Don Chambers, a broadcast animator at WILL, has worked at the UI for eight years. He creates on-air animation, still graphics, Web graphics and billboards. His first book, "Mannequins at Home in Illinois and Western Indiana," published in 2001, features computer-generated 3-D cartoon characters in more than 1,300 photos of Illinois and western Indiana towns. The comic strips debuted in 1994 and have been featured in several newspapers. The current week’s strip is at
http://mannequinscomicstrip.co.uk. Chambers earned a bachelor’s degree in graphic design from Eastern Illinois University.
How did you get started drawing cartoons?
I’ve been drawing cartoons as long as I can remember. The first book I ever remember reading was a Peanuts book. I met Charles Schulz a couple of times, and he called me on the phone one day to talk about a book idea I had based on his characters. He was a very nice person and easy to talk to. Over the years I’ve met several of the major cartoonists. I’ve also met and talked several times with Lynn Johnston, who draws "For Better or for Worse." I sent her a copy of my book and she sent me a copy of her new book. She is such a sweet lady. For the most part, a lot of the really big names in cartooning are quite approachable.
I wanted something different. The characters are completely computer-generated. My wife does hair on the side, and she designed all the characters’ hairstyles.
Where do you get your ideas for the strips and the characters?
Just from my life experiences. My friends. Listening to people. When I’m watching television, a word or a phrase may spark an idea. Sometimes my wife will come up with an idea or I’ll bounce my ideas off her. If only one of us thinks an idea is funny, then we know it needs more work. Most of the characters are composites of people I’ve known. The two male characters are based on friends I had growing up.
The book incorporates photos of many towns in this area. Tell me about that.
Champaign-Urbana is the center of the universe for the book. I thought people might enjoy seeing some photos of their towns integrated into the comic strip rather than computer-generated backgrounds. When I started out, I was hoping to photograph every single town within an 80-mile radius of Champaign-Urbana, but I had no idea there were so many. There were several towns I didn’t photograph, but I didn’t purposely leave out any. It took me a year to travel to all these towns and take all the photos. I just wanted to have the book published before I turned 40. The most frequent comment I get is ‘I never thought I’d see a book with my town in it.’
Did you have any unusual experiences while you were shooting the photos of the towns?
I had lots of them. I was asked for money. I was turned in to the police when I was taking a picture of the Mattoon Journal-Gazette office. They’d been publishing articles about a facility they didn’t want in the area, and people at the paper were getting death threats. They saw me taking pictures of their building and thought I was associated with that. I saw someone run out and take a picture of my car as I was driving away but I didn’t think much about it. Then the police called me and wanted to know what I was doing. Sometimes I probably did just grab a picture of a place and run because I was in a hurry, and it probably did get some people suspicious.
What will be the theme of your next book?
I’m going to focus on the Midwest and counties in southern England to give the book a broader appeal. I’ve already done all the photographs and half the strips. My wife and I took our honeymoon in England, and I did a few pictures then. But for the most part, I’ve been contacting the tourism departments and seeing what they have on file. I would have loved to have just taken a month off and gone to England and taken all the pictures.
What are the challenges of your job at WILL?
There’s a creative challenge to making sure that the images and the quality are consistent among the three stations. Also it’s challenging trying to tie in the graphics created for print with the on-air graphics.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
Probably the chance to do lots of different things. There’s always a chance to try anything you want to do, whether that’s working in the scene shop or on the set or learning new programs or working as a volunteer in WILL’s fund-raising activities.