WATCH NOW: Waverly man’s Great Danes inspire cartoons, book
WAVERLY – Dale “Toons” Santoiemma finds his Great Danes “strangely hilarious.” So do his nearly 22,000 followers on Facebook and about 8,000 Instagram fans.
“It’s a Dane Thing” — that’s what Santoiemma calls the daily Great Dane-centric comics he draws and posts as DaleToons. Now he’s putting together a 150-page coffee table book featuring 300 drawings being released in February. The cartoonist has raised $87,000 to publish the book through a Kickstarter campaign in September.
“When I started the campaign, I hit my $15,000 goal in two and a half hours. It’s crazy. I had no idea what was going to happen, and the love and support from people who love the comics has been amazing,” said Santoiemma, 47. His followers include fans from Europe, Canada and Australia.
He posts a new cartoon at 5 a.m. every morning.
The New Hartford native has been drawing “It’s a Dane Thing” for more than a year, inspired by George, the Great Dane and “best buddy” he lost in April 2019. “It was a tough time in my life. I’d given up on art. I was looking on Facebook and Instagram at cartoons and some were funny and the artwork was OK, but I thought ‘I can do better.’ I did some sketches and threw them out there. People loved them and wanted more. Every day it kept growing, and it helped me cope with the loss of George. I was liking art again and having fun.”
He also had new inspiration, Georgette, a 2-year-old blue Merle Great Dane, a grayish-blue dog with black spots that weighs 140 pounds and stands 35 inches at the shoulder. There’s also Pebbles, a fawn-colored 1-year-old Dane weighing in at 120 pounds.
“Georgette is a big sweetheart, and she can get very wound up with the zoomies and wants to play. She loves to put her head on my chest. Pebbles is very laid back and a total sweetheart — she does everything slow, and she’s still growing.
“Danes really have no idea how big they are, like humming birds. They’re so different than other breeds and have almost humanlike personalities — which is hilarious and awe-inspiring. They are so lazy, love children, and they don’t eat as much as you’d think,” he explained.
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Santoiemma has been drawing since he could pick up a crayon. “I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up, too — an elephant or a cartoonist,” he said, laughing. He was accepted to the Disney School of Animation, “but I never went. I was terrified of going to California by myself, so I went to Hawkeye Community College for commercial art.”
He worked as a freelance artist, drew cartoons and worked for a screen printing design company in Grinnell. He now works as an artist and animator for Sciplay Corp. in Cedar Falls, where he’s been for 18 years.
While followers have described “It’s a Dane Thing” as the next “Marmaduke” or “Scooby Doo,” Santoiemma’s sense of humor is more to “The Far Side.”
“Those always cracked me up. I have a warped sense of humor, sort of a droll way of looking at things. I take all these experiences a Dane or dog owner has and blow them up to the max. The human in my cartoons is based off me, but the Danes in my drawings don’t have names. Well, I know the names, but I haven’t told anyone. I want people to look at my drawings and think ‘this could be my Great Dane,’” the artist said.
Several of his posts have been shared 100,000 times in a single day. “People relate to the cartoons, and they send me pictures and anecdotes about their own dogs. The comments are great, and people think of me as a big deal or a celebrity, which is kinda weird to me and very humbling.”
He sells prints of his cartoons and expects to launch a collection of “It’s a Dane Thing” Christmas cards and eventually, DaleToons dog tags. He will send his book to the publisher in the next several weeks and will print 3,000 copies.
“You always dream about something like this happening. It got to the point that I was tired of waiting for the path to come to me, so I made my own path. I wanted to see how it would go, and so far, it’s been wonderful,” said Santoiemma.
“You just have to make sure you don’t get cocky. Keep your feet on the ground and be a decent, normal person and good things will happen.”
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