Mike Twohy, Creator of That's Life

25 July 2003

   Drawing his inspirations in a local coffee shop or at home with his bird on his shoulder is the usual for cartoonist Mike Twohy. He is the successful creative force behind countless cartoons appearing in The New Yorker magazine and daily and Sundays through his That’s Life comic panel in newspapers.

    Mike Twohy was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay area. He was part of a creative family – his parents were tech company managers in a Silicon Valley company, “before the term ‘high tech’ came into use. They later managed a fine arts lithography press in San Francisco.” The talented family background continued, with a cartooning uncle who also was a writer of television and magazine mysteries, and another uncle and an aunt who were painters.

    But wait… the creative spirit doesn’t end there. Mike Twohy’s wife is a professional musician and artist who “has been a true partner and collaborator in all aspects of my career.” He also has kids who are “comics experts and join in our quite intense editing sessions.” With a list of gifted people like this, the Twohy family must have colourful palettes flowing through their veins instead of plain old blood cells.

    As one of those kids that drew on everything in sight, Mike Twohy has always cartooned. He made his own newspaper as a kid and, in keeping with newspaper styles, he drew full comics pages with cartoons of different varieties. He bravely submitted a comic strip to a syndicate when only 11 years old; he was tickled with the rejection letter addressed to “Mr. Twohy.”

    The growing cartoonist continued drawing, sketching a sports cartoon for The Palo Alto Times. Later, he took on the unusual summer job of illustrating math workbooks while in college. Twohy studied first at San Jose State University and then progressed to the University of California at Berkeley. He earned an MFA in painting in 1973 with plans to be a fine artist and teacher.

    The plans didn’t last too long. Since Twohy’s artwork was of a pop-art flavour with cartoon aspects, he had no fear in replying to a bulletin board notice of a gag writer looking for a cartoonist to draw out his ideas. *(1) The cartoons were submitted and rejected, but Twohy was hooked. The artist-turned-cartoonist began submitting work to magazines, finding acceptance in TV Guide, Audubon, Esquire and others, including Vegetarian Times. His work has appeared regularly in The New Yorker since 1980.

    That’s Life, Mike Twohy’s syndicated panel, is recognizable as his unique penmanship. The line work is simple and clear, the gags immediately visible and funny. One of his latest cartoons (July 23/03) is a fine example: the panel holds a door with letters denoting “Quality Control.” The last “L” has slipped and is hanging askew.


It is classic Twohy work – taking the usual and finding the funny. That’s Life slipped easily into syndication in 1999. The panel, with a sleek magazine style, was accepted without much difficulty. “The Washington Post Writers Group was interested in syndicating a general humour panel of mine when I first showed it to the editor there. I guess one of the lucky ones,” Twohy said in the Washington Post’s Live Online Chat in January 2003. *(2)

    Mike Twohy uses events of real life as his inspiration for both the freelance magazine work and That’s Life. Along with the sounds of talk radio in his studio in Berkeley, California, the cartoonist uses several coffee shops to come up with his hilarious cartoons. He gets different ideas as different shops, “If I don’t come up with ideas at one place, I’ll move on to another coffee house.” He finds it easier to concentrate on his cartooning away from home, more like going to a workplace. Twohy does his work by hand, using pen tip in ink, and he colours his Sunday strips by hand with colour pens and watercolours. The old-fashioned way, he calls it, like an “Eleventh Century monk.”

    And that bird on Mike Twohy’s shoulder? It’s a four-year-old pet cockatiel. The Twohy family also has a cat and a 140-pound indoor Newfoundlander. Bet that big pooch provides a lot of comic inspiration, too.

Thank you to Mike Twohy for providing some of the information for this article.   SM

Cartooning News: That's Life ended on December 5, 2005. The strips are now in reruns.

Visit the comics.com site for a daily laugh with Mike Twohy:

A blurb on the Cartoonist Group:
*(1)http://www.cartoonistgroup.com/properties/thatslife/about.php? cartoonistgroup=af2df6a9a7b3d80d19f1d6212fda82e7

The Washington Post’s Live Online Chat with the cartoonist:
*(2) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/liveonline/03/regular/ style/comics/r_style_comics011703.htm

Have a look at Mike Twohy’s The New Yorker cartoons:

© Susanna McLeod 2003
(Originally published in The Cartoonists on suite101.com.)