By Amanda Eggert
Cartoonist and illustrator Bruce Cochran takes advantage of slow, quiet moments on hunts by painting what he sees. He pulls out a small kit of watercolors that he keeps with him and uses the available water to paint a landscape or perhaps a small cartoon.
“I really like that idea, that he uses the water where he’s hunting,” said photographer Jon Blumb, Cochran’s friend of more than 20 years.
Inspiration for the idea came from “Muriel Foster’s Fishing Diary,” a 35-year collection of art and prose the pioneering author compiled throughout her life as a fly-fisher. “I said something to my wife about it and she said, ‘Well, you’re an artist, why don’t you do anything like that?’ So I started that in ’98,” Cochran said.
He’s filled 10 or 11 sketchbooks since picking up the habit. Cochran jokes that he’s “about 70 or 80.” He’s a hair closer to the 70 side – he’s 74 years old.
As a kid, Cochran spent a fair bit of time in the outdoors as a Boy Scout, eventually making it into the Exploring program as a teenager. “We used to go out and camp where we mostly just took our guns and our fishing rods and we were going to live off of the land,” Cochran remembers. “I ate a robin once and a woodpecker and all kinds of weird stuff, whatever you could get.”
These days, Cochran hunts for turkey and deer on a couple hundred acres of land he shares with four other people. “It’s nothing too fancy,” Cochran said. “But we have a nice little house up there with five bedrooms and a couple of bathrooms.” Cochran is quite the avid fly-fisher, too.
Cochran lives in Prairie Village, a suburb of Kansas City, Mo., with Carol, his wife of 52 years. They have two children and four grandchildren.
Cochran started working in the art world before he graduated from the University of Oklahoma, where he studied design. During his last year of college, he worked part time at an advertising agency. “The most valuable experience that I got out of that was that I learned I never wanted to work at another ad agency again,” Cochran said.
Cochran has been drawing ever since he was an “itty bitty kid.” His mother and older sister were artists. His mother primarily painted landscapes and was skilled with both oil and watercolors. His sister, Adrienne, worked as an illustrator for the Daily Oklahoman in Oklahoma City.
“A lot of people ask me, ‘How did you get into cartooning?’ I do kind of have a stock answer for them, but it’s true,” Cochran said. “I always say, ‘Well, if you draw all over your schoolbooks instead of reading them, by the time you get out of school the only thing you’re qualified to be is a cartoonist.’ It’s true, actually. What else could I do? I never learned anything else.”
Thankfully, there were no career counselors around when Cochran decided at a young age that he wanted to be a cartoonist. “If there was, I probably would have done something else because everybody probably would have told me, ‘You can’t make a living at being a cartoonist, you can’t do that.’”
But he has, and he’s done well for himself. Also a writer, Cochran has 11 books to his name. His first four cartoon books, “Buck Fever,” “Bass Fever,” “Duck Fever” and “Trout Fever,” kicked off the popular “Fever” series. Wyoming Wildlife, Pheasants Forever Journal, Ducks Unlimited and Kansas Wildlife & Parks are a few of Cochran’s regular clients. There’s an oddball in the mix, too – Playboy, one of Cochran’s long-standing clients. They pay well and it’s a fun commission, he said.
Cochran is known among his friends and colleagues for his sharp wit. Cochran’s friend Mike Levy, a past president of OWAA, said his wife, Cindy, is amazed that “a guy who looks like a Sunday school teacher has such a wicked sense of humor.”
“I think he’s got a keen appreciation for things that are ironic,” Blumb said. “That’s a slightly different emphasis than being just plain funny. He’s very observant, as you would imagine, and of course witty.”
Blumb recruited Cochran to OWAA and the Outdoor Writers of Kansas in the early 90s. Cochran doesn’t know of any other cartoonists in OWAA, aside from OWAA past president Cliff Shelby. Cochran said he’s learned a lot about the craft of writing and its business aspects from Joel Vance, Tom Huggler, Dave Richey and many speakers at OWAA conferences. In the past decade, Cochran has won several awards in the magazine category OWAA Excellence in Craft humor contest.
Cochran’s artistic talents aren’t limited to cartoons – his wildlife prints aren’t too shabby and he has a knack for the written word. The last few books he’s written are what he calls “heavily-illustrated humor books.” Two of Cochran’s books, “Antler’s Away” and “Marsh Madness,” include haikus on sporting themes.
Levy also wrote a haiku of his own. It honors his friend:
“Clutching inky pen
Cochran’s humor enlivens
Our outdoor pursuits”
“Bruce is always relating some of his work to things that rest of us [outdoor enthusiasts] have experienced and kind of filed away in our minds,” Blumb said. ◊
Amanda Eggert grew up in Billings, Mont., skiing in the Beartooth Mountains and rafting the Stillwater River. She has since moved to Missoula, where she is finishing up a degree in print journalism at the University of Montana. As OWAA’s fall intern, her duties included crafting Character Sketch articles, compiling Supporting Group News Tips, News Briefs, Bookshelf items and Outdoor Market listings.