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BY WIL MacALLISTER
This is what Karen Shelby says is the defining characteristic of her husband, Cliff Shelby. She says, “He just doesn’t see things like you or I do, he looks at everything differently.”
Luckily, we get to see glimpses of his perspective through his cartoons and illustrations.
Like many married outdoorsman, Shelby had a habit of leaving his toys and tools awry about the house, with his wife calling after him to put his stuff up.
After this continued for some time, Cliff Shelby showed Karen Shelby a new cartoon he created. It depicted a man relaxed in his favorite chair and watching TV, wearing a shirt that read, “hunt, fish, sleep… repeat.” Above him, attached to the ceiling were guns, fishing rods, backpacks and tackle boxes. The caption of the cartoon read, “Harold finally obeyed his wife’s demands to ‘PUT YOUR STUFF UP!’”
Shelby grew up in El Dorado, Ark., a town close to the state’s southern border. He and his wife now live on the northern border of Arkansas in Flippin, where they run C. Shelby Communications & Design, a design and art company focused on the outdoor industry. Shelby says that he has always enjoyed living in the South because there are great fishing options available all year long.
As a boy, Shelby would lay in bed with outdoor magazines dreaming about being on the adventures he would read about. Sometimes he would take his shotgun, place it over the handlebars of his bicycle and peddle out of town to live those adventures in the surrounding forests.
Cliff Shelby’s uncle Oscar was a big influence in his involvement with outdoor activities. To hone the young Shelby’s fishing skills, his uncle placed tin cans in the lawn
at different distances and had Shelby practice casting to the cans. Once his uncle was satisfied with the young Shelby’s progress, he agreed to take him fishing. It was set up that at 4:30 a.m., Shelby would be waiting on the curb outside his house, ready for his uncle to pick him up.
Saturday morning came and Shelby was inside with his rod and tackle box, waiting with the light on. His uncle pulled up and Shelby grabbed his things and headed for the door. By the time Shelby got outside, his uncle had already driven away.
Shelby was upset by this and his father later called the uncle to ask him what happened.
“Never treat an outdoorsman like that,” Shelby remembers his uncle saying. “If you tell someone you are going to be somewhere at a certain time you need to be there.” Shelby has never forgotten that lesson.
At 10, Shelby began working at a local sporting goods store and continued working there through his high school education. Starting as just a cleaning boy, it only took Shelby a few years to earn the owners’ confidence to open the store on his own on Saturdays.
Shelby developed an appreciation for the outdoorsmen customers and greatly enjoyed knowing that he was helping them enjoy and follow their passions.
After high school, Shelby joined the U.S. Air Force Strategic Command and was an airborne navigation systems technician for four years.
Shelby then studied at the School of Art Institute in Chicago, eventually receiving his bachelor’s degree in illustration and advertising design with a minor in marketing from Louisiana Technical Institute.
Shelby worked various jobs in different companies’ art departments and was a freelance cartoonist, illustrator and copy-writer, working for such companies as Bagley Bait Co. and Ranger Boat Co.
Shelby’s best known cartoon series ran in Bassmaster Magazine for 39 years, ending just two years ago. The cartoon series was called “Harry ‘N’ Charlie,” which featured two
fishing buddies and their comical lives. Shelby created the series with Don Wirth and the characters were loosely based off of Shelby and Wirth’s own adventures.
Shelby joined the Outdoor Writers Association of America in 1980 and was later elected to office in 1997, becoming president of OWAA from 2000-2001. As for Shelby’s time in office, he says, “The job was to try to make everyone happy but you just can’t, you have to do your best to make the majority of the people happy.”
Shelby says that what he has valued about being an OWAA member is being able to meet and connect with people in the field that he had admired so much throughout his life. Shelby developed mentoring relationships with other members and it inspired him to hope he would one day be a mentor for the following generations. ♦
—Born and raised in New Hampshire, Wil MacAllister has been in Montana for five years while completing his bachelor’s degree in journalism. He is the fall semester intern at OWAA headquarters. Contact MacAllister at firstname.lastname@example.org