Off the grid, but not off his rocker

Moab cartoonist makes his mark

 

Name: Travis Kelly
Age: 54
Hometown: Moab, Utah
Occupation: Graphic artist / cartoonist
Motto:  Cartooning is better than the usual artist job: "Would you like ranch or vinaigrette on your salad?"

Travis Kelly’s Main Street office in Moab, Utah, is a cluttered mess. His vivid oil paintings line the walls; months of newspapers tower in piles near the door. There are cases of canned beans and dry noodles stocked under a drawing table, and cartoon proofs hang haphazardly from every surface.

A tall man with a dapper moustache, soft Southern accent and ever-present wool cap, Kelly has interests as scattered as his workspace. At 54, he is an avid river runner, hunter and philosopher, not to mention an enthusiastic fan of professional football. He has written numerous scripts and a screenplay, and his radio play, Utah Alamo, was produced live on Moab’s KZMU Community Radio station. But cartooning is what drives Kelly, allowing him to comment in his own way on the current state of the nation and the West. 

Practicing his “self discipline of half-cartooning, half-writing,” he intensely follows local and national news, letting current events “percolate in his subconscious.”  The cartoons that emerge tackle subjects as various as cell phone use, roads through wilderness, Western boomtowns and the oil industry. 

This wasn’t always Kelly’s lifestyle. He grew up near Fort Worth, Texas, and worked for five years in Dallas at ad agencies and magazines. “I hated it,” he drawls. He always yearned for a life outside the big city, so he left to pursue a master’s degree in fine arts in Tucson, Ariz., and eventually heard the call of Moab. Here, at the dawn of the millennium, he started his graphic arts business and eventually moved into a school bus.  Yes, a school bus.

“I wanted to live the romantic myth of the starving artist,” he explains, “but I also wanted to make a point about local sustainability and self-sufficiency.”  The bus, outfitted with solar panels, sits on a patch of land next to the Colorado River. Primitive as it may sound, the bus has sleek interior wood beams, a full kitchen and a riverside solar shower among the tamarisks.  Kelly even has a dance floor, set up over the desert sand, just in case.

Kelly has lived here for five years, spending his time drawing, reading and listening to international broadcasts on his short-wave radio.  He eschews cell phones, utility bills and running water, for the “synergy of the isolation factor.”   “I wanted to leave a very small environmental footprint, not be held hostage by skyrocketing rental and mortgage rates, and, artists have always lived where the rent is low.” 

Though Kelly’s cartoons appear weekly in the Four Corners Free Press, based in Cortez, Colo., he draws many of them for his own fulfillment, electronically sending proofs to his loyal fans and friends.  He posts a weekly editorial cartoon on his Web site, www.traviskelly.com.   His work has not gone unappreciated: The Society of Professional Journalists, Colorado Chapter, gave him Mark of Excellence awards in 2006 and 2007.

But Kelly doesn’t spend all the time chained to his computer. Taking a break from a marathon drawing session, he sneaks up onto his office roof for a view of downtown Moab – and a quick cigarette. “An artist’s work is never done,” he quips as he contemplates the next frame of his cartoon.

Erika Jones calls Moab, Utah home, though currently lives and works on the North Coast of the Dominican Republic.




High Country News Classifieds
  • SOCIAL MEDIA AND DIGITAL ADVERTISING SPECIALIST
    The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), Utah's largest conservation organization, has an immediate opening for a full-time Social Media and Digital Advertising Specialist. This position...
  • SPRING-FED PARCELS ON THE UPPER SAC RIVER
    Adjacent parcels above the Upper Sacramento river, near Dunsmuir. The smaller is just under 3 acres, with the larger at just under 15 acres. Multiple...
  • DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
    Greater Yellowstone Coalition seeks a development professional to coordinate the organization's individual giving program. The position description is available at http://greateryellowstone.org/careers Please email a letter...
  • IDAHO STATE DIRECTOR
    The Wilderness Society is seeking a full time Idaho State Director who will preferably be based in Boise, Idaho. At least 8-10 years of experience...
  • COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER AND BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER MANAGER
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring for two positions. We seek a Communications Manager to execute inspiring and impactful communications...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Wilderness Volunteers Wilderness Volunteers (WV), a 24-year leader in preserving our nation's wildlands, is seeking a motivated person with deep outdoor interests to guide our...
  • HECHO POLICY AND ADVOCACY MANAGER
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • FISHERIES BIOLOGIST
    Under the direct supervision of the Director of Shoshone-Paiute Tribe's Fish, Wildlife & Parks, in coordination with the Tribal Programs Administrator and the Tribal Chairman,...
  • REGIONAL EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR NORTHERN ROCKIES, PRAIRIES & PACIFIC REGION
    Founded in 1936, the National Wildlife Federation has grown into America's largest and most trusted grassroots conservation organization with 53 state/territorial affiliates and more than...
  • STEWARDSHIP MANAGER
    STEWARDSHIP MANAGER Job Vacancy and Description Posted June 2, 2021: Open until filled The New Mexico Land Conservancy (NMLC) is a non-profit, regional land trust...
  • KSJD - MORNING EDITION HOST/REPORTER
    KSJD is seeking a host/reporter. Please see for www.ksjd.org for more information. EEO compliant.
  • ON THE EDGE OF CEDAR MESA/BEARS EARS
    Quiet, comfy house for rent in Bluff, Utah. Walk to San Juan River. Bike or hike to many nearby ruins and rock art sites. Beautiful...
  • CARPENTER AND LABORER WANTED.
    Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rain forest on the coast, Hike the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg meadows,...
  • PROJECT MANAGER
    Title: Project Manager Reports To: Program Director Salary Range: Negotiable; starting at $60,000 Location: Bend, OR The Deschutes River Conservancy seeks a Project Manager to...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Deschutes River Conservancy seeks a Program Director to join our dynamic team in restoring streamflow and improving water quality in the Deschutes Basin. WHO...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR - TWISPWORKS
    Established healthy nonprofit in the Methow Valley of Washington state, TwispWorks is hiring the next Executive Director. Terrific opportunity to strive for our mission to...
  • BOARD DIRECTOR
    Help us achieve our mission of promoting excellence in the professional practice of wilderness stewardship, science and education to ensure the life-sustaining benefits of wilderness....
  • TEMPORARY FULL-TIME RANCH OPERATIONS ASSISTANT
    Twin Willows Ranch in Ocate, NM is seeking to immediately fill a Temporary Full-Time employment position as Ranch Operations Assistant for Facilities, Equipment, Land, and...
  • RANCH OPERATIONS ASSISTANT
    Twin Willows Ranch in Ocate, NM is seeking an individual to fill the Regular Full-Time position of Resident Operations Assistant for Technology, Hospitality, Gardening, and...
  • POEM+ NEWSLETTER
    Start each month with a poem in your inbox by signing up for Taylor S. Winchell's monthly Poem+ Newsletter. No frills. No news. No politics....