He may not look much like a ringmaster, but Rob Harrell does run a circus: the syndicated comic strip "Big Top," which sees the world through the eyes of a boy growing up in a circus family of talking animals.
"If you measure success by doing what you always dreamed of," says Harrell, "I'm... doing fantastic."
Already in 40 newspapers, he's on a roll professionally, but personally, things have been rough. The 37-year-old cartoonist was recently diagnosed with a rare form of eye cancer. Survival meant surgery.
"One of the first thoughts I had was 'Oh no, is this gonna be... am I not gonna be able to do the strip anymore?'"
"You want to get your audience, and hold your audience, and I'm still building an audience," says Harrell, explaining why he dreaded the prospect of having to run golden oldie strips from his archive while recovering from the surgery.
But funny things can happen in the funny pages. CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers reports fifteen cartoonists from around the country – including "Garfield" creator Jim Davis, a childhood idol of Harrell's - volunteered to each take a turn doing "Big Top."
"Anything that can affect the sight, or the right hand, is really debilitating," says Davis. "I really felt for Rob."
"We wanted to emulate the style, and the writing style, and getting just as close [as possible] to Rob's vision of the strip," says Davis, of the unusual mission he and the other cartoonist friends in deed undertook for their new friend in need.
For Harrell, it's a great feeling.
"It's like a get well card every day from these people," he says, "and that's amazing."
The surgery went well and radiation is next. Harrell's own cartoons will be returning this week. We got a sneak peek, and not surprisingly, one of his characters – like their creator - has suffered a hard knock.
By Cynthia Bowers
Copyright 2006 CBS. All rights reserved.