5 Minutes With George Trosley
George Trosley’s family and friends thought he was crazy back in 1973 when he walked away from a very lucrative job as a commercial artist…to draw cartoon cars. George Trosley – who helped design the box for the then-state-of-the-art RCA 8-Track Player – knew his heart wasn’t into a corporate job and, against the advice of basically everyone he knew, traded the rat race for rat rods.
“You made a lot of money but had no life,” Trosley remembers of his days as a commercial artist. “I had done a few pages of my cartoons and sent them to CARtoons [magazine], and they bought them for $75 each! That wasn’t much at all, but on the strength of that, I quit my job, even though everyone thought I was crazy.”
Car crazy (or just plain crazy) or not, the decision ended up being a good one. Trosley continued to sell to CARtoons, as well as the motorcycle magazine CYCLEtoons and eventually was asked to develop the reoccurring characters his name would become synonymous with: Krass & Bernie.
We chatted with Trosley about the difference between drawing cartoons for car magazines and adult magazines, his inspirations behind Krass & Bernie, and how he missed out on being a pop song writer!
Goodguys Gazette: What made you realize you didn’t want to do commercial art anymore?
George Trosley: It was a seven-day-a-week rat race. I always had knots in my stomach and I smoked constantly. At one point, I worked at Boeing’s art studio, and I was drawing Boeing helicopters blowing up Vietnam [soldiers]… all while I was [classified as] 1A, waiting to be drafted. I got lucky, though. When they called the draft numbers, my number came out 356 out of 366.
When I didn’t have to go to war, that changed my life. It made me think about what I wanted to do with my life, and I realized it wasn’t going to that art studio every day. I walked away from a $13,000 a year job. At the time, teachers were making about $8,000 a year. But I knew I didn’t want to spend my life doing that.
GG: You are probably most well-known for your Krass & Bernie cartoons. Where did you get the inspiration for those characters?
Trosley: I developed those characters based on my brother and I. We built model cars and, when we got older, cars together. People used to call us Krash and Burn! The editor of CARtoons asked me if I wanted to do reoccurring characters, and that’s what I came up with, only he changed the names to Krass & Bernie.
GG: If you could have any car delivered to your driveway right now, what car would you choose?
Trosley: I’m kind of lucky because my dream car is in my garage! I have a ‘39 Ford Tudor sedan with a 350 Chevy engine, auto trans, Mustang II front suspension. It’s a real great cruiser. When I die, my wife will say I loved that car more than I loved her! I’ve had it about 10 years. But, if I could get another car, and money was no object, I’d get a Deuce coupe.
GG: Some people don’t know that you also did a lot of art for the men’s magazine Hustler. How did that come about?
Trosley: Cars and girls…what else is there, right? I was climbing up the ranks and my goal was to get my work into Playboy. At the time, Playboy had a magazine called Oui, which was a younger sister publication that was supposed to look European. It had a lot of no-caption cartoons, which are extremely popular in Europe. I was starting to work with Oui when Hustler came along. I told them I didn’t want to be in their magazine. But…my wife was pregnant with our first child and they kept offering me more and more money. Then they offered medical benefits.
One night my father-in-law walked in while I was on the phone screaming at the Hustler guy to leave me alone. He told me ‘you can be had, but for a price.’ So, we made up this list of terms I wanted that I thought they’d never go for. We were cracking up at the list. An hour later the Hustler guy called me and said ‘Welcome aboard!’ They gave me a five-year contract with an increase each year. My father-in-law told me to sign it before they realized what they were giving me, so I did! I did it for years. I no longer have a contract [with them] because print media is dying. I still work with them, but not like before.
GG: Any crazy Larry Flynt stories?
Trosley: It’s been a wild ride with Larry! He’s always been a character, but he was always generous with the cartoonists. When he had money, he shared it.
GG: If you hadn’t become a cartoonist, what career path do you think you would have taken?
Trosley: I think I would have been drawn to television. I am of that generation, and that medium has always fascinated me. But again, it’s storytelling, just like cartoons are storytelling. I’d be really rich right now on my yacht. I loved Disney as a kid, and at that time Disney was starting to have animated features, so every kid who draws from my generation was awakened by Walt, I think.
GG: What do you like to collect?
Trosley: I collect old car magazines. I have pretty much kept every magazine, comic, everything I’ve ever gotten. I have an attic studio and my magazines are up there. My wife says it’s just me and the silverfish up there! I’m trying to get rid of them, but it’s hard!
GG: Do you have any other hobbies or secret talents, other than art?
Trosley: I used to write songs. I fooled around with a guitar and a couple of tape recorders and recorded songs, doing all of it by myself. What an ego! It was actually because no one else would work with me! I did back up voices, even women voices. I didn’t do anything with it, but I just wanted to see if I could write a good pop song that wasn’t annoying. I had a friend with a band who at one point had a record company interested in them and they used two of my songs. When they went to New York City to record the songs, though, they had an argument and the band broke up. So, it never happened. But still, to know that a record company bought my song, that’s unbelievable!
GG: What’s next for you?
Trosley: I have two books out now that have the original Krass & Bernie cartoons. I think the guys who grew up reading them in magazines appreciate getting to see those cartoons again, all together and perfectly bound. And now, they’ve brought back CARtoons and Krass & Bernie will be back too. I’ll be doing all new stuff. I had two characters I was doing, a guy and a girl named Deuce and Pinstripe, and that’s been appearing in CARtoons too. It’s bringing back the old but getting to do new stuff too.
I really feel lucky to still be in the business, and that the characters have lasted so long and I still get to draw them today.