22 years ago).  Most of you know the odd story of how I decided and where I got started.  Without going into detail, I’d not recommend my beginnings to anyone, but if you are working without much cash, and zero community support,  sometimes it’s the only way.  Bare bones.  

22  years later I look around at my positive environment; an attractive yet modest mountain residence overlooking Hot Springs Mountain and the cascade waterfall.  I turn around and there’s my beautiful supportive humble wife, Lee (Hiller-London) who I’ve said from the start is the “real talent in the house”…and that is true.  Her nature photography and  are truly worth seeing as are her designer gift shops. (Hike Our Planet and LeeHiller.Com). 

I love Hot Springs.  It felt like the home I never had.   Once the residents get to know you awhile, they are your neighbors, friends, and supporters.  This is a magic place, and with so much easy-access to natural beauty, one can’t help but be inspired to create.  

Lee agrees. She is a native of Portland, Or. and has an amazing work ethic which is contagious.  At this point in any creative venture it is easy to become burned-out, bored, anxious, wanting to go back to school, wanting to commit to a newer bigger better project….yada yada yada.  But I procrastinate and the years pass. 

However, I am on the first draft of my autobiography.  For some reason, I’ve been stuck on page 90-something for several months.  Am not sure why, but writer’s block happens, especially when I’m wearing numerous hats.  I will have it published by next year.  I have talked to several people who make movies who have seen the “elevator pitch” of my story and are interested. 

As a human with feelings, I believe it to be a story that should be told.  As an autistic, diagnosed at age 60, but abused to the point of cPTSD as a child by being made to live in an attic (“bedroom”) away from the rest of my family,  I believe it is a  story that must be told.

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I’ve never really talked about the creative process (when I used to write a lot of blogs).  Maybe this is a good time to do so.

First and foremost, I don’t have a clue how creativity works.  I have, however, learned how it works best for me.  I have tried a lot of different things over the years.  I have observed that what works for me does not necessarily work for everyone else, and vice versa.  But many of my kindred creative friends/spirits pretty much have adopted similar elements in their own endeavors.  

I have noticed a lot of people are very competitive in the cartoon and comic gift business but I don’t use that approach.  I love watching people be creative and successful.  I look at it as an “inspirational roadmap”. 

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I also believe the more that become successful, the more interest people take in this “therapeutic millisecond” called “comics”.   It’s therapy for us too.

I say us because LTCartoons.com is a team.  Not all cartoonists draw their own cartoons.  The one I learned about first was Walt Disney through an early caring “phone mentor” Charles “Sparky” Schulz of Snoopy fame.

It’s a long story.  We love doing it and I’ve worked with numerous talented illustrators nearly a decade such as Tom Kerr and Sergey Rudenko. While I can draw a little, not well enough for the vision I had/have for LTCartoons. So we’re a team of a writer/concept man and illustrators. 

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In my early days I worked with illustrator Rich Diesslin for about a decade.  We continue to associate for the occasional deals that come our way.  Rich also managed my site.  I was a latecomer to the Internet and didn’t know html from IBM. Rich has three cartoon properties of his own now with some great “creative real estate” there. 

These illustrators are amazing talents and I get the special privilege of working with them simply because I can “think of funny things”.  Thinking of funny things was how I survived growing up with Autism, and not understood by many.  Now I don’t have to use it as a defense mechanism but as a creative outlet that keeps me productive and is often useful (friends tell me).

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Another “trick” to the trade is keeping ones body and mind in as good a shape as possible.  We don’t use drugs (except the ones I have to take to stay alive…I have congestive heart failure, type 2 diabetes, peripheral neuropathy …My “hidden Hippa” looks like an organ recital.  Drinking is also a no-no as is tobacco (even vaping) in our lives.  Lee and I even gave up coffee (our last holdout) several years ago and never looked back.

I will admit to non-perfection in that I often find myself home from the grocery with tons of organic foods and several 2-litre bottles of Pepsi Zero but other than that……

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We’re both vegans and have been about 8 years or so;  Lee a year longer than me.

I don’t mention all this for bragging rights or to be condescending, but as a prelude to the fact that my creative abilities have increased, rather than decreased over the years (I’m told). 

One is never too old to start that creative venture they’ve been hiding away for years or even decades. 

The moral of my story is, “Don’t necessarily do what I do”.  I may change some or all of that in the next decade.  But for now, I easily see, as hokey as it sounds, the more I do it, the more something that might be described as a “creative channel” opens and I pull out a pen and pad and write it.

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(Above Cartoon is a collaboration with Rich Diesslin)

As Lee might tell you, it’s often during a hike that one “comes to me”.  So nature plays a big part in freeing me of cobwebs that so easily block that creative channel.

I know it is cliché’ to say but thank YOU for LTCartoons.com.  I never thought I’d be doing what I’m doing.   It has been your support and encouragement that has been a major factor in “my little project” turning into something I enjoy doing.

I remember early steps including surfing the web and researching even though there wasn’t much there.  I also found masters in the trade (Sparky Schulz was but one of them), and absorbed all I could.  

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If you want to turn your new hobby into a business, the net is full of wonderful articles and the SBA offers excellent webinar classes that offer a lot of useful information.   

Ready to do a creative project of your own?   To borrow a phrase “just do it”.  And then keep doing it.   Find your own right way.   Lee does hers different than I do and that works for her.  In time, you’ll “find your groove”, if you’ve not already.


Rick London is a writer/cartoonist who lives with his wife Lee in the Ouachita Mountains Of Arkansas.  He considers his home Hot Springs.  He launched Londons Times Cartoons & Gifts in 1997.  It became Google #1 ranked in 2005 and has been ever since.  His offbeat cartoon website has attracted 8.9 million visits since 2005 and his Rick London Gifts Funny Giftshop remains #1 ranked.  

Blog: 20th Anniversary Of Londons Times Cartoons. How Did That Happen?

 

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Today is the 20th anniversary of the launch of Londons Times Cartoons and the time has zoomed by most of the time, and felt like walking through thick molasses at other times.  It almost seems like a dream, sometimes mostly entertaining and at other times a vivid nightmare.  In many ways it seemed like yesterday that I was back on my hometown in Ms, broke, without a job and no government assistance. My only resources were my wits and they were running dry.

I had been helping my mom in her final days of  cancer and selling television ads for a small television station whose employees reminded me of the characters in the sitcom WKRP Cincinnati. I’m not sure which one I was but definitely one too.

A friend owned a tin shed on the outskirts oftown; sort of like a small warehouse full of rotting cans of vegetables on makeshift wooden shelves he’d built on the wall in sort of a rural spot between two counties.

A can would explode every once in a while due to its contents fermenting and it being way past its expiration date.  My friend had also installed electricity, plumbing (but no bath or shower) and a phone line.   I bathed in the cold-water only sink.  I washed my stray dog Thor in it as well. Within months Thor found a friendly calico kitten meowing from a low branch outside who I also adopted. Somehow we managed.

Friends would come by and bring me meals or take me out to eat.  Those were exciting, fun, and frightening times.  I was but a tin wall from the outside elements.  For most that time I had no car. I slept on a concrete floor in a sleeping bag.  I bought and way overspent for an IBM Clone PC from a guy near Hot Coffee, Ms who bought old computers and fixed them.

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His garage was full of computers, parts, and tools.  He was asking $800. We settled on $600. I know now it was worth about $150, but for back then it was a bit of a workhorse and I was so naive about technology I hadn’t a clue that he probably would have taken much less for it.

The tin shed had a fenced-in acre and a half yard that overlooked I-59, the main road to New Orleans or in the other direction about 20 miles from The Free State Of Jones.

It was March 19, 1997, and I was a very late bloomer due to a number of issues and events, but the main one being a lifetime of un-diagnosed Autism and punished for it, mainly by family but also by community.  The family press release was very much like Joe Kennedy’s of Rosemary “Severe issues,  she needs to be locked away.”  As we learned much later, she was probably Autistic with mild depression.  She was extremely bright as her brothers.

The big question was,  “Could I ever get past those demons?  Could I ever get past being unwanted and put away in an attic bedroom with each of my friendships parentally controlled” and my being unwanted? Could I get past the pTSD and low self-esteem it caused?  Who was I to think I could be at the helm of a cartoon project (or any project for that matter)?

They say time flies when you’re having a good time. I can remember most of those times not being so fun for me.  In fact I was not sure if I would make it. By then my heart was giving out but I didn’t know it.

I also had vanus (a severe form of flat feet) but had been a long-distance runner and even completed two marathons from Lafayette to Crowley, La. in 1978 and 1979. When finally diagnosed at age 60, the doctors said I had been running (and walking) on “a bag of bones”.  I was fitted for orthotics which I wear daily. Vanus is inherited at birth.  My dad had it, but I was never checked for it until age 60. Lee noticed it first and saw it on a doctor’s site poster when I was getting a brace for tendinitis. The orthotic inserts have allowed me to walk without hurting for the first time, and even do high-mountain hikes with Lee. I’ve learned to love nature and wildlife.

Dial-up Internet was slow.  There was no Google, no Twitter or facebook, nor was there any social media.  There were forums and Yahoo!  Since I was a novice at the Internet, I didn’t know.  I bartered my way through the whole thing.

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I contacted cartoonists who had paved the way long before me.  While I could draw, I couldn’t draw to the level of which I wanted to to project in this project.  I wanted it  to be a “Dali meets The Far Side”,  a cartoon which could be appreciated as art. Sometimes that worked, sometimes not.

I can remember the most generous people with their time were Charles “Sparky” Schulz,  Leigh Rubin (Rubes) and also helpful were Dave Coverly “Speed Bump”, Jon McPherson “Close To  Home”  and several others.   It seemed the bigger they were, the most generous with their help.

So as per Sparky’s suggestion, I wrote the concepts and dialogue, and assigned them to my illustrative partner who rendered them.   He only did black and white for a long time but within a year I talked him into color.  That year a California tee company paid us $10,000 for the rights to 12 color images. We thought we’d arrived.

Though I made a number of barters, I don’t think we made another sale for another 4 or so years so we just kept creating cartoons. I continued to write them and tweak several I’d written years before.  I had a shoebox full from early college days.  My parents talked me out of doing anything with them so I kept them hidden away and finally used them.

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We made a few sales to academic publishers which never paid much but every little bit helped.

I was living out of my suitcase, which was a good thing since every now and again I was evicted. Friend’s couches or extra bedrooms became “my best friend”.  I always had to pay something but never much. I never needed a lot of space; just enough to type and talk on the phone.  God bless those who gave me a chance.

By the year 2000, we had close to 3000 cartoons (mostly color), but the unpredictable and dangerous lifestyle was taking its toll.   I had my first major heart attack in 2001, and another one in 2010 with three surgeries.  In between that time I had a vagus nerve stimulator implant installed to assist my vagus nerve to work properly.

In 2008 I met my later-to-be amazing wife Lee Hiller. She was (and is) a constant support.  She was with me during the 2010 surgeries which were touch and go. All the while she has been developing her own line of designer gifts LeeHillerDesigns.com and taking incredible nature photos (many on gifts) in our National Park in her blog titled HikeOurPlanet.com.  She’s an incredible person and talent.

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Londons Times Cartoons had been the Google  #1 ranked offbeat cartoon for 3 years. It has now been for the past 12+ years (since Jan 2005).  It is usually Bing’s #1 ranked too (though it tends to fluctuate there down to #4 or so). I’m happy with that given that on both engines there’s about a half million competing offbeat cartoons.

We put a counter up on my cartoon site in Jan. 2005 after Google first named it #1.  We were eight years old.  It shows we’ve now had about 8.9 million visitors worldwide.  That boggles my mind still. It is very easy to say “Look what I did all by myself” but that’s not how it  has been at all.  I have been but a cog in the wheel of amazing illustrators, managers, tekkies, vendors and Lee all of whom took the time to contribute to a project that had but a slim chance.   Alone,   I would surely have walked away from computers and try to learn something that didn’t require them.

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This year I learned I also have type-2 diabetes and she has gone right to work on helping me figure out a lifestyle diet that works. While it continues to be vegan, the portions are different as is some of the food variety.  We’ve beefed up the exercise/hiking (or we’ve  “soyed it up” as we don’t “beef” anything).

Today we sit with a gorgeous view of Hot Springs National Park from our office.  We see just about every type of flora and wildlife imaginable outside our window. Hawks and falcons fly by often. Squirrels greet us at the window along with a variety of birds and insects.

All the while we create our gift ideas using digital design on our computers.  While my cartoons are fun to put on items so are my “Famous Historical Quote Designs” which came much later.

We are going hiking later today on our favorite trail known for its deer and woodpeckers (and much more).

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Nature has been very good to  us and provided healing, not always so available in cities (where we have lived most our lives).

A well-known quote in the Autism world  is “The Internet does for Autistics what Braille has done for the blind and sign-language has done for the deaf”.   So I accidentally also found my tool for living, by being a part of the cartoon industry.  I would probably have never learned the Internet; as the Interest wasn’t there.   I developed a bit of interest when I returned to college at age 50 at WGU.EDU.  I learned a lot and Lee has taught me a great deal also.  I would have never have known it to be “my lifeline” as an Autistic.

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I was trying to sum things up and our good friend, Sally Jane Paulson in Norway did so for us with a Harper Lee quote she happened to post today.   I believe it tells the whole story. It’s  at the top of this story.

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Rick London is an author, gift designer and founder of Google #1 ranked offbeat cartoons and funny gifts Londons Times.  He is active with outdoors and environmental, animal, Autism and Veteran’s causes.