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Gunny Wolf’s SemperToons: A legacy of morale

Adopted from Dylan Lassiter, of PopSmoke Media, August 20, 2021

Charles “Gunny” Wolf has been drawing cartoons ever since he could hold a pencil. What originally began as a casual hobby, as Wolf puts it “drawing whatever comes to mind,” eventually grew into one of the most notable and hilarious morale boosters geared towards U.S. service members.

“If you have a dream, you know, it is a part of your purpose, then you just, you got to do it. And SemperToons is here to help keep you focused through a laugh.” Said Wolf, identifying the purpose driving his cartoons.

Pop Smoke Media had the pleasure of speaking to the illustrious cartoonist yesterday. During the discussion, Wolf spoke on the history and evolution of SemperToons.

Humble Beginnings

Well before he decided to become a Marine, Wolf was drawing in his free time. When he was in 10th grade, still in Ohio, Wolf chose to apply for a commercial art program at his local vocational school on a whim. To Wolf’s surprise, his whim became an opportunity as he was accepted and soon began to excel in various art subjects at the school.

By the time Wolf made it to the cartooning class, the rest was history. He said, “It just came naturally to me.” But, it still wasn’t a career path just yet. Wolf said that while he was preparing to graduate high school, he met a Marine visiting his school, and decided to enlist almost immediately.

He recalled, “Once I saw the Marine, a real Marine in uniform, in person, I just started asking questions. Next thing, I’m in his office and not knowing anything, he’s asking me what I want to do, and I’m just straight up saying infantry; I want to be the guy on the poster.”

Gunny finds his purpose

Flash forward a couple of months, and Wolf is at Parris Island for boot camp, where he quickly begins drawing for his platoon. Wolf ended up on the USS Blue Ridge in Okinawa, Japan, and was still drawing, but without a direction. This part of his story seems to loop, as he kept on drawing but taking a while to narrow down what he wanted to do exactly.

After two years spent in Okinawa, Wolf was still drawing, but this time at Camp Pendleton. While he was at Camp Pendleton, Wolf’s unit was deployed concurrently with Desert Shield/Storm and ended up on the ship for 10 months.

This was the major turning point for Wolf, as he began drafting cartoons that only received praise and laughter from his peers. Following noticeable acclaim from his peers, someone from the admin office on the ship asked him to start posting his cartoons on the door on a weekly basis.

Wolf said that when he left this post, for some brief training out in the desert, he came back to a major surprise. According to Wolf, once he was back on the ship, a superior administrative officer greeted him with, “You need to get a cartoon up on the door now because everybody’s been freaking out about where you’ve been.”

This was a moment of feeling great, and also discovering purpose, for Wolf. He commented on this point by stating “I started to understand what cartoons and morale can do, But I was still in the infancy stage of how powerful it can be.”

Accumulating fans

After a period of making weekly cartoons for his peers on the ship, and continuing to grow the hobby as a full-time TBS instructor, Wolf decided to take things a step further and approach the Quantico Sentry newspaper. When the instructor arrived, a folder of cartoons in hand, the editor of the Sentry opened it, and immediately decided to run them.

This was the first step towards national recognition, and it was earned by the merit of Wolf’s skills as a cartoonist alone. After getting published in the Sentry, Wolf reflected that, “Now I have the bug, and I’m thinking ‘If the Quantico Sentry will run these, and I can make the whole base love them, Marines and their families, what other bases will run them?’”

This is when Wolf says that he began calling every base he could, reaching out to any public affairs officer he could get into contact with. Since this was before the proliferation of mobile phones, during his lunch breaks, Wolf would have pockets full of quarters running to phone booths to call as many base newspapers as possible.

While he was in touch and providing cartoons for a variety of bases, he says “Every week or every two weeks we would mail out cartoons to every base, basically, in the Marine Corps. Because there was no internet, and I didn’t have any pigeons.”

During this period, Wolf was a 351 dragon gunner which was in the process of being phased out. He took this as a chance to apply for a lateral move into the graphic arts field and was accepted.

Following his acceptance, Wolf went back to Quantico and was greeted with entirely new editors at the Sentry. He noted that he was worried they wouldn’t want them, but was quickly relieved when they told him that the old editor made sure to let them know about his previous work with them.

The current status of Gunny and his toons

This was the formal birth of SemperToons, but more was needed to expand their reach.

Wolf and his wife both started going to Quantico exchange in order to sell SemperToons merchandise and comics outside of the store. The problem was that the rule at the time was that no active-duty members could sell as a vendor, due to a conflict of interest.

And yet, that didn’t stop SemperToons at all. Wolf compiled a package of his cartoons, alongside a letter explaining what he wanted to do. The policy was quickly overturned solely for the sake of SemperToons, not to mention the morale boost they provided.

All of their products were flying off the table, so much so that they couldn’t even keep up with the orders and had to sign a contract with the exchange in order to keep up with business. This partnership started out with a sustained vendor spot outside every Saturday and eventually turned this into a SemperToons store inside of the exchange.

Throughout this period, times were hard for the SemperToons team. Wolf spoke on the hardship, stating, “It was very taxing. It was like 16 hour days because I was still working a day job, and going to the store, and then trying to make it home because you know I live an hour away from Quantico.”

Following four years of the store inside of the exchange, Wolf decided to close it down in order to focus on family. This break lasted a handful of years but has since ended with the return of SemperToons in 2018.

Now, Gunny Wolf is focused on his cartoons, and more importantly, the morale boost that he knows underpins them. SemperToons has plans to expand its current “Morale Box” program, which entails sending care packages of morale-boosting cartoons, and items, to units varying in size.

Wolf currently works as the cartoonist and owner of SemperToons, as well as the artist of CorpsToons which are published by his COMMSTRAT office every Sunday. He also runs a separate cartoon with his son, called BalloonToons.

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