TEMECULA, Calif. David and Doreen Dotson of French Valley are more than just partners in marriage. They started cartooning together shortly after meeting and marrying at a Calvary Chapel in 1990.
Their first strips were "Sports Barbs," a sports-oriented cartoon, and "Jonah's Journey," a faith-based strip. The couple teamed up again to create "Outzkirts"a family-friendly cartoon strip that brings wholesome entertainment to readers of all ages. Doreen draws and David does the gags.
The Dotsons created Outzkirts specifically to run in a newspaper in El Cajon, Calif.
"We wanted to infuse (a local) flavor to the strip," David said, "so I created Bud, his slightly overweight wife, Edna, and their egotistical dog, Rusty. The name of the strip comes from the fact that the slightly imperfect, but totally endearing family lives on the outskirts of town.
To some, the Dotsons road to success may appear to have been as straight as the stretch of an old Highway. A peek behind the curtain reveals a path more like the one the biblical prophet Jonah took to reach Ninevehwith all of the fears, balks, and spiritual wrestling matches included.
When David first approached his artistic wife about drawing the cartoon strip, the young mother sought God's will in prayer.
"Lord, if you were here I could hear your voice and know for sure. I don't want to do this if it is just a waste of time."
Her prayer for assurance was answered that same day when, out of the blue, a family friend said he thought Doreen should draw the strip.
"Doreen has a gift," he said. "Why not use it?"
"The confirmation was a landmark in my Christian life," Doreen said.
A short time later, the couple listened attentively to a sermon at their church.
"Any time God tells you what to do, Satan will put a ship in front of you going the other way," Pastor David Jeremiah, Shadow Mountain Church in El Cajon, Calif. said in that service.
Doreen's ship pulled up disguised as a home-based cosmetics business. With the allure of immediate income Doreen jumped on board and sailed away from God's direction. Another year went by as Doreen fought God's call to draw the comic strip.
In the meantime, David wrote to Johnny Hart, creator of the comic strip "B.C." asking for advice on how to get started. A letter in the mail a few weeks later surprised the couple. Hart's wife wrote asking for samples.
A friend pointed out the return address on the envelopeNineveh, N.Y.
The postmark convicted Doreen.
She realized she had been rebelling after God had clearly answered her prayer for direction. But she still wasn't convinced.
The next day, David went to his men's Bible study at church. On the way he, too, asked God for yet another sign that they should pursue the comic strip. Arriving early, he found a quiet place to do his daily devotional reading.
He turned to the assigned reading for the day in the 16th chapter of Matthew.
"A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign," Jesus said. "And there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonah."
"I couldn't believe my eyes," David said.
Getting to work
Not long after that final confirmation, the Dotsons created "Outzkirts."
Although not overtly Christian, the spiritual overtones of the strip are obvious.
"Both Bud and Edna are Christians," David said. "They pray at Thanksgiving and we use Scripture when the occasion is right."
Even Rusty the dog displayed his Scripture knowledge when a bubble showed him thinking, "Blessed are the peacemakers."
The couple wanted to hide something in each stripa kind of "Kilroy Was Here" mark. The answer was obvious.
"The whale appears somewhere in each strip to remind us what God has done and to remind usnot to be like Jonah," Doreen said.
Outzkirts may not be as well known as other cartoons, but it could very well be on the way. Dressed as characters from the strip for a community festival, a fan chased David and his mother down after parade.
"My daughter just loves Outzkirts!" she raved, then asked about purchasing shirts and other collectables.
The comic strip consistently draws positive reviews from editors and readers across the country.
"Outzkirts was the first comic that made both my managing editor and I laugh," Deb McCaslin, editor of Custer County Chief in Broken Bow, Neb. "We represent contrasting generations and we chose the comic for our paper because we felt it would reach a broad base of readership."
The Grandview Tribune uses the hidden whale as a contest to hook readers.
Greg Evans, creator of the comic strip "Luann," invited the couple to join the Southern California Cartoonists association. There they received pointers from other professionals and the strip improved.
While not yet providing the couple's full supportDavid sells mortgages and Doreen is an instructional assistant at Temecula Valley High Schoolthe strip is now in more than 50 newspapers nationwide.
"Our prayer is to always glorify God through our comic strip," David said.
As Jonah and the Dotsons learned, God sees down the road.
"We should always go where He tells us to go."
For more information on Outzkirts visit www.outzkirts.com.
ACTION POINT: Search for the whale in the sample strip. If you need help, here's the answer. The whale is on the label of one of the cans in the last panel.