By Sigmund J. Mikolajczyk, Tire Business staff
WEXFORD, Pa. (Feb. 4, 2014) — With a paucity of pen strokes, cartoonist David W. Harbaugh blazed a path of guffaws and chuckles while living up to the adage that the pen is mightier—or at least a lot funnier—than the sword.
His work has appeared in every print issue of Tire Business since July 21, 1986, nestled comfortably on the publication's editorial page, usually drawing whimsical attention to some quirk of the tire or automotive repair industry.
He tended to capture more in a few arcs of the pen — perhaps a harried tire dealer wearing a priceless look on his or her face while confronted with a bizarre customer request — than many of his editorial cartoonist brethren in larger, more well-known publications.
Mr. Harbaugh, 85, died Jan. 19 in Wexford after a long illness.
His formal art training consisted of a year's study in design at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University following graduation from Thiel College in Greenville, Pa. He then served in the U.S. Navy before embarking on a career as an industrial exhibit designer and freelance cartoonist for some 42 years.
A native of the Iron City, he worked for GRS&W, a Pittsburgh-based design firm. Over the years, examples of Mr. Harbaugh's work have been displayed in many places, including in the lobby of Goodyear's Akron headquarters.
In a 1999 feature story on the cartoonist, retired Tire Business Executive Editor Chuck Slaybaugh described Mr. Harbaugh's work as "distinctive for its economy of detail and the expressiveness of its cartoon characters."
His cartoons have appeared in widely read consumer publications such as the Wall Street Journal, Saturday Evening Post, Field & Stream, Sports Afield and Better Homes & Gardens.
Throughout his long stint with TB, he worked from a small home-based art studio described as being as Spartan as his sketches. He admitted that while spending days in industrial design, cartooning had always been a big part of his life.
"One thing I really enjoyed as a child was making people laugh," he told TB.
"We'd have family gatherings and I'd try to draw a cartoon about the people in it. If it got a laugh, nothing would please me more. I loved seeing people enjoying themselves and having fun…. I think that's what motivates me still."
Soft-spoken and conservatively dressed, Mr. Harbaugh would often get cartoon inspiration while waiting for his car to be serviced.
He noted in the TB article that he found the tire and automotive service business "ripe for humor." The interaction between dealer and customer makes for "a lot of human pathos and emotion," he said, quickly adding that "it's a wonderful place to poke fun — and I hope nobody objects to it."
That was hardly the case.
TB would regularly get requests for reprints of Mr. Harbaugh's cartoons, with a dealer or shop owner saying how aptly the artist had captured a common scene in what some might call a humorless business.
"People can get so serious and they forget to laugh," Mr. Harbaugh told TB, acknowledging that fears over someone taking unintended offense "narrows the arena for humor." Many general circulation publications, he said, have become so afraid of offending someone — and being sued — that they've shunned cartoons with even a hint of controversy.
For that reason, Mr. Harbaugh said he was always "more comfortable" drawing for trade publications like TB because there are fewer topics to avoid.
Describing his drawing style, he said he tried to create the illusion of "volume with lines and without having to shade anything.
"It's in my nature. I can't stand clutter for one thing. Other artists do a lot more stylistically with each cartoon. But I couldn't draw for the number of publications I do if I had a more complex style. Strictly from a practical side, it works."
In Mr. Harbaugh's obituary, his family said: "David will be remembered as both a gentleman and a gentle man."
And did we mention how prolific Mr. Harbaugh was? Periodically a fresh packet chock-full of his latest whimsy would arrive at TB's office. Literally hundreds of cartoons over the years.
For the foreseeable future Tire Business will continue to use Mr. Harbaugh's cartoons from those chuckle-laden folders. Good humor never seems to go out of style.
Mr. Harbaugh leaves his wife of 60 years Joanne; daughters Pam Szerlong of Lake Forest, Ill., and Karen Pritchard of Wexford; son Blake of Wexford; brother Donald Harbaugh; and five grandchildren.
To reach this reporter: firstname.lastname@example.org; 330-865-6130.