Smokey Bear might not suffer from hoagiemouth, but give it a few more years.

After all, Smokey Bear now hails from Philly. But not without a little apprehension on the part of his illustrator.

"The only time I ever got nervous was when I got the Smokey Bear job because it was Smokey Bear, for God's sake," says Joe Kulka, 51, of Quakertown. "I can't ruin this."

Kulka, an illustrator and instructor at Moore College of Art and Design, has been drawing Smokey for the U.S. Forest Service since 2009, when he worked on a children’s book called The Story of Smokey Bear. Since then, his illustrations of Smokey — and the organization's anti-pollution Woodsy Owl, which he began drawing in 2004 — have appeared in a slew of promotional materials and children’s books for the organization.

"As far as I know, I'm pretty much the guy that's doing most of the traditional Smokey illustrations," he says.

His version of Smokey, which was initially created in 1944, is a little more kid-friendly than in the past, thanks to the addition of larger eyes, and a less stern appearance. Kulka says he grew up seeing Smokey spots on TV, and kept his changes to a minimum in order to pay proper tribute to the character he was raised with, as well as its creators.

"I didn't create Smokey Bear," he says. "I'm just the next guy drawing him."

Mellany Armstrong
Joe Kulka, 51, of Quakertown, illustrates Smokey Bear for the U.S. Forest Service.

Currently, Kulka, who has illustrated more than 20 children's books, is working on a coloring book and 75th anniversary logo for Smokey. He most recently illustrated a holiday-themed Smokey card for the National Symbols Cache (pictured above).

Now, with nearly a decade of Smokey drawings under his belt, Kulka, a 1987 University of the Arts grad, says he sees his work on the character in a much less anxious light.

"It still comes down to how I'm going to compose the picture, how I'm going to tell the story," Kulka says. "That's basically what I've been doing for three-plus decades."

Whether that story will ever involve a Philadelphia accent warning us about wildfires, though, is something we'll have to wait and see.