If you’ve spent much time on Instagram this fine late summer, you may have noticed some adorable little juggernauts with a (sort of) bad attitude (see above). Well, those pudgy little adorbs are from the talented hands of an artist known as Hey Bob Guy and they are a bona fide budding internet craze. Bob was kind enough to spend a whole Sunday afternoon with dedicated scribe Martin EaZee (aka me), and you lucky folks get to reap the benefit of all the highlights of this trip into his amiable brain. Come join us as we talk more about Garfield than probably either of us expected, the joy of grumpiness and lots more cool stuff besides. If you like what you see, you should click one of these sweet pictures and it will take you straight to HeyBobGuy where you can go even further down this rabbit hole of awesome (not a paid plug, I’m just a fan). In the meantime, SLC Nerd presents Martin talks to Bob.
Martin: I just want to say for the record for anyone that’s [reading] that this is Hey Bob Guy and Martin EaZee and you’re [Bob] being interviewed on this last day of September. So I’d just like to start from the beginning and ask what drew you to cartooning to start with?
Hey Bob Guy: Honestly, it started when I was a kid, because Calvin and Hobbes, Garfield, the Far Side, those were a big deal for me. I would get the books too. I would re-read them over and over and I wanted to be those guys. I looked up to those people and comic books and stuff like that. I really loved the blend of visual storytelling with written storytelling. How you can switch back and forth between silent panels that give you story just from looking at it, and text and that kind of stuff. I think it’s a perfect blend.
Martin: I noticed that you listed among those choices Garfield. I wonder if you’re like a lot of cartoonists, where you eventually grew up and looked back at Garfield and kind of developed a little less taste for him in your older age, or if you still have a love for Garfield.
Hey Bob Guy: I do not want to speak ill of him, but yes I have not read a Garfield strip in a few decades. I do know that a lot of his comic strip has been done by other people from what I believe I’ve heard. I mean, good for him for getting paid.
Martin: I definitely didn’t want to speak ill of Jim Davis either. You’re probably a lot like a lot of us. Grew up on the Scholastic Book Fairs where you got to go to the school and buy your Garfield collections, and that was our first love.
Hey Bob Guy: Oh definitely. I had a lot of his books. My dad was a big fan of Calvin and Hobbes and the Far Side, so he started getting the books, and then I got more into those. I think it does help that both Gary Larson and Bill Watterson reached a point where they said all right, I’ve done what I can. I’m going out on top. And then Garfield, Jim Davis, is like “Nope! I’m going to go forever!” And hey, you’re getting paid.
Martin: I really admire that about [Watterson and Larson], because you see so many comics where it’s so easy for them to keep going and going and going. You hand it off to your kids, you hand it off to pros, and it’s just perpetual. You mentioned one of the big influences on you was Bill Watterson, and looking at some of your early stuff, I could see a lot of that influence there. So now you’re using a more rarefied look, and you’ve got a lot more vectoring going on [Marty Note: For our non-art friends out there, vectoring is a digital technique that allows your drawings to be reduced or enlarged easily without looking grainy or yuck] . Just talk a little bit about the evolution of your style and how you’ve gone from where you were to where you are.
Hey Bob Guy: Sure. The reason I decided to switch over to vector is I kept having to size up my comics as I went to different platforms. When I got to Instagram, the panel sizes were too small. They didn’t fit. So I had to size up my new art and then something came along, I can’t remember what it was, but I had to size up again. And I finally just started thinking, you know if I do vector, then I can just make it as big as I want to. Because I used to do a lot of stuff with Adobe Illustrator.
Martin: It sounds like it’s a really interesting evolution, where you start off working with size limitations and that influenced your artwork. It’s almost like you’re the Berke Breathed of the internet.
Hey Bob Guy: Yeah, okay, I don’t know. Sure, I’ll take that.
Martin: You know, putting aside the fact that Berke Breathed actually is on the internet. (laughs)
Hey Bob Guy: Yeah, that’s true. So anyways, that’s kind of what prompted me to go back to using Illustrator. After that, I was initially recreating my old characters in Illustrator. But as I was doing a test run, I just sort of stumbled upon the new characters and it was something new and interesting for me. I have always done like little chibi type stuff, and like the little stumpy, short, cute things. And it kind of looked cute and I called my wife in and I was like what do you think of this? And she was all “Oh, it’s so cute!” And I went graaahhh. I did one strip with it, just to kind of test the waters, and the reaction was really positive, and so I did a couple more and the reaction kept coming pretty good and that’s around the time that everything just blew up. So if everybody likes it, I’ll keep doing it.
Martin: You mentioned that everything just blew up. It’s been a really short period where you have taken it to the next level. So, you didn’t anticipate any of that when you were experimenting with the new style?
Hey Bob Guy: No, no not at all. I’m a big fan of spreadsheets. I’ve been tracking it just because I like stats and stuff like that. It’s been three months since I introduced the new characters. I went from I think it was like 700 followers, and I think today I hit 38,000. [Marty Note: As of the time of editing this interview, Hey Bob Guy stands about half past 41,000. This rocket’s still a-climbing!] And all of it, it was very unanticipated. Every time I look and it goes up I’m like “Okay, cool.” You know, it’s still very surreal to me.
Martin: I’m really intrigued by the positive response, especially from the fact that even though your artwork has softened a bit and it’s a bit more rounded and a bit more pastel, your humor is just as Bob as it’s always been and it seems people are really responding to that.
Hey Bob Guy: Yeah, it’s actually really bizarre to me because even before I changed these new characters, I put up a joke with my old character Blix.And then I put up the exact same joke. Because I had drawn it with him and I drew it with different characters. And I put up the other version less than a month later. The one with the other characters did, I can’t remember, it was a lot more likes and more response to it. So I was starting to get the feeling that Blix, especially since I was showing the comics to people at a convention and I kept getting the question “So what’s this green thing?” he just wasn’t resonating with people, I guess. So I was already kind of thinking of going a different direction with it. It’s funny, because anyone who thinks that I’m doing different jokes that I was when I was doing Blix, I would say a good chunk of the jokes I’ve done in the past three months were ones I had written before I changed the style. And of course there’s definitely ones that are softer than what I’m used to, but then I do a joke like the other day where a mom’s trying to get rid of her kid to an orphanage. So it’s kind of like eh, I’m still weird.
Martin: I find it interesting that people were in a way so non-responsive to Blix because of, like you said, what is this green thing, when the pudges, are also not exactly recognizably anything.
Hey Bob Guy: Yeah, and I will actually say that’s not entirely unintentional. I was trying really hard with the old human characters to have a variety of looks, races, gender, et cetera. Just trying to represent the world as it is, which is a giant collection of difference. One of the things that I kind of liked about the new characters, the pudges, is they’re so not generic, but they can be whatever you want it to be. Like you could look at one and you could say “Oh, it could be a guy, it could be a girl, it could be an alien.” I hope that anyone can look at it and hopefully see themselves in this little blob of nothingness.
Martin: That’s an interesting challenge that you’ve set for yourself. Inclusion and diversity is easy to get wrong. That’s a really genius step that you’ve taken to sidestep the problem all together.
Hey Bob Guy: I’m very much for inclusion like in movies and tv, but I also know there are people here that are like “Oh why do you got to put gay people on everything?” Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m trying to find that middle ground where if it’s a joke about a relationship, if you don’t say “Hey these two things are male and female, or male and male, or female and female”, then hopefully everyone can look at it and go “Huh, that’s just like me and my significant other. And then for people who want to be included, hopefully they can see something of themselves in it. And for people who are tired of other people being included, maybe they won’t get grumpy about it, not that I really care if they get grumpy about it, but I’m trying to keep my own politics out of this for the most part.
Martin: I think that’s a goal a lot of different cartoonists have in their work and I think that you ultimately, at the end of the day want to make people laugh. Politics is not the easiest way to do that.
Hey Bob Guy: Yeah, and there are people who have opposing viewpoints to me who take it way too far and if they decide they don’t want to follow me anymore, that’s fine. There are people on the other side who I don’t agree with them, but I don’t think that they’re bad people. The main reason I do this is I want to give people something in this crazy world of ours to laugh at, even just for a minute. And if I start bringing up politics and attacking one side or the other, then not only am I not getting half of the people to laugh, I feel like I’m stirring up trouble, which I don’t really want to do. Honestly, it’s the internet. You’re not going to get an actual discussion. Your worst case scenario, you’re going to get a giant flame war and people screaming at each other and calling each other names and that’s not doing any good.
Martin: We were talking about Jim Davis earlier and it seems like through a different route you’ve taken a similar path to success. I heard a story a little while back that he actually had another strip before Garfield that was a lot more Jim Davis and very personalized and not quite so universal in its humor it was about bugs I guess and he sent it to all of the syndicates. Finally someone sent him some feedback of “great strip but no one cares about disgusting insects”. So he had to take himself entirely out of it and said Ok, I’m going to write jokes and that’s it.
Hey Bob Guy: In a way that is kind of a thing you have to do. I’ve been working on some of my thoughts. I kind of want to try to help other comics. Because I get a lot of questions like “How did you get where you are?” and I’m like, I don’t know. I just did what I did until something worked. It’s interesting because there’s always that question of selling out. When are you a sellout? And I like to go with the Maynard James Keenan, the guy from Tool. He has a song where he has a fan confronting him that he’s a sellout and he says, and I want to keep it clean, [Marty Note: Anyone that knows this Tool song should be very impressed with Bob’s ability to present a G rated version] basically “Buddy, I’ve been a sellout since I made a record, and then you bought one. So before you point that finger, I’m the man, you’re the man, we’re all the man.” As soon as an artist sells a piece of work they’ve sold out. They are now, at least in some extent, doing it for the money and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I talked about the whole Jim Davis, how he just kept going and going and going and mostly for me I stopped reading it, just because it got repetitive. But I don’t begrudge him for doing it. He made a living off of it and that’s what we all want to do as artists. I think there is that fine line of staying true to yourself, but also the Jim Davis, like the comic he used to have didn’t work so everyone hates Mondays and he went more broad strokes with it and it worked for him.
Martin: I know speaking from my own perspective, it’s so easy to fall into that trap. Especially when you’re a younger artist and you see somebody who’s making money and your first response is to go “Oh, that person totally sold out”. It takes a while to come to the knowledge that you’re speaking from a place of sour grapes because no one’s ever offered you any money to sell out.
Hey Bob Guy: I’ve always been amused, you see this a lot with movie stars, where it’s like why did they do that one movie that’s terrible? And a lot of times, or even directors or writers or anything. It’s because a studio said “We don’t want to fund this passion project of yours because it won’t make money, but if you do this sellout popcorn blockbuster movie, then we’ll pay for your passion project.” When I first started hearing about that when I was younger, I always had the mindset that if Hollywood approached me and said “We’ll pay you truckloads of money to do this stupid project” and then I could take that truckloads of money and use it to fund projects I want to do, then yeah, I would sell out in that moment (laughs). Everyone thinks you sell out once and that’s it, but you’re looking at a whole career of someone doing art. You look at musicians and they’ll do really good music and then they’ll do one terrible album, but then they come back and do something else that’s good again. You don’t hate them because they did that one bad album. That’s art, you’re always going to have stuff that sometimes it sucks.
Martin: I was wondering if you ever see yourself at a point where you go fulltime.
Hey Bob Guy: That is definitely a goal. Luckily my managers are pretty understanding. They are aware that I’ve always wanted to make art my career. I actually went to college for graphic design. When I was in graphic design, it was getting harder and harder to find work. It was becoming very saturated. I remember when I left one of my graphic design jobs. I helped them hire the person who replaced me, and I put out a Craigslist ad, and within an hour, I had like 20 applicants and most of them had better degrees and more experience than I did and I was like, I got to get out of this.
Martin: It’s a jungle out there and desktop publishing’s not helping.
You wouldn’t believe the things artists have to do to survive.
Hey Bob Guy: It really is, it’s tough. So that’s when I entered doing other jobs. I worked at an engineering firm for a while doing drafting. I jumped around a bit here and there and then I fell into insurance, and I’ve been doing that for three years now. So none of this has ever been like “This is my dream”. It’s always been in the back of my head like “I wish I could make art work” and now that I’m actually finally getting a little bit of success. I’m definitely like “Ok how do I take this and run with it? How do I turn it into something?”
Martin: What do you think about working the conventions and how much you think that contributes to the success you see now?
Hey Bob Guy: I have done one local convention, this year was my fifteenth year. I did a couple of other ones out of state before. Those were tough on me because the hotel, even though we’d cram like five or six of us in one room, even just the cost of getting a hotel and more expensive tables and stuff like that. Two of the times I went up to Baltimore for Otakon and I left there with less money than I came. But last year added another convention that I went to. I do think that conventions, definitely good for networking, but especially good for extra income. As long as you go there with things to sell. That’s one problem that I’ve seen other comic artists run into, is that they’re there to promote their comic, and they’re trying to sell copies of the comic, but people are less likely to buy those, I feel like, in person. And they could really benefit by having products of some sort. Stickers or prints of the characters or something like that. But when I did my last convention this year, I got a good little boost of followers on my Instagram account. So it definitely helps.
Martin: Do you think that the future of the whole cartooning industry, I mean I don’t expect you to be a prognosticator or anything but do you really see it growing more in person in the conventions or do you see it growing more on the internet?
Hey Bob Guy: I would say a combination, I get some decent networking there, but I get more interest from people online. So I definitely think if you’re an online comic, you’re always probably going to get better networking online then you would in person.
Martin: You’ve been really generous in giving me so much of your time today and we’ve been at it for a good half an hour so I’ll let you go in just a second. I just want to ask you one last question.
Hey Bob Guy: I’ll go as long as you will, I can talk forever. (laughs)
Martin: Oh you sound like an artist. (laughs) I was going to ask you if you have a favorite strip of yours that you’ve done or a favorite character.
Hey Bob Guy: Well, of course Blix will always hold a special place in my heart. But then one of my other favorite characters was Grumble Bee.
Martin: I love Grumble Bee, he’s so cute.
Hey Bob Guy: And he is not gone forever. He will reappear at some point in the new art style. I just have to get around to doing it. I tried to pick just one favorite strip and I couldn’t do it. A lot of my favorite strips are any one where a character is being extra grumpy. Especially if he has a grumpy face. I just love drawing that grump face. And I like the idea of people annoying that character and that character getting annoyed and being grumbly about it.
Martin: You said you get asked for advice from these young aspiring artists and you mentioned that you don’t have a lot to offer, but if there is something that you’d like to say to someone who’s up and coming, what do you think that would be?
Hey Bob Guy: I always say the key to gaining success is persistence. I won’t call out names, but recently I had a couple of people that were like I just can’t seem to break through, and I looked at their stuff and it was like, you’ve been doing it for a month. So it’s one, persistence, which is also part of patience, like you have to be patient and can’t expect to just come in and immediately hit big. Sometimes it takes a month, sometimes it takes a year. For me, it was two and a half years before I had a sudden burst of success with this comic. There are going to be days when you go well nothing’s happening, I should just give up and why am I doing this? I’m wasting my time. And you know, maybe it is the wrong thing for you. Maybe there’s something out there that’s different or better for you. Maybe you need to try a different storyline, maybe you need a different character, maybe you need to go in an entirely different direction. Maybe you’re better at doing videos or animation or you know a podcast or anything. But if you want to do it, you have to persist. That’s the biggest thing, is just patience and persistence.
Martin: You see technology accelerating and accelerating and accelerating and on the one hand it’s all so easy to go yes, I got lost in the bandwidth, there’s a lot out there, it’s hard to get your voice heard, but on the other hand, there’s always been a lot of artistic expression going on out there. We’re an artistic species, that’s what we do. And so back in the 60s there was a million rock bands but only one of them got to be the Beatles.
Hey Bob Guy: Yeah. I would totally agree with that. And you know what? I would even go a step further, and say that the internet allows more artists to find their voice, but then on the other hand, you look at stuff like all these rock bands are trying to get big while the Beatles are out there, but if they had had YouTube, maybe they would have been the next big thing. Because you can reach a wider audience across the world. I will say one thing I’m super excited about is when I look at my analytics for my Instagram, the United States only makes up 30% of my followers. So 70% of my followers are all over the world and that’s not something that would have been a choice 20 years ago when it was like a local artist type thing.
Martin: Absolutely. 20 years ago I was doing a comic strip for my college newspaper and I had like 7 people who read it, and 6 of them read it just to tell me how much they hate me, so I’m very grateful for the followers that I have right now. (laughs)
Hey Bob Guy: It’s really cool how from all the complaints about what the internet has brought, you know, bad things, it has brought a lot of good things too. That’s just technology in general. Even just when I was doing art on the internet originally, I remember it’d be crazy. “You live in such and such country? Oh, I haven’t met a lot of people from other countries!” It was always a big deal when I met someone else online from another country. And now most of them are. 7% of my readership is in India, or 9% or something. Now I’m just like oh cool, there are so many people from over there that for some reason have liked my stuff. And that’s just a crazy idea to me. You know why I love that so much? It proves to me that we are all basically the same people. Everyone gets on the whole nationalism and other countries are so different than us, and that sort of thing and I’ve always thought no, we’re all just humans. There’s differences throughout people but that’s worldwide, that’s not a country by country thing. If people can look at my dumb little pudges and across the world someone can find it and go “Oh, I love this”, then how’s that make us that much different?
Martin: I can definitely see you going in a marketing or a merchandising with the pudges, as cute as they are. Your style’s always reminded me a lot of the toys I grew up with. Especially your blobs. When I was looking at your strips I always thought they looked so much like the Weeble Wobbles that I used to play all the time with as a kid.
Hey Bob Guy: It’s so funny you say that, because when I first created the blobs, almost 11 years ago now, I drew them and I initially called them candy corn. Just internally that’s what I named the file. And I showed it to my friend and he’s like “Oh, they’re Weeble Wobbles!” and I was like “What?” And he said “They’re Weeble Wobbles. They wobble, but they don’t fall down.” And I’m like “What are you talking about?” So I had to go google and I said “Oh, I didn’t know what those are called.” Or, I had seen them once when I was younger and I never saw them again and so it was like, okay I guess I ripped something off and didn’t even know it. Eventually I want to do plushies of the pudges, because everyone asks for it. But the day I feel like I made it as an artist is the day I can see one of them as a vinyl toy, or any kind of toy. If that day comes, I’ll be like “I did it. I made it as an artist.” It’s fascinating to me and the day someone makes, or even if I make it and sell it, the day I have one of my things as a toy, then I’m pretty good. I’m set.
Martin: Well I think you’ve got a real shot, that’s where people love to invest their art money. You’re not the only one who loves the vinyl.
Hey Bob Guy: Oh yeah, I mean Pop vinyl is huge. I’m looking over my shelf and you’ve got like the Marvel Infinity with Star Wars.
Martin: Oh, I never played that one. [Marty Note: I actually did have a mental seizure and forgot I had totally played that game and meant no disrespect to the Salt Lake City local all-stars who did all the development on that game. Much love, Avalanche.] I was hardcore into Lego Dimensions. I bought every single figure that went with that game. [Marty Note: Accurate]
Hey Bob Guy: Oh those, yeah, Lego will never go away. Infinity, I never played it, I just bought a bunch of the figures just because they’re really cool looking. I love figures. I love all that kind of stuff.
Martin: Was sculpting one of those things you ever tried when you were trying to figure out your niche?
Hey Bob Guy: Yeah, I definitely have tried. I’ve actually sculpted a little pudge that I haven’t flamed to harden it. I’m not very good at it. 3D art is really difficult for me. It’s hard to look at something and see it from all the different angles. But it’s something I would love to be good at. I’ve got a few sculptures sitting around the house that I’ve made. They’re not great, but I like them. You got to be happy with the stuff you make, or else… you can’t hate it all or you never get anything done.
Martin: Amen to that. I had an artist once tell me she couldn’t stand to have any of her own art in her apartment because she didn’t want to look at it and I just was so depressed for a week. Why did you make it?
Hey Bob Guy: I actually do get that sentiment. There are many things I’ve created where I’m like “I never want to see this again.” I’ll put it out there, I’ll sell it or whatever, but I never want to see it again. And there are little things here and there that I’ve made that I will keep it up. Once in a while, and this is rare, once in a while I would actually make something that I liked so much that I wanted to sell it and I actually thought “I can’t get rid of this, no one else will appreciate it as much as I do.”
Martin: I think I’ve done that twice in my lifetime. It is, like you said, ultra-rare.
Hey Bob Guy: It’s ultra-rare, but man when those days come, that’s when you feel pretty good about yourself.
Martin: I don’t know about you, but for me those are the ones where you’re like “Oh my god, that thing that’s in front of me, that’s exactly how it was in my head!”
Hey Bob Guy: Yes! That’s a large, large part of it. Where you can look at it and not see all the flaws and all the problems. I remember I had a drawing I did, it was for a school project. I ended up liking it and also I put it on my DeviantArt and it was a drawing of a car in Illustrator and I totally messed up on one of the gradients and basically the wheel merged into the body of the car because it’s a gradient. And it was so bad, so obvious to me. But I put it online and no one ever noticed it. I even said “Hey, can you all spot the flaw?” and people would be like “No, what’s wrong with it?” And I was just like how do you not see this glaring problem? (laughs) How do you not see the thing that is so obvious to me that’s wrong? Finally someone figured it out and I was like “Thank you!”
Martin: Thank you for showing me I’m not crazy, it’s not just in my head. (laughs)
Hey Bob Guy: There’s always that thing about artists. It’s like, anything you say about me, I’ve said worse things in my head. It’s like Andy Mineo, the rapper, one of my favorite songs is You Can’t Stop Me and I play it whenever I like need a boost creatively and basically it talks about my biggest enemy is me and even I can’t stop me. I’ve got a whole playlist on Spotify made, called persistence and it is nothing but songs that get me pumped up and ready to fight and keep pushing forward.
Martin: I kind of wonder if all artists have that.
Hey Bob Guy: That’s another bit of advice. If you don’t have that, you need to have that. It’s really funny, in general I find rappers to be the best motivators, because a lot of times you get that little bit of braggadocio and it’s sort of like you can’t stop me, get out of my way. Most of my persistence playlist is mostly rap music. Because it works, it gets you pumped up.
Martin: I never really thought about that distinction because, like you said, rap is about self-love and rock and roll is about loving [Marty Note: I stand by this word choice, at family friendly SLC Nerd] other people.
Hey Bob Guy: Yeah, I love rock, rock and metal are my two favorite genres, but when I want to get motivated, the two things I go to the most are rap and electronic music like rave or techno and stuff. Because again, it’s just the energy behind it. For me at least, it’s just got so much energy there that it just pumps me up and gets me ready to take on the world. So those are my two best motivators, music-wise.
Martin: I respond to electronica the same way. They don’t call it a driving beat for nothing.
Hey Bob Guy: Yeah, you either love it or hate it.
Martin: Well, I think that we’ve probably reached a really good point to stop on and I really definitely appreciate you spending some time with us today, Bob.
Hey Bob Guy: Oh, definitely. I appreciate you taking the interest.
Marty Closer: If you want to get to know Bob even better than this, you can find him at the places below.