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Columbus artist Paul Palnik tells stories, finds humor with cartoons

Shelby Lum / Lantern photographer

 

Very few people are all that funny. Even fewer are so funny they can make a living off it, but Paul Palnik has managed to do just that.  

Palnik, a cartoon artist located in the Short North, has written and illustrated numerous books, has hundreds of drawings in the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at Ohio State and has worked as an artist for several publications including American Greetings and The Columbus Dispatch. 

His book, “Couples: How Two Worlds Become One: Short Essays on Love and Destiny” was the first book he wrote and illustrated himself, and this year marks its 30-year anniversary. 

Copies of the book aren’t available anymore and have sold out since the book’s publication in 1983. 

“They printed 34,000 (copies) and 34,000 were sold,” Palnik said. 

He said the book was originally a poster, and a publisher suggested he make it into a book. One of those copies is on display in the Cartoon Library. 

“I count it to be a prestigious thing to be part of that collection,” he said. 

Lucy Caswell, founding curator at the Cartoon Library, originally helped get Palnik’s work into the library. 

“The Cartoon Library began with the Milton Caniff Collection. We then branched out to include the work of cartoonists related to Ohio State and those who worked in Ohio, and Palnik fits both of those categories,” Caswell said in an email.

Jenny Robb, curator at the Cartoon Library, said she believes Palnik has a great sense of humor. 

“He brings in spiritual themes. A lot of humor and a lot of detailed graphic work go into creating his masterpieces,” Robb said. 

Palnik’s work ranges from small prints to large posters to books. “(His cartoons) are the kind that you spend a lot of time looking at and reading,” Robb said. 

Although humor plays a key role in his cartoons, Palnik’s work has an underlying spirituality about religion and human nature in general. 

“There is always a river of spirituality underneath every piece,” he said. 

Caswell agreed. 

“Its content is informed by his Jewish perspective and his wry sense of humor,” Caswell said.  

Palnik worked for The Jerusalem Post in Israel, but his cultural influences don’t stop there. He said he is fond of wisdom literature of all different cultures and loves comparative religion literature. 

For him, his Jewish heritage isn’t only tied to his culture but also his artistic ability, and he said he is still doing scribal art. 

“I’m Jewish, and I come from a tribe of Jews that were scribes,” Palnik said. “Cartoons are part calligraphy, part art, part storytelling. It’s very, very Jewish in nature.”

Being a cartoonist and an artist was part of his family long before he began coloring on his kitchen floor. 

“For thousands of years, (drawing) got into the bloodstream and the DNA,” Palnik said. 

That long-standing history is prevalent through generations of Palnik’s family. His mother was an artist, he is an artist and his son is an artist. 

“(Drawing) is intrinsic to my being,” he said. “It’s like breathing for me.”

Through the fundamental spirituality of his drawings, Palnik delves into what makes people human. 

“Palnik has a confidence about what he wants to say and how he wants to say it that are unique,” Caswell said. 

Robb noticed the same quality in Palnik’s work and said he is very insightful about human nature. 

Palnik said his cartoons are about life and pertain to all people. 

“I’m very concerned with living and dying and the meaning of life,” he said. 

Since he graduated from Ohio State in 1969 with a bachelor’s and master’s degree, he has made his living through his art. 

Palnik said art has never been a job for him, though. 

One of his favorite parts of drawing, Palnik said, is how he becomes profoundly alive. 

“When I am drawing, I am becoming more of who I am,” he said.

Even his location in Columbus has influenced him. 

“I think if you make it here you can make it anywhere. Columbus is very much like a condensed America,” he said. “I am Columbus, Ohio, and that’s fine with me.”

Being from Columbus has made Palnik into who he is today: a regular guy. 

“I trust that I am just a regular guy. There is nothing special about me. I come from a working-class family,” Palnik said. “If I like (my art), other people will like it.”

He said his work isn’t intended for just the rich. Cartoons are meant for everyone, and he intends to continue the form as a people’s art.  

From his Columbus studio and home, Palnik ships his work all over the country and all over the world. 

Palnik’s studio is located at 14 E. Lincoln St.

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