Bud Grace, Creator of The Piranha Club

4 October 2002

    We all have the urge every now and then to change careers, take on new challenges and make the break from routine. Some people make minor lifestyle adjustments but Bud Grace, creator of The Piranha Club, made a major career change. He left his profession of Nuclear Physicist to become a cartoonist.

    Bud Grace is no stuffy scientist/professor type of man. He seems to have been more of a comedian captured in a professional discipline, and finally bursting out onto the comics page to perform his unique brand of hilarity. But transforming from physicist to cartoonist did not happen overnight.

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    Well established in his science career, Grace took up drawing in 1979 at age 35. Six years passed before he felt he was good at drawing and writing jokes. “It’s not something that just happens, at least not in my case,” he said in a Washington Post Live Online Chat in May 2002. He persisted in cartooning, gaining freelance confidence in magazines. With his eye on the rare and difficult goal; of steady income from syndication, Grace created the comic strip “Ernie” in the mid-1980s. *(1)

    "Ernie", the naïve, down-and-out main cartoon personality struggles through life, surrounded by smarmy relatives (Uncle Sid is a scammer and conscienceless money-grubber), friends who give him no respect and a large cast of truly funny characters. Even the settings are a hoot. Ernie is the assistant manager of a fast food franchise called Mr. Squid.

    Picked up by King Features Syndicate, "Ernie" debuted to popular acclaim in 1987. The comic strip now appears in 400 newspapers worldwide. The cartoon had its biggest following in Northern Europe, Sweden in particular, where Ernie also appeared in a monthly comic book. In 1998, King Features changed the strip’s name to The Piranha Club, after the most popular setting in the cartoon. It still appears as "Ernie" in Europe.

    The success of his entertaining work aside, Grace acknowledged the effort and imagination it takes to produce a comic strip seven days a week. “…It’s hard work. It takes a lot of concentration. Contrary to what many people might think, I don’t get ideas from things that I observe or situations that I might find myself in. Half the time I live in another world, and that’s where the gags come from.” He puts in long hours at his craft, pencilling several cartoons at one time and completing the inking later on. Jay Scruggs, a fellow cartoonist and illustrator, also assists Grace with the inking. *(2)

    Along with the comic books in Sweden, Bud has two collections of The Piranha Club cartoons including “Ernie: Out of Control,” published by Andrews & McMeel and “Trust Me!” published by Avon Books. He continues to create cartoons for magazines, but only under contract. At this time, his freelance cartoons appear in a Scandinavian computer magazine.

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    Chester, PA was the birthplace of Bud Grace, and the family moved to Florida when he was five years old. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 1965 from Florida State University and a PhD in 1971. He held the position of Visiting Assistant Professor of Physics at the University of Georgia for two years after graduation. Florida State University welcomed Grace back to teach physics and continue his research, and he is the published author of a number of scientific articles. The cartoonist and his wife, Lorraine, now live in Virginia with their teenage son, Allen.

    "Ernie" and The Piranha Club strip has received awards for the uproarious themes. The Swedish Academy of Comic Art awarded Bud Grace the celebrated Adamson Statuette in 1989, and in 1993, the National Cartoonists Society bestowed the Best Comic Strip Award to the cartoonist.

    Occasionally skewed, sometimes crude, and always funny, The Piranha Club is one of those comics that will bring a smile to your face, even if you are determined to frown. And no wonder. There is a comedian wielding the pen.

More details on Ernie and The Piranha Club at King Features Syndicate:

Have a look at the Washington Post Online Chat with Bud Grace:
*(1) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/liveonline/02/style/comics053102.htm

© Susanna McLeod 2002
(Originally published in The Cartoonists on suite101.com.)