Arts Desk

Meet a Local Cartoonist: A Chat with Illustrator David Hagen

Carrot Ride P

David Hagen has a cool day job at Georgetown University's library, working with its special collections, but he's also a painter of cartoons—hardly a common way to make them. Although he says he's shy (and admits that's not the best quality in a freelancer), when my ComicsDC blog was playing around with logos, David sent me one out of the blue. Recently, he's had some success with his paintings—first with a show in Arlington and then even more so at last summer's Artomatic.

Washington City Paper: What type of cartooning do you do?

David Hagen: I'm a hired hand, a freelance cartoonist/illustrator.  I draw mostly spot illustrations for advertising, children's markets, magazines, newspapers, textbooks, newsletter, lots of work for associations.

WCP: When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born?

DH: I was born in 1957, as were many people my age.  Birthplace was Alexandria Hospital, but I grew up in London, Tokyo, and Vienna (Virginia, that is).  I went to Madison High School.

WCP: Why are you in Washington now?  What neighborhood or area do you live in?

DH: I got my master's degree in American History at Georgetown University and never left the campus. I've been head of graphic and photographic production for the university for...erm... 27 years (pre-Photoshop). I live in Sterling, Va., and have a mindless hour commute which allows me to come up with artistic inspiration.

WCP: What is your training and/or education in cartooning?

DH: Well, both my parents have wonderful artistic talent and always encouraged me to draw.  I took a number of art classed as a kid. I remember taking a class from Ellen Vartanoff in the 1970s that opened my eyes, but I was pretty much self-taught, copying Peanuts from the newspaper. I was a cartoonist for the high school yearbook and drew a strip, Fool' N Me, for college newspapers at James Madison University and Georgetown. Later, I took art classes for over 10 years from the Corcoran School of Art and worked with many of their wonderful instructors.

WCP: Who are your influences?

DH: I would have to say my major influence is Herge and the clear line of his Adventures of Tintin books.  I would have to call myself a Tintinophile. Tintin is my favorite comic creation.
My favorite comic strip of all-time was Bud Blake's Tiger, and I was lucky enough to carry on a correspondence with him for a number of years before he died. I loved the humor and simplicity of his strip. Sprinkle in some Dr. Seuss and a dash of Warner Bros. cartoons.

WCP: If you could, what in your career would you do-over or change?

DH: I probably would have hired an artists' rep and not been so lazy marketing myself. I'm a pretty shy person which is probably the worst trait to have as a freelance artist.

WCP: What work are you most proud of?

Clorox PDH: I'm very proud of the illustration work I've done for the American Diabetes Association through the years, especially the Wizdom kits that educate kids and parents about children's diabetes. I did some posters about nutrition and exercise that were displayed nationally in schools that I was proud of. Also, I'm very proud of the cartoons and illustrations I did for many years for the National Science Teachers Association's Science Scope magazine. I did some fun illustrations for Clorox, Texaco, 3M, and Dunkin' Donuts. I've done cartoon work for both Republican and Democratic National Committees. In the end though, I'm most proud of the illustration work that I do connected to education or children. I'm very flattered when a client says that because of my drawings, children get a better grasp on things. Texaco gave me an award for illustrations I had done for a training manual for non-English speaking people. The cartoon work I did for Clorox was to educate third world people about the beneficial qualities of bleach and sterilization of water and food. I felt like I made a difference in people's lives with my drawings.

Recently, I participated in Artomatic and have had over 50 commissions for my cartoon paintings...everything from family or pet portraits to monsters devouring D.C.!

WCP: What would you like to do  or work on in the future?

ItSucks PDH: More of the same work. It's amusing and interesting to find what the next day brings. One day you're drawing hissing cockroaches for a pest nanagement company and the next day you're drawing bunnies flying in oversized carrots. I'm enjoying painting cartoon family portraits for people right now. It's great to see the smiles when they see the paintings.

WCP: What do you do when you’re in a rut or have writer’s block?

DH: I let my mind wander while sitting in traffic. I think of strange situations or things I've seen on tv or movies. Google Images is a great photo resource.

WCP: What do you think will be the future of your field?

DH: I'm wondering if there'll be any newspapers in 5 years. Drawing spot illustrations isn't the most lucrative business to get into, especially in a recession. A lot of clients' budgets have drastically shrunk or disappeared. Stock art and photography sites on the Internet are an easy way to go for many clients. I like the personal touch.

WCP: What’s your favorite thing about D.C.?

DH: It's a beautiful city.  I drove some out-of-towners on the George Washington Parkway and they couldn't believe it was one of the main routes into the city. There's so much national history and things to see and do (for free).

WCP: Least favorite?

DH: Parking downtown and the Wizard's uniforms.

WCP: What monument or museum do you take most out-of-town guests to?

DH: I used to take people to see The Awakening statue when it was on Hain's Point, which was always a good photo-op.  The Albert Einstein statue has replaced that now.  We always hit the circuit of national art galleries. Great Falls is impressive.

WCP: Do you have a Web site or blog?

DH: My Web site is under construction, but my blog is hagenillustration.blogspot.com.

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  • Mary Engvall

    What would the world be without comic relief...thanks for bringing us the insight into David's humor and talent. You can't get that from stock images!

  • Elizabeth Tullis

    Great! Wonderful to learn what's been keeping you off the streets and out of trouble. So happy for you that you're getting to do what you love to do. We're very lucky. Best wishes always. et

  • Rose Chou

    Wonderful! Keep making us smile.

  • http://noneavailable Ann Ridge Adams

    It's great to read about the successful son of a classmate from Skidmore, a person who is making it in the art world. Best wishes to you as you continue your journey, Ann (Ridgie).

  • Aleasha M.

    I must say, I love the rabbit in the carrot. I have had the pleasure of David drawing something for me and it is a true treat. Every time I look at my picture it makes me smile. Thank you so much for sharing your gift. I would love to see your blog spot. Keep me informed.
    Phx,AZ

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