Grayson’s Roper turns lemons into lemonade with new cartoon company
By John L. Byrwa
Grayson – At first, Sam Roper didn’t notice the symptoms or remember when they began.
Like when he was in the middle of a sentence, but all of a sudden would forget what he was saying. Or feeling tired and “beat up,” and his “crazy” sensitivity to light.
But Roper’s wife, Amy, sure did notice.
“My wife says it was February of 2014,” said Roper, a 44-year-old father of two – daughter Samy, 9, and son Quentin, 7 -- who at the time was Managing Partner of the popular Texas Roadhouse restaurant in Snellville. “I don’t know how she remembers, but she’s sure it was then. I was struggling cognitively, things weren’t making any sense.
“I just felt beat up, worn out, wires weren’t feeling connected. So it was just a struggle. It was hard to make a sentence.”
Initially, doctors diagnosed Roper with having Hashimoto’s disease, also called chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, which causes one’s immune system to attack their thyroid, a small, endocrine gland located at the base of the neck below the Adam's apple that stores and produces hormones that affect the function of virtually every organ in your body.
Roper’s grandmother and mother both had the affliction, so his doctors thought that was what he had and prescribed synthroid medications.
Above and below: Some examples of the 11x17 Full Body Poses that Sam did earlier this year. Everything picture drawn custom to the hobbies of the employee. The pictures take things that the individual Employee finds fun and makes that thing fun for everybody.
When that didn’t help, doctors then diagnosed Roper with having vestibular migraines, which are migraine headaches with no pain.
Months passed and when Roper still saw no relief from his symptoms, he and Amy eventually traveled to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, FL, on a Hashimoto’s encephalopathy referral.
That’s when doctors delivered the dreaded diagnosis.
Sam Roper had thyroid cancer.
“It’s not something you expect to hear,” Roper said. “But you have to deal with it.”
Surgery to remove the tumors from Roper’s thyroid gland was performed during Valentine’s Day weekend this past February. During the surgery, doctors found another tumor on one of his lymph nodes, and that, too, was removed.
“They believe they got it all out, so, in that regard -- knock on wood -- we’re in good shape,” Roper said. “The symptoms aren’t totally gone, and do I ever think I’ll be back to 100 percent again and back to running a $4 million restaurant? I don’t know, but that’s why this has been so much fun.”
“This” would be Roper’s new line of work, if one can call doodling colorful cartoons and crafting comical caricatures actual “work.” After all, they say that if you do as your job that which you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.
Sitting inside his small studio in his Grayson home, Roper is surrounded by framed examples of his impressive artistic talents. There are cartoon drawings of various Disney characters, University of Georgia- and Georgia Tech-themed sports drawings, pencil sketches of people, ink drawings of celebrities, colored Star Wars cartoons and many, many others.
Welcome to the worldwide headquarters of Rope A Dope Toons, LLC.
“It’s been very therapeutic,” said Roper, who started Rope a Dope Toons when he realized that returning full-time to the fast-paced and stress-filled restaurant business would not be possible. “Even for someone who’s been a businessman and then go through all of the crap with Legalzoom.com to get everything set up has been fun.
“Honestly, I just really enjoy making other folks smile.”
Along with marketing his cartoon skills to regular folks – if you email a photo to him, he’ll create a custom, personalized caricature themed however you wish -- Roper has also come up with a new and unique way for companies to celebrate their star employees.
Most of us have seen employee-of-the-month plaques on the walls of companies and restaurants. Most of them are indistinguishable from each other, and most of them are boring and rarely noticed.
Left: Sam Roper in Rope A Dope style
What Roper has done is drawn on his more than two decades of experience in the restaurant business and come up with a fun way for employers to give employees the recognition they deserve.
“Everyone’s seen those employee-of-the-month plaques that get all dusty and nobody ever reads,” Roper said. “Instead of doing those, imagine a wall of 12 8 ½-by-11 (inch) cartoon head shots with one big, 11-by-17 (inch) full-body one that’s the current employee of the month.
“Every month, the big one would change and the head shot would move down with the other head shots. Then at the end of the month, the employee of the month gets to keep his or her poster, your head shot stays up on the wall, plus we also give them the digital version so they can post it on their social media, have it on their phone and do whatever they want with it.
“It’s a huge win (for the company) and a great gift for the employee,” Roper added.
Roper said he has already struck deals with several Texas Roadhouse restaurants and a few other businesses as well. Of course, he would like more business.
“I’m hoping that companies will look at this like, ‘Hey, maybe we do spend too much money on training and retraining. Maybe we need to take better care of (our employees) on the front end and they’ll stay longer,’” Roper said.
“This is a great way to do that.”
To learn more about Roper’s employee-of-the-month program, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 844-372-9968, and to see examples of Roper’s artwork, visit www.ropeadopetoons.com. Also, you can enjoy Roper’s work every month in the Gwinnett Citizen and on his blog at GwinnettCitizen.com