The Cartoonists by Susanna McLeod


Bill Holbrook, Creator of "On the Fastrack" and More

Summer 2013


Bill Holbrook's heart has always had a soft spot for cartooning. So infused with creative spirit, Holbrook has created not one strip, not two strips... but three comic strips. "On the Fastrack," "Safe Havens" and "Kevin & Kell" continue in popular publication today. Holbrook is one busy cartoonist.


"I've never NOT wanted to be a cartoonist," said Holbrook in an interview with Suzanne Tobin in the Washington Post's "Comics: Meet the Artist," August 31, 2001. "As a kid, I would draw on the walls and my parents would bring home big pieces of paper from work (my dad worked for a technical testing firm in Huntsville) and I would draw all over them." Still in grade school, Holbrook was creating his own characters and cartoons. The innovative youngster drew cartoons for his high school newspaper and later for his college newspaper.


Attending Auburn University in Alabama, Holbrook's cartoons were a memorable part of "The War Eagle Reader," the school paper. He was also the publication's Art Director. While in school Holbrook's cartoons were published in The Huntsville Times and the Monroe Journal.

Finely honing his skills and humour, Holbrook graduated with a degree in Illusration and Visual Design. "After graduation in 1980, Bill joined the Atlanta Constitution as an editorial staff artist," noted Bill Holbrook's biography on his website. "but his ambition remained to do a syndicated strip of his own."

Attempting to create a student-based strip, the cartoonist found the sour taste of failure. Nowhere near daunted, Holbrook created "On the Fastrack." The hilarious cartoon based on the politics and back-stabbing humour in an office caught the attention of King Features Syndicate, and the strip debuted on March 19, 1984. Resembling many office cultures, "On the Fastrack" has a few surprising exceptions, such as the Moat Monster, and a criminal or two. The quirky cast and plot lines are a hit with readers.


"On the Fastrack" by Bill Holbrooke

"On the Fastrack" Collection by Bill Holbrook

Cartoonist Bill Holbrook

Five years later, with the experiences of a wife and kids on his mind, Holbrook developed a family-style strip, "Safe Havens." Originally based on the challenges and fun of a day care centre, the strip was introduced by Washington Post Writers Group in 1989. As with "On the Fastrack," Holbrook added a twist or two to the character line-up, this time including a 415-year-old mermaid called Remora.

After a few years of the unusual day care setting, Hobrook decided to follow the main characters as they age, adding ongoing fresh dimension to the strip. "Safe Havens" switched over to King Features Syndicate in 1993.

As if two regularly-published strips weren't enough, Holbrook devised an on-line feature called "Kevin & Kell." The stars are a rare pairing of wolf and rabbit, married and with children. The rest of the cast has an equally fascinating background set in the modern era: the main couple met in an online chat room. "Kevin & Kell" debuted in September 1995 and continues online through direct reader support. Readers can sponsor the strip for a day, purchase a book, make a donation or join the Patron program with nifty benefits.

Cartoonist Bill Holbrook

According to Holbrook's Cartoonist Survey #165 on "David-Wasting-Paper," (a great site, by the way), the devoted cartoonist creates his work in a small room in the basement of his home. Using regular pencils, he draws his strips on standard paper, transfers them over to tracing paper and then sends them off to artists who add colour by computer.

To meet deadlines of three ongoing comic strips, Holbrook has a particular schedule to follow. And he is able to keep track of each comic at once. "For instance," he told Tobin, "this past week, I have been thinking up three weeks worth of material for Kevin and Kell while drawing up three weeks worth of Safe Haven strips. Next week, I'll be drawing the Kevin and Kell strips, while thinking up three weeks of On the Fastrack strips."

Bill Holbrook

There is little room for hobbies or other activities in Holbrook's day, except for making time for his family.

Married to mystery author and Georgia State University assistant professor Teri Peitso Holbrook since 1984, Bill Holbrook is father of two daughters. The family resides in Georgia, near the City of Atlanta.

"Safe Havens" by Bill Holbrook  

Holbrook's cartoons continue to hold their popularity in this era of newspaper cutbacks. "On the Fastrack" appears in about 75 newspapers in the United States. "Safe Havens" is enjoyed in more than 50 publications, and both strips are available for viewing online through King Features Syndicate and Holbrook's own sites.. His comic strips are also available in several book collections.

Before his comic strips were published, Bill Holbrook was inspired by his favourite cartoonist and given solid advice to guide his work. "Sit down and draw fifty strips," Charles Schulz told the avid young cartoonist. "Of those, maybe five will be funny. Build on those and throw out the rest. Do fifty more. Now perhaps ten will be usable. Repeat this process again and again."

The advice certainly worked well for Bill Holbrook. Now, go and enjoy. The mermaid and the moat monster are always up to something amusing.


© Susanna McLeod 2013