Magazine cartoonist and humor writer Bruce Cochran has passed away.
Bruce spent most of his remarkable 63-year career as an independent professional cartoonist, illustrator, humorist and writer based in Kansas City, getting his start as a writer and illustrator for Hallmark Cards, Inc. in 1960.
He went on to become a trailblazer in outdoor sports humor. With a fine-tuned appreciation for the absurd, his brilliantly funny cartoons reminded us all not to take life too seriously. His cartoons have been published in USA TODAY, Playboy, Field & Stream, WILDFOWL Magazine, On Wisconsin Outdoors, and dozens of other publications. He was also an award-winning lifetime member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. In 2017 he earned the OWAA’s most prestigious honor of Excellence in Craft. He also authored 15 books.
Cochran has been drawing ever since he was an “itty bitty kid.” His mother and older sister were artists. His mother primarily painted landscapes and was skilled with both oil and watercolors. His sister, Adrienne, worked as an illustrator for the Daily Oklahoman in Oklahoma City.
“A lot of people ask me, ‘How did you get into cartooning?’ I do kind of have a stock answer for them, but it’s true,” Cochran said. “I always say, ‘Well, if you draw all over your schoolbooks instead of reading them, by the time you get out of school the only thing you’re qualified to be is a cartoonist.’ It’s true, actually. What else could I do? I never learned anything else.”
As a kid, Cochran spent a fair bit of time in the outdoors as a Boy Scout, eventually making it into the Exploring program as a teenager. “We used to go out and camp where we mostly just took our guns and our fishing rods and we were going to live off of the land,” Cochran remembers. “I ate a robin once and a woodpecker and all kinds of weird stuff, whatever you could get.”
These days, Cochran hunts for turkey and deer on a couple hundred acres of land he shares with four other people. “It’s nothing too fancy,” Cochran said. “But we have a nice little house up there with five bedrooms and a couple of bathrooms.” Cochran is quite the avid fly-fisher, too.
Which explains Bruce’s fame as a sports cartoonist.
Most outdoor celebrities and writers take their job seriously…
But not Cochran. He pokes fun of, teases and mocks sportsmen and women every day. As a result, Cochran’s lighthearted look at the world of hunting and fishing has been entertaining us for decades. Since the ’60s, his cartoons, stories and illustrations have livened up the pages of many outdoor magazines and books.
Cochran got his start as an illustrator right out of college. “I went to work for Hallmark Cards in 1960, writing and illustrating contemporary cards,” he said. “From there I branched out to cartooning for magazines and local advertising agency work.”
Since then, Cochran’s work has appeared in Ducks Unlimited, Field & Stream, North American Hunter, Petersen’s Bowhunting, Pheasants Forever Journal and many, many more.
Among those many more are National Lampoon, The Realist, Playboy (and Fling and Gallery, etc), Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and just about every fishing and hunting magazine you can think of.
For Cochran, it’s all about writing jokes. “In my opinion, cartooning is a form of writing,” he continued. “I’ve been thinking up jokes for more than four decades, and I’ve developed a routine that works for me. First, I narrow down my thinking to one particular category –– say deer hunting or trout fishing. Sometimes it helps get my brain flowing to page through hunting and fishing magazines and catalogs, or reading outdoor websites. And, I usually carry a small notebook and pen whenever I go on a hunting or fishing trip, and when reading magazines and websites. If something happens or I read something that sparks a memory of an experience that happened years ago that’s a good cartoon idea, I jot it down. Then later, I try to exaggerate these situations. The joke is often a result of my brain saying, ‘What if this had happened instead of that?’ Then I keep expanding on it until I am happy with the joke.
“I write cartoon ideas best in the morning, and even then I can only do it for about an hour. After that I begin to lose my concentration,” Cochran continued. “After I think of an idea for a joke, I sketch it roughly in pencil, and I mean roughly, as in stick figures. If I create 10 or 15 cartoon ideas I consider it a productive morning. I’ll file away these rough sketches for a few days, weeks or months. Later, I’ll go through my stack of sketches and select the best ideas, often refining the captions and tweaking the drawings. I’ll then do a final pencil drawing on tracing paper and email the rough drafts to editors. If an editor wants to buy the cartoon, I will finish it in ink, color it (if necessary), scan it and e-mail it on to my customer.”
“I’ve been very lucky,” explained Cochran. “Looking back on my career, (which I hope is not over yet) I can’t think of any one thing I would do differently, but overall, I think I would have been more entrepreneurial. I probably should have looked into more ways to expand my income earlier. I did try a couple of comic strips, and I hoped for a while to make it as a wildlife watercolor artist, and I tried a few books that I couldn’t sell well, before I found success with Buck Fever. But, when you have house and car payments, and a wife and two kids to feed –– you’re just not too eager to take risks. But early on, I had some stability with my income with my Hallmark contract, and I was selling a lot of cartoons for magazines and doing as much advertising work as I wanted. And for nine years I had a job cartooning for USA Today, so we were getting along fine.
The Fun ‘n’ Games with Cochran! panel appeared in USA Today from 1983 to 1991, Bruce’s cartoons began appearing in Playboy in 1960, and in the early 1970s he had a regular spot in National Lampoon’s Funny Pages with his Famous Comic Artists School comic strip which, naturally, frequently featured animal.
Bruce’s humor extended beyond cartoons to writing books and articles.