BY MIKE LEONARD
When Dave Coverly says, “I’ve been extraordinarily lucky,” it might sound too self-effacing coming from a cartoonist whose “Speed Bump” panel appears in more than 400 newspapers and websites and who was named Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year in 2009.
But there was an element of right place at the right time when, eight months after “Speed Bump” was picked up by Creators Syndicate in 1994, Gary Larson, the most popular single-panel cartoonist of the day, decided to retire his “Far Side” panel. Coverly was living in Bloomington at the time. “Suddenly, there’s a square opening on comics pages across the country,” he recalls. “I went from 12 papers to 120 papers overnight.”
That was good fortune. But Coverly likes to remind people that, as fun as it might sound, cartooning as a career is hard work. “The deadline is such a double-edged sword. Every Wednesday at 6 o’clock, I turn in seven cartoons, whether I’ve felt particularly inspired the previous week or not.”
Coverly, 51, studied philosophy and imaginative writing at Eastern Michigan University and entered Indiana University’s creative writing master’s program in 1990. Cartooning was more like a hobby when he started submitting pieces to the Indiana Daily Student and then The Herald-Times, where he gained work as an editorial cartoonist.
Coverly credits Bloomington-based cartoonist Kevin Pope and Bloomington native and editorial cartoonist Joel Pett for giving him the advice, motivation, and contacts to forge his career. “We loved the six years we spent there,” he says, also speaking for his wife, Chris. “I don’t know if we’d ever have left if we hadn’t had our first daughter, and living closer to our families in Michigan didn’t suddenly look a lot more convenient.”
Coverly’s latest project outside of his daily panel is Dogs Are People, Too, a collection of previously published cartoons with photographs and memories of his own pets. In addition to four other collections, Coverly also has teamed with writer Jim Tobin on two children’s books. He has a third, Night of the Living Worms: A Speed Bump and Slingshot Misadventure, scheduled for release this fall.
In recent years, he has taken on the role of goodwill ambassador, using his cartooning skills and humor on USO trips to Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Germany. “Sometimes it’s to make the service members in a hot spot feel better or, in other cases, just to alleviate the boredom,” he says. “The most important thing is just listening to them. I get a lot more out of it than I give.”