Pittsburgh cartoonist collaborates on comic book series
Joe Wos often takes photos of paper napkins when he’s having a meal. He saves the pictures on his smartphone.
“Some of the best ideas are drawn on a napkin,” says Wos, an acclaimed cartoonist and founder of Pittsburgh’s Toonseum, a museum devoted to the cartoon arts. “If you can’t draw or doodle on a napkin, then you’re never going to make it as an artist.”
Wos, of Penn Hills, certainly has made it.
“It’s a fun life,” he says. “I love what I do. I was meant to draw.”
He tours nationwide as a performer, illustrating stories live, and has been on stage with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. His art has been showcased in museums worldwide, and he’s the visiting resident cartoonist of the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, Calif.
He created MazeToons — a hybrid illustration that is part cartoon and part puzzle. He showcases his work at Wizard World Comic Con, which produces pop culture conventions across America.
He’s also been enlisted by the creator of the Inventsons, George Davison, to be executive producer for the newest comic book, “The Inventsons: Animal Antics.”
At a young age
Wos recalls loving to draw at age 7. He says his career began at age 14.
He began creating with pen and paper, and sometimes pencil, but these days he uses a Wacom tablet, a digital drawing tool.
In all his years of drawing, though, undertaking the comic book was different, says Wos, who also teaches cartooning at Pittsburgh Central Catholic High School.
The inaugural issue of “The Inventsons: Animal Antics,” is published by Treehouse Comics. In this first comic book, the villain creates a machine to manipulate the minds of animals and chaos ensues, Wos says.
Issue “Zero” is available online and in select bookstores and comic shops around the country. The second issue is in the works with three more expected, he says.
For the comic book, Wos worked with a team of artists who sent him rough drafts. He made revisions and then the drawings were finalized. He says, with a comic book, it is important to maintain consistency and find the right look, feel and style for the characters.
Super story line
The story line involves three kids and their grandpa, whose buddy from way back causes trouble. As with any comic book, there are villains and heroes, and in this one the good guys win, Wos says.
“The kids don’t have super powers but use their brains as a super power,” Wos says. “They work together to find solutions to problems.”
According to a press release, the Inventsons are a family of super-geniuses, each bringing their own unique skills to the table as they continue to protect their town of Inventionland.
The children — Sue, Walt and Jesse — as well as their grandfather, who they affectionately nickname “G,” are the good guys. The villain of the story, Balzer, holds a grudge against G from their college years and makes it his life mission to undermine G and the Inventson kids by wreaking havoc on Inventionland.
“The message in this comic book series is working together can be very rewarding,” Wos says.
Making an opportunity
The comic book opportunity came when Wos called Inventionland in O’Hara and asked to collaborate on a project. The business was looking for someone to lead the comic book series, so the timing was perfect.
Before this undertaking, Wos had been more focused on comic strips and animation than on comic books, but he’s been enjoying this opportunity.
“That is the life of an artist,” he says. “I tell every young artist, ‘You never know when the moment is going to come, so be ready for it.’ I always say it takes 40 years to be an overnight success.”
The characters in “The Inventsons: Animal Antics” live in a town called Inventionland where everything is inspirational, creative and good.
The town of Inventionland is inspired by the real-world Inventionland facilities. This immersive work environment, which opened in 2006, is constantly listed as one of the most creative places to work in the world, according to its website. Every year, more than 15,000 people tour Inventionland — and now schools across the country are using the Inventionland Institute Curriculum to help spark a love of STEAM education in the classroom, the website says.
Specialized designers, artists, writers, illustrators, photographers, videographers, strategists, seamstresses, and fabricators work in 16 unique themed sets, such as a shipwrecked pirate ship, faux cave, treehouse, pet shack, giant shoe, cupcake kitchen, giant robot and castle complete with turrets and drawbridge. The setting includes three running waterfalls, life-like trees, butterflies and grass-lined sidewalks, the website says.
“Ultimately, the goal of The Inventsons series is to get kids excited about learning,” says Lauren Halkias, writer for “The Inventsons: Animal Antics.” “Though it is targeted toward children and teens, the series can be enjoyed by readers of all ages. Readers can expect humor, a fun family dynamic and to walk away learning something new.” Halkias, of Regent Square, says Wos took the idea she had in mind and brought it to life. This series was a new challenge for her as a writer.
“He got exactly what I had in my head into the design,” she says. “The message is that for these children, their super power is their brain.”
Wos’s passion for cartooning came from the famous Charles M. Schulz, creator of the “Peanuts” comic strip. Wos says Schulz is the reason he chose the field — and, in a bit of serendipity, he’s now the resident cartoonist for the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center in Santa Rosa, Calif.
“I loved Snoopy,” Wos says. “Charlie Brown is universal. He is all of us, sometimes we feel under-appreciated and oftentimes unloved like Charlie Brown. And then there is Snoopy, who is fun-loving and living the dream.”
Wos says — even with technology from DVDs to Netflix available to watch whatever we want — when shows such as “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” or “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” come on regular television, we still tune in.
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact JoAnne at 412-320-7889, [email protected] or via Twitter .