Chuck Stoudt sits at a table inside a Chick-fil-A as people in the drive-thru look in at him.
The 79-year-old cartoonist is bent over a sheet of paper drawing. He first sketches the concept in pencil, then inks over it. Next, he erases the pencil marks. Finally, he fills in with color pencils.
Shading with the colored pencils is the most time-consuming, but it sets his work apart from others, he said. It also keeps the retired technician in global service offerings for AT&T occupied.
As part of his routine, Stoudt comes to “the office” every day at the Chick-fil-A at 430 Peachtree Parkway in Cumming. Sitting next to him in the window facing outward is a posterboard of his drawings. Some people in the drive-thru study the drawings, and others wave.
Each day, he draws inspiration from everything around him. It could be a pair of shoes, someone’s facial features or a hat that draws him in.
But when he does, he locks the image in his brain, only releasing it on paper later.
“I see someone across the street or on an airplane and I can lock it up,” he said of his mental ability. “I can draw it exactly the way I see it.”
His finished product garnered him the attention of Becky Champion, another Chick-fil-A morning regular, several months ago.
“It’s amazing. Something will come into his head and he’ll just start drawing,” Champion said. “It’s absolutely astounding. They just come to life.”
The woman who works for LexisNexis, a corporation providing computer-assisted legal research as well as business research and risk management services, thought others needed to see his work. Therefore, she is helping him showcase his work with a website, www.whackeycartoonist.com.
The plan is to make Stoudt’s cartoons available on items such as T-shirts, hats and mugs.
“We’re not looking for some kind of wild success,” Stoudt said. “We just know that we have a product that’s better than your average product out there.”
“And it’s different,” she said.
Visitors to the site may select a specific cartoon to go onto a specific product and then order it. Products include calendars, T-shirts, mugs and canvas prints.
Stoudt is drawing cartoons based on the crafting industry. He hopes to some day sell T-shirts with these cartoons at major craft supply retailers. He’s also working on some handyman cartoons he hopes to market to home improvement stores.
Champion is not the only one helping Stoudt with his cartoons. His wife, Suzanne, helps with ideas and captions for the cartoons.
“When I come up with some (captions), he’s really good about just drawing them out the way I’ve envisioned,” Suzanne said.
Suzanne also has woken him up with cartoon ideas for him in her head.
“We’re a good team,” she said. “He’s such a wonderful person and I just appreciate his talent.”
Champion said she is glad to help Stoudt and his wife achieve Stoudt’s goal of sharing his cartoons with the world.
“How many times are you in a position to make someone’s dreams come true?” Champion said. “It is such a rare thing and such a privilege to do. Of course, his talent makes it easy.”
Part of his talent includes creating memorable characters. They usually are inspired by people around him, but are not caricatures, he said.
“That’s too Disney-ish,” he said. “It’s not what I enjoy.”
Suzanne said she is always amazed when she watches him work.
“He rarely ever makes a mistake, and he starts in odd places on the paper,” she said. “It’s amazing. He has a visual memory.”
Suzanne explained her husband has always been able to capture some family members because of how well he knows them.
“It’s funny to see them on paper,” she said.
Stoudt started drawing as a boy, sometime around age 7. Three years later, he contracted polio. It paralyzed him, keeping him from drawing.
Doctors told his mother that he’d have an iron lung the rest of his life.
“She said, ‘No, he has a gift,’” Chuck said of his mother.
And while she worked a full-time job, his mother still cared for him. He said she would leave her office, come to the hospital and massage him every day.
It worked. Stoudt recovered from the disease and regained his mobility. In fact, he went on to serve in the U.S. Navy in the South Pacific Ocean in peace time between the Korean and Vietnam wars. And his favorite hobby continued.
“I did a lot of drawing then, too,” he said.
Even now, the hundreds if not thousands of cartoons he’s done decorate his home. Some are filed safely in plastic totes, but he’s hoping to share them with the world.
“I don’t know that he really appreciates his own talent as much as he should,” Suzanne said.
Suzanne said Chuck’s drawing has helped their 32-year marriage, forcing them to laugh and take their minds off the world.
“We’re still both 12. That’s probably why he’s such a good cartoonist,” Suzanne said. “I don’t think he’ll ever grow up.”
Suzanne said drawing makes Chuck happy and he loves doing it.
“As long as he’s happy,” she said, “I’m happy.”