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Signing off as “Slim,” Wheeler Hughes sends out another calendar of cowboy cartoons inspired by his life growing up on a New Mexico ranch. His work is online at www.ziacowtoons.com. Photo by Phil Houseal

Wheeler Hughes’s cartoons are available online at www.ziacowtoons.com.

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by Phil Houseal
Dec 9, 2009


As a kid in school, Wheeler Hughes tried to be a real artist - he really did. But he just couldn’t make it work.

“I couldn’t draw a serious picture to save my life, though I tried a million times,” said the young cowboy cartoonist who enjoys his “self unemployment” in Comfort, along with his wife, two children, plus a few horses, dogs, cows, and goats.

Hughes has been drawing “ever since I could lift a pencil,” and kept drawing in spite of his teachers’ objections. He has little respect for the teachers who took away his pens. “They said drawing would get me nowhere,” he said. “Well, I still ain’t never used no algebra.”

Hughes’s cartoons evoke the work of Ace Reid, who he admits was an influence. But he draws from his own his rich life as a working cowboy in New Mexico for inspiration. He has taken his busted knuckles, scraped knees, and sore seats, mixed them in with the hard life of a working rancher, and put them all into cartoons that are deceptively simple.

“All my gags are true stories that either happened to me or friends of mine, or silly ideas we come up with,” he said.

He started drawing cartoons because there was “just nothing better to do.”

“We lived 30 miles from town, so the TV reception not too good. We’d have to go up on roof every once in a while to turn the antenna right. Most of our time was spent telling stories. Growing up around cowboys they are always storytelling.”

When people started wanting his cartoons, he signed them Slim for no real reason, and now signs them all as Slim Wiley. He has compiled them into a calendar for the first time. He has put out a couple of Christmas cards every year, and looking at putting some into a book and some cowboy magazines. Hughes is also a cowboy poet, and likes to mix in a story or two.

A cowboy went to heaven
He met Saint Peter there at the door
He stood around looking confused
And said, “Pete... what am I here for?
I ain’t been the nicest person, or to church I ain’t hardly never been
Come to think about it there weren’t a time I didn’t sin
I cursed, I drank, even chewed tobac
When you think of it, my life was kind of black.”

Old Saint Peter said to him, “Well, we’re still gonna let you in
See... you’re a cowboy, and God kinda understands your sin
You were good to your dog and your hoss,
Why you was even good to your hands when you become the boss

You took care of God’s creations, and that’s what he put you there for
So quit your stinkin’ jabbering and step through this bunkhouse door.”

Hughes, who helps his wife Lauren operate a working chuckwagon, seems to have been born in the wrong century. He cherishes that earlier time in history.

“I grew up around oldtimers who had a lot of stories about a time I’d like to have grown up in,” he said. “It’s hard to find people our age who are interested in this. Most of our friends are 80 years old.”

Hughes admitted that when dealing with anything to do with the modern era, he is best at criticizing it. And he has figured out the best way to do that - is to draw a cartoon.