National Teacher Appreciation Day

May 3rd is apparently “National Teacher Appreciation Day” (and also May 1-7 is National Teacher Appreciation Week). That may not seem particularly newsworthy, as every single day of the year has been proclaimed, designated, or sanctioned to be one or more particular days of something or other. I’m taking advantage of this particular designated event to finally post about a favorite teacher of mine from 8th grade in what was then known as Junior High School.

Having had many teachers in my life, both in school and out, (my father was a teacher for many years in local public schools before retiring, as was my mother-in-law, and now many of my friends from school have become teachers and professors as well. My daughter even works as one for pre-K children. So I have many “favorite” teachers and even narrowing them down to the ones I felt challenged and supported by in my own days as a student would be a difficult task, as there have been many more that I liked than disliked, thankfully. (Though the ones I disliked, I really disliked.)

Lynn Herrick was our Language Arts teacher at Rugby Junior High School in the late 70s. She had a creative “art teacher” type of approach to learning that culminated in many fun and non-traditional assignments. I still remember the excitement of being able to tape a “commercial” for a product that we had to come up with. This was very early in the days of video tape equipment and probably the first time I was ever recorded on this new medium. We only watched the segments we shot once, in class, but how I would love to have a copy of those commercials, just to see my fellow classmates and I hamming it up at that age. Uploading those to Facebook to embarrass countless incipient senior citizens would be a hoot. Now that’s making learning fun!

Ms. Herrick crossed my mind when I came upon a stash of my old school papers kept in an old steamer trunk, along with other school items. The kind of stash that only a pack rat/hoarder who hasn’t had to move from place to place in over three decades would still inexplicably have in his possession past age 50. Still, I wasn’t sure why these old Language Arts assignment sheets were here, even irrational hoarding has some rationality. Then I saw that on the back of each one I had doodled various superhero and fantasy characters in poses and action scenes. I had made up several of my own characters in my youth for my own “comics” and I suppose I was sitting bored with the finished paper face down on my desk one day and the potential of all that white space beckoned me to sketch something there.

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Front of worksheet. The formerly empty reverse side shows signs of some kind of werewolf creature now. (click to enlarge)

The interesting thing (and I’m sure you’re glad I’m finally getting to the interesting thing about this longwinded post) was that, rather than getting reprimanded by the teacher for defacing the assignment sheet, Ms. Herrick included her own note about the artwork, along with the grade, when reviewing the papers. Always an encouraging one. Thereafter, the addition of artwork to the backs of all my classroom work became a frequent tradition and a enjoyable addition to the daily grind of 8th grade.

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A Language Arts teacher who encourages creativity and expression isn’t that far a leap in credulity, I suppose, as it would be a for, say, a math or gym teacher maybe, if I may stereotype for a bit. However, any teacher with a sense of humor was always a treasure for me as a student, and one who appreciated my dumb superhero drawings was even better. The back and forth of my post-assignment drawings, her notes, and my drawn responses to those notes was a fun kind of correspondence between just the two of us. She even asked to keep the one I drew of her, but since I still have it, I guess she didn’t get to. The ones I found are scanned in below, click to enlarge them.

I would gladly send the requested drawing, and since I was curious what became of her, I looked her up on the internet and found she is now an artist in her own right and probably doesn’t need an 8th grade quality portrait on the back of a mimeographed word exercise sheet from 1978.

Since reading of her shows and works in articles in papers and magazines, and remembering how she had moved on from teaching to theater and other arts, I now understand why she felt a need to encourage a young visual artist more than maybe a less appreciative English teacher would. She was an artist herself, and since leaving education for her own art career, it must have been her true calling. The same as it must have been for me at the time (working as an eighth grader paid terribly, and I knew I had to move on to the only slightly-better-paying profession of cartooning and illustration).

Even though, she probably doesn’t remember it, her brief stint as a teacher had profound and lasting effects on me, and probably many other students and I want to take this designated opportunity to thank and appreciate Ms. Lynn Herrick once and for all.

If you still want it, I can send you the work sheet as well, Ms. H.

LynnHerrick

#RIPBeleChere

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Bele Chere, the street festival that began in Asheville during a time of Detroit-level urban blight and downtown deterioration (otherwise known as the 70s) is now coming to an end, due to the city ceasing funding the increasingly revenue-neutral and somewhat now-superfluous event.

It began during my still-under-driving-age year of turning 15 in 1979. Therefore, without a way to get to the big city, and later a lack of desire to drive anywhere at all, I don’t think I ever saw much of Bele Chere during its 35 year existence. I may have gone a few times as a semi-local when the kids were small, but other than participating in a few event-themed 5K races, the one real involvement with the festival circa 1989 when I was a paid vendor.

Me at 1989 Bele Chere, selling caricatures at my booth.

Me at 1989 Bele Chere, selling caricatures at my booth in front of what is now Pack Square Park.

Back then, the booth fee was around $500 and I sold caricatures. Unfortunately, unlike having an inventory of goods that can sell as fast as customers demand, I could only draw so many people at one time, no matter how many (or few) showed up to partake in this service/art form. At $6 each, I would need to convince about 83.333333333 people to have one done before breaking even on the booth fee alone. Therefore, I split the cost of the booth (I only needed room for an easel and two chairs anyway) with my friend Don, who enterprisingly sought to capture the zeitgeist and had several current pop culture phrases (what future generations would refer to as “memes”) printed up on T-shirts to peddle on his half of the booth. I believe he did a pretty good business selling the “I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up!” white on black designs.

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Don selling his “I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up!” T-shirts before LifeAlert™ trademarked the phrase a few years later.

After the three (very long and hot) days, I think I had made a pretty good profit, surpassing the booth fee and markers, pad and tent, etc. costs and then some. There was some hassle with not being able to park anywhere near my booth space and having to drag all that stuff up a bunch of winding stairs and steep mountain roads every day by foot (or leaving it behind to be upturned and vandalized at night) that kind of stuck in my craw and prevented me from working with the festival again. So, I never did become a Bele Chere vendor at any other time after that one experience. I believe the booth fees went up so dramatically over the years, that there would have been no way to make a profit with such a business model anyway.

Once I started doing a weekly cartoon about Asheville and Asheville-related things, I kind of had to address the Bele Chere festival each year. By this time, the festival had outlived the original need for it. The downtown of Asheville had now become a vibrant, booming and hip place to be. The boarded-up, seedy city center that once needed an injection of life was long gone. Eateries, pubs, coffee houses, art galleries, touristy shops and performance spaces were doing a booming business downtown all year round now. Except for when Bele Chere would happen. Now that influx of out-of-town vendors and unruly, sometimes inebriated crowds (along with an influx of professional street-preaching instigators to mock them) would turn up and crowd out the market and space to the downtown business owners who now felt the festival was something to endure, rather than embrace each year.

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There were also now a number of festivals that proliferated all year long, that were much more inclusive of and embraced by the locals than Bele Chere. B.C. was now seen as an outsider festival for outsider vendors to sell to outsider participants. Even local bands were being booked less often for the musical acts and local brewers (which were also proliferating) were often overlooked for larger, corporate sponsors.

BeleChere2SMSo, the focus of the cartoons took on a more adversarial tone, to reflect the feelings of most of the Asheville (and surrounding) community towards the fest. Making fun of both the crowds and the local business reaction to it, as well as the apocalyptic aftermath of the yearly tempest, was the gist of many of the cartoons.

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MCcartoonBB44BIGIn the end, the “Beautiful Living” festival accomplished (or at least became irrelevant because of) what it set out to do and for that, the community should look fondly on its 3.5 decade run, even if the last few legs of the race were like running in a sweater in July.

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Missed Conceptions, Part IV

No need to go into too much detail on this one. The topless protests that have been held in Asheville the past two years or so, have provided much fodder for cartoon and juvenile humor (which I am not above engaging in, hey I like me some juvenile humor!) but the reactionary voices against the horrors of public display of human female breasts made themselves another easy target. Therefore, though I don’t like to repeat subject matter, particularly not close together, I did two cartoons on both subjects within a few weeks of each other. One was just a bunch of boob joke puns:

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The other was a second iteration of the first Calvin and Hobbes style parody about the two protest opponents:

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… and then another, the next year, this time focusing on the Raelian cult that is alleged to be behind the organization that initiates these protests, along with a caricature of a local opponent of the protests tied with the then-current Chik Fil-A controversy:

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(Also, when legislation appeared to counter the protest specifically, I even did a cartoon comparing it to the current gun show incidents and lack of any legislative discussions for those:)MXcartoonBB207WEB

It was the third cartoon that was not appreciated by one particular “conservative portal.” In the words of the webmaster:

Asheville’s Mountain Xpress found that women and some teens taking off their bras in the town square was simply an issue of humor of course, dissing people who were offended such as in this cartoon the pub posted on page eight of its September 4, 2012, issue and drawn by artist Brent Brown. The artist, of course to be politically correct, left out any drawing of the events where strangers were actually photographed fondling the breasts of women while young children were videotaped with their naked moms on the street.

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Now, I would like to just point out that although the puritanical opponent is probably being dissed here, the people he is protesting are not exactly exalted either. The fact that many “supporters” were present only to ogle and catcall them some nekkid women parts is clearly manifested in the cartoon with the non-committal signs and the leering, lecherous dudes taking photos and otherwise showing “support” for more nudity, not whatever their actual message was supposed to be. The crazy-looking, glassy-eyed cult members are not faring well either, so deriding the cartoon as some kind of partisan exercise in blind political correctness is logical incorrectness as far as I can see. They are correct in that I consider the whole thing to be simply an issue of humor. Both the protest and the reactions to it. Everyone in it, however is being made fun of and what could be more egalitarian than that?

ahhhhhhh….. GHIC OUT!

I’m interrupting my current spate of blog posts responding to fits of pique, to announce an upcoming fit of geek. Namely the second annual incarnation of our local geek (comics, sci-fi, gaming, general pop culture) festival and/or “con” called, Geek Out!

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I missed last year’s inaugural GeekOut, due to commitments to offspring matriculation in other parts of the state occurring simultaneously, but I’m glad to announce that I will be included in the Artist Alley section of the con this year.

Along with offering to draw caricatures in exchange for only some devalued US currency, I will also be selling copies of my new 62-page full-color paperback book. It is a compilation of selected comic strips from the last 5 or so years of my “Land of This Guy” cartoon that has appeared on a mostly weekly basis in the local alt-weekly, The Mountain Xpress. Sure, you probably saw most of them already for free, but here they are printed on good paper instead of awful newsprint and additionally, I supply a director’s commentary on each one as an added bonus feature and page-filler!

I only have 50 copies, so be sure to stop by to get one either signed or not signed, depending on whether you like your reading material defaced with other people’s scribbling inside or not.

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Any copies left over will be available for sale here or on any of my other sites and any left over from that will be stuffed into a pillowcase and buried with me when I die, so that I can take the shame of my failure to get even 50 people interested in purchasing a small segment of my life’s work for less than $10 with me to the grave.

So, while I’m still here, come out to Geek Out this Saturday, May 4, 2013 at the Sherrill center at UNC-A from 9:30 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. and in addition to seeing cool guests and cosplay and a plethora of geeky goodness all in one place, also try to make my life have meant something!

Missed Conceptions: Part III

Ideally, a good local cartoon can cover several themes at once. In this case, I thought I had come up with a good way to cover something both topical and fun to draw (the upcoming annual Asheville “Zombiewalk” and the ongoing complaints of downtown panhandlers.

The Zombiewalk, which reached its zenith locally on 10/10/10, had now been relegated to an ordered pub crawl rather than the former large-scale (and apparently unwelcome) city-wide parade through the streets that said city leaders put an end to by way of imposing an unreasonably expensive permit fee upon the walk organizers, forcing them to downscale to a walk the previous year held at a “dead” mall on the outskirts of town, and this particular year within the confines of various downtown drinking establishments.

Combining this sight with the often-complainted-about gauntlet of downtown panhandlers (of which I had just read several gripes in the comments at the bottom of many online newspaper stories regarding downtown) that many have to pass by, seemed to me to be a pretty good joke. Especially since “braiiiiins” sounds so much like “chaaaaange” amongst the other similarities of hapless pedestrians being the recipients of the unwanted attention of large groups wanting something from them.

The cartoon ran as follows:

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Zombies printed in Mountain Xpress circa 10/16/2012

About nine days later, the following article shows up on the Mountain Xpress site:

“Dignity and respect” parade for homeless planned for Oct. 26

Members of the Asheville Homeless Network plan a parade to “promote dignity and respect for the homeless,” tomorrow, Oct. 26 at 2 p.m.

 By Bill Rhodes on 10/25/2012 11:47 AM 
The event starts with a rally at Pritchard Park and a walk to City Hall, says organizer Raven Al’Rashid. She notes the hope of making “a more public voice for the issues of the homeless and homelessness here in Asheville.”
Al-Rashid explains that a recent cartoon in Xpress by Brent Brown was a particular concern to the group. “It is hard enough out on the street without people thinking you are monsters,” she says.In the cartoon, Brown compared homeless people to the Zombie pub crawl held downtown. “We are not monsters, and we invite Mr. Brown to join the parade and educate himself on the real issues,” said Al’Rashid.”Another of the parades’ organizers, Noah Harbin points out “Yes, homelessness is a problem. Homeless people are not the problem, only the symptom.”
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So here we go with the homeless advocates complaining about a cartoon again. Even though I have done many cartoons in the past that are sympathetic to the plight of the homeless and even though this cartoon is specifically addressing panhandlers, not homeless people (not every panhandler is homeless and not all homeless are panhandlers, maybe some people should look at the type of broad generalizations they themselves employ). Also, the “monsters” in the comic are people pretending to be zombies, no one in the comic or real life thinks they are actual monsters.

As a reflection of how different groups can see the same cartoon, the folks over at Ashtoberfest, who sponsor the Zombiewalk, were apparently unaware of the cartoon’s role as a malevolent attack on human dignity and saw it as (gasp!) a funny cartoon!

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Missed Conceptions: Part II

In my experience, most complaints about cartoons seem to be due to a misunderstanding of the premise or punchline of the joke. Or sometimes an understanding of, but objection to the joke, its intent or execution (or even subject) or, in the event of political or social commentary, just a disagreement of opposing ideology.

However, the “outraged” party du jour of this particular comic from 2011 had a complaint that was a new one on me altogether! The cartoon in question was a series of jokes featuring a recurring character, “Ironey The Iron” who was a de facto narrator for Asheville happenings, as he was an anthropomorphic version of the well-known urban art piece (sculpture) on Wall St. and Battery Park Ave. appropriately facing the Flat Iron Building outside the Mountain Xpress offices.

As I had done in previous incarnations of the Ironey strips (here and here), I addressed a number of recent local issues that seemed ironic in some way. One of them, was that a local photographer, though coming off a recent win as Best Local Photographer in the paper, had nevertheless made public his concern about being able to make a living here, or indeed, to even continue to pay to live anywhere. This was stated on his Facebook page and repeated on an Ashvegas blog post about the photog in question, Micah MacKenzie. I thought it nicely pointed out the irony of being “successful” in the arts here and still not actually making enough money to even pay your (inflated) local rent. The cartoon ran as follows:

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Ironey the Iron III printed in Mountain Xpress circa 11/15/2011.

The next week, I hear from an editor that they had received this letter to the Editor by a Patty Cooper which, bizarrely recounted how “offended” she was about the cartoon because… well, just read it yourself:

“I am highly offended by your cartoon that shows someone in a green hat, and brown pants, and who is a photographer [“Brent Brown: Ironey the Iron,” Nov. 16 Xpress]. I walk these streets all day wearing about the same outfit, taking pictures. I would hate to assume that this is supposed to be a caricature of me.

Yes, I sit with homeless, and many others as I spend my days here. I can assure you though, as a land and homeowner in Vermont, and having an apartment to stay in while here, that I am not homeless. I also have viewers of my work all over the world. I do not see any homeless persons walking these streets with photography equipment or handing out cards about the video and photo work I do. Yes, I was offended.

I could not figure out why persons were walking up to me today telling me all about services that the homeless have here. When I told them I do not need those services they seemed shocked. Now I know why. I am sure that you would not have posted a caricature of some better-known local artist like that. I consider this defamation of character.”

— Patty Cooper
Asheville

So, I was tasked with penning a response to this person’s, shall we say, colorful view of the world, before I was told who even wrote the letter. I first wrote Micah to make sure he didn’t write it, as it was about him, but he had not even seen the cartoon, or got the connection that it was about him, until I pointed it out. Assured the letter writer was indeed not the subject of this comic, I replied:

“No, the cartoon was not about you, whoever you are, (the Xpress edited that part out) The cartoon of the photographer who’s forced into homelessness despite, ironically, being the best in his profession, was not based on you. Rather, the cartoon alludes to a Nov. 2 entry on the Ashvegas blog about local photographer Micah Mackenzie, who posted on Facebook of his struggle to survive in Asheville (ironically after just having won the title of Best Photographer in the annual Mountain Xpress Best of WNC issue). Even then, it was not a literal representation of him and other actual artists actually living in boxes on the street, but rather a premise taken to an extreme to achieve what people with senses of humor call a ‘joke.’

The clothes’ colors were chosen at random and not based on any person living or dead. To further set your mind at ease, the iron depicted in the cartoon, while based on an existing sculpture on Wall Street, does not in real life have human limbs or a face and does not narrate local events.”

— Brent Brown
Asheville

That, hopefully satisfied the offended party, but probably not. Additionally, the woman who was pictured being led away by police for distributing fliers was not very happy with the way she was drawn, but in fairness, I never went out of my way to find a photo when I did it and I just drew a generic woman, so no offense was meant.