Bob Swanson still remembers the cartoon character his mother sketched that inspired him to start drawing over 50 years ago. The artwork intrigued him, and when his father, a union printer in Chicago, brought home scraps of paper every so often for Bob to practice on, his drawing ability and love for comics grew.
“There were several years when my dad worked the night shift; I would leave him drawings to look at when he got home, and he would grade them,” Bob says. “I recall one drawing I did of a tired, dirty World War 2 soldier with a beard, uniform in tatters, holding his rifle. In the morning I found my drawing graded with a B+, and the comment, ‘Looks like a guy I knew on Anzio … me.’ ”
Bob grew up on Chicago’s South Side. Besides observing and drawing life, he spent much of his time at the Salvation Army’s Brainerd, Ill., Corps (church). Bob, his sister, Linda, and brother, Tom, were active in the youth programs.
“One of my proudest moments as a young boy was made possible by a great [Salvation Army] scoutmaster, Al Shay,” said Bob. “We always took home the most ribbons at camp competition, but our crowning achievement was completing the Lincoln Trail Hike—all 23 miles of it—as 11– and 12–year–olds.”
The Brainerd Corps is also where Bob met his future wife, Maribeth, and made friends that he would keep up with for 50 years.
Bob’s faith took root as his parents actively demonstrated what it means to be a Christian. In his teen years, Bob’s faith was shaped by his friends and mentors and by summers at camp and Sunday mornings at the corps. His relationship with the Lord grew when he became a husband and father. He’s been married to Meribeth for 26 years; they have two children, Karl, 21, and Kajsa, 19, who are in college.
“Maribeth and I have shared in the challenges of family life and try to pass on our values and the importance of service to our children,” says Bob. “God has always been faithful and given me the strength to take life one day at a time and meet challenges as they arise.”
Bob’s childhood interest in comics turned out to be a lifelong passion for art. After graduating from Northern Illinois University with a degree in graphic design, he’s had a successful career in the industry. Bob currently works for Topco Associates, where he designs packages, as he puts it, “that jump off of grocery shelves and into your cart!”
Submitting cartoons to local newspapers has been a hobby of Bob’s, and 11 years ago a Salvation Army officer suggested Bob do a strip for the Army’s USA Central Terrritory newsletter. He submitted a small batch of cartoons, and the strip “Mustard Seeds” was born. The title comes from the parable Jesus told about the tiny mustard seed growing into a mighty tree.
Bob carries a notebook and pen wherever he goes. His themes for “Mustard Seeds” revolve around typical Salvation Army circumstances.
“Even though I grew up in the Army, I sometimes feel I’m observing it as an outsider looking in,” says Bob. “This allows me to come up with some cartoons that an insider may not consider doing.”
None of his characters are intentionally based on specific people; he remembers only one being based on an actual situation. “Several years ago our beagle, Jake, chewed up Maribeth’s Bible,” Bob recalls. “I just couldn’t resist that!”