This cartoonist’s job is to find the funny

This cartoonist’s job is to find the funny
Cartoonist Scott Chambers works on a single-panel cartoon at his Carlsbad home. He’s drawn 7,000 cartoons, which have appeared in national magazines, books and newspapers, including The Coast News. Courtesy photo

CARLSBAD — The world can be a funny place, depending on how it’s looked at — and who is doing the looking.

A cartoonist, Scott Chambers, armed with a pen, paper and a desk, sets down every day with his sole intent: to amuse.

“If they’re not funny, then to me, it hasn’t achieved its mission,” said Chambers, a longtime cartoon contributor to The Coast News’ op-ed page. It’s been more than 15 years since his cartoons began appearing in the newspaper.

He began drawing while attending college in Washington State and became a professional cartoonist in the early ‘90s after he sold his first single-panel cartoon to National Review.

Before that, the Carlsbad resident had borne a wide perspective of culture having traveled, worked and lived around the world.

With degrees in elementary education, history and school administration, Chambers spent six years working on Indian reservations, which proved to be an eye-opener, he said, because of the culture clashes he witnessed.

For years he worked and lived in New Delhi, Saudi Arabia, China and Norway before coming back to the States.

During those times, though, he continued his drawings, but admitted it wasn’t a lot.

By 1993, Chambers was back to drawing cartoons regularly, trying to find his style and get published.

He found his style almost by default, he explained. At first, he tried complicated drawings, but those were too time consuming for him to do.

“I had to sort of settle for something fairly simple, in order to have it work,” he said.

Chambers took influence from Sam Gross (a regular cartoon contributor to the New Yorker magazine). He described Gross as “not a great artist but a great cartoonist.”

Chambers is too quick to point out he’s no artist, either.

And while the New Yorker is still a goal for him to have his work published in, the unassuming Chambers, who does cartooning full-time now, said it’s just a part of his life.

“I’m not driven, as a career matter, to see it become something very large,” he said. “On the other hand, if people would buy my books, that would be nice.”

He remembers fondly the moment his first nationally published work appeared in print. Standing out front of his mailbox, he flipped through the publication and stopped on the page where his cartoon was, feeling a sense of satisfaction.

He still has that publication.

Early in his cartooning career he framed his published works and set them on his desk — a little bit out of pride, a little bit as a spur of encouragement to do more.

But now, all of his published materials fill the drawers of file cabinets. After well more than a decade of cartooning, Chambers doesn’t need that spur of encouragement anymore — and there were getting to be too many frames on his desk, he joked.

Chambers tries to complete one cartoon a day, which could take from beginning to end, about two hours — that could also include the idea part of it, too.

With his wife Elnora, an internationally recognized quilter, and their dog Wiley, a 16-year-old mutt that might be a wire-haired dachshund mixed with a Chihuahua, the two do help with the fleshing out of cartoons if needed — one as a sounding board, the other a character that sporadically makes appearances, respectively.

To date, he’s done about 7,000 cartoons.

That means a lot of ideas.

Some come from contrived sources as watching the news, but the best ones are the ideas that just pop into his head, he explained.

“The best ones are the ones that just pop into your head, whole,” he said. “I don’t think that’s something you have control over. You can make up cartoons if you sit and think about it, but those aren’t usually the best ones.”

He recalled one of his drawings that became an early viral hit as the internet began to hit its stride.

The cartoon, Chambers described, depicted people lined up at two booths. One booth had a sign that read, “Unpleasant Truths,” the other booth had a sign that read, “Comforting lies.”

The booth offering the unpleasant truths didn’t have any one in line, and there’s a really, really long line at the comforting lies booth.

“Funny thing is, though, whenever anybody reads that, they assume they’re one of the ones who are willing to face the unpleasant truths. That’s the whole deal. That’s the humor,” he said. “That’s one of my favorite ones.”

Editorial cartoonists have the modern day role of the medieval court jester, he explained.

“It’s sort of keeping the people in power reminded that they’re humans,” he said.

But Chambers was quick to point out that he doesn’t see himself as an editorial cartoonist.

He’s a cartoonist.

Editorial cartoons, he explained, have a short life span, but cartoons on the human condition — there’s no real time limit on those. They’re keepers.

His sense of humor comes as dry as the dust, he said.

He doesn’t know where it comes from, he said, adding that his dad had a dry sense of humor, though.

His 90-year-old mom has a sense of humor, he explained, though she just wants to laugh. “So she’ll find humor in almost anything.”

Most people, he added, wouldn’t have said his father was a very funny guy because his humor was so dry. And sometimes when he made a joke it would go right past whomever he told it to.

“I’d know he was joking, he’d know he was joking,” Chambers said.

“Humor’s a funny deal,” he said. “A very personal, idiosyncratic sort of thing.”

“If something makes me chuckle, then I think there’s a cartoon there,” he said. “There isn’t always. But usually if I chuckle I think there’s a cartoon in that.”

Politics is another story, however.

“I don’t really think politics is very funny — every now and then there’s something that comes up that’s pretty obviously funny, but most of the time what you see people doing is sort of contrived by itself. It’s the same joke over and over,” he said.

Though as with anything else, cartoons can have the power to offend.

“You can’t not offend,” Chambers said. “It’s not possible to not offend because almost anything you do, in almost any field, someone will find offensive. So the whole idea that you can have free speech as long as it’s not offensive is self-negating to me. You have to admit, if you’re going to have free speech, that people will be offended.

“I’m not a great fan of the idea of censorship. Even things that offend me I don’t suggest should not be printed,” he said.

Chambers has published three books of his work and are available online at SHChambers.com.

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