Valdosta Daily Times


December 26, 2011

Cartoonist draws from life

RAY CITY — Lifesaving efforts creatively put onto paper is how one area artist utilizes his passion to reach many.

Ray City resident Cliff Ulmer draws for his life ... literally. The artist received the devastating news eight years ago that his kidneys had failed, and he was going to need a transplant. Dealing with the ongoing dialysis and other hurdles have not halted his work. A drawing pad and pencil travel with him everywhere he goes, just in case something sparks his creative interests. Ulmer’s eye-hand coordination has been in sync for more than 50 years, and the hopeful man is not willing to rest any time soon.

At the young age of 6, Ulmer was sketching a picture he saw in a Superman comic book when his aunt Ruth discovered his gift of drawing. He quickly found himself sketching various objects while sitting on his bed with paper and a checker board. The artist said one of the first things that children do, even before going to school, is use their natural instincts to draw (doodle).

“Everyone can draw. I’m just one of those kids who never grew out of it,” Ulmer smiled.

Art has become the man’s life. Even though his art has not always been favorable to some, the artist never stopped creating and now uses his work to raise money and draw awareness to kidney disease.

During the summer months, he can be seen at festivals and carnivals, doing quick caricature depictions of patrons attending the events. The money raised at these events goes toward the medication he will need after his transplant is complete. Ulmer has received the good news that he has been added to the Georgia Transplant registry. He is hopeful he will also receive the kidney soon and raise the $10,000 needed for the medication. The humorous man who appears to be quite healthy said he never looks for pity and is very appreciative of all the support he receives.

Ulmer, 58, was born and raised in Canton, Ohio. At the age of 8, he already knew what he wanted to be when he grew up. The artistic gift was something the artist said came from his mother’s side of the family but, ironically, his mother tried to deter her son from drawing.

“I remember one day I got into trouble, and my mother made me take all my drawings outside and burn them,” he said with sadness still very apparent in his voice and on his face.

“I never knew why she was so disappointed to know I was drawing and didn’t want me doing it. I never stopped, though. I used to sneak and draw. All I ever wanted to do in this life is draw.”

And drawing was just what he was doing even during this interview. Ulmer drew and colored a caricature of The Times reporter in only 20 minutes.

After graduating high school, Ulmer attended Jackson State University where he was a member of the band and produced his first comic strip called Comic Booms. During his second year of college, he created another comic strip called Simon and Clyde. Ulmer said before he knew it, this comic strip had circulated to other universities, and the fan mail came pouring in.

“I received letter after letter asking when the next one would be coming out,” Ulmer said.

From there, the artist created editorial and sports cartoons and even tried his hand at writing sports-related stories for The Jackson Advocate in Mississippi and the Canton Free Press in Ohio. Also adding to his job experience, the artist worked as a courier for Pony Express and a projectionist/manager at a movie theater in Jackson.

After living in Mississippi for 14 years, Ulmer married his wife, Aleah, and followed her to Ray City three years ago like a “lovesick man.”

Now sitting at four years of marriage, Aleah jokingly made the comment, “Never marry an artist.” She said she never knows what she is going to wake up to or how the shift of the wind will affect her husband’s creativity.

“You really don’t know what will inspire him and what he will draw next,” she said.

Inside the interior of their home, framed drawings throughout the living room and office confirm Ulmer’s dedication to his art and to his wife. A number of pictures from different stages of Aleah’s life stood out from the purchased art, lining the walls.

Although the couple have no children in the customary sense of the word, they do share their lives and humble home with their four-legged “children” Shing-Shang and Bojangles (both Pekinese), Muzett (poodle) and her babies Ebony, Ivory and Melody.

Currently, Ulmer is working on T-shirt designs, comic books and cartoons. Aleah assists her husband with editing his scripts, erasing any pencil markings seen after the color has been added to the pictures, etc. She retired from being a rodeo trick rider in 2002 after taking part in the profession since the age of 2. She also participates in festivals and carnivals by painting the faces of children.

Ulmer has made more than a dozen cartoon movies and a countless number of other drawings. When asked what he would do if drawing was no longer a possibility, he said there is only one way he can best describe his feelings pertaining to the question.

“When Charles Shultz, creator of ‘Peanuts,’ got sick in his older years and had to stop drawing because of the constant shaking of his hand, he secretively just gave up. During his last interview, he looked like he was on the brink of tears over the loss of his ability to draw. Shortly after the interview, he died ... that’s the best way I can describe how I feel about art. I believe my love and passion for it would get me over my hurdle, though. If I lost my left hand, I believe everything would just transfer to my right hand. I would find a way to continue my art.”

His passion has proven beneficial, but it is also something that has landed him in trouble a time or two. While attending McKinley High School, the young Ulmer who said he was never a trouble maker in or out of school, found himself in the principal’s office for his art work.

“My shop teacher wore a toupee,” he began his story. “I drew a picture of him getting his hand cut off by a table saw, it flew in one direction and his toupee flew in the other direction ...”

As the picture floated around the classroom, the laughter from the students caught the attention of the teacher. After Ulmer admitted the drawing was one of his very own, the teacher sent him to the principal’s office. The principal found humor in the sketch but sent Ulmer back to class along with some advice: no more funny drawings of the shop teacher.

He is no longer drawing pictures of his shop teacher. Ulmer now draws cartoons that are both Rated PG and PG-13. One of his most recent comic books, Rocap, is based on the real life of a corrections officer. This script adds colorful humor and language with various characters both on the right side and left side of the fence. This comic book is published my Colemantoons out of Oregon and is currently available on Ulmer will be at the South Georgia Regional Library on Woodrow Wilson Drive Feb. 18 at 2 p.m. for a book signing.

He is already planning for Rocap 2. Another prized piece of his collection is Leah and the Boys, a cartoon published by Continental and featuring Ulmer’s wife and beloved dogs. This script is in circulation for newspapers to pick up in a magazine called News Time. Continental is based out of San Diego and distributes comic strips to be featured in small newspapers.

The artist credits many “greats” for their influence on his cartoons. Some of his favorite artists and creative works include: Dennis the Menace and Dick Tracy, Gene Colin and the late great Jack Kirby, Jerry Robinson (one of the creators of Robin from Batman and Robin) and Chester Commodore of the Chicago Defender.

Ulmer’s mother passed away some years ago. His aunt Ruth resides in Huntsville, Ala., and is a painter. Ulmer’s two brothers live in the Atlanta and Fayetteville areas and also profess the art gene passed down through their mother’s bloodline. One family member was not quite so lucky, though. Ulmer laughed when saying his one and only sister “can’t draw a straight line.”

If anyone would like to make a donation toward the medical costs Cliff Ulmer will be facing post-kidney transplant surgery, please mail checks or money orders to:

Georgia Transplant Foundation

(In honor of Clifford Ulmer)

500 Sugar Mill Road, Suite 170-A, Atlanta, Ga. 30350.

The Georgia Transplant Foundation will match every dollar donated. More information, call (229) 686-3036.

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