Brad Shiff graced the Earth's presence in the manner that most people do. He wanted nothing more than to be a pole dancer, until a fateful conversation with a pal at Kent State University gave birth to Lester the Picklehead and the Time Jumper. The rest is comic history- almost. Shiff has other hidden talents such as unicycling, making squeaky sounds with his hands, and taking spontaneous 150 mile bicycle trips. He has a beautiful wife, Natalie, plus 5 little Shiffs. All reside in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Tooned in to Life

Shiff also is negotiating with the Pittsburgh Pirates for a line of nostalgic T-shirts and sweaters that celebrate the team's 120-year history. He believes the timing for such shirts is very good. They recall the 1909 and 1893 World Series Champions and headlines from the 1925 "Pittsburgh Chronicle Telegraph." "People are talking about whether the Pirates will be staying in Pittsburgh," Shiff said. "These shirts show things Pittsburghers don't regularly see. They're unique."

Shiff also has created a web page for his coin and stamp store in Dormont, ", Inc.". Because of several business misfortunes, which included getting robbed at gun point, Shiff said he wanted to change his involvement in the business. "The Internet was the obvious choice," Shiff said. "You can't point a gun at my head or steal my coins over the Internet." Shiff said he and his father were the first on the Internet to hold an auction where customers could see the coins. "Now we do most of our business on the Internet," Shiff said.

Shiff said the robbery was a scary experience. The man came in the store, pointed a gun to his head and told him to put a plastic bag over his head. "I was going to do it because he had a gun to my head," Shiff said. "But then I refused. I just threw the plastic bag back at him and said I wasn't going to do it." The man fled the store, but police arrested him a short time later, Shiff said. "He was sent back to Maine where he had beaten some elderly people and robbed their homes," Shiff said. "He had been robbing stores all along the East Coast."

The burglary occurred in June 1995. A South Side man, who was later convicted and sentenced to five to 10 years in prison, took about $220,000 worth of coins, stamps, silver and rare documents. "We never recovered any of the merchandise, even though the man was supposed to make restitution," Shiff said.

Both experiences, Shiff said, were an awakening. "It gave me a new perspective in life," Shiff said. "I really believe I have a better sense of humor because of it. It's important now to laugh a lot. It also sparked more creative energy."

Shiff's father, Ted Shiff, who has owned the coin and stamp shop for 40 years, said his son has always had an inventive side to him. "I'm more of a collector and historian," the elder Shiff said. "I've collected over 7,000 volumes of books, all nonfiction and historic, and I'm a geneologist." Shiff, an economics professor, said he tracked his family back to the Middle Ages. He also traced the families origins to the inventors of the Colt and the steamboat. "I've always encouraged my two sons to be creative," Shiff said. "But it's really something you can't teach ".

The younger Shiff says he has no idea where his creative thoughts come from. "They just appear," he says. "And every time they appear, I feel good about it. Maybe that's why they keep coming back. I'm upset whenever I don't come up with new ideas."

Inventor creates his own world

By Don Palmerine


Brad Shiff has trouble sleeping at night. It's not stress or some medical condition that keeps him awake, though. "I can't sleep because of the ideas going through my head all the time," Shiff said. Whether its thinking up plots for his comic strips, or trying to figure out ways to make life a little easier, Shiffs mind is always working.

Shiff, lives in Brookline with his wife and four children. These days, a lot of the thoughts surround ways to sell his cartoons to publishers.

Shiff and former college roommate Eric England created a panel cartoon called "Joke in the Box" and another called "Time Flies" that won the national Cartoon Classic Gala at the Sarasota Comedy Festival. "That feat was doubly honorable for us because the judges at the contest were Mike Peters creator of 'Mother Goose and Grim ' and Chris Browne, creator of 'Hagar the Horrible,"' Shiff said.

"Time Flies" features Lester the Picklehead, a 9-year-old fourth-grade prodigy who, Shiff says, "approaches life in a structured logic, black and white manner of thinking." "Or as Pickle head might say 'Maximizing cerebral synthesis while minimizing inconsequential external data,"' Shiff said.

"A Joke in the Box" is a "Bizzaro"-type cartoon. One such cartoon shows food strainers dancing in the dark with the caption "Strainers in the Night." Shiff and England started "Time Flies" in college. It appeared regularly in the Kent State University newspaper and was featured on a T-shirt. England draws the characters and Shiff comes up with the humor, ideas and the words. "Brad is a wild kind of guy, very imaginative," England said. "I keep telling him we should just concentrate on this cartooning thing, but he has a lot of other things going on at once." England, lives in Bradenton, Fla., and said he and Shiff hit it off immediately in college. "One time he built this mouse trap device all over our room that was really crazy," England said. "It gave everyone a good laugh.

 "Shiff and England hope "Time Flies" will get a chance to make a lot of people laugh. "We're getting real good feed back," Shiff said. "We're getting opinions that suggest we should turn 'Time Flies' into a comic book instead of a cartoon. We're in the process of doing that right now." England said they also are considering publishing the strip themselves. "Some cartoonists start out that way," he said. "We might give it a try."

If it's not the cartoons filling his thoughts, it's one of about 50 inventions Shiff is working on, including one he is trying to get patented. He claims he is a distant relative of gun manufacturer Samuel Colt and steamship inventor Robert Fulton.

"I really believe that the spirit of invention is something that's passed on," Shiff said. "Some people just think in a way that constantly wants to create new things. I come up with several ideas a day." One of his most promising to date is called a "layout framing device" and gives precise percentages for an 8l/2-by-ll-inch layout, a useful tool for graphic designers. "When my professor at Kent State saw it for the first time, he told me to immediately get a patent for it," Shiff said. "He said if I wouldn't do it, he would." But Shiff's experience with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Washington, D.C., has not been good. So far he has spent $8,000 trying to get the framing device patented. "They ask so many questions and have so many restrictions that it's almost impossible to get a patent," he said. "I'm almost giving up on it."

Another one of his "inventions" is a line of T-shirts that depict Pittsburgh scenes. Shiff drew all of the settings, which include the incline, steel mills, steamboats, bridges, houses on hills, street cars (old and new) and stairs that link hillside neighborhoods. The T-shirts will be released at selected stores this spring. "Pittsburghers love Pittsburgh scenes," Shiff said. "That's the market I'm going after. People who visit Pittsburgh will also buy the T-shirts. It's like someone from San Francisco wearing a shirt with the Golden Gate Bridge on it."


See a picture of the article as it originally appeared in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.


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