If you look closely through the January 1970 issue of Boys’ Life (now Scout Life) magazine, you’ll find something pretty remarkable.
We’re not talking about the cover story, though we have to admit, that one, about a California high school basketball team that won 57 games in row, is a pretty fascinating piece. (The streak would eventually get to 66 games, by the way.)
Nor are we talking about the story titled “89,000,000 Jobs — Which One Do You Want?” (Though that certainly would have been extremely helpful to young readers — then and now.)
Busino, already an accomplished artist at the time, still contributes “Gus” cartoons to Scout Life to this day. The artist turned 95 earlier this year and was recently honored for his 52 years of contributions to the BSA at a camporee sponsored by the Powahay and Scatacook districts of the Connecticut Yankee Council.
In that January 1970 issue, you’ll find Gus at the bottom of a page full of advertisements. Just above the cartoon is an ad for a Crazy Ice Cube Bug: “You drop this in your friend’s drink, then watch him scream. Looks like bug drowned. … Result: Loads of fun.”
You could say that Gus has come a long way since then.
Gus is born
The story of how Busino came up with the idea of Gus is pretty straightforward.
“I needed a character, and a dog is always a good one, and Gus is a good name,” Busino says.
For the first year or so, Gus appeared on different pages of the magazine, usually near the back, often on the same page as classified ads or other content. In February 1971, he found himself in the Think and Grin section (now known as Think & Grin, with the ampersand), and it’s there that Gus has lived to this day.
“Gus” is what Busino calls a gag cartoon, a type of illustration that’s usually one frame, with very short, simple text. There might be one or two lines of dialogue, and that’s it. The challenge is to tell the joke as concisely as possible in such a small amount of space.
“It’s one panel,” Busino says. “So, I want to make sure people have a good feel for the characters in it. And the humor has to be appropriate for the magazine.”
By December 1981, Gus had made it to the big time, so much so that he appeared on a Christmas-themed cover of Boys’ Life, and got his own feature inside, titled “Gus Is Loose!” And Busino himself was featured in the October 1984 issue of Scouting magazine in an article with the headline “Master of the Shaggy Dog.”
In 1981, a collection of Gus cartoons was published in a book called Oh Gus!.
The start of a wonderful friendship
One of Busino’s early fans was a young Scout in Delaware named Bill Janocha, who would go on to earn the rank of Eagle (like his father before him) before becoming a professional artist himself. He even got a job working for Mort Walker, the creator of Beetle Bailey.
In those early days, Janocha had the opportunity to become acquainted with a number of cartoonists in Connecticut. Among them was Busino, the man whose work he had grown up admiring. The two struck up a friendship and have remained close ever since. Busino even wrote the forward for a book that Janocha wrote about Walker, his old boss.
“It’s amazing when you grow up admiring someone’s work in your industry, and then you end up being friends with them,” Janocha says. “That part is a dream.”
Later, when Janocha’s son signed up for Scouting, Janocha did what almost all Eagle Scout parents do: He became a volunteer, serving as a committee member, assistant Scoutmaster and assistant district commissioner. (Janocha’s son eventually earned the rank of Eagle, too.)
One of his duties was to help organize their district camporees, and that’s when he had the idea to put together a special event to recognize Busino.
“I just love the guy,” Janocha says. “I feel like he deserved the recognition.”
A special day
At the camporee, held at Hoyt Scout Reservation in Redding, Conn. (by a coincidence, just a 10-minute drive from the house in which Busino lives with his wife, Ann), a couple hundred Scouts gathered for a weekend of Scout activities and fellowship. Among the attractions: the opportunity to meet the creator of Gus.
Janocha, along with John Hanks, vice-chair of program for the Powahay District, and Mark Kraus, the Connecticut Yankee Council’s Scout Executive, presented Busino with a commemorative plaque and a special Scout Life cover created by the magazine’s art department.
“They did a really nice job,” Busino says.
The 95-year-old, along with his wife, visited with the Scouts and adults for several hours, and even took the time to do some custom drawings.
“We had a good time with Orlando and Ann,” Janocha says. “It was delightful.
“His mind and his hand are as sharp as they were 50 years ago. If you compare his work from today to back then, I can’t tell the difference. And I have a very critical eye.”
We agree, Bill. Thankfully for us all, Busino says he has no plans to call it quits.
“I’ll keep going,” he says, “until they say, ‘That’s enough.’ ”