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I was born in Washington State facing Mount Rainier, but have called the mountains of Colorado home since the third grade. In fifth grade my parents purchased a mountain ranch on Colorado's western slope where I attended a one room school house. It was in this picture out of the past that I drew my first Penmen characters, and swore that one day I would be paid to draw stick figures. My dad must have thought it a worthy enough profession because that year he bought me a T-square and drawing table for Christmas and said, "go for it".
At age 15 I designed my first "Find the Two Identical Penmen" poster. I can remember trying to keep it all a secret, as if someone might copy my idea.
After high school I worked a year in a steel foundary as a grinder on the graveyard shift. Needless to say, this steeled my desire to trade in my air chisel for an ink pen. I spent each hour thinking about how I must protect the fingers on my drawing hand.
I moved to Colorado Springs in 1985 and took a job at the Broadmoor Golf Club where I spent about four years as a waiter serving the card room. I must admit that I picked up a pretty mean gin game game in that time, but I think I'll save it for retirement.
At night I took in some community college classes with a brief interest in sports medicine. It all ended with a quick glance through a chemistry text book. I quickly remembered this cool little stick figure that I had once sworn to turn into a career. I scooted back across campus and reregistered in commercial art.
Then I started spending more and more time at my best friend's condo. She really loved my designs, especially the designs I had on her. I spent my days off work at Jane's place designing my first commercial Penmen poster. She had a CD player, and I like working with music. So I just set up studio in her dining room for six months. There was a whole lot of positive encouragement at Jane's. She made me feel like Picasso.
When I finished the poster, I took the tip money I had been saving and had 250 posters printed. Then I met with the owner of a poster shop in the mall and asked him to join me in a little publicity stunt. He went for the idea right away.
We placed a radio ad on KVUU FM and offered a $200.00 reward to the first person to "Find the Two Identical Penmen", the title of the poster. To enter the contest one would simply have to purchase a Penmen poster.
In a week we sold 20 posters at $20.00, and finally a guy showed up before the store opened to collect his prize money. He looked haggard, and maybe a bit hung over, but he accepted the $200.00 he had earned. Then he told us his story.
He had gone to a party the night before with a friend. He really didn't know anyone in the house. So when he saw the Penmen poster on the table, and was told about the contest, he grabbed a big can of beer nuts and sat down.
Using the beer nuts, he played process of elimination by pointing to one of the 1,039 Penmen, and then scanned the rest of the poster until he could rule that one out by placing a beer nut over the character. Then he moved on to the next one, and so on, and so on, and so on, and so on, he said, until 3 o'clock in the morning. It had taken the poor soul six hours to solve the poster, and perhaps equalling cups of coffee to get himself to the store the next day to claim his prize money before returning home for a few more winks.
Read the rest of Gary Blehm's Story and see
all his Penmen strips and posters at www.penmen.com!