If you've ever picked up fried chicken at Jack Pirtle's, requested a maze or crossword puzzle for your kid at Shoney's, or seen the balloons depicting a top hat with shoes in front of a Jim Keras car dealership on Covington Pike, you're familiar with the work of cartoonist Greg Cravens.
In fact, you probably see Cravens' work every week in this very paper. Cravens illustrates the Flyer's "What They Said" column, and he occasionally creates graphics for the cover. He's been working with the Flyer on a freelance basis since the paper was founded in 1989. But Cravens' work extends across the city (and even the globe).
- Greg Cravens
Cravens illustrates and authors the syndicated comic strip The Buckets, which runs in about 40 papers across the globe, including papers in Australia and Thailand. He's the guy who designed the Jack Pirtle's logo, boxes, and cups, and years ago, he created the iconic top-hat-with-eyes "Mayor of Covington Pike" logo.
For years, he drew the Shoney Bear in that restaurant chain's children's activity books. He used to draw the Piggly Wiggly pig in the former Memphis-based grocery chain's line of children's books. He illustrates Homewood Suites' line of children's books that are sold in their hotel gift shops. He's designed comic books for Backyard Burgers. He's created artwork for the Peabody. His work is everywhere.
In the past couple of weeks, he wrapped up work on two murals. One depicts a wine cellar inside the new Pinot's Palette location in Cordova. And the other mural is for the birds — literally. Cravens painted the Memphis skyline and the marshy Mississippi River inside The Peabody's duck enclosure on the hotel rooftop.
But Cravens would rather be illustrating comic strips or newspaper articles.
"Murals are not my thing," Cravens says.
His primary thing is The Buckets, a comic strip about a family with "two boys, a dog, and a mortgage." It ran in The Commercial Appeal for months until it was suddenly dropped without explanation a few years back.
"They ran it until they dropped six cartoons from the paper, and mine was one of those," Cravens said.
The Buckets was created by cartoonist Scott Stantis in the early 1990s, but Stantis handed the baton to Cravens in 2000, when Stantis' kids — the inspiration for the comic — grew up. Cravens had two young kids at the time, and thanks to a background in advertising illustration, he was skilled in mimicking the styles of other artists. He was able to draw The Buckets characters in Stantis' style for several years before adding a few tweaks in his own style.
He also authors and illustrates his own webcomic called Hubris (http://hubriscomics.com), which highlights all the outdoorsy things Cravens wishes he was doing — bike riding, skateboarding, rock climbing, kayaking.
"I started Hubris so I could own something when I sell books at [cartoonist] conventions or sell sketches or doodles. When I started doing The Buckets, syndicates still owned all the work. Later, creator rights kicked in, and you can now copyright it with your name. So The Buckets is mine now too," Cravens said.
Cravens began his work as a cartoonist when he was just 14 years old. And, as he tells it, he's been leaving a trail of destruction ever since.
"When I was 14, I got my first comic strip in the newspaper. It was a little weekly newspaper in Jackson, Tennessee," Cravens says. "Three weeks later, the newspaper folded. I went off to Opryland and did caricatures when I was 16 or 17. When I left, they shut it down and turned it into a shopping mall.
"Then I went off to Memphis State and got a graphic design degree. I left there, and they changed the name of the university on me. Having left that trail of destruction, I went into advertising, thinking there's an industry that needs a good kneecapping. You can't kill advertising, so I went back into comic strips, and you see where newspapers are now."
In the next few months, Cravens will be turning his attention to the 70th Annual National Cartoonists Society Reuben Awards — "like our Oscars," he says — which will be held in Memphis on Memorial Day weekend. Hundreds of cartoonists will be flying into the city to attend the show, and Cravens has entered some work to be considered for a nomination.