Tuesday, August 29, 2006


I hit fifty and bingo, I got an invitation to join AARP.

It's creepy how AARP is turning retirement into a monopoly. Get the hell away from me. I have hopes and plans I'm still pursuing. There's not half this much help launching a career as ending it.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Go Team Go

A news item this morning on ABC reported that Republicans have more offspring than Democrats. This proves that anyone smart enough to realize the need for population control is destined to die out.

The report did not say how the two groups compare when it comes to adopting the excess offspring of more fertile groups. I know a number of Democrats who have not produced children from their own bodies, but have collected children who needed parents.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Another Dang Squirrel

Driving out to the store tonight just to pick up a few quick items, Laurie and I saw a squirrel hopping a bit uncertainly up the middle of the road just a couple of minutes from our house. When I realized it was a young one, I could not resist interfering with the cruel sorting of nature. It's one thing when a hungry owl swoops down on the unsuspecting young rodent, but quite another when it simply gets turned into a squirrel flapjack by a passing car. It seems crueler and more wasteful, even though some scavenger will no doubt make off with the carcass before morning.

But it's a ba-beeee.

I jammed the car in park, punched the emergency flashers and jumped out after an oncoming car passed.

At first I intended to carry the squirrel into the woods on one side or the other, but I had no idea which way it had been headed. It had appeared to have no firm idea either. Meanwhile, it crawled up toward my chest and clung there, burrowing its little head into my shirt.

Awwwwwww! Quit that, you little bastard.

Too late. We ran it home and stuffed it into a cat carrier, with a little bowl of water and another bowl of dry oatmeal. It's old enough to be weaned, though it acted as though it might still be getting to nurse as well.

We'll try tomorrow to find an official state-licensed squirrel nurse.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

A Sick Wallow in Unalterable Tragedy

More 911 tapes from September 11, 2001 have been released. How soon will we be able to download them to our iPods? I mean if you want to listen to the last despairing moments of a bunch of human lives, why not have it to play over and over in your car, your home, or while jogging in the park?

What's the point of releasing these tapes? What good purpose does it serve except to sadden us? We know how it turned out. Let it go.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


Have you noticed that Democrats usually make themselves look stupid trying to include people and fit in with them, like John Kerry trying to show that he's a NASCAR-loving hunter, while Republicans usually make themselves look stupid putting people down, like President Bush insulting the blind guy for wearing sunglasses at a press conference, or Senator George Allen of Virginia repeatedly addressing a person he took to be a foreigner by using an obscure racial slur. Those stupid Democrats, always trying to include and unite. Any fool knows it's all about celebrating our diversity by building up our divisions.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Back in the !@#$%^&* Real World

Hard to believe cartoon camp was just a week ago. I took Monday and Tuesday off as usual at the beginning of this week, because I knew I had a hard travel schedule coming up next weekend. During that time I did a little tidying in my studio and a lot of doodling, but then I was back at work in the accelerating panic that leads up to the local triathlon. The Mount Washington Hill Climb and a half-iron-man triathlon also fall on that weekend. I would never plan to take it off, but a family member scheduled a signficant personal event in a distant location.

Wolfeboro is like Walt Disney World without all the pesky rules. We who work there give each other knowing nods as we meet in the coffee shop, the grocery store or on the street. We thread quickly through the tourist crowds, laying down exact change for our coffee or lunch whenever possible. Get in, get out, get back to work. No need to stand in line if you know the system. It isn't quite as good as a set of underground tunnels, but it's better than nothing.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Typical August Day

When summer's in full swing I can look out the shop windows at any moment and see bikes that cost as much as my annual health insurance premiums and cars that cost more than my house.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Terror Level: Mango

Forget the fear of disaster in the air. Add three hours before the flight just to clear airport security plus the duration of your flight and waiting in the baggage claim area and it may be quicker to drive to your destination. And you can carry whatever liquids you want in your car.

Oh Yeah, That's News

"Coming up after these commercial messages, more coverage of thousands of people standing in endless lines at airports."

Behind the Scenes at Terrorist HQ

"My sheik, we have created an absolutely undetectable explosive substance."

"This is truly wonderful. Show me."

"Certainly. It's right here. Wait a minute. It was right here. I set it down on this table. I -- I -- can't detect it."

Monday, August 07, 2006

What I Did at Cartoon Camp

As a purist I should produce this post as a graphic novel or a series of gag cartoons. But that would take too long.

A cartoonist from Alaska, a cartoonist from California, a cartoonist from Canada and a cartoonist from New Hampshire walk into a bar...

The first night, before I had met anyone, I carried my luggage and my load of insecurities into my room at the Hotel Coolidge. I scratched and fidgeted on the bed, caffeine and anticipation pushing away sleep. What lay ahead could be good or bad, but either way it would be the culmination of more than four decades of deferred gratification and cherished self-image. All my arm and leg hairs seemed animated to annoy me.

I'd left my bike in the car with the assurance of Robyn, on the front desk, that bike security wasn't an issue in downtown White River Junction. But then, around midnight, a sound like smashing auto glass echoed up from the parking lot below my windows. Perhaps the temptation of my Cross Check lying helplessly in the back of my station wagon had overwhelmed the scruples of some weak-willed citizen. I jumped up from the bed to look out.

The parking lot lay in placid silence. Every car was fine. I saw no reason for the noise.

Back in bed I finally began to relax. The buzzing in my head faded into the kind of restless dreams that plague the night before any big event. Half asleep was better than no sleep at all. I let the surrealistic images flow.

Then the spider dropped on me. I felt it land near the center of my shirtless chest and crawl to my left. I brushed across and upward to launch it away from me, and reached up for the lamp.

The spider was expiring in a crumpled little heap on the next pillow. It had been your basic stripy house spider. I felt bad for killing it, but it did ambush me.

Lights out. Back to scratching and fidgeting, as every tickle of body hair seemed to be another invader.

And then it was morning. The alarm clock on my cell phone went off with a cheery chirp. I peeled myself off the sheets and lurched into the bathroom, where I'd left the last of my travel coffee. Shooting these dregs into my gullet started the first few sparks of brain activity so I could shower and dress to go find more, lots more.

Downtown White River Junction has been conveniently and quite closely bypassed by the main roads, so people don't seem to drive through there on the way somewhere else. It has a timeless quality because of that. Cars did drive down the main street and fill much of the on-street parking, but it was not the continuous pedestrian-grinding conveyor belt of canned humanity you find on the major thoroughfares of most cities and towns.

Coffee and baked goods awaited just a couple of doors down, at The Baker's Studio. At home I only have to crawl 38 feet to the coffee pot. Walking 150 yards from my room to the bakery helped me work on my endurance. Must...reach...finish...line...

Robyn from the front desk at the hotel waited at the front desk of the Center for Cartoon Studies to check me in there. She is actually an accomplished graphic novelist and cartoonist and sort of a graduate student/teaching assistant at the CCS. The Center is such a novel concept that traditional roles seem a little hard to assign. Robyn at times seemed like a magical creature that would appear with whatever was needed.

Inside the classroom, Harry Bliss and James Sturm stood near the door as students straggled in and found seats at the four large tables. James is the school's director. Harry is a highly successful cartoonist.

What's a highly successful cartoonist? One who no longer works as a waiter. A merely successful cartoonist might still have a pull a few shifts at the restaurant, or sell computers or printing presses, or teach art. Harry's website lists 16 New Yorker covers. To sell one cover is a pinnacle for a cartoon artist. Sixteen? We can probably learn something here.

I was fully prepared to be talked down to, and totally ready to accept it. So fantastic surprise number one was the egalitarian nature of the brainstorming and exchange of information. The class immediately turned into a bunch of people who spoke much of the same language, some more fluently than others.

Over beers later on, one of the students remarked that he had never met another cartoonist before this, let alone been in a room full of them. We are accustomed to being outcasts, or at least rare. How do you explain the staggering number of unsolicited submissions that inundate the major markets daily? We each feel so alone, and yet we are replicated and scattered across the face of the Earth, all scribbling in our sketch books and sending little packets of hope to be dashed on the harsh reefs of editors' desks.

One of the students was a psychiatrist. She insisted she could separate her roles and not view the rest of us clinically, but I'd still like to see her notebook.

It soon became apparent that the class was not competitive and had no stars. What it had was a bunch of artists or writers who each had strong abilities and areas to build up.

For our first exercise, each table had to brainstorm as a group for a couple of minutes to come up with ideas to illustrate a premise we had been handed on a slip of paper. Then the group would assign one person to create a drawing in two minutes. Harry would have to guess what the starting premise had been by looking at the drawing. I was blown away when Harry and James said I nailed the composition in my drawing of "nuns in a barroom brawl." But lest I think the rivers were all going to flow my way from now on, mine dried right up in some later exercises. But balancing the good with the not-so-good, I came away feeling pretty damn good. Maybe I can do this after all.

I've said before that teachers of creative subjects might be reluctant to dump on anyone so hard that they decide to quit putting tuition money into the lost cause, but I didn't feel cynically misled. So either the whole thing was on the level or they need to introduce an acting curriculum along with the cartooning, because, damn, they're good.

Jamie from Alaska kept me from following my usual tendency to run and hide. On the night of the first day of class he cajoled me into a late beer and a flip through his portfolio. I had carefully thrown together a small folder of my recent favorites to bring to the school, and then left them behind on the floor of my office. I showed him what I had, and got a couple of good laughs. That's all we ask, good laughs. Jamie's stuff was stylistically self-assured. He decided what he wanted and kept after it from a much younger age than I did.

Harry works in a classic artistic style. I thought of it as "unplugged." While most of the other cartoonists went on enthusiastically about Photoshop, Harry produced his effects right in front of us, with washes over line drawings and graphite shading. This is not to say that he doesn't know or can't use electronic techniques. He just learned the old way and is very comfortable with it. I'm eight years older than he is, and lived nomadically for many years. I like simple media that don't need to be plugged in.

Many of the students drew constantly. The most visually oriented were drawing fairly fully-realized sketches. I could understand them embracing electronic image manipulation the way I embraced electronic editing and revision. Because I pursued writing professionally and drawing as a sideline, I did not run along with the leading edge of imaging technology, but I'll kill anyone who tries to take away my computer as a writing tool.

The evening of Day Two we were technically on deadline to have a finished gag cartoon by 10 the next morning. So four of us decided to hike over to the next state to a brew pub to either increase the octane of our creative juices or kill enough brain cells to make our ideas seem funny enough to spend the ink on.

The walk was longer than we anticipated. By the time we figured that out, we had gone so far that we would lose even more pub time by hiking back for a car. And someone wisely pointed out that we might not want to drive on the way back anyway.

We did a good job cracking each other up. And our waitress had a boob tattoo of Chinese characters. I think it was Geoff the Canadian who finally asked her what it said.

"It means 'high spirits,'" she said.

After she left we came up with alternate translations. The one Geoff finally used for his cartoon was "It means 'sexual harassment.'" We'd also tried "It means 'my eyes are up here, buddy.'"

On the last day, Harry had left. Our instructor was Karen Sneider, another working professional. She observed that she's "kind of the Antiharry" when it comes to drawing technique. She works a lot in photoshop, though not as much as one cartoonist both she and Harry invoked, who does it all in the computer and never puts out anything on paper.

Everyone agreed that the prime objective is a good cartoon. How you get there is your own business. There are many tools.

When the class finally ended, each person demonstrated their style of leave-taking. Some obviously subscribe to the "rip-off-the-Band-Aid" school, while others have trouble jetting away from a great experience. I hung out for a while before drifting slowly out into the summer afternoon. After a leisurely trip through the Coolige Cards convenience store for travel coffee and a chunk of chocolate, I found Geoff the Canadian still around the Hotel Coolidge parking lot. We had one last chat before parting to return to our former lives. We wished each other well. Then it was time to go.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Night Journey

White River Junction, VT -- We're here at the Hotel Coolidge the night before the start of the Gag Cartooning Workshop at the Center for Cartoon Studies to prove we're serious about being funny.

This trip is a complete departure from my rut. Expecting always to be told, "don't quit your day job," I let myself get bricked into it. But doing that prevents a person from finding out if their lack of illusions is really an illusion in itself. Am I deluding myself that I don't have talent? Sometimes you just have to show them yours and look at theirs and see how they measure up to each other. There's no getting away from it. The other choice is to turn into the shadows with your gray collar up and merge with obscurity.

Starting on country roads I watched the last dusk fade from the sky. For much of the time I was alone, so I could drive slowly enough to catch the pewter sheen of a stream in the woods and hear the noise of insects buzzing and chirping in the sultry air. The heavy nights of high summer are as valuable as the hard, glittering nights of January.

On the empty back roads I dodged frogs that hopped out from the roadside grasses on adventures of their own. Further on, in Meredith, I dodged tourists that hopped out from the sidewalks to cross the busy street without regard for crosswalks.

The straightest route still took me twisting through forest, field and village with little sense of haste. Other drivers were few, and most managed to split off and leave me in peace.