40 years makes Bob Wilson a legend

By Josh Hester

CUBA – You may never hear his name mentioned with the likes of Mort Walker or Charles Schultz, but Bob Wilson has become a cartooning legend in Crawford County.

Since opening Mid-State Lumber in 1965, Wilson’s name has not only been synonymous with his cartoons but with the Cuba Free Press.

For over 40 years, Wilson’s cartoons have covered everything from his business advertisements to politics and social issues occurring on both the local and national level.

“I started cartooning for the Mid-State Lumber ads in the 1960s,” Wilson recalled. “We were portrayed as ‘#3’ in those cartoons.

“I did it to bring some attention to us since we were the third lumber yard in town.”

Wilson, who is originally from DeSoto, Mo., moved to Cuba in 1958.

“I went to what was then called the Missouri School of Mines and married a Cuba girl,” Wilson said of his trek to Crawford County, “and opened Mid-State in 1965.”

After selling the lumberyard in 2003, Wilson said he quit cartooning.

“After I quit, people would ask me about my cartoons and that got me fired up again,” he recalled.

Percy Pascoe, the former owner of the Cuba Free Press and often the brunt of Wilson’s drawings, commented on Wilson and his editorial cartoons.

“He would usually comment on some government, city council or school issue,” he said. “He picked on probably every mayor that we had.

“I never did get upset that I was the subject of many of the cartoons, and it was always so funny that you never could get upset at the guy.”

Pascoe’s only qualm with Wilson’s likeness of the former newspaper owner was his looks.

“He never did draw me looking very good,” Pascoe said.

He continued noting that  no one was safe from Wilson’s cartoons.

“He didn’t pull any punches on anybody, but it was done in such a way that everybody laughed,” he recalled. “Nothing was sacred, not even his wife. He hit everybody, he hit me often and everybody enjoyed his humor.”

Wilson’s cartoons have been humorous, but he never really considered himself an artist.

“I doodled and drew cartoons since I was in grade school,” he said. “I never had any art classes of any kind. I always wished I had taken some in college.”

Even with no formal training, Wilson’s cartoons go through a meticulous artistic process.

The ideas for his cartoons come from a variety of sources, television, newspaper, local happenings or anything he can make a joke out of.

The initial sketch always goes onto a yellow tablet in pencil before being placed on a homemade lightbox to be transferred to white paper and colored with a felt-tipped pen.

Today, the 74-year-old artist has to wake up earlier to complete his semi-monthly masterpieces for the paper.

“I don’t do the final product until about 5:30 in the morning because that is when my hands are the most steady,” he said.

Just like every artist, Wilson has secrets and concerns about his cartoons which he revealed.

“I always wanted to do better caricatures, but I never could do that and sometimes I worry that the cartoons don’t look like the people they’re supposed to,” he said. “I’ve always drawn myself with a trademark hat and mustache.

“On of my secrets is that I never could draw eyes and make them look decent, so I use the hat to hide the eyes.”

Over the years, Wilson has done hundreds if not thousands of cartoons, none of which he could call his favorite.

He did note that his wife, Marilyn, who he’s been married to for 49 years, has appeared in several of his cartoons.

“When  Hurricane Marilyn hit, I drew a cartoon saying that ‘Hurricane Marilyn was no big deal I’ve been married to one for over 30 years,’” he laughed.

“ I also did a series for a while on the Bourbon speed trap and rode them pretty hard about it,” he said. “People used to ask me how many tickets I got down there.

“I’ve never had a ticket at all in Bourbon. My last traffic ticket was in 1953, so I’m a pretty safe driver.”

Wilson’s cartoons have been so popular that he self-published three books containing his cartoons. The most recent was published in 2001.

“I had cancer surgery in 1998 and we sold the third book for $6 each,” he said. “All the proceeds went to the American Cancer Society and the Salvation Army.”

Wilson’s ventures over the years have not only had him cartooning and owning Mid-State, but owning a lumberyard in Sullivan and a tool rental service.

Today, he owns Mid-Mo Truss and a farm on the Meramec River between Steelville and Meramec Spring.

“I have cattle and I enjoy it,” he said. “I have a manager that takes care of the hard work–I have an air conditioned tractor and I’m the bush hog king. It’s more of a hobby for me now, but it keeps me busy. I have to be busy.”

Wilson, the father of three and grandfather of eight, stressed that he was only semi-retired.

“I just can’t quit,” he said.

After all the years of cartooning, Wilson did note that his bride still gets upset with his drawings.

“She still gets upset with me sometimes if I get on something too controversial, but most of the time she understands,” he said.. “I’ve never intended to hurt anyone’s feelings or beat someone down, it’s all in a joke. I know I have hurt feelings, but I never intended to.”