What made you want to become a storyteller?
I came to storytelling from a very different path. I am a cartoonist and storyteller. I draw stories as I tell them. It is very much like watching a picture book be created before you eyes. I have found that all successful cartoonist must also be skilled storytellers. Cartooning is a non-verbal form of storytelling. The difference between me and most cartoonist is a choose to tell my stories both in pictures and words, verbally and visually on stage. There is something wonderful about having an audience. I encourage them to participate in the show, everything from sound effects, to helping decide what a character will look like. I wanted to be a storytelling cartoonist because I really enjoyed that audience interaction. Cartoonist don’t often get to hear applause.
Was the journey difficult?
I had been telling stories on stage in schools, libraries and festivals for five years before I knew I was a storyteller. I just thought I was a cartoonist talking about the adventures of my characters. When I started getting more involved in the storytelling community and telling at storytelling festivals, that is when the real journey began. I had been a successful storyteller for almost a decade, but had a hard time getting acceptance from the storytelling community.
There were many who thought of cartoons as the enemy! They felt that cartoons took away the stories, and their audiences. And to some extent they were right. But then they began to see me as a sort of bridge back from television and visual mediums to traditional oral storytelling. My journey continues as I begin to venture into video and television. I just completed a pilot for a tv show which features cartooning lessons, storytelling, animation and much more. I never thought of new media as being a bad thing. Television is another tool to present storytelling in a new way. But there are many storytellers who resist that concept.
I also found many who shared the vision, storytellers like David Novak, Bobby Norfolk and Papa and Jackie Wright. All wonderful tellers who are animated and almost like watching human cartoons!
What were some of your favorite stories growing up?
My favorite stories growing up were the stories in the Peanuts comic strip. Its amazing how much of a story can be fit into four little panels on a page. The magic of comic strips is this: the story doesn’t just take place in those four little panels, it takes place in the white space in between where the story ends and your imagination takes over. Peanuts was my inspiration. The adventures of Snoopy as the Flying Ace were amazing. Linus and the Great Pumpkin, all the great characters Charles M. Schulz created. Those were my favorite stories and I would read them like another child would read a picture book or fairy tale.
I had the great honor of becoming the first resident cartoonist of the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, California. I return every year to perform there and it is so magical to feel such a strong connection to my hero and those stories.
Is there a difference between writing a story and telling a story?
There is a big difference. Writing a story is a very personal experience. Just the author and some blank paper, or a blank computer screen. You create those characters and situations and then bring them to life. But when you tell a story, those characters and the story have a life of their own. Each person in the audience hears a story a different way. They all bring their own personality and experiences to each of those characters. So writing a story brings a story to life, but telling it gives it a life of its own.
What is the difference between a fable, a parable, and a fairy tale?
A fable didn’t happen but explains how something could have come to be, a parable didn’t happen but tells us how we should be, a fairy tale didn’t happen but it should have, as it would make the world a much more fun place to be.
If you could be one character in a story who would you be and why?
I am a character in a story! I am the boy who drew cats. It is an ancient folktale about a boy who receives a magic brush and draw things that come to life. I may not have the magic brush but I do draw with a magic marker and my stories bring the drawings to life.
If you could have coffee with one famous storyteller who would it be and why?
I have met Mister Rogers who was one of my heroes, Charles M. Schulz was my other hero. But there is one great storyteller, one hero who I admire the most. Benjamin Franklin. He was not only a great storyteller, but he was America’s first cartoonist. It often seems he was America’s first everything. It has even been said he was the first true American! He would have such amazing stories to tell. His biography should be read by every teenager in America. His stories are very human, he made mistakes and learned from them. He is one of the few American Forefathers who seems human.
What inspires you as a storyteller?
Children inspire me. They have such great ideas. The are unencumbered with the limitations of what can’t be done. To a child anything is possible. So in cartoons and stories, chickens can talk, elephants can juggle and thing that never were, are, every day. I am inspired by a youthful imagination, which means everything around me inspires me.
What advice would you give a storyteller faced with writer’s block?
Who says you have to write. Very few of my stories are written. I just work them out in my head, get on stage and perform them! The excitement of hearing a story for the first time as you speak it is amazing. You and the audience share in the adventure. It’s the best way to work out a story, by watching the reaction of your audience. I tell a story twenty times before I ever think of writing it down.
What stories are you working on presently?
I am working on a tv show right now that I am hoping will air soon. I will have lots of stories on there. Including a new one I am working on about a bumbling bee who wont fly straight so he always miss behives. My son who is four came up with the idea. We get a lot of story ideas at bedtime.
Finally, what advice would you give kids who wish to pursue a career in storytelling?
Get in front of a group of friends, kids or an audience and tell stories. It’s the best thing to do is to just get up and do it! So go for it!
Where can kids and parents find out more about your work?
You can find out more about my live performances at www.onceuponatoon.com
You can find out more about my tv and dvd productions at www.wosstudios.com
Copyright 2005-2011, Jolene Owen. All rights reserved. This interview is free to copy, publish and circulate. You may reprint or publish it without permission in any format. Please credit: Jolene Owen as interviewer. The views expressed herein are those of the interviewees and do not necessarily reflect the interviewer or the official position of the publishing company, its various departments and/or the Institute of Interactive Journalism. If you’d like to be interviewed, or would like to send our team an interview, or just send us lots of gifts and candy, contact us at: email@example.com. Please do not try to contact interviewees through the institute. We never release confidential information or fwd messages. No exceptions.