Clarence Wagner has been drawing cartoons for most of his life. He still remembers when he was a little boy at about 6 years old, watching a documentary on cartoonist Charles Schultz. It was then that cartoons became his passion.
“I fell in love with the idea. It captured me. I always liked it,” he said. Growing up, Wagner wanted to be magician or a clown, then he realized “the link between the two was color,” which is now reflected in his cartoons.
Wagner was the youngest in his family with three older sisters, Debbie, the oldest, and twin sisters Karen and Kathy. The siblings grew up in Imperial Beach and except for Debbie, they all still live in town.
Debbie was into art as a teenager and Wagner liked and admired what she was doing. At first Wagner started delving into art by copying cartoons from the newspapers. Wagner liked Gary Larsons’ The Far Side, Jim Davis’ Garfield and Mike Peters’ Mother Goose and Grimm in addition to Schultz’s Peanuts. Over time he started drawing his own cartoons developing and creating different characters.
The two cartoons he has been focusing on lately are Ham and Eggs, about a pig and a chicken and the Christian-inspired Heaven Bound. The focus of his cartoons is to make people smile. “I stay away from current events, you can’t run away from them. This is an escape. We live in a world that is tough. [These cartoons] won’t offend you or make you mad. They make you smile or chuckle, it takes [people] away from their problems,” he explained.
Wagner will soon retire from his job as custodian at the Coronado Unified School District where he worked for the past 20 years. He has been inspired over the years to create cartoons while at work. When that happens he jots down his ideas - he always carries paper with him and will borrow a pen - and then continue working on the cartoon when he gets home.
Years ago when Wagner started drawing cartoons, he did everything by hand - which was very time consuming - but for the past few years, thanks to his iPad and Apple pencil, he draws directly on the screen. “I used to do pen and ink, a process so task oriented, that I was losing the fun of it,” he said.
Looking back over the years he has seen both his cartoons and characters evolve as well as his skill level. He calls that process evolution. Wagner created his Ham and Eggs cartoons one day by chance when he was doodling and drew a pig, which he found interesting, then he came up with a chicken. He had no name for his cartoon but one day when he was having breakfast he came up with the idea of calling it Ham and Eggs. The pig and chicken are the main characters, but every once in a while Wagner includes a dog named Sheldon and a star name Phil.
“People ask me which character are you? I’m both. Ham is me now - more pragmatic, older. Eggs is when I was a teenager and was flying by the seat of my pants,” he explained.
Wagner doesn’t always plan ahead for a continuous storyline, sometimes the cartoon builds on itself or one will stand on its own
Something his friends and family look forward to every year for the past 15 years are his Christmas cards, which of course, feature one of his original drawings. Technology has helped the process and speed of the creation of his cards. When Wagner started making his cards, he had to get help from one of the teachers at the school with scanning. What used to take a few weeks now is a matter of hours.
Wagner has already finished this year’s Christmas cards. He has dedicated them to his deceased parents. His father Clarence passed away last Dec. 25. “People expect them. Staff at the school, family and friends ask me ‘you’re doing Christmas cards this year, right?’” he said. Wagner usually sends over 200 cards every year.
Wagner enjoys the process of creating cartoons - from coming up with the idea, to drawing and choosing the right the words, even though that may mean redoing the cartoon three or four times.
His favorite characters are Sheldon, a dog that makes an appearance in the Ham and Eggs cartons and Pastor Hoffenstein in Heaven Bound. “It’s fun to draw, I like the compliments and the fact that it makes people smile… I like the process of creating something out of nothing,” he said.
Wagner’s favorite cartoon is the one he drew to honor his father, which makes a reference to Wagner Sr.’s stamp collection. “I had it done before my sister called me to ask,” he said.
Some of his latest cartoons posted on his social media deal with retirement, trying new things and a change in lifestyle - which is upcoming for Wagner.
Wagner walks everywhere, and takes the bus when he goes to work for his 2:30 to 10 p.m. shift. He also enjoys going to swap meets and visiting bookstores.
Wagner’s cartoons are witty, straight to the point and will definitely make you smile.
To see some of his cartoons log on Instagram at clarence_cartoons or Facebook Clarence Wagner.