Saturday morning cartoons in style for Prescott artist

By KAREN DESPAIN, The Daily Courier

+ click to enlarge
Matt Hinshaw/
The Daily Courier
Cartoonist Joe King recently opened a studio in Prescott and gives lessons in cartooning on Saturdays for children and adults.
Thursday, September 03, 2009

Hey, aspiring cartoonists: Get ready! Get set! Draw! Have your pencils, crayons, Sharpies and paper at the ready, because there's something fun coming soon to McCormick Street: Saturday morning cartoons.

Joe King, a pro in the field with a portfolio that overflows, has spiffy space ready for budding artists in the historic Old Sullivan House on artsy McCormick Street in downtown Prescott where, on Saturday, Sept. 12, he will begin giving free lessons to both children and adults. He has tables all set with drawing paper and crayons of all sizes and colors in a room where the sun shines brightly through massive windows - just the place for creative hands to learn the art King has perfected. Hour-long classes begin at 10 a.m.

For King, after many years of working as a "ghost artist" on "other people's characters and trademarks anonymously," he said he "feels like I'm just becoming what I want to be." He envisions expanding his gallery over the next couple of years into a home for his art, which he describes as "a fusion between popular culture and whimsical."

King, 51, who was an artist-in-residence at the Charles M. Schulz Museum in 2008, has had a pen or pencil in his hand since he was 4 years old when he copied the newspaper's funnies. In elementary school, classmates asked him to draw pictures for them, and in high school, he "took to drawing elaborate murals on his desk top," scenes depicting the beach, waves, inner tubes and surfing, all reflecting the culture of San Clemente, Calif., where he lived at the time.

During his years in college, he remembers taking just one basic drawing class, and the instructor critiqued his work as "too cartoony."

"I guess he was right," King said. "Why fight it?"

King, who was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 2004, was hardly discouraged by the instructor's opinion, and has never veered from his raison d'etre over the span of his 30-year career.

Early on, taking a friend's advice that "you have got to start somewhere," his first job was in an advertising agency working in the darkroom. With the debut of the first "Star Wars" movie, the world was suddenly exposed to computer graphics, and the same friend told King, "If you don't learn computers, you might as well forget it."

"I took that to heart," King said.

He mastered the trade and built his portfolio, designing video games and products and packaging for major toy companies. His epiphany came when he gave up working behind the scenes and struck out on his own by publishing electronically a comic book of his creation, "Men from Earth." The space shuttle Challenger had just disintegrated and many of its crew were South Bay (California) residents, King said.

He wanted to tell the story of the space program, so he came up with a fictitious astronaut and launched his book, which was an instant success. Plans for turning it into a movie dissipated, though, when money to produce it dried up.

"So, it was back to the drawing board," he said, and he kept turning out comic strips and editorial cartoons for the printed page.

Seeking a simpler life he moved from Southern California to Morro Bay in the northern region of the state, still on a similar path, until his arrival in Phoenix.

King named his Prescott gallery Valen-Toons, a name that came about serendipitously when he was ill in 2008. He had been e-mailing his high school sweetheart, Stephanie, after reconnecting with her on She flew from her Phoenix home to his bedside, their relationship began anew, and they married several months ago.

Now that Prescott is King's "outpost" until he drops anchor here, Prescottonians may spot him, drawing board and pen in hand, capturing "slices of life" as he did in Morro Bay. He drew more than a hundred comic strips that "reflected the community in an affectionate way." The strips are now a compilation in his book "Old Sebastian's," the proceeds from which he donated to Morro Bay organizations.

"I love to draw my hometown," King said. "So I'll be out on the sidewalk sketching."

For more information about King's cartoon classes, call him at (480) 478-4457. For a look at his cartooning career, visit his website,

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