When Ian Stigliani was growing up in New York, he was never far from good comics or cartoons. As a boy, he was a fan of Charlie Brown. He then discovered cartoonist Tom Armstrong’s Marvin cartoon. The thing about comic strips and cartoons is that they can convey an entire story, a beginning, middle and end, sometimes in a single panel. “Comic books tell entire stories,” Stigliani says. “They’re little windows where something relatable is communicated.”
So a young Stigliani tried out his hand in cartooning, creating a comic starring his cat. When he was finished, he didn’t like what he saw. It wasn’t anything like the work of Armstrong or Charles M. Schulz. So he gave up, remained a fan of cartoons, but never dabbled in the craft again – until the pandemic.
In May 2020, he challenged himself to make a comic every day for his close family and friends for 90 days. The subject matter was mostly about the pandemic, peppered with his introverted personality and sense of humor.
One of his early panels, titled “Tightly Wrapped,” depicts mask-wearing during Halloween. A zombie wearing a disposable mask comments on a gauze wrapped-mummy and says, “Well aren’t you just Mr. Prepared!” Another, titled “Running Out,” looks at the toilet paper shortage in a Salinas “Foodsmart.” One roll whispers to another, “Shh… It’ll be a laugh.”
Some of his cartoons poke fun at our shared isolation. “Darkness Disrupted” is three panels, beginning with a character having an existential crisis. The spiral is thwarted in the second panel when another character reminds them to clean the cat litter.
It’s been a little over a year now, and Stigliani has completed an additional three rounds of 90-day comic challenges. Today he draws a comic every other day.
He found that being isolated, and being made to feel more aware of his surroundings was the motivation to start. Making something for others also kept pushing him. “Really my [friends and family] became my accountability group,” he says.
He turned his comics into a daily email and now he has his own website and blog where people can view all of his work. His audience often sends messages that encourage him. “I get emails like ‘I can relate to that,’ or ‘I feel the same way,’” he says.
Finally, he’s mastered something that even professional artists who paint or sculpt for a living have trouble with – continuous production. He approached the challenge admitting he wasn’t a professional. Instead he accepted he was an amateur. Drawing comics was no longer about being perfect or making something he was proud of every time. He was just learning.
“The most challenging thing is not being a perfectionist. If I’m a beginner, I can stick to a challenge,” he says. “My creativity was a source of comfort and safety, hope and humor.”