Nick Driano’s cartoon dream

Cartoon of scene at The Bakery in New Paltz by Nick Driano

“It was like a Sally Field moment,” laughed New Paltz cartoonist Nick Driano, about the first check he ever got for a cartoon he drew. “You know, ‘You like me! You really like me!’ (echoing Fields comments after winning her second Academy Award for Best Actress)…I was so excited (the check was for $5). I felt for the first time that I was a professional artist. I never got as excited about making money for my stained-glass work.”

The “stained-glass work” was Driano’s business from 1979 to 1989 in New Paltz, and it was lucrative, but took him away from his first love: cartooning. “When I was a little kid in Brooklyn there weren’t any young neighbors around, so I started drawing (a copy of Casper the Friendly Ghost). Showed it to my Mother, who made a big fuss over it. I was five or six and it made me feel special — Nick the Artist. I kept at it and then around 19-20 years old I started sending them around to Comic Relief, King Features, but with no success, and then a friend, who had just started a stained-glass business, asked me to join. Unfortunately, with that business, and then my own, and family responsibilities, I forgot about cartooning for awhile.”

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When Driano’s business eventually went belly-up under the onslaught of cheap imports from Mexico, he was forced to look around, the “What do I really want to do with my life?” moment that so many artists evolve to. “And it was cartooning.”

“It just gave me such a sense of freedom, because there’s no rules in cartooning. Anything goes. Look at my hero, Gary Larsen (The Far Side), he took cartooning to a new level.”

“It just gave me such a sense of freedom, because there’s no rules in cartooning. Anything goes. Look at my hero, Gary Larsen (The Far Side), he took cartooning to a new level.”

For awhile Driano found himself illustrating articles for Beth Quinn’s column in the Times Herald-Record and getting his work published in Funny Times (and that first check for $5), and a few years ago illustrated a Book of Games and an Italian themed Deck of Cards (“Like Tarot”, he says) for Avid Press. “The idea is that my cartooning is not premeditated. I own it, and have steadily established a style that’s recognizable as my own,” says Driano. He’s also had to learn some new techniques with the advent of computer graphics. “I still draw everything on paper, then scan it into the computer, then using pen-pal with Photoshop and Corel graphics programs, I ink it in using color, shading, special effects. I create all my own characters and props and go from there.”

One of Driano’s cartoon “creations” that has been drawing (no pun here) lots of attention is his hilarious portrayal of a day at The Bakery, where Driano sits, fedora on head, pipe affixed and shades drawn, with his friends (including yours truly, painter’s Howard Miller and John Wolfe and John’s granddaughter Charlie) amid other “invented” characters. “It’s an homage to my friends at The Bakery.”

But Driano’s work is not just humorous. There’s an edge. “I do serious subject matter. My characters can be tired, sad, worn, in pain, resigned to life’s up-and-downs…the human condition, as it is. Those reflect my own feelings on particular days. Self-portraits in a way, even though they’re not me. I guess drawing those are my attempt to make those problems into something positive. Cartooning is how I communicate those feelings. I’m not a writer and it’s how I show my feelings.” ++

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