Once again I have been asked to attend the Radio Enthusiasts of Pugent Sound (REPS) annual Showcase in Seattle June 22-24, 2012. This will be the 20th showcase. I will be directing two shows and likely acting in some as well. Always a wonderful time with the REPS crowd!
Sometimes I forget that I have a skill that I completely take for granted. I can draw. Cartoons, not still life stuff, just cartoons that have always made me laugh. On occasion they have made some others laugh, too. I began to draw when quite young. Popeye was the first character that I could replicate. My mother was amazed and kept me fully stocked with drawing tablets and crayons. I even began to draw my own coloring books as a child. Clearly, I was meant for a career as a cartoonist. Trouble is . . . I didn’t really enjoy it that much.
It seems a shame not to have fully pursued it, I sometimes think. But when I examine it closer, the reason grows clearer, but not crystal clear.
I was an incredibly shy child with no siblings at home and had a difficult time making friends. Until one day I heard those words, “I didn’t know you could draw.” Suddenly I realized that I had a talent that others did not possess and it helped draw my out (no pun intended) of my shell.
But I never liked to draw to order. “Draw me a truck,” said one classmate. I could and often would, but the only time I enjoyed drawing was when it was something that I wanted to draw. “Can you draw it with bigger tires?” That kind of editing was not tolerated. If you wanted the truck, you got the truck that I wanted to draw, not open to discussion. My artwork was never a collaborate effort. And therein lies why I never made a career out of it. I simply could not (and cannot) tolerate anyone telling me what or how to draw something. So it remained a very personal thing.
I would draw not only to please myself (and often my friends) but also as a vehicle to hone my storytelling skills. At Burger King, when I was still in high school, I created single page comic book adventures about the job featuring caricatures of myself and other employees. One episode was called “The Rush” and put a funny (and often sarcastic) look at what would happen if 18 buses of hungry school children showed up at once to eat.
Out of my high school speech and drama class I created a long-running multi-page adventure comic book called “Speech Trek” in which my classmates and me were inserted in the “Star Trek” universe. Aliens and Starfleet admirals would often be caricatures of our teachers. While in the Army my roommates got hold of these “Speech Trek” tales and laughed even though they did not know the real people being parodied. They simply thought the writing and drawing was great. Furthermore, they begged me to continue the voyages of the Starship Emily (named after my speech and drama teacher, Emily Anderson) and add them into the stories. So I did.
I drew “Speech Trek” for the next fifteen years. Only for my friends and me. Over 600 pages of stories. But, what I was really doing was honing my filmmaking skills. All these years later I realized that what I loved about this little comic was that I continued to write scenes and dialogue that revealed character development and plot development. Plus, it made me laugh.
I eventually drew an Army-based comic strip for the monthly Torii Typhoon, the post newspaper where I was stationed in Okinawa. At Penn State I had a couple of cartoons published in the monthly theater department newsletter: a character called “Actor from Hell.” It was a scathing look at self-absorbed actors. For the first time, it did not win me any friends. In fact, I drew this strip to draw blood. If you were offended, I remember saying, then it was about you. A few years later I submitted it to Backstage West here in Los Angeles, where it was quickly (and probably wisely) rejected. But, once again, I drew it because it made me laugh.
In the early 1990s I actually gave freelance cartooning a try for about five years. I drew cartoons, like the one above, submitted them to various magazines by mail (no email in those days) and hoped to make a sale and get published. And I did get published: small publications and even national magazines. The most I even got paid for a cartoon was $75. Often the amount was $10-25. Considering the time and effort, plus mailing costs, I was never able to break even. By then, I was getting television acting jobs and soon decided to write and direct my first feature film. I retired from cartooning.
In fact, I doodle cartoons so infrequently that even people who have known me for quite some time are apt to marvel, “I didn’t know you could draw.” I shrug and grunt, as usual, and they can’t figure out why I have no comment about it.
Maybe it’s because I haven’t quite figured it out either.
I’m just saying…