Why Are So Many Cartoonists Called Tom?

From Tom Toles to Tom Tomorrow (and beyond) it seems all cartoonists are called Tom

It’s a fact. America’s top cartoonists are all called Tom.

Even the ones who weren’t born Tom have changed their names. Those who were called Thomas at birth have uniformly dropped the suffix and the aitch and became just Toms.

Tom cartoonists
Beating the Tom-Toms.

It’s like there’s this weird Tom Cartoonist Club. Google it. Right away you’ll find Toles and Tomorrow, and of course Tom the Dancing Bug. (The two linked cartoonists are featured right on this very website and in the printed Humor Times magazine! – ed.)

But after them – or in some cases chronologically before – come Tom (Thomas) Nast, often hailed as the father of modern cartooning, followed by Tom Little, Tom Moore (creator of Archie), Tom Preston, Tom Toro, Tom Hart, Tom Armstrong, Tom Fishburne, Tom Gauld, Tom Spurgeon, Tom Richmond, Tom Batiuk, Tom Walston, Tom Beland, Tom Scott and Tom Arvis.

There are even two Tom websites directly celebrating the strange connection, thomascartoons.com and cartoonthomas.com. Is there something about the name, especially in its truncated form, that draws out a child’s inner cartoonist, some kind of deep Lamarckian link between the name and the activity?

One can only say that some are born Tom, some aspire to it and some have it thrust upon them, Either way, all our best cartoonists share the same monicker, even those who originally didn’t. Known casually in the profession as “non-Toms,” they are the unfortunates who were all given perfectly good names by their parents, but were driven by some internal pressure to alter them, like a self-inflicted circumcision.

They themselves find their choice hard to explain. Many appear to have been possessed by some dark, elemental force, akin to a gender identity crisis. They are the Caitlyn Jenners of the art world.

“I just had to release my inner Tom somehow, anyhow,” said Dan Perkins, who has found both solace and his true identity as the improbably named Tom Tomorrow.

In an exclusive interview, Mr Tomorrow was asked why he had exchanged the equally functional, monosyllabic and euphonious Dan for Tom.

Dan Future sounds just as good to me,” I noted, adding that Shakespeare had pretty much cornered the critical word with “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.”

But Perkins checked me with a gesture.

“It wasn’t the Tomorrow that drew me,” he confessed. “It was the Tom. ‘Tomorrow’ just gave me a chance to repeat the first syllable. Coulda been Tomato, Tomahawk or even, for Mexican readers, Tamale.”

Tom or Dan glanced at his drawing board as though just saying the sacred noun made his fingers twitch.

“Not even even for a moment,” he continued, “did I consider Toady Today or Yassir Yesterday, or even Fauntleroy Fortnight. It just had to be Tom.”

Cartoonist Tom Preston was actually born Andrew Dobson, but he likewise felt an uncontrollable urge to change his perfectly good name.

“I was like the Richard Dreyfus character in Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” he said, “with that space-ship tune going on in my head — Tom, Tom, Tom, Tom, Tom. And then I began to draw things.”

Ruben Bolling, or Tom the Dancing Bug, says that he also can’t explain his choice of pseudonym, except that he didn’t want to be a Dick.

Weirdly enough, not even Ruben Bolling is his real name. He was originally born Ken Fisher, so Ruben Bolling itself is a pseudonym, which is a relief. The idea that anyone would actually name their child after a pastrami sandwich on rye is too unsettling to contemplate.

“Yeah, I mean Ruben, I ask you,” Tom the Dancing Bug said unconvincingly, as though he had nothing to do with it. “I just hadda change my name and it wasn’t going to be Dick or Harry, so that left Tom. I have no idea where the bug came from, but who ever does?”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the name Tom has no attraction for women cartoonists, no matter how much professional success its adoption might guarantee. They all prefer to call themselves Jen, for some reason — Jen Sorenson, Jen Wang, Jen Vaughn, etc. Frankly. it all seems even weirder than the Toms.

Tom and Jen. It sounds like a new strip cartoon by Tom Toro, Tom Hart, Tom Armstrong, Tom Fishburne, Tom Gauld, Tom Spurgeon, Tom Richmond, Tom Batiuk, Tom Walston, Tom Beland, Tom Scott or even Tom Arvis.

To name just a few.