In 1977 Gary Blehm sat doodling at his desk in a one room school house near Aspen, Colorado. He dreamed of becoming a cartoonist like Charles Schulz or Johnny Hart. As he drew an all black character with a round head he tried a number of variations before adding a Big half moon shaped Grin and he suddenly sat up in his chair. He’d done it! “That’s My Character!”, he said to himself. He bravely drew it in the corner of his English text book and realized that it had presented a problem. He quickly tore out the corner of the page and placed the drawing in his pocket. He would explain later during a local television interview that he was afraid someone would copy his little character. When he got home from school that creative day he showed the character drawing to his parents exclaiming, “this is what I’m going to draw for a living the rest of my life!”. They must have thought it a good life plan. They bought him a drawing table and t-square for Christmas from an art supply store in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

Cartoonist Gary Blehm, 1978. This is Optimism #ThisIsOptimism
Young Cartoonist Gary Blehm draws on his father’s foot in this earliest photograph.

By 1980 Gary was trying to find ways to sell his cartoon character. He drew the character doing a lot of outdoor recreational activities sitting at his drawing table. He hadn’t used his t-square very much so he started to work with it. Suddenly he had an idea. He drew lines across a scrap piece of poster board and started drawing his character side by side along each line doing something different in every drawing. He was nearly half way done with the drawing when he realized that he could make only two characters identical. When he was finished he framed his work of art and waited for a planned picnic to show his parents.

Cartoonist Gary Blehm shows his mother the very first PENMEN Poster in 1980. This is Optimism #ThisIsOptimism It was a Good Life.
Cartoonist Gary Blehm shows his mother the very first PENMEN Poster in 1980.

Gary felt he was ready. He didn’t think he should set off on his grand cartoon poster endeavor without some professional training so he enrolled in commercial art classes at the community college in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He worked full time at the Broadmoor Golf Club and attended classes at night. During his free time he began working on his poster. Then with tip money from work he had the poster printed in July of 1989. By they end of the year he was selling nationally through Prints Plus stores a growing number of malls. He sold 5,000 posters by Christmas and had created a pantomime comic strip under the same PENMEN name that ran weekly in a local paper, “The City Comix”.

PENMEN Poster Published in 1989. This is Optimism #ThisIsOptimism
The First PENMEN Poster Published in July, 1989.
PENMEN Launched in 1989 with the publication a poster entitled “Find the Two Identical PENMEN” with 1039 Penman characters and only two were alike. The wordless comic strip soon followed that same year and Penman the Positively Optimistic Purveyor of Positivity was born.