A humorous panel cartoon, “Spectickles,” created by a mostly self-taught cartoonist who lives in Kenmore, begins Monday on the cartoon page of The Buffalo News.
Bill Abbott's whimsical work often focuses on the foibles of a middle-aged married couple, but also ventures into the wider world of doctors, health insurance, cooks, restaurants, cavemen, aliens and the Grim Reaper.
Abbott, a native of Wynantskill, a hamlet near Troy, studied criminal justice at Hudson Valley Community College, then worked briefly as a stockbroker in Albany. But he found his true calling when he joined the Navy in 1992.
After a four-year tour on the destroyer USS Arleigh Burke, Abbott became an elite special warfare combatant-craft crewman, operating high-performance boats to provide mission support to Navy SEALs.
Abbott left active duty in 1999 and joined the Navy Reserve, going on deployments to South Korea, Portugal and Puerto Rico. In 2003, he volunteered to serve in Iraq, followed by a second tour from a base in Bahrain. In mid-2008, he moved to Western New York, where he lives with his wife, Shelly, his sons, Billy, 20, and Thomas, 14, and the family's black Lab, Arleigh. Abbott is currently in an inactive but ready status in the Reserve, and expects to retire next year.
"Throughout my life, I had always loved cartooning, and drew incessantly," he said. "I carried a copy of Mort Gerberg’s book, 'Cartooning: The Art and Business' with me through Iraq and the Middle East."
Abbott's only brush with formal training was a class on caricature he attended through Ken-Ton Continuing Education. The class was taught by local artist and fellow veteran Ralph Sirianni.
After returning from his last deployment, Abbott focused on becoming a professional cartoonist. His work has appeared in Reader’s Digest, the Saturday Evening Post and the Wall Street Journal, among others, and on greeting cards in the U.S., U.K., and Australia. “Spectickles” is syndicated with Creators Syndicate.
Abbott said his cartoon influences began with Charles Schulz, whose "Peanuts" characters adorned the curtains and bedspread in Abbott's room when he was 5. "That’s what first inspired me to draw," he said. "To this day, I can still draw a respectable Snoopy. Well, almost respectable."
Abbott said that "Herman," by Jim Unger, Gary Larson's “The Far Side,” along with "many, many of the New Yorker cartoonists, past and present, keep me inspired and striving to be better. Their command of a simplified version of the human form, their approach to humor, and the subject matter they pull their ideas from never ceases to amaze me."
The name "Specktickles" was invented by his Australian licensing agent, Grahame Allan, Abbott said. "He used a play on words, which seemed to work."
The main characters in the panel are a portly, long-married couple, whom Abbott said he modeled on Walter Matthau and Ethel Merman.
"From that perspective, each character took on their own personality traits," he said. "The husband character is something of a clueless, inconsiderate, incompetent boob, while the female character is domineering, loud and overbearing. So it’s not, I hope, a play on unfair stereotypes, but rather two characters acting in a way they were designed to act. As the two characters interact, the dynamics of their nitro and opposing glycerin personalities create what I’d like to think are humorous results."