WESTERLY, R.I. -- Even without a friars' robe, cartoonist Chon Day looks like his most famous character, Brother Sebastian.
'It's true. Cartoonists grow to look like their characters,' says Day, whose 52-year career has brought bellylaughs to three generations of magazine readers.
Day is a quiet and pleasant man who talks in short, to-the-point sentences -- much like the punch lines that brought him into millions of homes via the New Yorker, Saturday Evening Post, Ladies Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, Playboy and other magazines.
'I'm from the old school. I like snappy punch lines. The shorter the gag, the quicker the bellylaugh,' said Day.
Brother Sebastian, a whimsical monk who was able to pull humor from the most serious of events, was a long-standing feature of Look Magazine.
He was born to Chon Day's imagination in 1954 and was retired when Look folded in 1971. Day first used friars as subject in a cartoon showing two monks, one pulling on a rope with a clock in the background and one monk telling the other: 'Soon we shall toll the knell of parting day. Hasn't it been a stinker!'
'He could speak languages like ordinary people: 'Hasn't it been a stinker,'' Day said, sitting in a tiny living room where curio shelves brim with friar statues sent by friends and fans.
To this day, Chon Day says he has 'no idea' why Brother Sebastian became such a hit, the subject of three of the six books published as compilations of his cartoons.
Chauncey Addison Day, a Westerly resident since 1938 when he and his wife, Irene, moved away from the bustle of New York City and its New Jersey suburbs, said he came by his wit naturally.
'My mother always had something funny to say even in the most awful times. My father was my mother's straight man. It was almost like a comedy team,' Day said.
He recalled his mother once helping a neighbor's family after a death. The undertaker arrived and asked whether the dead man's glasses should be placed on his head in the casket.
Day remembered his mother told the mortician: 'Yes, he was nearsighted. And he couldn't hear very well, so you might put his ear button in, too.'
Chon Day, born and raised in Madison, N.J., began his cartoon career in 1929, just before the arrival of the Great Depression, while attending New York's Art Students League part-time.
He was encouraged to get into cartooning when teacher-artist John Sloan took a look at Day's sketch pad of live model figure studies and found he'd put clothes on some of them to make them look more decent.
'It was hard to squeak through in the '30s. I would pack up drawings, and go to magazine offices. With six sales, I could pay my rent for the month and then some,' Day recalled.
He hasn't the faintest idea how many Chon Day cartoons have been published in 53 years. He keeps turning out 12 to 15 rough sketches per week from a tiny, cramped, cluttered studio on the second floor of his Victorian-style home.
Day began by writing his own punch lines. He now relies on ideas sent to him by gag writers. The New Yorker, which has been using his work since the early 1940s, has a 'first look' at all of his cartoons. Day sends the ones it rejects to other publications.
Over the years, his cartoons have dealt with a variety of subjects and reflected changing times in America. One sketched 10 years ago showed two women walking into a Westerly bank, one woman telling the other: 'My husband has some crazy financial theory about spending less than you earn.'
One of his most recent offerings published in the New Yorker took a look at a change in economic awareness. A father tells his little boy: 'My net worth is none of your business.'
Day received the accolades of his fellow cartoonists when the National Cartoonists Society named him the Best Gag Cartoonist in 1956, 1962 and 1970.
Cartooning, Chon Day said, is not an easy profession. His advice for aspirants is to retain their individuality and be persistent.
'If you've got something that an editor likes or wants, you've got a sale. It doesn't mean you have to be an expert draftsman. If you want to draw, you can draw. Keep on doing it until it looks good, like nobody else drew it. You do your own thing.' He added: 'Unless you have an untold wealth of ideas, it's difficult.'
Day said he is irritated when he hears stand-up comedians on TV use his punch lines from past years.
'It burns me up when comics go looking through old magazines and use the gags. They don't realize it's copyright stuff that some living person is still proud of,' he said.
Day, who turned 76 on April 6, said he has no plans to slow down.
'My mother in law, who is 95, asks why I haven't retired. A lot of people don't think I work. They think I have a snap of a job. And I guess I have.'