By ADAM NUSSBAUM
After living in the cities of Los Angeles, Paris, Milan and Munich and seeing his cartoons appear in publications including Playboy, the New York Book Review, The San Francisco Chronicle and The Denver Post, it wasn’t until Gerrit Huig moved to Goshen that he started thinking of himself as an artist.
It doesn’t hurt that Huig recently won the grand prize for best comic strip in an international cartoon competition based in Italy, the “Umoristi a Morostica.” The contest celebrated its 40th anniversary this year, and boasted entries from 261 artists — each one allowed to submit three works — representing 38 countries.
The finalists in the comic strip category included cartoonists from Iran, Italy, South Korea, Russia and Montenegro.
Instead of intimidating him, this wide spectrum of diversity excites Huig. In 2000, he and his wife moved from Portland to Goshen, but before that, Huig had a long history of working in the publishing industry as a color editor for a variety of magazines, which took him all over the world.
“I did cartoons as a hobby for myself,” he said. “I spent all this time in pressrooms and printing rooms,” waiting to check proofs. “As they say, I spent hours of boredom and minutes of panic.”
He drew cartoons to entertain himself during those hours of boredom.
“I had to do something creative. My dad’s an architect, my mom is a writer. I’ve been drawing all my life, and eventually everything I drew turned out to be a cartoon. Cartooning was easier. And fun. It made me laugh. Once I laughed, I put it in a pile and put it away.”
Huig started drawing cartoons in college. Occasionally, they would be published, “but I never considered myself a cartoonist at that point,” he said.
In 1954, after graduating with a degree in printing management, Huig, originally from Amsterdam, moved to the United States to take a marketing job with General Electric. The company asked if he’d been in the army, and when he said no, told him to enlist because he’d be drafted anyway. Within three weeks of arriving in the United States, he enlisted and returned to Europe.
“I thought it was a good way to thank my new country for accepting me,” Huig said, “which was very naive and stupid.”
While stationed in Europe, he worked as a photographer and continued to draw cartoons, “partly to fill the time that I sat around doing nothing.”
At that point, he decided he would either try to make it as a cartoonist, or enter the printing industry. He set a goal for himself — to get published in a major magazine like Playboy, The New Yorker or a British magazine called Punch.
In 1962, Playboy accepted two of his cartoons. For the time being, this satisfied Huig’s cartooning aspirations, so he decided to pursue printing.
After returning to the United States, he worked for various publications, which again took him overseas. Eventually, he moved from Los Angeles to Portland, and finally Goshen, where his wife found work at the Goshen Health System’s Center for Cancer Care.
Around that time, he learned of a cartoon competition in Holland and submitted some of his work. Out of 2,200 entries, the judges chose 100 finalists, Huig being one of them. He and his wife traveled to Eindhoven, Holland, to attend the award ceremony and exhibit opening.
“It was one of the best things that happened to us,” said Huig. “I felt like a little child around adults. I had heard about these people! It was the classiest thing ever. It was just so much fun.”
For the next four or five years, he continued entering the contest.
“Once a year, I did a cartoon. For a week, I did a cartoon and sent it to Holland, and always ended up in the last 100. But I never went back.”
He was clear to express, however, that these contests didn’t legitimize his talent.
“None of this was big time,” he said. “It was fun time.”
While in Goshen, Huig also became friends with one of his neighbors, Eyedart Studio Gallery owner Ben Stutzman. When Stutzman learned of Huig’s experience as a cartoonist, he asked him to take part in one of the studio’s 2007 exhibits.
Initially, Huig was reluctant to participate, but Stutzman was persistent, and encouraged Huig to think of himself as a legitimate artist. Huig said if he had been living in a city like New York or Chicago, he wouldn’t have considered his talent unique.
“There, everyone is an artist,” he said. In the end he acquiesced, and framed 32 of his cartoons for the show.
Eventually, he saw an advertisement for the cartoon competition in Italy, the theme of which was “Time.”
“As usual,” said Huig, “I was late. I did (the cartoons) the week before they had to be there.”
The day he tried to mail the cartoons turned out to be a holiday. Upon taking a second look at the entry form, he noticed that along with the single panel cartoon category, he could enter three more pieces in the cartoon strip category, as well.
“But I didn’t have...time!” he said.
Since he was already late, he decided to draw a comic strip called “Deadline.” In the first six frames, a cartoonist sits motionless at his desk. In the seventh, amidst a flurry of lines, he works furiously.
“It was really my apology to them for being late,” said Huig, “and they picked that as the winner.”
Huig describes his humor as “probably a little cynical. Not shocking, but maybe eye-opening. But that sounds too grand. I try to make it as simple as possible. If a line is unnecessary, I don’t use it. I like doing things without captions.”
He said his ideas stem from the question, “What if?”
“It’s about situations — what if? And you can go and think about that forever. What if you never shaved? Absurd situations that you think you can draw.
“I’m simple. I look at things simply. The reason I think my cartoon won — I think it’s universal. People use time by piecing it away, then all of a sudden...It was not a great drawing, it was very simple. But that’s how people use time. You have to hit it just right. I guess it’s the same in poetry or writing, but I see it in cartoons because that’s what I do.”
He and his wife will be traveling to Italy to attend the award ceremony this month. Huig said due to the support he’s received from the Goshen arts community, he plans on working more seriously on his cartoons, and will start submitting them to more publications and contests overseas. Right now he has his eye on a competition in Turkey.