Elmo and Flo: Wyo cartoonist retires his syndicated seriesWritten by Natasha Wheeler
After 43 years creating the largest weekly, syndicated cartoon feature in the agricultural sector in both the U.S. and Canada, Jerry Palen is retiring.
“I’m going to miss it. I really will miss it,” he says.
Although, he mentions, “I am still drawing cartoons. It’s a bad habit, and I can’t break it. We’d like to do one more cartoon book.”
Palen has published nine cartoon books to date, in addition to yearly calendars and his weekly series.
In addition to cartoons, he also creates watercolors, oil paintings and sculptures.
While he's retiring Stampede, Palen hopes that newspapers and magazines will continue to run the popular series, saying, “I just got a nice letter from the Governor saying I can’t quit, so somebody reads it.”
Governor Matt Mead’s grandfather, past senator and Governor Cliff Hanson, is honored with a monument at the state capitol created by Palen.
“Every U.S. president since Jimmy Carter has requested my art work to present to heads of state, etc.,” he mentions.
As for Stampede, Palen says, “I grew up with this cartoon series. My father, by vocation, was a large animal veterinarian, so he got to go around to all of the ranches and farms. Of course, he always carried around two helpers that he didn’t pay very much, my brother and me.”
He continued, “Watching all of those wonderful people out in the country is where the ideas for this cartoon series came from.”
Palen also developed a passion for his craft by helping his father verify the originality of various pieces of art, visiting museums and collections throughout the country.
“One of the biggest I was ever at was the museum in Kansas City. It was huge. For every one artist that is on display, there were probably 10 or 12 pieces in the basement that had never been shown. It was neat to see all the different artists, and I took advantage of it. I picked up my father’s love of art,” he explains.
Fascinated by the discussions of art and conversations with museum directors who described art and the artists, Palen announced at the age of nine that he, too, would be an artist.
“One of the best stories that my wife Ann likes to tell is we met in a high school art class. Of course, she got an A, and I got a C, but I got a wife out of the deal,” Palen says.
After high school, Ann went to San Francisco, Calif. to study at Mills College, and Palen went to the University of Wyoming, earning a degree in economics and political science. After he graduated, he went to Santa Barbara, Calif. to study with artist Nicholas Firfires.
“I got to study with Nick for several years. That was a real door-opener because he was a really fine artist and wonderful man,” he remarks.
At that time, kinetic art became very popular, but it wasn’t a style that interested Palen. He returned to Wyoming and became an examiner at a bank.
“I did that for a few years, but in the evenings after work, I would go back to my room and start messing with my artwork,” he comments. “I would whine to my wife that I didn’t want to be in banking for the rest of my life.”
One day, Ann convinced him to take the day off from work and gather up his favorite cartoons.
He continues, “On a Friday, we packed 10 cartoons up and took them to the Western Horseman in Colorado Springs, Colo. There, I presented them, and they were really impressed. They bought all 10 of them for five dollars apiece. With that kind of ‘big’ money, I went home and on that Monday, I called in and said, ‘I quit.’”
From there, the series took off. As different publishers discovered his work, they would reach out to Palen to find out if they could include his cartoons in their publications as well.
One of the first publishers to contact him was Bob Larson, publisher and editor of the Wyoming Stockman-Farmer. When he asked about the name of the cartoon series, Palen said the first thing that popped into his mind.
“I had not even thought about it. That’s big-time stuff. The first thing that came to my mind was Stampede,” he explains, adding that he also came up with the names Elmo and Flo on the spot. “I still don’t know where that came from.”
The ranch wife
Flo, Palen says, was really the character that made Stampede so popular with rural people, and women in particular, all over the United States, Canada and the world.
“Flo shows the importance of women in agriculture. She’s not only the cook, the mother and the wife, she really runs the show. She keeps the books, and she keeps everything in line. I still think that’s true today,” states Palen.
Crediting his wife of 52 years as the inspiration for Flo, he advises anyone who runs a farm or ranch to marry someone smart, who can keep the books, find the right parts at the store during harvest time and change a tire.
“We, as a couple, have had a wonderful time with Stampede,” he says.
The couple also has two sons. The youngest is a critical care doctor and professor at the University of Washington.
“He is married to another doctor, and they are proud parents of our grandson,” Palen comments.
His oldest son resides nearby as an attorney and rancher.
Palen says, “He has a beautiful attorney wife and a daughter. They don’t live too far from us, but this is Wyoming – a three-hour drive one-way is just down the road.”
Speaking of his sons, he adds, “We raised them on our working ranch outside of Cheyenne, where we initiated one of the first intensive grazing programs in the state, tripling our yearling heifer numbers and doing wonders for our pastures. We were very proud of our work and shared it with others.”
Now, Palen will be focused on spending more time with his family and working on art that doesn’t entail the tight deadlines of weekly cartoons.
“We have to close another chapter, Stampede, with Elmo, old Red the pickup, Damit the Dog and, of course, Flo,” he says. “For all of us in agriculture, it’s time we bow down to our tremendous partners – our loving wives, devoted partners and tire changers.”