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Life in a Cartoon World

“A picture is worth a thousand words.”  Like the old adage says, an image can usually tell a story better than words.  Of course, storytelling in any form is as old as human beings. Comics or cartoons, humorous ways of telling stories, have been popular since the 1930’s, and many people still look forward to the “Sunday Comics” in local newspapers.

Today, comics are not only seen in newspapers, they also appear in magazines and, more recently, on the internet.

As a child growing up in New Jersey, I loved to read the Sunday comics. I never dreamed that I would be helping to create one.  Of course, that was before I met my husband.

The origins of our little “comic” or cartoon actually began 47 years ago. My husband, James, an artist from the time he was three years old, used to doodle and create little caricatures of people around him.

Years later, when I was a teenager, I traveled up to Canada to meet my pen-pal.  I know that it sounds cliche, but when I first saw James, he was so handsome that he took my breath away.  As I got to know him, however, what really attracted me was his quiet, kind, and witty personality. Since we lived 500 miles apart, we began exchanging letters to keep in touch.

Back in 1979, we didn’t have email, texting or cheap long distance; only “snail mail.”  In his letters, James would regularly draw caricatures of himself or me. As I said, one of the things I loved about James was his quiet humor, illustrated well in this cartoon from one of our early letters (1979) with the words “Keep pulling I’m just passing Syracuse:”Or this wonderful collection of “people” on the back on one of his letters to me (dated April, 1980):

When James and I were married in 1982, we decided that we wanted to create our own Christmas card every year, a card that would in some way share our current story. Many families send out newsy “Christmas letters.” Instead, we tell our family’s story by creating and sending original cards. Our kids, no matter what the age, could always and easily figure out who was who because my husband has a brilliant ability to draw us in cartoon fashion. These images are from our 1992 and 2001 cards:

In 2006, after seeing the cartoon portrait sketch of our family on our website (at beginning of this post), the editor of Family Foundations Magazine approached us and asked if we might be willing to create an original cartoon for the magazine.

My husband is a busy high school arts teacher who works 70 hour weeks. He said, “Ellie, I’ll agree to do this if you come up with the ideas…”

So the agreement was that for each cartoon we were contracted to create, I would present James with four or five ideas and he would decide which one he would draw. That is the process we use and no matter what ideas I give to him, he always makes it funnier and more entertaining.

So how do I come up with ideas? Family Foundations often has a theme. Since CCL is an NFP organization, these themes usually center around NFP and parenting. Most of our ideas, however, come from personal experience.

How many times have we as mothers tried to get housework done and our toddlers wanted to help (if only I could get them to be this enthusiastic now that they’re teenagers!)

Or the times we stayed in a hotel with all the kids:

Or when we’ve had a priest over to dinner:

Or when I tried to talk to an unfamiliar physician about my cycle:

While our cartoons currently appear regularly in Family Foundations, occasionally we receive requests from bloggers, writers or publishers to use our cartoons in publications. Both of these images will be included in an upcoming publication by Ascension Press:
James’ talent for drawing us in caricature has made us “famous” at Couple to Couple League functions. A few years ago, at the last CCL Convention in Wisconsin, a woman ran up to James and I and said, “You guys look just like your cartoons!” A few times, people pointed, waved and said, “We love your cartoons!”

We’re grateful for the opportunity to create unique cartoons. Our “Life in a cartoon world” has become a wonderful way to share our story and to promote Catholic teachings on marriage, family and sex.

Ellen Gable Hrkach is an award-winning, bestselling author of four books. She can be found online at her blog, CatholicMom.com, AmazingCatechists.com, CatholicFiction.net and numerous other websites. Her first novel, Emily’s Hope, is the fictionalized story of her conversion and how she met her husband. She and her husband have been certified NFP teachers with the Couple to Couple League since 1984, and have been actively involved in marriage preparation since 1983. They are the parents of five sons ages 12-24 and live in Pakenham ON Canada.

Text copyright Ellen Gable Hrkach
Cartoons copyright Full Quiver Publishing/James and Ellen Hrkach
Anyone interested in using any of these images, please contact FQP: info@fullquiverpublishing.com

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  • Misty - I was reading this and thinking, “Wow…500 miles apart, writing to each other, etc….that sounds just like the couple I just read about!” And it was! 😉 Loved the book about Catholic couples and REALLY love this post! I had actually sent your cartoon about barrier methods to my husband recently and had no idea who the author was! Thanks for this…I just LOVE the cartoons and it is so wonderful to see our faith represented with humor.February 17, 2012 – 11:53 amReplyCancel

  • Ellen Gable Hrkach - Thanks, Misty! I’m so glad you enjoyed the book, this post and the cartoons!February 17, 2012 – 12:32 pmReplyCancel

  • Laura - Oh, My Goodness! Your cartoons are great! I am a CCL teacher also!February 18, 2012 – 5:14 amReplyCancel

  • Ellen Gable Hrkach - Thanks, Laura! I’m happy you like the cartoons. That’s cool that you’re also a CCL-NFP teacher!February 18, 2012 – 2:40 pmReplyCancel

  • RAnn - I love the barrier method oneFebruary 18, 2012 – 9:03 pmReplyCancel

  • Kathleen Basi - That is so much fun! Thanks for sharing this story, Ellen. And I have to say, it *is* uncanny, how much you look like your cartoon selves. 🙂 I think that one with the doctor visit is my all-time favorite. 🙂February 18, 2012 – 9:05 pmReplyCancel

  • Colleen - Great post and I love the cartoons!February 19, 2012 – 10:10 amReplyCancel

  • Ellen Gable Hrkach - Thanks, RAnn, Kate and Colleen! The barrier cartoon is one of our most popular cartoons, but NFP teachers also like the one with the doctor.February 19, 2012 – 5:08 pmReplyCancel

  • Michelle - Ellen, I just love your story and your cartoons! I can so relate to all of them and you tell the story of family life so well. Thank you for sharing yours and James’ talents with us all!February 19, 2012 – 9:43 pmReplyCancel

  • Ellen Gable Hrkach - You’re welcome, Michelle! Thank you so much for commenting!February 21, 2012 – 8:38 amReplyCancel

  • robbie - Always enjoy your cartoons, but the “barrier” one is particularly relevant. : ) Wow–your husband started this at age three???February 23, 2012 – 2:45 pmReplyCancel

  • Ellen Gable Hrkach - Yes, Robbie, my husband began drawing and painting at age three! His mother could see he had talent at that age!March 2, 2012 – 10:13 amReplyCancel

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