Slightly Larger than Life


The opposite page is an optical illusion. Actually, the guy with the glasses is behind the cartoon. At least he’s the brains behind it.

David discovered an interesting person sitting behind the main character in one of his cartoons.

The guy didn’t have a name, but he was just the sort of person David was looking for. In learning to be a cartoonist, David had been fiddling with different drawing styles. Then when he was drawing the background people in a cartoon, suddenly he found he had drawn a guy with just the right look. He had a pudgy nose, no forehead, his mouth in danger of sliding down his neck, and a soft slouching body. And the expression on his face was one of being slightly amused at life’s absurdities. He was the perfect model for the character in David’s new cartoon strip called Larger Than Life.

“I liked him more than the main guy,” said David Gallagher, a young cartoonist whose low-key sense of humor comes out in his cartoon strip. His characters, who find themselves caught in some odd moments, usually have a slightly dumbfounded look. “The emotions and expressions are always toned down,” said David. “I thought it would be funnier just to be subtle about things in my cartoons.”

It’s working. A growing number of people are finding that David’s quick wit and quick pen do tickle their funny bone.

While in college, David is putting to good use the doodling habit he has had since he was a little boy. Growing up in Massachusetts, David and his childhood friends loved the animated movies. At eight, his goal in life was to become an animator. “I learned about animation cells by reading books about Walt Disney,” he said. “I drew my own animation cells. I’d draw on acetate with a marker, and then I’d paint the back of it. My favorite character was one I called Foxy Fox.” Just for fun, he would draw comic books and give them to friends at school.

By the time he was in high school, David gave up on cartoon characters. He used his artistic talent in more realistic drawing. “I never thought I’d be a cartoonist,” said David, “because you have to be a comedian. I was shy, and never very funny. I was serious growing up and hated to be called silly.” The bemused look on David’s face could be a mirror of one of his cartoon characters as he pauses, then laughs, “Nothing like I am now.”

After a mission to Germany and a semester abroad at the BYU Jerusalem Center, David’s interests seemed miles away from art and cartoons. He began an intensive study of the Arabic language and changed his major to Near Eastern studies.

But hidden somewhere in his brain was that pudgy, chinless, slouching character waiting to make an appearance. David started thinking about cartooning again when a friend encouraged him to do a couple of cartoons and take them to BYU’s student newspaper. The publisher liked the cartoons and began running them twice a week. David was kept busy coming up with new ones.

When David had enough cartoons for a portfolio, he began sending them to cartoon publishing syndicates, hoping to sell them to other newspapers. He got some good feedback, but no takers. That’s when David and his wife, Sage, decided to try syndicating his cartoons on their own. They had brochures printed up with some sample cartoons and mailed them out to hundreds of regional and college newspapers. So far, his cartoons are running in 17 newspapers. Not enough to make a living, but a start.

How does he come up with his ideas for cartoons? “That’s the number one question people ask,” said David. “To meet my deadline, I have to come up with one every day. I’m never quite sure if they are funny until the next day or the next week when someone reacts. The worst thing is having to explain a cartoon. It takes all the humor away.”

In developing an idea, David first starts with something that strikes him as odd. When he runs across a funny sign or hears a phrase that interests him, he’ll write it in a calendar he keeps in his back pocket. Then when he’s ready to do a cartoon, he looks over those ideas. He works on the caption first. Only when the wording is exactly right does he start to draw.

For example, David thought there might be something funny about the signs he sees on doors that say, “This door must remain unlocked during business hours.” Then he tried to imagine a situation where that sign would be funny.

“I had an inmate at a prison write this on a sign,” said David, “and post it on the prison door with a guard reading it and unlocking the door. The caption said, ‘Mel knew it was a long shot, but somehow it worked.’”

Another idea. David noticed a treat that people make by dehydrating fruit puree, called fruit leather. It was only a small humor leap to have his pudgy character browsing through a rack of brand-new fruit-leather jackets.

The hard part is coming up with one good idea after another, day after day. A cartoonist doesn’t get a vacation unless he can create cartoons in advance. It’s tough, but David has taken on even tougher challenges in his life.

As a teenager, David was the only consistently active member of the Church in his family. He has an older brother and sister and a younger brother. “Having to stay active alone can either push you away or pull you in. I guess it pulled me in.”

David said, “I looked up to several people in my ward. I wanted to be around people who understood the gospel. To me the Book of Mormon is so obviously good and right. It just exudes this goodness. When you read it you feel like the Lord is right there and nodding his head. I’ve had to do a lot of soul searching, but I felt like I had the testimony to see me through.”

His interest in the gospel also led to his college major. He wanted to learn more about the ancient land of the prophets, but during his stay in Jerusalem he became more interested in the modern Middle East. “I get very emotionally involved when I hear reports from the Middle East. It’s a powerful place, and it has its own beauty. I find the Arabic language an incredible challenge,” said David.

That challenge might be the thing that leads David away from cartooning. He presently works for a computer firm specializing in Arabic software. And he would love to continue his Near Eastern studies into graduate school.

But right now there’s this slope-shouldered, big-nosed, bemused fellow with no forehead that keeps popping up in the strangest places. And he’s making a lot of people laugh.

[photos] Photography by Craig Dimond