Art of the Draw
For JP Rankin and his small collection of characters that you can find most days hanging out at the Cartoon Saloon, it’s never long between belly laughs. Built in Rankin’s property, the Cartoon Saloon is unlike any “bar” you’ve ever been. No security system. No cash register. Heck, there’s not even a real door. It’s literally a shack on the side of the road where you can stop by most any day, have some free BBQ, grab a beer from the cooler on the floor, and experience the uniqueness known simply as The Saloon.
Rankin, who is an insurance adjuster by trade, is also well known as a Cowboy Cartoonist. There’s actually a professional organization tied to this industry, and Rankin is professionally employed by Leaning Tree Greeting Cards who use his work on postcards. With comics of old cowboys, leaning against a bar and making jokes, then you would see why something like the Cartoon Saloon came to life.
Rankin begins, “About 5 years ago my youngest daughter and myself were sitting around the house near Christmas and we had an overabundance of empty beer cans lying around us and I told her “We should go hang these in one of the trees out front.” So we did. I’m the guy that will drive 50 miles out of the way to see something silly, and sure enough it became a tradition for us to create the Lone Star Christmas Tree (situated next to the Saloon). So for Texas Independence Day, we said we were going to go stand out by the tree and give out free hot dogs and beer. So we put a sign up and the next thing you know we had 30 people lined up down the road wanting free beer and dogs.”
He continues, “At that point, I had said I wanted to build a little replica of one of our cartoon bars and we could cut caricatures…and the next thing I know it’s a 10×12 building we were planning. We were looking for pallets and my friend gives me these HUGE pallets, way bigger than I thought…and so it went from 150sq feet to 400+ square feet very quick. In all my cartoons the buildings in those cartoons reflect what we built. The funny sayings, the oddball characters, the swinging doors…and we created that. We built it on donations and the next thing you know for less than $1000 we had it done. It cost more in beer than the lumber and materials. People would just leave stuff out there for us in the morning to donate to what we were doing.”
With help from such characters as Brian Coyle, “Biscuit”, Paul Denmark, and Gaylon & Trina Morgan, a lot of beer cans, some good laughs, and the Cartoon Saloon and Lone Star Christmas Tree was born.
As for the “business model”, there isn’t one. Rankin explains, “I wanted an attraction, not a business. As far as ever opening it as a business, never. I don’t want to ever go through the red tape and nonsense associated with it. It’s never closed and never really open because there’s no door so if you come by on a Saturday then there’s no door so do what you want. We just don’t encourage overnight camping.”
While Rankin has a “regular” job, as do most of the volunteers that hang out at the Saloon, it’s a mutual appreciation for people that feeds them and keeps them motivated. “I’m not down there every weekend but it’s interesting to see where people are from and the characters that come through. I do like people and the diversity of our crowd, and one of the things that’s really funny is the people that say ‘Thanks for building this! That’s your place?’ and I just say ‘Sorta. It’s your place and my place and if you come hang out there, then you’re part of it’. There’s usually always somebody there on Saturdays and Sundays and I will be pulling out of the house and I’ll chuckle at people taking pictures and I just love their reactions. 99.9% of the people that come by are super respectful of it and it was a silly idea to start and has just grown.”
Rankin finishes, “Come drink a beer, write your name on the can, and we will glue it to the wall. Same with dollar bills. People have started writing on the walls, and I love the art and the scribbles. We have a guestbook to see where people are coming from. Ireland was the farthest.”
Take a Saturday afternoon and go experience the Cartoon Saloon. On 473 between Sisterdale and Comfort, take a few bucks, throw them in the donation box and grab a cold one from the cooler. Meet the characters, have a laugh, and you will be enriched for the experience.