In the following years, he read any comic strip and animation book that he could get his hands on. Heathcliff and The Family Circus were the ones most readily available to him in the ’70s, and with the ’80s came Garfield and Calvin & Hobbes.
It was in eighth grade that he noticed at the bottom of a Garfield strip the name “Jim Davis.” At that moment, the thought dawned on him that this person gets up every morning, draws a cartoon, then goes back to bed! “That is what I want to do for a living!” he thought.
In high school, he enrolled in a cartooning course which he nearly failed. The grade never discouraged him, and he kept drawing in the hopes that one day he could become a professional cartoonist. David’s interests shifted from comic strips to the field of animation where he began to research the human form and the art of movement.
Disney animation became his guide to cartoons and he tried to develop a style that would help him get into the door at Disney when it came time to submit a portfolio. He continued drawing comic strips, though. Being published in the high school paper proved gratifying, and it gave him the encouragement to draw more.
In college he discovered the names and addresses of the major syndicates and with guidance from his local paper’s editorial cartoonist, Frank Cammuso, David soon had a job drawing an original comic strip called School Bored in a weekly insert geared for high school students called “the hj.” This was his first official cartoonist job. It by no means was high-paying, but it did give him a true taste of professional deadlines.
He developed cartoons through his first year of college and continued sending them off to the syndicates and accepting their rejection letters. At the same time, he was lucky enough to find a small animation company called Animotion that was local to Syracuse and found himself working on true animation projects.
It was in September of 1994 that David sat down at his drawing desk and drew the first image of Buckles derived from a dog he always drew as a warm-up exercise. At this point, the dog was very wolf-like with standing ears and confident eyes. But by drawing his ears downward and giving him larger eyes, Buckles almost immediately jumped out of the paper.
An insecure dog, naive to the world, made David laugh. “I developed his personality by putting mine into him. Every quirk that I didn’t like about myself became very funny and the writing of the strip became even easier.”
David began the task of drawing the Buckles comic strip and within a very short time, he had produced enough strips to complete a submission package to the syndicates.
“I truly didn’t want to do a dog strip. I always felt there were already so many dogs in the comics, but Buckles made me laugh and I felt good about him. So, I began sending him off to the syndicates on the notion that I just wanted to know what they would say about him,” David explained.
Several syndicates responded back with an interest in syndicating Buckles, and he ultimately chose King Features out of them. On March 25, 1996, Buckles first appeared in newspapers across the country.
“Being able to work on Buckles as a full-time cartoonist has been a complete joy for me, and I would not trade it for anything. Though some days can be less enjoyable and mentally exhausting, I try never to forget how lucky I am to be able to be a part of a profession where I can continue to do what I’ve loved since I was 5 years old.”