Meet a Dork: Chuck Whelon, Illustrator, Cartoonist, and Creator of Urfspace

by Neil Bui

Welcome to Meet a Dork, a feature on Dorkaholics where we get to know a fellow dork somewhere in the world. Through Meet a Dork, we hope to not only establish new friendships with other fans but showcase the vastness of our community, the diversity of backgrounds, and the unique stories of each person.  This week, we have Chuck Whelon, a professional illustrator and cartoonist who has a new book, Urfspace.

Neil Bui (NB): You’ve worked as an illustrator, graphic designer, web developer, and art director for clients like Mattel, EA, and Sony. Why did you decide to shift your focus to cartoons in particular?

Chuck Whelon (CW): In my life and career I have been lucky enough to be able to travel to a few different countries, and work in print, publishing, and graphic design. I was brought to San Francisco, California in 1995 with a job recording voice-overs for language teaching books. I was working on them as an editorial assistant and illustrator for a small company. I met my wife here, and have been here, married to her, pretty much ever since.

The first job I got in San Francisco was working in a downtown Copy Shop working their new desktop publishing Mac services. In those days I used to work on my Pewfell comic, which was just a black and white photocopied zine in those days. The job at the copy shop was perfect for me to figure out how to produce and distribute my comics.

By the late 2000s, though, I was working full-time as an art-director at a big ad agency in downtown SF. Our son was born in 2002, and I no longer had much time for drawing. This was making me increasingly unhappy. Also my disability had progressed to the point where it was getting harder for me to keep working in the job I was doing. So, I sent out some samples to a bunch of places I had found in my son’s collection coloring books etc. and ended up getting quite a lot of work from Dover. During that time I also worked on some projects for Minion Games, and Goodman Games.

So after working on those phenomenally complicated things, I really wanted to do something extremely simple… which is where URFSPACE began to take shape. It sort of slowly crystallized around a few doodles I had been doing in my sketchbook. I think you can tell that at first I thought maybe I was going to do a more formal comic strip, but I have really been experimenting with looseness and simplicity lately (in complete contrast to some of my earlier work), so I decided I wanted as little formal structure as possible.

The goal with Urfspace is to be funny, but also to get down some little sci-fi ideas that were knocking around in my head. I have always been a big sci-fi and fantasy guy, but with my game art, and with Pewfell, I had for a long time very much been in the fantasy realm. Each Urfspace cartoon is like a mini sci-fi short story in itself. I am trying to say a lot and paint a big idea picture in as few, and as expressive lines as possible.

“You’re new around here.”

NB: Creating a book — regardless of the topic — is a huge endeavor. How long did it take to create this 178-page book, Urfspace, and what was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome during that process to complete this project?

CW: I posted Urfspace cartoons, one-a-day for about 6 months. I had been collecting them in my sketchbooks for a while, and once I started, I created them quite quickly in batches. I got to a place where the ideas were coming in fast, but each one felt very meaningful. Towards the end I realized that they were becoming less about space, so I figured that was a good place to make the cut and declare the book of Urfspace.

I have self-published a number of titles now under my “Planet Urf” imprint, and they are now listed on Amazon alongside the works I created for other publishers. Here is my Amazon Author Page: https://amzn.to/37n7PZl

It was easy enough to set the book up, but time consuming. Finding the time is usually a challenge, but fortunately in this year of 2020 I seem to have found the time to compile this book of cartoons drawn in 2019. Motivation is also always an obstacle. Earlier in the year I thought about creating a new search-and-find book of my own, but without the driving force of a publisher behind it, it’s very hard to invest that amount of time and effort. Urfspace was created to be something I could just purely have fun with, and I did. Getting into the right mood to have fun, though — that can be hard!

NB: How did this process compare to that of creating a puzzle/activity book? Were there any similarities?

CW: In many ways the goal of Urfspace was to be the opposite of the crazy and complicated search-and-find scenes I had worked on. All the activity books were very fun to do, though, and I love working on games and puzzles. Some of the Urfspace cartoons are like little puzzles. You can look at them in different ways, but in the end the only solution is to laugh. The writing is one part of the process, the drawing another, so in those aspects the actual process is probably fairly similar. As is my sense of humor across everything I have done.

“I love you, Mom!”

NB: How did your experience growing up in England shape the style, humor, and characters in Urfspace?

CW: I was well exposed to all kinds of humor growing up in Britain. The four TV channels had a good mandate to show all different kinds of comedy and cartoons. Including more weird and quirky things – something I was drawn to. I was too young for Monty Python when it aired, but it was all the more cool and mysterious because of that. My dad was a cartoon fan & has had many of his cartoons published over the years in newspapers and periodicals, most recently in Britain’s “The Oldie”. We watched Tom and Jerry. He had books of Charles Adams and Ronald Searle. I would read Peanuts (Dad wasn’t as keen on that). We had a good diversity of comics in the UK too. We would get American comics like marvel, DC & Mad, but many homegrown titles too like “Whizzer and Chips” and “The Beano”. Also European comics. Asterix & Tintin. Then, later, stuff like Judge Dredd & 2000AD, UK Viz Magazine, and Heavy Metal. I also loved the underground comics, like the Freak Brothers. Robert Crumb did a lot to corrupt me also. Comics are an international thing, as are games. Those are the sorts of things I think are important.

“It’s hard for me to find good people.”

NB: What exactly is the meaning and story behind “Urfspace”? How did you come about that name?

CW: At some point I had decided that the name of the world Pewfell lives on was Planet Urf. The domain name was available, so I purchased it, and I figured it was worth going to the trouble of registering it as my trademark as well. It’s a trademark I have had to police, but it is mine.

The first few cartoons I did were just silly illustrations of some “facts about space” I had found online, but I had been noodling around with the idea of space for a while. Anyway, I had been calling things Urf-this and Urf-that for a while.

“My time machine worked!”

NB: Urfspace is described as a “cosmic collection of future-focused cartoons.” Many people have a fascination with the past — what is it about the future that interests you the most?

CW: Yes, some people like the past. I like the future. People tend to fear the future, in a highly unreasonable way it has been scientifically shown. Generally-speaking, the future is always way better than the past. Everyone is always going on about how much better things were in the past, but as a disabled person, I can tell you that there is no time in the past that is better than now. There is always a lot of romanticisation of the past, which is fine enough, but it’s all bollocks. The past is a nightmare which we are still busy trying to escape from.

NB: Speaking of the future, what type of projects do you have in mind for the future? Are there any type of cartoon formats that you would like to explore more of?

CW: At this point I am moving a bit more towards painting and art. I have been developing more figurative work in my sketchbooks, but still doing a lot of cartoons. Right now I am posting new images daily on my Instagram. I have an order for cartoons from Goodman Games that I am a bit behind on. In my daydreaming time, I am working on a new Pewfell Graphic novel, but I don’t know if I will ever do that. I have spent a lot of time in this year of lockdown consolidating my work, such as Urfspace, into books. I have also set up some search-and-find jigsaws in my redbubble store,l including some holiday scenes: https://redbubbleus.sjv.io/9mqEE Also I keep wishing I could find the time to do a little animation. My biggest problem is that I always have way more ideas than I can possibly execute on. Urfspace has been a great way to deal with that, in that I feel like I managed to cram a lot of ideas into a very small space with the minimum of effort.

“You’re still just as lovely as the day I met you.”

About Chuck Whelon:

Chuck Whelon is an author and cartoonist living in San Francisco, California.

Chuck Whelon is the author of a variety of internationally distributed children’s puzzle and activity books, including the “What to Doodle?” series for Dover, and a series of search and find books such as “Where’s the Mermaid” for Penguin Random House,  and “Where’s the Penguin?” for Simon and Schuster.

Chuck Whelon is the creator of the webcomic serial “Pewfell”, described as a semi-autobiographical epic fantasy sit-com. Chuck also draws cartoons for Goodman Games’ Dungeon Crawl Classics role-playing game, and has illustrated a number of board games for Minion Games, including his own creation  “Legitimacy: The Game of Royal Bastards”.

Chuck Whelon is a member of the National Cartoonists Society and can be commissioned through the Beehive Illustration Agency.

Chuck’s blog and more of his work can be found at http://www.whelon.com

Order Urfspace on Amazon here: http://www.urfspace.com

Synopsis:

The Future is Now

What will it be like to dwell amongst the stars?… Can we retain our sanity in the face of time-travel?… Should it bother us when apocalypses start happening every other day?…

These questions and more are addressed in this cosmic collection of future-focused cartoons by artist Chuck Whelon.

An essential guide for anyone considering the infinite nature of the universe, or vice-versa. Take a trip into Urfspace, unravel the quantum mysteries, and submit to your alien overlords!

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