Dentistry graduate discovers his gift for smiles — from the artist’s chair to the orthodontist’s office

By Bryce Puntenney

When most people are just waking up for work, Grant Snider (D.D.S. ’11) is sitting down at his drawing table to make himself laugh with one of his signature comic strips. The rest of his work day is spent straightening smiles at his orthodontics practice in Wichita, Kansas.

About 10 years ago, just as Snider was accepted to the UMKC School of Dentistry, he also embarked on another career, illustrating comics. His multi-panel comics have appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the Kansas City Star, the Best American Comics 2013 and UMKC’s very own student newspaper, University News. A collection of his comics, The Shape of Ideas, published in 2017, was translated to French.

Every morning at 5:30 or 6 a.m., Snider works on one of his comics for either his blog or social media.

“I always knew I was into science and math,” Snider says, “but I also knew I had a creative side that I wanted to nurture as well.”

From dental school doodles to big-time artist 

When Snider was first searching for a creative outlet, he considered watercolor painting or another form of traditional art. Eventually, though, he realized that what he most enjoyed was reading comic strips like Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side.

The real revelation happened when he came across New Yorker cartoons, with their simplicity of design and quirky observations of life. Initially he was turned off by them because they were such a departure from the newspaper comics he had grown up with. But as he spent more time with them, it suddenly clicked — this was what he wanted to do creatively.

Snider started to use cartooning as a way to relax after dental school classes. He began carrying a sketchbook everywhere he went, doodling anything that inspired him. Over a week or two, those small doodles would become a finished comic, delivering smiles to his close friends and family.

Fast forward several years and his charming, minimalist cartoons are being featured in the publication he once admired, the New Yorker, making people smile around the world.

As Snider puts it, he started drawing before he knew what he was doing, and soon, it was too late to stop — not that he’d want to.

A new source of inspiration

When he and his wife had their first child in 2012, Snider, like many first-time parents, thought “Hey, I should write a children’s book.” The process, though, proved more arduous than he initially anticipated. With a number of ideas going nowhere, he was beginning to doubt the plan.

Then he found out he was chosen for an artistic residency in the Catskill Mountains of New York. He thought this would be the perfect opportunity to work on his children’s book idea. So in April 2018, Snider spent a week in a cabin with three feet of snow on the ground, a trip he calls “the most creatively frustrated period of my life.”

Two weeks later, he got an email from a book editor. She had seen a particular cartoon on his blog and wanted to use it as the starting point for a children’s goodnight book. Snider thought the idea was brilliant and, admittedly, was mad he hadn’t thought of it first.

He spent a frantic weekend getting a rough draft back to the editor and, within a week or two, the book was picked up by a publisher.

“After all the frustration of two years, plus being snowed in for a week in the mountains working on an idea that wasn’t going anywhere, an email arrives and two days later I’m on the way to getting published,” Snider says.

That book, What Color is Night, hit shelves on November 5.

Double the doodling power 

According to Snider, navigating the worlds of science and creativity is freeing for him. He views his orthodontic work as a break from any writer’s block he may be experiencing. At his dental chair, he can focus solely on the patient in front of him and not worry whether a comic he’s working on is funny or not.

The cartooning bug runs deep in Snider’s DNA, as his twin brother, Gavin, is also an illustrator. Gavin, like Grant, also pursues dual careers, as an architect and an illustrator. They talk constantly about their work. Snider says critiques are easier to take coming from his brother than, say, from a book editor.

Over the next year, two more of Snider’s children’s books will be released, as well as another collection of his comics. As for what’s next, Snider says he plans to divide his time between straightening teeth and making himself laugh creating his own illustrations.

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