More than 50 years ago, Elder Bruce Dana, a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, got into his car with his companion to head to an appointment. The two left their windows open because it was a hot August day in St. Maries, Idaho. As soon as Dana sat down, a kitten that crawled in through the open window jumped on his back and dug its claws into the missionary’s left shoulder.
“I thought the devil had a hold of me,” Dana said, and though at the time he yelled because he was terrified, later he said he and his companion had a good laugh about the incident.
This anecdote is just one of many stories readers can find in “Called to Laugh: The Lighter Side of Missionary Life” (Cedar Fort, 162 pages). The book is authored by Dana, and co-authored and illustrated by cartoonist William Fortune, both members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Utah natives.
“The world is pretty negative and laughter is the best medicine,” Dana said. “We’re just trying to help people, even in the church, live a happy gospel.”
Dana has collected humorous stories about missionaries for many years, from people at work to people in his Latter-day Saint ward in northern Utah. He also has funny stories and memories from his own mission.
Dana has collected more than 100 stories, from both sister missionaries and elders. He didn’t want to limit the book to just stories and text, so he started looking for a cartoonist to add illustrations.
During this time, Fortune was submitting weekly missionary cartoons to Meridian Magazine. Dana saw Fortune’s artwork in the magazine and he reached out to him. Initially, Fortune thought Dana just wanted to commission him for a couple of pieces of work, but Dana explained he wanted an illustrator and co-author.
Fortune started making cartoons about missionaries while his son was on his mission in Tampa, Florida. His son would write home describing humorous situations, then Fortune would send letters back with cartoons about those situations on the bottom of the page.
When his son returned from his mission, Fortune said he stopped making these cartoons. However, he started making cartoons once again when his son passed away 20 years ago.
Fortune submitted the missionary cartoons weekly to Meridian Magazine as a tribute to his son, even basing one of the main characters on his personality and characteristics. While he was submitting articles, people started sending him their own stories to make comics from. He wrote a weekly comic for five years, which is when Dana found him.
The book includes 58 cartoons, many featuring the character Fortune created based on his son. In the book the character's name is Elder D.
“I wanted to do it as a tribute to him,” Fortune said. “He was a good kid and we loved him and I was able to perpetuate his character through the cartoon. Now I’ve been able to put it in a book to read and share it.”
As the book came together, Fortune said it was interesting how the stories that Dana gathered already fit many of the cartoons he made during that five-year period. The book has cartoons and stories about losing apartment keys, trouble with communicating in foreign languages and many more great stories about missionaries.
“These guys are fighting homesickness, uncertainty and more, and if there’s a lighter moment on the mission, I think it helps them,” Fortune said of missionaries. “And you never know who you’re going to touch with these things.”
Dana said he hasn't seen many books like this that contain both true stories and missionary humor. But “Called to Laugh: The Lighter Side of Missionary Life” has them both.
“I really like doctrine and I really like humor, and I think you can mix the two together,” Dana said.
The book's introduction includes a quote by the late President Boyd K. Packer, who was president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, that Dana said he believes in.
“A sense of humor is a powerfully important attribute of a good teacher,” President Packer wrote in "Teach Ye Diligently." “The gospel is a happy and a pleasant gospel. There are times when we may be solemn almost to tears, but a good teacher will develop a sense of humor.”
Dana shares this humor with his readers as well as his family. One of his grandsons consistently tells Dana that he isn’t funny. However, the book changed his grandson's mind.
“When the book came out, I shared it with him and finally he said, ‘You know what Grandpa, you are funny,’” Dana said.
Fortune said this book appeals to many audiences and everyone can find something to relate to while reading it.
“We’re happy they actually laugh,” Fortune said.
Fortune said he appreciates the longevity of cartoons.
“A cartoon has a longer life than what it was originally created for,” Fortune said. “People pass it on, they hang it on their refrigerator, they share it with people.”
According to Fortune, this is also true for stories, and why this book will have a life that will continue for a long time.1 comment on this story
“Funny stories are the kind that get passed on,” Fortune said. “I think everything is so intense these days that if you can take a minute to smile and enjoy the book, hopefully that will be a little relief for people.”
The two authors are now working on a new book with a similar format, which includes stories about the Primary nursery. Both Dana and Fortune said they’ve already got some great stories to put in the new book.
“Called to Laugh: The Lighter Side of Missionary Life,” includes no violence, sexual innuendo, sex or foul language. It is found on Amazon, Seagull Book and some select Barnes and Noble.