By Eileen Persike
Ron Braun doesn’t remember exactly how he got started drawing cartoons. He does recall going over to friends’ houses to draw while friends watched him draw. As a youngster, he’d put stories to the drawings, but it wasn’t until high school that he began drawing with a purpose.
“I can’t remember whether I wanted to [draw] for a living then or whether I wanted to be doing it so someone would see it,” Braun said. “I always kept it to myself along with friends, but not for public consumption.”
Former Rhinelander High School English teacher Darlene Machtan taught the journalism course when Braun was a student. At the time, the late 1970’s, Machtan said she was so desperate for any kind of art other than photos to fill the pages of the monthly RHS Reporter, that she’d have taken anything that didn’t require hours in the darkroom.
“Ron was kind of a shy guy,” Machtan recalled. “He came in one day and said that he had some cartoons if I wanted to use them. When I had a chance to look at them, I thought ohhhhhh, he’s gooood. He’s really good!”
While he entered the work force right after high school, Braun continued
drawing. After moving to Indianapolis in the early 80s, he drew illustrations that local florists would use in advertising and picked up other drawing jobs. Later, Braun started putting together gag cartoons to send to magazines and began getting published. Over the next decade or so, the 1981 RHS graduate created several self-syndicated comic strips.
In 2011, Braun decided he was done with that. He was in the process of putting everything to bed when it occurred to him that he should put the comic strips together in books. Working from his most recent cartoons to the oldest, “A Long Time Ago in a High School Not So Far Away” was released in January, 2016. The book is a collection of cartoons from his high school days.
“I enjoyed putting the books together and looking back over everything,” said Braun. He included commentary in the “Long Time Ago” book, mentioning details he remembered and where the ideas came from.
“I talk about how I just used my initials, RWB, for quite awhile. I guess because I didn’t want the attention,” he said. “My friends knew, though, and would give me positive feedback. Especially if I used an idea of theirs or gave them a shout-out in the cartoon.”
The book gives shout outs to several friends and co-workers on the newspaper staff, people like Mike Knuth, Rob Swearingen, Craig Lassig, Dean Stowers and Cecily Dawson.
According to Machtan, it’s full of inside jokes. “The book is interesting not only because of the cartoons but the back story on all of it. It’s beautiful – crisp and clean and it’s a great publication.”
In visiting with Braun’s classmates, Machtan said one called the book, “a snapshot of a period in our lives that we don’t revisit often.” So specific, she said, it covered all the events that took place through the year. “It’s a real time capsule. I think that’s what it is.” One of his cartoons references what Matchtan called an “innocent time,” when one of the biggest concerns was getting caught chewing gum.
Braun’s next project involves inking from pencil and re-lettering a comic he recently found that was created at age 14. “My 14-year old self did part of it and my 53-year old self did part of it.” He also attends smaller comic book conventions and makes appearances at libraries.
Ron Braun’s work can be seen at toon-it-up.com and books purchased at toonitup.storenvy.com.