Hull native Peter Menice reflects on the art of putting ink, brush to paper
For longtime Hull Times cartoonist Peter Menice, the year 2021 holds two major milestones: the 30th year since the insightful cartoons by this talented Hull native began appearing in this newspaper and his 60th birthday, which he celebrated with his family yesterday, March 31.
In an interview from his home in New Mexico, where he moved in 1998 with his family, Menice recalled that he “always wanted to be a cartoonist. It was a lifelong dream to be in the newspapers.”
The self-taught Menice still has the first cartoon he drew for the Times, which was published in February 1991 and titled “Golf Crisis.”
He remembers struggling to come up with ideas and to pull together “a cartoon fit for print. It makes me cringe a bit looking back.”
Still, Menice said, “I love being at the drawing board every week creating a new cartoon for the Times. I guess if you work at something every week for 30 years, you’re bound to get better at it. What a fun journey! “
His main objective in creating cartoons – based on an issue in the current week’s Hull news, a national one attracting local attention, or something else entirely – is to give readers something to ponder and to talk about at the local coffee shop or restaurant.
“I used to stress over coming up with an idea, searching the paper for something newsworthy of a cartoon,” Menice said. “With time and practice, my approach flipped. Now, before I open a newspaper, turn on my phone, or check social media, I ask myself what I want to say today. Then I look for news to say it in.”
Menice gears up for each new day with a “Toon-Up,” pun intended. “I created a morning ritual that not only puts me in a state of gratitude and flow, but also elevates my entire day. It helps me generate ideas with ease, make snap decisions, and eliminate stress and fear of the blank page,” he explained.
Looking back, Menice longed to be a cartoonist since he was 6 and living in Hull with his father and mother, Joe and Doris Menice, and his six sisters and three brothers and playing youth sports.
His father, who taught science and math at Hull Middle School and later served as the Hull Public Schools physical education director, and siblings Lynne and Jeff still reside here.
Menice recalls his mother giving him a nickel to spend at a one-day flea market across the street from their Sunset Point home and buying a copy of “The Life and Times of Archy and Mehitabel,” featuring cartoons by George Herriman, with that single coin when he was 6.
“I was mesmerized,” he said. “It wasn’t a bad investment to start a career.”
Menice was also inspired by the 1967 World Book Encyclopedia yearbook, which featured an article and photographs of the work of Chicago Sun Times editorial cartoonist Bill Mauldin, who was living in Santa Fe at the time.
Over the years, Menice worked on Hull lobster boats and was a lifeguard at Nantasket Beach, cooked at local eateries, held cleaning jobs, graduated from UMass Boston in 1987 with a degree in English, moved to California to “find” himself a couple of times, drew comic strips, had his cartoons published in The Boston Globe and other publications in addition to The Hull Times, ran a pre-COVID-19 “Hero’s Journey” cartoon camp for kids, and everything in between.
His students’ assignment was to draw three pages of a graphic novel about themselves, identifying something they were afraid of and how they overcame that struggle.
“We didn’t use erasers in the class,” he said. “It’s all about getting an idea from your head onto the paper and accessing your imagination.”
Key to helping Menice achieve a cartooning career was working as a program director at the Rancho Santa Fe Community Center in San Diego, where the cartoons he incorporated into flyers and posters drew wide attention.
At the age of 30, he returned to Hull from California, committed to settling down a bit and becoming a cartoonist. His English studies helped him learn how to play with ideas that were in his head and to create characters, which helped advance his dream of becoming a cartoonist.
Before looking at cartoon samples shared with him by Menice during a visit, Building 19 artist Mat Brown suggested that the budding cartoonist approach Hull Times editor Susan Ovans, at that time, and offer to provide editorial cartoons for the newspaper despite his lack of experience.
“Then he looked at my cartoons, thought they looked professional, and told me that I could actually ask for money for them,” Menice said. Ovans accepted his offer, and he has been drawing cartoons for the Times ever since.
He creates the cartoons on Wednesday nights, just before Thursday’s deadline, to ensure they are as up-to-date with the latest local news as possible, after consulting with the editor.
Menice’s latest adventure is developing a graphic novel about how a boy’s sensitivity became his “super power,” although that’s the only detail he can share at this time.
Whenever he happened to feel he was in a negative space, buckling under the demands of relentless deadlines, Menice found himself “in survival mode – fight, flight, or freeze. Trying to be creative gave me more anxiety,” he recalled. “To get out of this fear cycle, I would imagine a time from the past when I felt on top of the world, like hitting a home run in the state championships or becoming South Shore Champ.”
Following that realization, Menice continues to re-live the moment so that it is anchored in his body. “Still feeling this elevated emotion, I imagine my cartoon already done and in the paper, bringing lots of love and laughter to Times readers,” he said. “Feeling at peace and in love with my work and grateful that I get the chance to draw again, the creative juices start to flow.”
He uses a brush and ink in his work, which he said combine to make the most effective strokes to bring that week’s work to completion. “Our value isn’t in what we do, but in who we are, which is reflected in our work,” he said.
Over the years, Menice has recognized a recurring theme: that the expression of qualities that make him successful in his work – patience, calmness, and letting the ideas flow – can also be applied “to make me a better person, husband, and father.”