Leigh Rubin, Creator of Rubes

23 July 2004

    Nobody finds the fun in cows, dogs, religion and weird, quirky people better than Leigh Rubin. His witty streak of humour shines through in his comic panel, Rubes, where the animals take on human-like attitudes and the people behave, well, um… oddly. Sometimes leaning toward the gross, occasionally repulsive, but always a hoot, Rubes has grown to be standard fare in newspapers around the globe, 365 days of the year.

got milk 2
Got Milk? Photo by Jeff Harman, courtesy Leigh Rubin

    Difficult to break into the mainstream syndicates no matter how funny his panels were, Leigh was undaunted. Rather, he began self-syndication to promote his work. Small newspapers and college campus newspapers were more open to his work – in the beginning, he earned $10 each for cartoons printed in the Antelope Valley Press. *(1) To keep his bills paid, the struggling cartoonist worked at his father’s printing company in Los Angeles.

    After standing in the card section of a pharmacy in 1978, Leigh was struck with a business idea. “I just stopped in my tracks, looked at the cards and thought: ‘Wait a minute. I can do that.’” He took the bold step of dropping out of studies at Pierce College in Los Angeles in 1979 to found his own publishing business, Rubes Publishing. Creating and distributing greeting cards and books, Leigh at first sold his wares at street fairs in Southern California. He published his first book, “Notable Quotes” in 1981. In the book’s unique theme, music notes took on fascinating, inspired lives of their own.

    In 1988, Creators Syndicate took on Leigh and his panel creations, which had been in self-syndication since 1984.

    The Northridge earthquake in California struck in 1994, and its widespread effects changed Leigh’s life. Freeways were damaged; he could not get to work at the printing company. Instead, he used the opportunity to stay home and put his efforts into developing the strangely captivating style and character of Rubes into his profession. “Maybe you could call me a sit-down comedian. Whatever you call it, I’m just gratified I have the opportunity to make other people laugh,” Leigh mentioned on amazon.com.

    Building slowly, the panel now appears in more than 400 newspapers under the Creators Syndicate umbrella. Through Rubes Publications and the Syndicate, Leigh has sold over 10 million greeting cards plus calendars, t-shirts and other stuff. There are 13 Rubin comics collections print, with three recently come: “The Wild Life of Dogs: A Rubes Cartoon Book”, “The Wild Life of Farm Animals” and “The Wild Life of Pets: A Rubes Cartoon Book”. All three collections are published by Bowtie Press.

    Success with Rubes made working at home possible for the cartoonist, who draws and inks a panel a day by hand. A few years ago, the Rubin family of Leigh, his wife Teresa and their three sons, left the big city and moved to Nipomo, California Leigh is enjoying the small town atmosphere. “It’s nice to have a view and a little acreage surrounding the area. What I do is all mind work. I can do it anywhere.” *(2)

    Animals have taken a front row seat in the Rubin family. Leigh’s sister, Jyl Rubin is a popular California veterinarian. Dr. Jyl promotes animal care and welfare through regular television appearances on KOVR 13 and occasional lectures. She provides immediate animal care through her business, Dr. Jyl’s Mobile Vet Connection, in which she “brings the [animal] hospital to you.”

    Leigh Rubin received an unusual honour in 1996: Rubes is one of the few cartoons to earn a position with the “Got Milk?” campaign.


    In speaking about the perpetual deadlines a cartoonist must work with, Leigh told the Cuesta College newspaper that he uses a tape recorder at his bedside to take down any ideas that crop up. “I call it guerilla cartooning. You better be funny or you’re dead!”

See Rubes daily at:

Interviews with Leigh Rubin: *(1) academic.cuesta.edu/pim/pr/2004_pr/04-15_rubin (Link broken)

*(2) skywestmagazine.com/PastFeatures/Winter2004/BeyondLAXW04. (Link broken)

© Susanna McLeod 2004
(Originally published in The Cartoonists on suite101.com.)