Born in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1957, Varvel was drawn to cartoons as a child when he saw a copy of MAD magazine. His freshman year at Danville High School in Danville, Indiana, Varvel won his first cartoon contest held by the school newspaper. Winning the award landed him a job as the staff cartoonist and he also became the sports editor. In 1974, he met Jerry Barnett, the editorial cartoonist for The Indianapolis News who mentored and encouraged him to pursue a career in cartooning.
In 1975, Varvel studied visual communication at John Herron School of Art at Indiana University, Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI). In college he drew cartoons for the Sagamore, the college newspaper.
In 1977, Varvel took a job at the County Courier, a small weekly newspaper in Brownsburg, Indiana. He drew one cartoon a week and worked as the production manager, laying out newspaper ads overseeing the composing room operation. A year later the newspaper closed and he began looking for another newspaper job in Indiana.
Varvel was hired as an newsroom artist for The Indianapolis News when Jerry Barnett recommended him for the position. He spent the next 16 years working as the chief artist managing a 3-person art department. During that time, Varvel applied to many newspapers around the country for an editorial cartooning position. But in 1994, pulitzer prize winning cartoonist Charles Werner retired from The Indianapolis Star and Varvel's dream came true when he landed the position.
In 2005, Varvel placed second in the national Best of Gannett contest for Editorial Cartooning. In the past 12 years, Varvel has won the Indiana Society of Professional Journalists' Award for Best Editorial Cartoon ten times. He is also an eight-time winner of the first place award for Best Editorial Cartoonist in the Hoosier State Press Association Contest since 1995.
Varvel's work is nationally syndicated through Creators Syndicate. His cartoons have appeared on CNN, FOX News and in Newsweek, Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, Washington Times, National Review, World magazine and Sports Illustrated.
Varvel's spends his mornings as a part-time art teacher for Bethesda Christian School High School in Brownsburg, Indiana. He is a member of Bethesda Baptist Church and is a Sunday School Teacher for an adult class.
Varvel is a frequent speaker at churches, business groups, social clubs, colleges and schools. His motivational talks range from a comical conversation about current events as depicted in his cartoons, to the keys to success in following your dreams, to an historical perspective on America's Godly heritage.
Varvel lives in Brownsburg with his wife of 26 years, Carol. They have three children: Ashley-23, Brett-21 and Drew-16