April 15, 2003

If at All Possible, Involve a Gnu

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Last night, The Sun caught up with Travis Dandro, the man behind the comic strip Mr. Gnu, as he recovered from a day of signing autographs and stripping for overeager fans.

Dandro, 28, a resident of Bangor, Maine, has been printing the strip in one form or another since 1996. He came to campus for a book-signing event at the Cornell Store yesterday afternoon.

“I liked seeing the campus and everything,” Dandro said. “The kids were really cool. I was a little scared at first.”

Yes, the guy who draws naked neighbors and double-D-breasted spiders gets nervous about meeting his own fans.

“I’m really shy,” he admitted.

Upon meeting him, this might make more sense. His short, skinny frame and subdued demeanor betray whatever is going on inside his head at the moment — anything from kidnapping grandmothers to applying lingerie to captured frogs, if his autographed messages on students’ Mr. Gnu books were any indication.

The books, which Dandro self-published, were a main reason for his mini-tour, which also includes a trip to the University of Maine at Orono closer to home.

“I really need to sell these friggin’ books ’cause I have boxes and boxes in my hall,” he laughed. He added later that he owes his mother $2,000 for the publishing costs. “I need a publisher,” he lamented.

Currently, Mr. Gnu is running in about 16 newspapers across the United States and Canada, all of which are college papers with the exception of an alternative weekly in Boston.

“I’m in Canada now, I’m international,” Dandro proclaimed proudly when talking about the Canadian papers publishing Mr. Gnu. “They want me to be from Canada.”

Recent highlights in the strip include the adventures of Depressing Boy and Mr. Gnu’s failed attempts to cheer him up. One recent comic featured Mr. Gnu buying him a new TV set; when he turns it on, the war in Iraq depresses his unfortunate friend even more.

“I was a little unsure about that,” Dandro admitted. But “it wasn’t too risque” compared to other cartoons on the war, he pointed out.

“I was having a tough time writing that week … I think I was depressed that week, so I used Depressing Boy,” he chuckled.

Dandro plans to continue what he’s been up to for the past semester. He helps people with mental retardation at their homes, spending several nights a week at work. And of course, he draws his comics, which he often does while those whom he helps are asleep in their homes. He quit his former job teaching art in elementary school before the summer.

A highlight of yesterday’s event featured Dandro stripping for a few interested fans.

“He asked me to take off [all] my clothes, but I saw kids around,” he said.

So Dandro found the middle ground and took off only his shirt.

The book-signing was cosponsored by The Sun, which carries the Mr. Gnu strip. Besides signing autographs and meeting fans, Dandro set up an Easter egg hunt on the lawn between the Cornell Store and Uris Hall.

“I just wanted to thank the Cornell students … for supporting Mr. Gnu, and meeting some of the fans today gave a lot of meaning to my work,” he said. “I want to apologize for those who found the egg yokes during the Easter egg hunt. That was rude; I’m sorry.”

Archived article by Andy Guess