Rick Detorie, Creator of One Big Happy

21 March 2003

    Six-year-old Ruthie has snagged the hearts of comics fans. Sweet, curious and artistic, the endearing comic strip character has developed a growing following as part of the extended family in One Big Happy. Parents Frank and Ellen, grandparents Rose and Nick, eight- year-old brother Joe and assorted friends and neighbours fill out the cast of well-defined characters in this down- to-earth cartoon.

    Rick Detorie has carved out an enviable career for himself in the tough business of cartooning. His humour is every-day, gentle and so familiar to his readers. In an article in the King County Journal, Detorie said, “I’m not trying to promote any agendas. I just come up with situations, put the characters in and see how it works.” His steady effort has captured a loyal audience in small bites every day – “I get four seconds of attention a day, and I just want people to remember it and enjoy it.” *(1)

    Studying at Maryland Institute College of Art, Detorie graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. He majored in illustration and graphic design but did not do much cartooning, thinking it was no way to make a living. On graduation, he found a position at a Los Angeles advertising agency. He worked there as the Art Director and Creative Director for six years. (Many cartoonists have followed that same path into advertising before they reach cartooning.) Detorie’s work has been seen on jigsaw puzzles, kites, games Burger King meal packs, posters and lunchboxes, just to name a few items. He also drew the “Alvin and the Chipmunks” cartoon for a short time.

    Before the bug of creating a syndicated comic strip took hold of Detorie, he wrote several books, including “Totally Tacky Cartoons,” “No Good Lawyers” and “How to Survive an Italian Family.” The latter book is a humourous look at his own family life with his two sisters and parents in his birthplace of Baltimore, MD. (His grandparents lived right next door.) “How to Survive an Italian Family” became the base for the comic strip One Big Happy, though it was not his only attempt at syndicating a strip.

Detorie gif

    Trying to get syndication was an unpleasant cycle of rejection for the aspiring cartoonist. Detorie would create a comic strip and submit his work to the all syndicates. As rejections rolled in, he sent out a second original strip. Then a third strip. And then a fourth. Finally, One Big Happy was requested for another shot. It clicked with the critical submission editors and snapped up by Creators Syndicate. In September of 1988, the comic strip was unveiled in 22 newspapers, but sadly not to immediate acclaim. It met with some rough waters and in a short time was withdrawn by several papers.

    Unhappy readers responded to the withdrawal with a big fuss and the One Big Happy strip was reinstated. It only needed time to catch on and now appears in over 300 newspapers. It continues to climb the list of favourite cartoons, making Number One in the survey done by Washington State’s King County Journal. (It had risen to 37th in the Washington Post’s 2002 comics survey. See http://www.washingtonpost.com/comicsurvey )

    When One Big Happy was first syndicated, Detorie was inspired to do more than the required week’s worth of cartoons at a time. Presently ahead of the publication schedule by thirteen months of strips, producing One Big Happy takes up only a small portion of Rick Detorie’s week. “I work two hours a day Thursday and Fridays, from 8-10 a.m., writing the strips for the next week. And then, Monday and Tuesday, I draw the six dailies, assembly line style. On Wednesdays I draw the Sunday strip,” he said in the Washington Post’s Online Chat (Nov. 8/02). He does not use a computer for his work; he creates strictly in pen and ink.

    Detorie also produces freelance cartoons, providing moments of laughter in TV Guide, National Lampoon, Penthouse, The Saturday Evening Post and “several other publications too tacky to mention.” (Or so his biography noted on the Creators website.) On a cleaner level, he has written and illustrated numerous children’s books and activity books including the “Magic Answer” books.

    Adorable dark-haired Ruthie, the star of One Big Happy, has made a name for herself with her art. Sitting under a tree with a table display of her creations, she has a scrawled poster saying, “Good Art by Ruthie, still only 10 cents.” Rick Detorie receives many requests for reprints of the strip. “I assume it’s a universal theme most artists can identify with…the struggling, underappreciated writer/artist/cartoonist.”

    When One Big Happy was first syndicated, Detorie was inspired to do more than the required week’s worth of cartoons at a time. Presently ahead of the publication schedule by thirteen months of strips, producing One Big Happy takes up only a small portion of Rick Detorie’s week. “I work two hours a day Thursday and Fridays, from 8-10 a.m., writing the strips for the next week. And then, Monday and Tuesday, I draw the six dailies, assembly line style. On Wednesdays I draw the Sunday strip,” he said in the Washington Post’s Online Chat (Nov. 8/02). He does not use a computer for his work; he creates strictly in pen and ink.

Detorie 3
Detorie 2

    Detorie also produces freelance cartoons, providing moments of laughter in TV Guide, National Lampoon, Penthouse, The Saturday Evening Post and “several other publications too tacky to mention.” (Or so his biography noted on the Creators website.) On a cleaner level, he has written and illustrated numerous children’s books and activity books including the “Magic Answer” books.

    Adorable dark-haired Ruthie, the star of One Big Happy, has made a name for herself with her art. Sitting under a tree with a table display of her creations, she has a scrawled oster saying, “Good Art by Ruthie, still only 10 cents.” Rick Detorie receives many requests for reprints of the strip. “I assume it’s a universal theme most artists can identify with…the struggling, underappreciated writer/artist/cartoonist.”

     Or maybe readers just know one big happy cartoon when they see one.

*(1) kingcountyjournal.com/sited/story/html/78918 (Link broken)

See the daily One Big Happy:
http://www.creators.com/comics/one-big-happy.html

Read the Online Chat with Rick Detorie:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/liveonline/02/regular/style/comics/r_style_comics110802.htm

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