Paul Ollswang (1945 - 1996)
by Steve Ransom
published in Oregon Cycling
Oregon Cycling illustrator Paul Ollswang passed away on December 7 from heart complications. A stocky man with a wild head of curly hair and a great bushy mustache, Ollswang (as he called himself) was a terribly positive cartoonist with a non-stop imagination. His characters, like himself, continually discussed philosophy and politics to an unfathomably surrealistic degree. In Eugene, dozens of busineses sport his particular style in their signs and logos. It's said Ollswang never really left the sixties; in my short working relationship with him, I would have to agree.
Ollswang first started working with Oregon Cycling in 1992. The editor of the time, Jason Moore, left me this note about the cartoonist: "Does great work for OC. Needs some warning of when you want him to draw. He will do just about anything, although it is not always exactly what you asked for." Ollswang used to be an avid cyclist, but when he moved to the rural town of Monroe, he was forced to ride less due to the semi-wild and territorial dogs in the area.
The following is a recollection of my last meeting with Ollswang. I hope to share a bit of the wacky warmth this man had to offer so that you can see the heart behind his odd illustrations. I'll also be reprinting a few of his illustrations in our pages this issue.
It was looking to be a late night. The press deadline was looming two days hence, and I still hadn't even started work on the calendars or the race results. It was already 10 p.m. when I got the call from Ollswang.
"Ransom!" he bellowed cheerfully. "Listen, I'll have that artwork to you by 1:30 tonight, I'm just putting some finishing touches on it now."
I knew he was faster than that. My guess was that he hadn't even started the artwork yet. I had left a message with him earlier in the day, reminding him that the deadline had passed. I wasn't worried, though. I knew I could depend on Ollswang, and I knew his illustrations would be great, if somewhat eccentric.
No problem, I told him. I'll expect you around 1:30.
At forty after midnight, I'm working on pasting up the classifieds. The phone rings. "Ransom! Ollswang here! Well, now, you know how things are, I've gotten a little behind, I'll be there at 2:00!"
I was giddy with resignation. No problem. I'll be here. I'm just going to get some dinner now.
My head was light. The caffeine was draining out, but I was past sleep. I still had several pages to go. Maybe this was going to be an all-nighter.
I rode my bike down the quiet street, my brain trying in vain to catch up with what I was trying to do. I winded up at a 7-11 staring numbly at the unappealing, pasty foodstuffs. In my stupor, I grabbed a big bag of Nutter Butters and returned to the office.
By 2:30 a.m., I had consumed half of the package. Layout progress was slow and painful, certainly not an equal reward for my worsening condition.
He didn't show up until 3:15 a.m. I was dog-tired. I opened the door for Ollswang, as he stuffed his still-smoking pipe into his coat pocket. Carrying his beat-up art boards and trusty black lunch box full of pens, inks, and toothbrushes, he made his way into the office and set up shop on one of the desks.
The illustration was great. It was weird, of course, but it fit the article perfectly and gave a lot of character to it. I pointed out that the column head was a little light and he whipped out his pens and set to it.
All the while, he's telling me about how he considers himself to be an evolutionary throwback to the new human species: the computer users. "I'm like one of the Cro-Magnons, starring at Fire," he explained, "I can't get it. It's beyond my capacity to understand."
I'm pasting in a dorky-looking, computer-generated logo I made for the column. I tell him I don't like it. "Tell you what," Ollswang puts in, "for the rest of those Nutter Butters, I'll draw you a new logo." I heartily push the cookies his way. My besieged digestive system thanks him. "Nutter Butters are my favorites," he tells me.
He's informing me about his Big Plans. There's an incredible story in his head, which will take three 72-page cartoon epics to reveal. It involves his favorite characters, Slockney and Rubin. Slockney is a large, oafish bird with a drunken expression, while Rubin is a stocky communist mutt with squinty eyes and an oversized, bunched-up turtleneck. These characters have been seen in Eugene papers for years, if not decades.
The plot is bizarre and confusing but seems to involve the salvation of the Earth resting on some really good hamburgers coming from Dufur, Oregon. "People get to Dufur by spending more time looking at their speedometer than at the road," Ollswang gleefully explains. The physics are tricky, I'm led to believe, but they involve Maxwell's demon.
The major dilemma, for Rubin (Slockney doesn't appear to be much of a thinker), Dufur, and the Earth in general, is how to sell those great hamburgers to galactic cultures light-years away. The solution is obvious! Since existence itself, according to Nietzsche, is the predicate to proving an individual is an independent being, all Rubin needs to do is "dehydrate" Dufur's hamburgers in such a way that temporarily removes the existence from them.
My sleepy brain is completely lost, it would seem. I smile and nod at Ollswang's amazingly eccentric story-line, happy enough that I've got some extra drawings and a few less Nutter Butters to deal with.
The narrative goes on. We finally step out into the fog-laden street, sometime after 4 a.m. "Would you like any coffee or dope?" Ollswang generously offers me. "I've got plenty of dope." I decline, smiling knowingly. I'll be going home real soon; after all that, an all-nighter is out of the question. He drives away, leaving me in a peaceful, warm mood, chuckling at the silliness this man simply lives inside. I take another look at the art, then I ride home in the November fog, satisfied and glad to know Ollswang, as wacky as he may be.
* * *
Rest in peace, my friend. Your existence has been re-hydrated into my heart.
From the Eugene Weekly, December 19, 1996:
How do you describe Paul Ollswang?
Well, for a start, he's dead. It was a start, a surprise that is, for all of us, when that happened. His death. But he wasn't surprised, or I suppose I should say he wouldn't have been surprised. He used to tell me about his 'bum ticker'. Not often, though. Predictions-of-doom eventually erode the audience. Still, when I expressed disbelief in the impending collapse of this fella of infinite energy, I remember distinctly his saying "No, honest! Someday I'll be sending you drawings through a Ouija board!"
That's two more things you could say about him: he drew. A prodigious sketcher. He was barely comfortable unless he was at the drawing board. Oh yeah, the second thing -- he was funny. Funnier than everyone around him put together. There was no competing with him. After all, when he came into a room, everything immediately struck him as unbelievably silly: tsk tsk tsk, tut tut tut, and everyone could see it on his face. This champion wit, though, also had a champion heart -- except -- 'puh!' I can hear him say, in his deep radio voice, with his eyes rolling and goggling -- except for its final act!
Technically, Paul was an artist, illustrator, cartoonist, writer, calligrapher, typographer, photographer, storyteller, actor, radio personality, animator, musician, philosopher, dog-lover, new left socialist cum communist, small business ad campaign creator, sign designer/painter, and a terrifically educated and self-educated fella. He never understood how he became known as a cartoonist. [Was it the luck of the draw? Ho ho.]. Anyway, it's the job of this website to begin to convey a bit of his life. A comprehensive bit. That's not easy. Please wish us luck.