How far will they push us? (top image)
(When you say “I want to be a cartoonist” – is this what they think you mean?)

Wow, the world sure does tilt awfully fast these days, doesn’t it? With a number of my old reliable freelance gigs thinning-out at worrisome speed, I find myself once again in one of those uncomfortable self-reinvention phases – like so many people are, in this odd time.

Time to find something new and interesting to master, persuade myself into excitement, learn to do it well and sincerely – and then watch the entire industry supporting it gradually begin to implode – just as I decide I rather like the gig! ;o)

Don’t mean to sound bitter, nor am I without a great deal of excitment about new opportunities, I genuinely enjoy new people and work both.  But this is a weird experience that a huge number of my friends have tasted at this point. So far it seems that “Disruption” wrecks stuff which people have lived-in for decades, and leaves behind plastic tents and paper plates.

But this isn’t the first wave of shameless cold-hearted killer greed which has broken my heart in slow motion – especially for the extra challenges creators and strugglers are made to face. I’m reminded constantly nowadays, of how gleefully psychotic anti-responsibility Reaganism first paved the way for the unravelling of the institutions of the Western world, which it is so frightening for us to watch today.

“Why should I?” Is a satisfying line from a sneering cowboy, but a true Christian would die of shame before voting to empower pride, vanity, greed, selfishness, pettiness, lust, jealousy, anger, and a whole array of sins for which there were no ancient words. Prince of love – not ego and belligerence!

Drink up Chuck (comma and hyphen optional)
If you tried caricature in the last half century, you did Mr Ears at least once.

One of my all time favourite in-class observations (overheard as an art-school model) was in a break-time conversation with the excellent teacher and artist Nick Aoki. He shared an apartment with two other super talented artists while they all went to OCADU, and he recommended that arrangement to all of his own students, as a way to add a constant goad and challenge to their activities. Playful competition will make you stretch reach and work in a way that threats from a teacher about marks and deadlines, simply won’t! You will also generally embarrass each other into far greater technical range than you might otherwise settle for. (Wow, I’ve just got to try some of that!)

I didn’t go to art-school myself, but I was very lucky to have a few super artistic roommates over the years, including the brilliant cartoonist and book designer Gareth Lind, whose relentless and determined efforts earned him regular paying spots in periodicals from the time he was a teenager, and kept him in print steadily (self-syndicated) for decades afterward.

He had fake movie posters in “The festival” a zany side-down strip in the much missed “Metropolis” and his all-time masterpiece – “Weltschmerz” in “Eye” and several other magazines. The book of one series of that strip “Attack of the Same Sex Sleeper Cells” is lovely. If you ever asked yourself, “How come Canada doesn’t have anything as clever, political and macro as Doonesbury?” friend, we did – you just missed it! (Bet he’s still got a copy or two around – great line-work, and sharp anti-W culture writing). Check it out!

His crash course “Notes on writing a comic strip” is also clear and very useful, and he has generously kept it online (great resource for art teachers and keener students).

Where were you when? (with my nutty and inspiring comrades, as it happened)

I’ve mentioned my hilariously non-productive and yet also very educational socialist comics collective a couple of times, already. That project is why I bought my first camera, and I still have many study drawings which either posed or first-solved key visual problems. My comic book about a rescue between the Soviet Mir and Salyut Seven space stations was also far too ambitious and fizzled out, (again, leaving behind many usefully crossed art thresholds).

But what was most important about that collective project were two creative minds who constantly challenged me throughout. One on rigour and reason, and one by simply being the most naturally creative artist I’ve ever met in my life. I’ve even kept small notes he left me and wrapping paper he dashed-off – for their exquisite balance, line-weight and humour.

Somewhat sobered, but still suffering from that most forgivable sentimental delusion known as “Getting the word out” – in which one plucky kid only has to show the people the truth, for them all to change their ways and rise up for justice – I thought I would divide my energies next. Run a few studies at once, see if I could find something that seemed to work with natural inertia. (And spare the heartbreak of a single grand failed quest, dividends or not – a definite functional-wisdom advance)  ;o)

The Noose at Six – Master of None

One of the projects I worked on was a multi-panel piece, in which my friends and I all teamed up to produce a basement evening news-show that told the clear and simple truth, when the official line was most obviously bogus (often lethally so). All through the eighties and nineties, the offscreen violence elsewhere was piling-up frighteningly.  The fact that it was kept offscreen, is why many are still stunned by the depth of international resentment for the now inarguably ‘decadent’ (I mean that technically, as in late-stage) West. We haven’t been paying attention to what we’ve been doing in everyone else’s countries – but the people there are not often afforded that luxury of ignorance. (Anyhow, isn’t that why we love the flowering of nouveau TV so much?)

Rembrandt made truly lovely use of his beloved Saskia in oils, but I fear I sent my sweet Catherine straight into the cease-fire zone for an up-close on-site look!

(Her visit to the “No-fly” zone remains a personal best for number of aircraft depicted in a single frame).

Foxtrot Oscar – early iteration – David Frum
(To see the son of a Canadian progressive acting as apologist for W was painful).

But the concept which I’m still kicking myself for not pushing harder was “Foxtrot Oscar” which is radio-talk for a word that begins with F, followed by a word which begins with O – the most common pairing that you aren’t allowed to say on the radio! (walkie-talkies included).

It really is the concept which was strongest about this – I make no claims about the strength of my likenesses, though even there I was planning strategically, being deliberately economical thanks to an interview with the brilliant and very long running Ben Wicks, in which he slyly observed, “If I draw the shoelaces on the guy in the first panel, then I’m going to have to draw them in every other panel too, aren’t I?”

The idea was elegant and simple – A one panel mild-caricature likeness – with a quote from the featured jerk of the day in their own words as the entire gag.

Foxtrot Oscar indeed – Still relevant, sadly

You might think that thirty years later the idea would be obsolete – we’re all far more media savvy now, aren’t we? Thinking about the things that we say and what they mean to others, in a way we never have before? Well, no, not really so much as one might hope.

In fact, good “Foxtrot Oscar” material has never been more plentiful, even in areas where we never expected to see it.

If only someone still paid real cash money for ouch!


















Snubbed by a Bunny.
Now Zekkie isn’t speaking to me – he was so sure he was going to be in this one.

I am always curious about what you are thinking

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