As the Altoona Curve's original Steamer, Bill Bettwy had to have a flair for creating laughs.
Now a freelance cartoonist, he's parlayed his sense of humor and entertaining flair into creating satirical takes on politics and other topical subjects in the editorial pages of the Mirror and the Philadelphia Daily News, as well as creating a cartoon called "Life of Lou" for an online forum designed for aspiring cartoonists called Comics Sherpa (www.comicssherpa.com).
"I don't really know when or how it began, I've just always wanted to draw cartoons," said Bettwy, 36, owner of Bettwy Creative Studio, a graphic design studio in Altoona. "I love it. It's just what I feel I'm meant to do. I'm a true believer that at some point in time, it's gonna be my main moneymaker."
Bettwy of Altoona began drawing cartoons in high school. After honing his craft into adulthood, he began developing "Life of Lou," a multi-panel comic strip about a mid-30s family man who, according to his synopsis on the Comics Sherpa, "loves his family but hates his job."
He created the strip as an homage to his father, Lou Bettwy, who died three years ago.
"I contacted the Mirror about running 'Life of Lou,' but they said they were looking for someone to do local editorials," Bettwy said. "I told Neil (Rudel, managing editor) I'd never done one and never even thought about doing one, but I said I'd give it a shot."
Family: Wife and three children
Occupation: Graphic artist and owner of Bettwy Creative Studio, Altoona, editorial cartoonist for the Mirror and Philadelphia Daily News
Education: 1991 graduate of Bishop Guilfoyle High School
Quote: "With comic strips, I'm just looking for a gag; when I do editorial comics, I'm looking for a gag with a point."
Education: 1990 graduate of Bishop Guilfoyle High School, 1993 graduate of Art Institute of Pittsburgh
Employment: Free-lance cartoonist and caricaturist, activities director at Hollidaysburg Veterans Home
Quote: "The ones you cut out and post at your cubicle or on your fridge - that's really the ultimate compliment."
Education: 1959 graduate of Altoona High School, 1959 graduate of Penn State University
Employment: Illustrator, co-owner of Servello Art Gallery, Altoona
Quote: "The work has to be graphically clear, and done in a way that's immediately clear - very visual." - on comic illustration
After a solid month of rejections, his editorial cartoons were accepted.
"It's a completely different train of thought," he said of his editorial work, published the first Monday of every week in the Mirror. "With comic strips, I'm just looking for a gag; when I do editorial comics, I'm looking for a gag with a point."
One of Bettwy's biggest fans is actually one of his artistic peers: Cory Geishauser, a cartoonist specializing in caricatures and comic strips.
"This guys eats, sleeps and drinks car-toons - I just eat them," Geishauser said, laughing. "Seriously, Billy's got amazing perseverance."
Geishauser, 36, of Altoona is a 1993 Art Institute of Pittsburgh graduate with a degree in visual communications.
While in school, he completed an internship with "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" doing set work with props and scenery, and upon graduating, began doing caricatures for private companies, weddings and high schools, earning on average between $75 and $125 for each of his works.
"Caricatures was always my fun money source ... trips to Disney and Hawaii," he said. "It was always fun - make 'em look funny and get paid."
Today he only does about two caricatures a year, focusing more on his own Comics Sherpa cartoon, "History Bluffs," a parody of historical events and figures.
"I'm a huge fan of art and history, but not art history," he said. "I mean, besides the flying butresses, there's nothing funny about art history."
Both artists said striking a chord - whether it be an emotional, offensive or funny one - is the real key to a successful comic illustration.
"The ones you cut out and post at your cubicle or on your fridge - that's really the ultimate compliment," Geishauser said.
Bettwy likes to provoke thought with his editorial cartoons - but never at the expense of someone's feelings.
"If you have to get dirty, or personally bash someone, you're not trying hard enough," he said, "because there's better humor out there, but you have to go and find it."
Altoona artist Joe Servello's creative work has encompassed painting, sculpture, scenic design, extensive mural creations and illustrations. He's illustrated more than 60 books. His weekly, single-panel Mincemeat cartoon series ran in the Altoona Mirror in the 1980s.
He called comic illustration "as good as any other form of art that's out there.
"The work has to be graphically clear, and done in a way that's immediately clear - very visual," he said. "People will often read the text and just glance at the pictures, so the pictures have to tell the story, along with the text. It has to be unmistakably good, and the style has to be the same throughout."
Servello, who grew up admiring such comics as "Flash Gordon," "Terry and the Pirates" and "Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur," called the comic illustration industry "a wonderful career that can be very exciting," but one also comes with blood, sweat and tears.
"The pay is very little and the competition is fierce," he said. "There's lots and lots and lots of really great artists out there."
One of those artists: Ward Sutton, a comic illustrator who writes a bi-weekly column in TV Guide called "That's Entertainment," has contributed cartoons and illustrations to the op-ed pages of The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Time, Entertainment Weekly and the New Yorker.
His advice to burgeoning cartoonists: Be persistent.
" ... There is no job security in this field," he wrote in an e-mail from his home in Manhattan, "you have to keep performing and hope things keep going well. But it's that pressure that keeps you working and challenging yourself to come up with new and interesting ideas."
For folks like Bettwy, it's all about loving what you do.
"A true passion is something you couldn't imagine not doing," he said. "And cartooning is my true passion in life. Even if I never truly make it, I'll always still be drawing."
Mirror Staff Writer Jimmy Mincin is at 946-7460.