Cartoonist by night12/2/2015
“My nickname is Bucky. My real name is George. My mom didn’t want to call her little boy George, although she did agree to the name. My next oldest brother had an imaginary friend named Bucky. So they took the name from him and stuck it on me… I’ve been a mess ever since.”
If this was a cartoon character, his neck would be twisted around 360 degrees, there would be stars around his head, and his tongue would be trying to catch up with the rest of his face.
But not this morning.
The fit, slender, bright-eyed man energetically works the room. Bustling from small child to small child. Helping with jackets and hats over there, pulling chairs out over here, and then making a newcomer feel welcome around the table. With his hair pushed straight up from his forehead, and his wide glasses perched askew on his nose, he could be a slightly off-kilter 15-year-old boy. He’s not. Bucky Jones is an associate in the preschool program at Urbandale.
Ah, but by night, this 54-year-old is something quite different.
“I was raised in a military family. My dad was extremely strict. You couldn’t find a stricter man on the face of the earth. But at the same time, a very funny man with an off-color sense of humor, bathroom humor.”
Jones looks at me. Testing the waters. Will I be offended by bathroom humor? Just where do I stand on the absurd? Do I read Mad Magazine? He decides to plow ahead, unfazed.
“And so as a kindergartener, I remember sitting down with him and he would draw little pictures, but he would draw off-color, like dogs urinating on a fire hydrant. That’s what got me going. He made me laugh, and I remember thinking, ‘If I could do what he does, I could make people laugh.’ And that’s always been my drive.”
He pauses, collecting the strands of his early years.
“It is kindergarten when I started drawing. It quickly became my passion. Because in military families we would move every two years. So you gotta go make friends. The quickest way to do it is to just start drawing. The kids like to see you drawing. So that became like a friend-maker for me. So that’s where it all started.”
By high school, at Iowa City West, he was winning awards for his illustrations. College was also a big success. Although there were a few sceptics.
“When I went on to college at Truman State in Kirksville, Missouri, I told my art teacher that I draw cartoons. He said, ‘We are going to break you of that.’ ”
Jones grins and gives an aw-shucks shrug.
“So I brought my drawings to class, and he walked by, stopped, looked and said, ‘Maybe we can do something with this.’ He became a big supporter.”
After college, Jones did political cartoons for a stint but found it was not his strength.
“I’ve done political cartooning. But I realized I’m faking it. My heart was not in it. So I got out of that.”
But then he found his niche as a freelancer, generally doing humorous cartoons.
“The first job I ever did as a freelancer was for an agency in Cedar Rapids where I illustrated their materials. Their product was a device to help collect bull semen.”
“But I handled it in a tasteful manner.”
Should I laugh? Is he being serious? I can’t keep up.
“I always had work. My big break came in late 1987. Better Homes and Gardens decided to do children’s activities books. I ended up illustrating over 25 books for Better Homes and Gardens. And then later about 25 books for a book company formed by Cat Fancy and Dog Fancy Magazines.”
Unfortunately, with the advent of the Internet and cheap stock art, illustrators have taken a hit. Jones was no exception. So he picked up a part-time job with the Urbandale Schools and continues his passion the rest of the day and night, marketing illustrations for businesses and advertisers, and continuing to sell pet cartoons and drawings and holiday cards at buckjonesillustrator.com.
And your humor, has it gotten darker with the tougher economic times and the more violent world?
“This may sound corny, but if I can make people happy through what I draw, that is my driving thing. If I can draw something and put it in front of you and get a giggle or smile out of you, that is my reward.”
And your wife, what does she think of all this?
“Well, I really draw a lot of stuff to entertain my wife. Part of it is that’s how I courted Kim. She is the one person who has always appreciated everything I’ve drawn. I could draw something for her, she’ll act like it’s the first piece I’ve ever drawn for her. I take great pride in drawing something where I can make her laugh or smile or brighten her day. Listen, I know this sounds corny, I love being in love.
And that’s enough of that. Back to drawing he goes. Head bent down. Swift strokes on paper. Drawing while the rest of us sleep. Then eventually it’s time to pack away the drawing materials, the cape and the stronger-than-a-locomotive powers, catch some quick shut-eye, and then off to work with preschoolers in Urbandale.
Bucky Jones — associate teacher for preschoolers during the day, cartoonist by night. Superhero. CV
Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, he writes about the frequently overlooked people, places and events in Des Moines on his blog: www.joesneighborhood.com.