Monday, October 15, 2007

Past and Present Touch

Next week I'm going to see Garry Trudeau in White River Junction, Vermont. He's doing a benefit for the Center for Cartoon Studies, where I went to cartoon camp last summer.

Back in the 1970s, Trudeau's work had a great influence on mine. He portrayed the world of college and young adulthood I was soon to enter. His values represented the change in political climate that was shaping national policy as young people started paying more attention to how things were run and who was running them. But before it got as painfully political as it did after his characters graduated from college it was funny. And it was pretty roughly drawn, which gave me hope that I could find success with my own less than polished style.

As Trudeau moved into the adult world and brought his characters with him, they faced the transitions that we all did in the Baby Boom generation. Born almost exactly eight years before I was, he went through the thick of the social unrest and intellectual questioning that emanated from college campuses in the late 1960s. His perspective was different from mine and my contemporaries, because his age group came at these things first. From middle to late "Boom," each year got a slightly different slant. Someone my age might be forgiven for getting the mistaken impression that a lot of issues were taken care of already. We were truly rebels without a cause, because we had witnessed the actions of our older siblings and their contemporaries. We developed our own leanings, whether conservative or countercultural, without facing the live fire of large-scale demonstrations and the specter of a war we might actually be sent to.

What remained was the hedonistic echo of free-loving campus life and a jaunty disrespect for an authority that appeared to shallow thinkers (plentiful among people in their late teens and twenties) to be completely discredited.

I had chosen long ago to be a cartoonist. This was not something one could go to school for. No cartoonist ever visited any school I attended on Career Day. Guidance counselors broke the glass on the emergency equipment box on their office wall when I told them what I hoped to do for a living. "Anything but that!" was the consensus.

"Success is money," said one. "Get into something that makes money and do that art shit as a hobby."

If only I had listened. Oh well.

All the time I thought I was working on becoming a cartoonist I was actually becoming a cartoon. I identified with the characters rather than critically examining what the various comic artists were doing. Then I got pissed off when even Zonker turned out to have more entrepreneurial ability than I do.

Speaking of pissed, what's with Frazz being independently wealthy? That totally negates the value of his simple occupation. Anybody can be cool when they don't have to worry about money. I ride a bike and do underpaid crap work, and I don't do it with a back door cash flow from creative success. Try being hardworking and frustrated for decades and see how cool you be.

If nothing else, I hope to come back from this outing with renewed energy to work on my own stuff, which keeps getting pushed to the back of the desk. I get blocked in to the point where I can't seem to get myself to pull it forward. I'll drag a better portfolio than I took to cartoon camp, in case anyone has a chance to look. That means I have to pull some things forward.

Trudeau was one of the judges on the cartoon contest in which I made the finals this summer. I keep forgetting that happened, because I haven't gotten my free calendars yet.

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