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Artists help out cartoonist with tumor

Fri., March 10, 2006

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A cartoonist whose vision is threatened by a tumor is getting some help from his fellow comic-strip artists.

Rob Harrell, whose “Big Top” strip about an eccentric cast of circus animals appears in about 40 newspapers, is recovering from surgery to remove the tumor. He hated the thought of running old cartoons, so artists such as Jim Davis of “Garfield” fame and “Ziggy” creator Tom Wilson stepped in to draw “Big Top” for him.

“It’s one of the nicest things that people have ever done for me,” said the 37-year-old Harrell, who lives in Austin, Texas, and whose strip is syndicated by Kansas City-based Universal Press Syndicate.

At first, doctors said they would probably have to remove his eye. But cancer specialists later suggested an experimental treatment. He had just the tumor removed and will soon begin radiation therapy.

Harrell’s operation came up so fast he was unable to create a stockpile of strips to run while he recovered.

“The idea that I wouldn’t help someone with eye surgery seemed absurd,” said Jan Eliot, the “Stone Soup” creator who has had seven eye operations herself, which she called a nightmare for an artist. “You can break a leg, you can have all kinds of things happen other than your right hand or your eyes.”

Strips by 15 guest artists will run through March 22.

Harrell said his replacements handled the strips entirely on their own, from storyline to art. He did not see the strips until they started running on Monday.

“It’s so much fun to get up in the morning and see what somebody else did,” he said.

Some of the guest artists brought their own drawing styles to “Big Top.” Others tried to mimic Harrell’s.

Harrell has since resumed work. The patch over his right eye has been removed, but it is still swollen and only about two-thirds open.

He has worked out an explanation to “Big Top” fans who may have noticed a difference: When Harrell’s strips resume, the circus bear Wink will wake up and learn that he fell from his unicycle and suffered a head injury. He will realize that his friends looked different for a couple of weeks because it was all a dream.


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