Wos Up, Doc? Former Carlow Student, Joe Wos, Heads Pittsburgh’s Toonseum

Drew Wilson -

“Charlie Brown is who we are—sometimes insecure, depressed, worried about the immediate needs—and Snoopy is who we want to be,” says former Carlow student Joe Wos.

If it seems Wos knows a lot about cartoons and cartoonists, chalk it up to an occupational hazard.  He is the executive director of the Toonseum, a museum in the heart of Pittsburgh’s Cultural District that is dedicated to the art of cartooning.  The Toonseum was founded in 2007 as part of the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, but moved into its own space in the Cultural District in 2009. 

Joe Wos, Founder and Executive Director of the Toonseum

As Wos knows all too well, working as a cartoonist is not always about Snoopy laughs and Peppermint Patty punch lines. After high school, Wos spent several years as a freelance cartoonist and then a performance cartoonist.  

“Being a freelancer is tough, when there is work, there is usually a lot of it, but it can dry up as quickly as it came,” he says.  “As a performance cartoonist, I would travel around the country to different festivals.  I might be in New Orleans at the Jazz Heritage Festival one weekend, and then at a folklore festival the next weekend.”
At age 27, he decided to go to college and chose Carlow.  As a male student on a predominantly female campus, Wos realized he was an oddity, but in many ways he relished the opportunity to be in the minority for a change.
“Carlow was one of the best experiences of my life,” he says.  “I did not have a single bad teacher.  Every class that I took I was learning, and that’s what I went to college for.”
While at Carlow Wos drew a comic strip titled, “Olivia,” a name he chose in homage to one of the first student newspapers, which had a comic strip with the same title. 
Wos’ Olivia might poke fun at the rigors of registering for classes one time, and the inconvenience of getting stuck on the elevator the next, but all the time there was an underlying element of truth to the strip.
“If the world is perfect, there’s a lot of cartoonists out of work,” Wos says.  “A cartoonist’s job is to point out the flaws in society, to speak out for those without a voice.  A cartoonist can do and say the things that no one else can.”

Joe Wos drawing by Joe Wos, Founder and Executive Director of the Toonseum
Wos is the first to admit that he learned many of those lessons at Carlow.
“I made some wonderful friends there, and some equally wonderful adversaries,” he says.  “I had great professors encouraging me to push the enveloped a little further.  My time at Carlow made me focus my ambitions a lot.  I discovered I was on the right path all along.”
The current ToonSeum exhibit, “Wonder Women: On Page and Off” brings Wos and Carlow University back together in support of exploring the role of women in the comics industry while also examining the way women have been portrayed in the art form. The show honors the growth of female characters and merges history with exceptional art. 
Carlow University is proud to sponsor this unique show that includes more than 50 pieces of original art—one of the largest exhibits of women in comics to ever be presented. The show runs through Sunday, March 30, 2014. 
After “Wonder Women” closes, what’s next for Joe Wos? A book, of course! 
The Three Little Pigsburghers” is a retelling of the classic Three Little Pigs translated into Pittsburghese. Wos turned to supporters on Kickstarter to fund his idea, and the project met its funding goal after a mere three days. 
Look for this creative, ‘Burgh-focused take on a nursery classic to hit shelves this summer. 

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