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Drawing a crowd
Air Force Staff Sgt. Benjamin Schneider works on his "Airman Artless" character in his home office on JBER Jan.14. Schneider is a cartoonist, creating the comical graphics as a hobby. His work has been published in the Okahoma Daily, the Aviano Air Base's the Vigileer in Italy, Kadena Air Base's Samurai Gate in Japan, U.S. Air Foces in Europe's Air Scoop Magazine, and the bi-weekly Crimson Sky in Korea. His work is also available on his website He is a training monitor for the 3rd Munitions Squadron. His hometown is Newscastle, Okla. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Robert Barnett)
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Drawing a crowd

Posted 1/22/2013   Updated 1/22/2013 Email story   Print story


by Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert Barnett
JBER Public Affairs

1/22/2013 - 1/18/2013 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- -- Many authors and artists are familiar with the struggle for success and recognition. Many give up the effort. The success stories are often told by those passionate about the work itself, enjoying the creation more than any profit that might come from publishing.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Benjamin Schneider is one of those who truly enjoys making art. In his case, his passion lies in creating comic strips.

"I've been making cartoons since my college days," said Schneider, 3rd Munitions Squadron training monitor. "I was making 'Holidabblers.' Back then I called them 'Holiday Heroes'.

I drew them in colored pencil. When I was going to Oklahoma University, these were published in the Oklahoma Daily in 2000. They accepted my colored-pencil drawings for about a semester."

Schneider soon realized it was better to make cartoons on the computer. He learned graphic design in college.

"I thought that made my cartoons look five times better," the cartoonist said. "It definitely makes it easier. I always liked to draw, but I'm not very good at drawing a character more than once and making them look exactly identical. On the computer I can copy and paste. Instead of giving these images color with a crummy colored pencil, all I have to do is use the paint bucket tool."

On his website, the sergeant has several samples of 'Holidabblers' he created using Photoshop.

"The comic suggests that these holiday figures we know, Santa, Cupid and Uncle Sam, and then I've got a leprechaun and a witch in there, they don't take the holidays seriously," he said. "They're being obnoxious."

He has also displayed samples of other comic strips he's made.

"I've made a lot of drawings," the artist said. "Most of them weren't humorous; they were just drawings. But anytime I get a funny, short story in my head, sometimes just telling it's not enough. I want to show it."

That's where the cartoon comes in, he said. "Some of these amusing short stories really happened. A lot of them I just came up with. I like to daydream a lot, especially about comical things."

After graduation, Schneider joined the Air Force in 2003.

"I recalled how much fun I had getting cartoons published," he said. "I knew I had better ones now. I was stationed at Aviano Air Base [Italy], and I noticed they had a base paper called the Vigileer. I emailed them a few samples of 'Holidabblers' and they said "we're not interested in these; they're not Air Force related. It was in 2005."

Three years prior, Schneider worked on a graphic design project called "The Seven Deadly Sins." While others took a more serious approach to the subject matter, he chose to invent 'Neeland Nobrainer.'

"I got pictures of him being guilty of these sins," the artist from Newcastle, Okla., said. "Once that project came and went, I didn't have any more use for 'Neeland Nobrainer,' but I thought if the Vigileer only takes Air Force stuff, I have to invent an Air Force character. I don't know where I came up with the first idea for it, maybe just daydreaming or thinking of safety videos I've seen."

Schneider had an idea for an Air Force comic, but needed a character to make it happen.
"I had to come up with a character to get his hat sucked into a jet engine," he said. "When I looked at 'Neeland Nobrainer', I thought he has the perfect head; he's funny looking, he looks like he's got a curly, blonde toupee on top of a bald head. I'm going to turn 'Neeland Nobrainer' into 'Airman Artless.'"

So the character who stars in Schneider's Air Force comics was born. The comic strip creator puts 'Artless' through a variety of comical situations, including a number of incidents on a flight line.

"He's going to get his hat sucked into a jet engine," Schneider explained. "Then he'll get chewed out for it, and then he'll be on his way to get a new hat and he'll get chewed out again for not wearing a hat."

The experience of creating military characters has taught the artist valuable lessons about using the modern Air Force for art.

"I had created him when we were wearing BDUs," he said. "So I created a set of BDUs that was standing with a hand at the end of the sleeve. And then I created a set that were walking, and I just put 'Neeland Nobrainer's head at the top of it and made him 'Airman Artless.'

"I thought when people are going to look at this stuff, they are mostly going to be looking at the character's faces, and they weren't looking at anything below that. So I started using the same bodies on everyone. I later realized that didn't look right and needed to create a different body for the females, because they looked a bit too masculine. And then when the BDUs phased out, that was a real chore. I had to go in and change over 50 cartoons from BDUs to ABUs. Then I realized that I didn't put pockets on any of them, so I tried that one day and I decided that uniforms without pockets were just unacceptable. I had to go through them all again."

When he was finished, Schneider sent a sample of the Air Force cartoon to the Vigileer. This time they accepted his offer and asked for more.

"I kept emailing more, and kept daydreaming stories," the comic creator said. "A lot of them weren't that funny at first. I didn't have decent inspiration."

Schneider said he gets some of his inspiration from 'Family Guy' and other shows.

"I'd have to look at them again to know which one was based on a true story and which were based on stories I thought up," he said. "Some of them were inspired by movies, too. For instance, I wasn't too content with the idea of sitting through this movie; my wife wanted me to watch this one movie with her called 'Romy and Michele's High School Reunion.' When it got to the end, they wanted to get a ride in a helicopter, and one of them said 'I wish everyone was outside so they could see us fly off in this scene.'

"When I saw that, I thought that part could have been funnier if one of them had run out of the helicopter, went aside the school, set off the fire alarm, and went back into the helicopter because everyone would go outside to see them. I thought, that's a funny idea, I wonder if I can do something with that. So I had Airman Artless and one of his friends being tasked to wash the general's car.

"They're sitting in the car thinking how cool that is; when his friend said I wish everyone else could see this. So I had Airman Artless run off and set off the fire alarm."

As for ones that were based on true stories, Schneider said used his childhood memories.

"I had one where Airman Artless jumps off a bus," he said. "I put one on the website of Artless as a kid in 3rd or 4th grade jumping off a bus. He had fun doing it, so as an adult in the military he decides to try again. The thing is that he's taller now and hits his head on the doorway and knocks himself out.

"I didn't try that in the military or even on a bus. I was trying that on a stairway at a church when I was growing up. I would jump off the fifth step. Then when I was nine I thought I'd try it again, and I knocked myself out on the doorway. I must have been out for a few seconds, and then I looked at a line of people in line for dinner, and none of them had noticed me because of how the line was going. One day I remembered that and decided it would work better on a bus."

Word of Schneider's work spread to the public affairs office in Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Air Scoop Magazine also picked up the comic.

After moving to Kadena Air Base, Japan, he tried to get into their newspaper, at the time called the Shogun. It wasn't until Samurai Gate replaced the Shogun that he found an audience with the paper.

"They accepted my stuff for about a year and a half," he said. "Then they got a new editor
who decided my cartoons make Airmen look too silly. I was shut down cold turkey and a lot of questions went unanswered."

Then, Schneider was assigned to Kunsan Air Base, Korea.

"After about two months there, I noticed the Crimson Sky paper and I asked them if they'd be interested," he said. "Sure enough, they were. That paper is published in Osan and is distributed to other locations there. I've been getting published with them ever since February 2011; they're still accepting my stuff today."

Before leaving for his next assignment, the creative comic creator did an interview for the American Forces Network.

"I thought that was the coolest thing that ever happened to me, making it on the news," he said. "With their permission, I took that two-minute clip and had it posted to my website."

With his face on AFN, the calls began coming.

"Shortly after I got here," he said, "Public Affairs in Yokota Air Base, Japan, contacted me."
The 374th Airlift Wing PA office informed him they published Kanto Stripes in Japan, Okinawa Stripes, Guam Stripes, and intend to publish the Korea Stripes.

"All four of those papers are handled by the same people and they were nice enough to offer to publish my stuff in those papers," Schneider said. "I'm still with them today, too."

Schneider said that as soon as he has time, he intends to create a cartoon about 18-wheelers.

"When I was in Kunsan, I had a co-worker who backed a tractor up to a trailer," he said. "He thought the king pin had secured itself in the fifth wheel, but it didn't. He figured it was fine so he hooked up the light cable and cranked up the legs of the trailer. When he
pulled forward, the trailer slid off the back of the tractor and landed on its nose. The light cable got stretched so tight, it finally unplugged itself. The plug of a light cable is pretty heavy and the cable is shaped like a spring.

"So when the cable got stretched too tight, it unplugged itself and shattered the back window. The tractor had to be kept at vehicle maintenance and a vehicle abuse letter had to be filled out for both the tractor and the trailer," he said.

"It's on my agenda to make a cartoon about it. I have other ideas, too. Sometimes one idea leads to another," he said.

One day, the comic artist said he hopes to get his work in the Stars and Stripes. He would like to make the Air Force Times as well.

He still enjoys the hobby, even without pay.

"I get enough satisfaction knowing they are using my work."

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