JARRETT OSBORNE, father of Clark Kent Osborne, says he has more than a bit of “a Superman complex.” So when his second son Harrison was born two years ago this month with polycystic kidney disease — on World Kidney Day — the Toronto-based cartoonist and designer felt compelled to leap into action.
“I won’t always be a teacher but I will always be an artist, and with that comes power,” Osborne tells The Post’s Comic Riffs. “Artists can change the world — this we know — so Harrison was that wake-up call I needed.”
That call to action has just led to his launch of POP Remedy, an online syndicate that aims to support cause-focused comics. Osborne has kicked off his site this month with his comic strip “Watter,” with the aim to fight kidney disease.
Comic Riffs caught up with Osborne during our own nation’s National Kidney Month to talk about his passion for art, his commitment to a cause — and just what roles “Garfield” and “Sherman’s Lagoon” are playing in all of this:
MICHAEL CAVNA: First, I can’t imagine what you experienced upon Harrison’s birth. Can you talk about how his birth and condition have changed you — your outlook, your priorities, your career?
JARRETT OSBORNE: The birth of my son confirmed my already deep-seeded desire to help people. I have a superhero complex, so much so that I named my first son Clark with the middle name Kent. When Harrison was born with polycystic kidney disease, I decided to commit to a life of self-reflection and redefining success and happiness. My priorities now are
my happiness and success, which directly impact my wife and children. I won’t ever again put a monetary value on a finite life. … Harrison was that wake-up call I needed. POP Remedy is my Superman.
MC: As a cartoonist and illustrator and creator … what was your [career path] prior to Harrison’s birth?
JO: I was drawing in the womb and have been drawing since 1975. I always knew that being an artist was a gift from whoever and wherever. The problem was, once I started to make money as a freelance artist, it became a job and unfulfilling, and my talent became detested…by me. I was published all over the world and was the most unhappy in my life.
The happiest I ever was as an artist was drawing near-perfect replicas of “Garfield” and “Calvin & Hobbes” for girls I adored from afar in high school. Comics make me the happiest as an artist. I am traditionally trained, so comics on the computer was just another tool. I started my webcomic journey in 2007 with mentor and friend Jim Tierney, who is hands down one of the best and smartest talents I know. We had a dream to take over the world with comics, but our business model was yet to be discovered or agreed upon. I did a couple strips and basically found myself as a comic artist online. I stepped out of the online scene in 2009 for other life priorities and almost five years later, I’m talking with old comic friends, new comic friends, and I have a new comic strip, “Watter,” which I’m really proud of.
MC: How did your vision and clarity about your current creative mission and direction come about? You mention a mentor in your video.
JO: [Canadian mogul] W. Brett Wilson first and foremost was the inspiration — moreover, the person I was trying to please. Brett is one of the world’s leaders in business, entrepreneurism and philanthropy. Years ago, I reached out to him and he reached back at a time I desperately was craving a male mentor and father figure. Brett in my mind was exactly the man I wanted to be, and so his early kindness and now friendship and mentor status have changed and focused me. … He challenged me to step up. … I did, and that made him proud. I had been subconsciously looking to make another man proud for almost 40 years, and when that was affirmed … my life changed.
MC: You talk about comics as a remedy. Could you articulate your philosophy about how what you draw and write can effect larger change? From pen to attempts at panacea, as it were?
JO: Well, great comics, we know, are two parts. One part funny and one part endearing. Science shows that laughter is indeed a medicine — it creates happiness and intimacy and physically strengthens our immune system and diminishes pain. The best comics make you laugh and then resonate within. Jim Davis and “Garfield” taught me how to draw. Bill Watterson and “Calvin and Hobbes” taught me how to draw and make people fall in love.
I believe an artist has a social responsibility to make the world better. Gross National Happiness — not Product — is what I and POP Remedy stand for. We know how strong and passionate both the comic and charity/cause demographic is, and we know that both need to laugh, love and find new outlets. Comics are changing and charity donors are aging. POP Remedy is literally a remedy for both business models. Why not use and combine the strength of comic fans and cause supporters?
MC: How many strips do you syndicate so far, and roughly what percentage of those proceeds go to charity and causes? How big or small a business is this so far?
JO: In my head, POP Remedy is the biggest comic force in the history of the planet…but reality says it launched [this month]. Right now, I am the sole artist with a cause. As of Day 1, however, POP Remedy is attracting other artists and causes. Soon enough I will be able to announce and host other comics with other causes. .. Right now the business is small…but the potential is big. We have great people on our side, new and upcoming artists, connections to syndicated artists, strong affiliations to causes and charities and new relationships with media outlets.
MC: You mention your boyhood of drawing cartoons for girls. Obviously girls inspired you — as is so often the case — but what comics really inspired you? Was it “Calvin and Hobbes” and “Garfield,” mostly? And where did you go to school — what’s your hometown, where is “native soil” for you — and where did you study art?
JO: When I was really young, I used to collect MAD comics, Archie and Garfield. Also a big fan of “B.C.,” “Hi and Lois,” “Peanuts.” I have been drawing my whole life. My mother would allow me to draw all over the kitchen walls and only repaint when I ran out of room. In my tweens, my great friend and rival artist Chris Tieman introduced me to “Calvin and Hobbes.” That’s when the the love of comics went from admiring to becoming. “Calvin and Hobbes” was the inspiratio n and drive to become a cartoonist.
I went to York University and Sheridan College near Toronto, and studied art and art history leaving with an honors degree in fine arts and postgraduate honors diploma in advanced illustration and business….I was drawing funny little characters with no legs, coloring them in crayon and then hanging them in art galleries. I feel like I am from Krypton, but my human birth certificate says North York, Ontario, just outside of Toronto [in the suburb of Brampton].
MC: You talk, too, about “getting” Jim Davis and Jim Toomey. Could you talk your professional relationships — explain to readers how they are involved with what you do?
JO: Years ago, I wrote to Jim Davis and Jim Toomey. The letter to Davis was thanking him for teaching me how to draw [by looking at his strip] — a heartfelt one-pager that he responded to with a letter back, a drawing for me, and a box of some cool signed and original “Garfield” merchandise. When I launched my indiegogo project, I reconnected with his team at PAWS and they sent me three signed collections without hesitation. I have never met the man yet, he has impacted my life.
The letter to Toomey was about the comic process — I adored “Sherman’s Lagoon,” also — and he responded via email [while] vacationing with his family. He gave me advice early on in my career that answered many of the questions not found in books or [on] the Internet. Again, when POP Remedy was crowdfunding, Jim publicly promoted and commended it. These two artists are giants in the industry and both are pioneers in business and cause. They are distant mentors.
MC: So Harrison just turned 2 years old. How is he doing today? What is the prognosis, and is he able to appreciate your artwork, if not your sense of mission?
JO: Harrison is just 2 years old — actually born on World Kidney Day in 2012. He appreciates scribbling on my illustration boards and turning my already long days into later nights. Harrison is doing well…he has what they call the hidden disease. There is no cure, and so we wait. I look at it like the movie “A Perfect Storm”…we know the giant wave is coming, we have heard about it, and we are prepared.
Every healthy day is a blessing and every unhealthy day will be fought with all our arsenal. He doesn’t know it yet, the impact he will have on the face of kidney disease and comics, but he will. He’s going to have to take over my strip when I die. …