Year X at MX

A recent Twitter tweet about a Facebook post about making fun of the evergreen topic about current residents complaining about how Asheville isn’t like it used to be, caused me to remember a cartoon I did on the very same subject, and that caused me to realize that said cartoon was now ten years old, almost exactly to the date. Then, all of that caused me to make this blog post, and construct that crazy run-on sentence.

So it seems that today, November 14, 2017 is exactly ten years from the date that Mountain Xpress first published the cartoon I created a month earlier to respond to their call for new local cartoonists. That’s not a huge deal in general, seeing as how their longtime political cartoonist, Randy Molton, has been drawing for them for over 22 years now. Other than Randy’s mainstay status, and David Cohen‘s memorable tenure until 2006 (when he moved to be the still-current Asheville-

The publication of my first cartoon in the 11/14/2007 Mountain Xpress, along with Johnny Cantrell and some others that were not chosen. The color version is at the bottom of this post.

Citizen Times cartoonist), I rather got the feeling as an occasional reader (living in rural Henderson County, I didn’t get a chance to pick up the Asheville alt-weekly very often) that the “local cartoon” slot was hard for the paper to fill. If you defer the local political cartooning to Randy, that leaves only local non-political, non-national things to lampoon each week, so after making the easy jokes about the few local issues that seem to stay the same, and some local event or people, you kind of run out of “local” and revert to a general cartoon about… something. The Mountain Xpress seemed to go through a lot of different artists in that spot, from what I could tell, and I heard from them later on, that such was the case. Getting the cartoonist to remain on-mission as doing “local” cartoons was a difficult cat to herd.

So, being that my main, long-time freelance graphic design client had recently gone the way of many other Ad Agency/Design firms in the newly-evolving world of cheap internet alternatives and self-publishing, I decided to leave the commercial art world once and for all and try my hand at my real love, cartooning, once again. I had given it a go back in 1993, creating a strip that I sent out to all the syndicates to some very nice rejection and no takers. I had also been surprised to sell my cartoon idea to MAD magazine, but deflated somewhat, that they had their in-house artist redo the artwork to save costs of just paying me as a writer only. After some more promising, but ultimately rejected submissions, I got off-track from doing cartooning/illustration, and into the more lucrative and dull world of layout and prepress of industrial marketing. Sure, industrial caster catalogues and industrial freezer brochures can be fun (not really) but do they really feed the soul? No, but when they stopped feeding the family, I was kind of glad to let them go.

When I saw the Mountain Xpress call for submissions in October 2007, I spent some time creating three of them, one color and two black and white (the paper didn’t publish color inside back then, but I think they called for one anyway) and emailed them off (I had moved on to the nascent world of digital cartooning by then). When I got a phone call from then editor, Jon Ellison (the same man whose quoted Facebook post cum Twitter tweet would create this unrequested book of a post a decade later), telling me “we really like your cartoons” I was quite pleased to hear it. He told me they would run my cartoons in the “all comics” ‘issue they were planning for 11/14/2007 and that afterwards, they would need a cartoon from me every other week, as they would alternate between me and the other local cartoonist they chose, Johnny Cantrell.

Now, however, I was terrified. I used up all my ideas to make fun of Asheville on those three cartoons already! “How the hell am I going to come up with another cartoon, much less another one every other week?” said I to myself after hanging up the phone. I had always just flirted with the idea of being a regular cartoonist. The realities of coming up with some hilarious and local idea twice a month were now staring me in the face, but it was too late to back out now.

Somehow, I made a go of it. Handing in a new cartoon (well, emailing in, I was still digital) each two-week deadline became a regular exercise and they were usually shrunken down and placed in the back amongst the classifieds. Eventually, Johnny Cantrell’s “Tooth and Jaw” comic was dropped. (It was a very well-rendered and bitingly satiric strip that I think ruffled more than a few feathers and caused much consternation with the editors. More than one of his comics attacked the Xpress itself as being too bland. A look through the comics he still has on his blogspot page reveals that more than a few never saw print due to what can only be assumed to be their libelous or profane elements for a paper that was becoming increasingly more family-friendly.. For whatever reason, his final cartoon was not published, but one can assume the final letter from MX that he portrays in his final, unpublished comic was pretty close to the real thing.)

This caused two things to happen: 1) I would now be in the paper every week, as opposed to alternating weeks, and 2) my deadline panic about what to do a cartoon about was now going to doubled from bi-monthly to weekly. One day, I met with Jon Elliston in person, and he let me know the paper was going to move my comic to the front of the paper and increase the size to the full width of the page with a headline of the title. The comic had no name to put on the new, decorative headline. The first comic I did with a recurring character was going to be called “Land of This Guy” to play on the old Asheville nickname of “Land of The Sky” and to infer it was about the cranky old man character I had as the main protaganist in the first two or three comics (a leftover from my failed Vast Wasteland comic strip). So I told them to just call it that.

 

The second comic strip I sent in started the “old man” character as the outsider looking in on Asheville’s “freaky” people and positions. It also addressed some local news stories about the freaky people in the surrounding rural counties.

 

The third comic I submitted was a continuation of the second. It addressed some local controversies that were in the news at the time.

 

That was around 2009, and the comic has been in the same place in the paper, at the same size since. Editors have come and gone, and the headline with the name was eventually dropped, but otherwise, not much has changed. The paper used to have more national, syndicated cartoons, like This Modern World by Tom Tomorrow and The City by Derf, but those seemed to have been dropped in past years, perhaps to fall more in line with MX’s focus on “local” extending to its contributors as well, or maybe as a cost-saving measure.

I gained some notice and notoriety early on. That seems to have died down, once everyone got used to the presence of another cartoonist that didn’t change every other quarter. There would very occasionally be an email or letter forwarded to me from the editors and if I saw the publisher or editor at one of the rare times I would actually meet someone from the paper in person at a party or event, they would relay positive feedback they had received. Only a few times did I get a call about someone angry or threatening to sue. Eventually, the paper started putting the cartoons online as well, and the old MountainX.com web site would elicit many comments on the posted cartoons, and that was a good gauge of reactions, but once the paper went through a site redesign a few years ago, the comments stopped, and now It’s hard to tell what, if any impact the cartoons have, or if anyone is seeing them at all.

Some of the other cartoon submissions from that issue.

Whether as many people are looking at print at all, compared to just ten years ago is another consideration. Trying to share the cartoons through social media has been pretty uneventful, as the local nature of the comics make them relevant only to a very limited audience and, of course, topicality gives them a very short lifespan in addition. I’d like to say that I used this local exposure to launch into the broader world of regional and national publication, but I’m embarrassed to admit that I have neglected stoking those aspirations for whatever reasons (I like to blame the never-ending deadline of the local cartoon for not being able to concentrate on making something more marketable to a larger, general audience, but I’m pretty sure I would still be procrastinating on that front without it breathing down my neck each week.)

So now ten years have passed. I’ve done nearly 500 “local cartoons” to varying degrees of success or failure and to reactions ranging from outrage to apathy (mostly the latter in recent years, as I’ve learned to tamp down any possible offensive material that may cause headaches for my editors and me, but at the same time make for somewhat safe, tepid, unmemorable work). I’ve gotten used to a weekly deadline, but it never became any easier or less fraught with despair about what I’m going to do this week. I’ve seen my colleague David Cohen say how the never-ending eccentricities of Asheville  provide him with an endless supply of cartoon ideas. I wish I had the same Olive Garden-like “endless strips” view of the subject, but most times it seems like I have covered the same ground of “low wages”, “tourism economy,” “newcomers vs. natives,” “affordable housing,” “development,” “traffic,’ etc. etc. so much that there is nothing left to say again. Sometimes I have nothing for the week, and have to just comment on the weather or the season or (horrors!) just do something general and non-local just like I am not supposed to be doing. I was kind of waiting for that “we no longer require your services” letter from the Xpress that Johnny and others must have received, but it hasn’t yet arrived, and since I didn’t really have the initiative to do anything else, I guess, here we are.

Should I look at this 10 year anniversary as a milestone, or a wake-up call? Would stopping at a nice, round number and moving on to something more far-reaching and better-received be a forward-thinking, visionary approach to becoming a career-minded go-getter, or would ungraciously giving up a guaranteed regular gig for the unlikely chance that the modern marketplace is looking for new, fresh works from 53 year old white male cartoonists with huge gaps in their employment history be a dumb move?

I don’t know, but I assume that my indecision will likely result in another 10 years of me going through the same routine of starting the week thinking I should not wait until the Friday deadline to think of a cartoon and then spending Friday wishing I had listened to earlier-in-the-week me until the paper finally decides they want to try someone new or I actually create something worthy of moving on to.

Even if the cartoons are similar to this blog, in that nobody is actually reading them but me, at least they both have one quality in common: VOLUME!

Full color version of the first cartoon I did. The color version was put online. I have since corrected the “1,000s” date in the last panel to an unspecified one, after getting flak about how native Americans were here long before even that.

Drawlloween 2017 – Day 31: Trick R Treat

Drawlloweeen 2017 – Day 31 is:

TRICK R TREAT

So another Drawlloween has come to an end. Each year I start and after the first couple of drawings get overwhelmed by the many more that are ahead and wonder if I will actually be able to do it, or just give up, since no one is really watching or counting. Maybe I will skip a day if I can’t come up with something or just don’t feel like it. But I actually did it again, and it didn’t even feel like a daily chore I had to get through, I actually looked forward to it. So much so, that I would up getting the next day’s drawing done a day ahead of time because I was so into it and couldn’t put it down until the wee hours of the morning. That’s why I ended up posting them on Instagram right at midnight, since most of the time, there were already done by then!

Today’s prompt was generic in order to give everyone a wild card to do whatever they wanted, but since I’ve been pretty literal about all of the days so far, I went ahead and tried to interpret this one as being like the “Toys R Us” toy chain logo with their giraffe mascot, Geoffrey. I ended up making it a giraffe skeleton and the logo jack-o-lantern orange with a skull instead of a star in the capital R. Pretty simple and not as involved as the others, but hey, I was tired and giving me too much freedom results in me being lazy, which is the entire point of this thing for me.

In any normal month, I would not be drawing anything for the fun of it, and this daily challenge is just what I need to get me to muster the same amount of diligence to create work for my own portfolio that I would give to a paying client I know is expecting something at a certain time. Now I have 31 little pieces of art I normally would never have had. Sure… much like these blog posts, practically no one saw them, or gave a flying phantom about them if they did, but the visceral social media reward of “likes” was only secondary in creating the impetus to get these done every day. So, even though I am aware I am talking only to myself here, I want to thank those who took the ride with me and those who created the ride to begin with. That’s it for another year. I may do the Caricature Resolution challenge in January too again, so there’s always to to look forward to, or away from, depending on who you are. Happy Halloween!

 

Drawlloween 2017 – Day 30: Cauldron Crones

Drawlloween 2017 – Day 30 is:

CAULDRON CRONES

The penultimate day of Drawlloween brings us a prompt of wizened old witches tending to their malevolent brew. Keeping with the contrary way I’ve been going with these prompts, I went for the opposite of crones, and found three comely cauldron keepers of animated fame. First, from Archie comics, Sabrina the Teenage Witch in her classic 60s look and hairstyle. She’s been reimagined plenty of times for modern audiences, including a more serious, ominous take in her recent graphic novel and in Afterlife with Archie in which she inadvertently causes a zombie holocaust in Riverdale by bringing Jughead’s beloved dog back to life, so making her a bit evil here is no longer that big a reach.

Next is the “sexy” version of Witch Hazel from the 1955 Looney Tunes animated short by Chuck Jones, “Broomstick Bunny” in which Bugs Bunny turns the tables on usually crone-like Witch Hazel by hitting her with the “pretty” formula she meant for him, or at least his disguised self as a young witch. She is then sexually harassed by the magic mirror genie and the short ends with him in pursuit. Hey, it was the 50s.

The last pretty witch is also animated, to keep with the theme, so no “only bad witches are ugly” Glinda the Good Witch here. It is, however, another live action witch, Samantha Stevens from the 60s-70s TV sitcom, “Bewitched.” Shown here in the animated version that opens and closes the show.

I tried to take the three different cartoon styles and make them appear similar enough to not seem to go together by giving them all the same dress, but letting them keep their individual style in other ways.

One more day to go!

Drawlloween 2017 – Day 29: Sunday Bloody Sunday

Drawlloween 2017 – Day 29 is:

SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY

Other than making light of a serious U2 song, the only other idea I had for this was to think of a couple of the bloodiest scenes from horror movies and marry them together in a kind of red wedding.

So here is what would happen is Stephen King’s stories all took place in the same universe, and Carrie While had gone back to her hotel room at the Overlook Hotel after that disastrous prom incident, in order to get clean, or so she thinks…

Drawlloween 2017 – Day 28: Ghouls Rush In

Drawlloween 2017 – Day 28 is:

GHOULS RUSH IN

Other great pun prompt, but I was just not in the mood to draw some generic “ghoul” and so I went to the original term origin in Arabic, which was “ghul”. That reminded me that the DC Comics villain, Ra’s Al Ghul was named for the Arabic term translated to “the demon’s head” and so I decided to do a comics drawing (hey, I think I’ve held off on those a lot this year, compared to previous years) of all the Al Ghul family, rushing in to some clandestine dungeon room in the League of Shadows clubhouse. Here they are, daughters and father: Nyssa, Ra’s and Talia Al Ghul.

Drawlloween 2017 – Day 26: I know a sarcophoguy

Drawlloween2017, Day 26 is:

I KNOW A SARCOPHOGUY

Today’s punny prompt struck me as the kind of like a 60s screwball comedy about a harried account executive #mummy with a #sarcophagus or two, and I also wanted to mix up my increasingly predictable art style to something new, so here’s a Saul Bass inspired design for the movie poster of just such a non-existent film. (I chose to go with the traditional spelling of “sarcophagus” with the “Sarcophaguy” pun, though.)

 

Drawlloween 2017 – Day 25: Do as I say, not as I VOODOO

Drawlloween 2017 – Day 25 is:

DO AS I SAY, NOT AS I VOODOO

Wanting to keep the theme from yesterday, both visually and thematically, I took some liberties with the Voodoo priest, “Baron Samedi” from Roger Moore’s first James Bond 007 movie, “Live and Let Die” and made him a “Baroness Samedi” in order to have the similarity of the magic woman in the background and male subject of the spell in the front (as in yesterday’s Zatanna vs. Jonah Hex) and also have the conversational prompt of the day expressed as dialog in a word balloon. Now they make nice bookends.

Drawlloween 2017 – Day 24: Aw, Hex

Drawlloween 2017 – Day 24 is:

AW, HEX

Going as literal as possible, once again, I immediately thought of DC Comics’ own weird western star, Jonah Hex. However, to keep the Halloween witchcraft theme that was surely intended, I added an appropriate DC occult character to be hexing him. In this case, Zatanna and her backwards speaking magic and also in one of her slightly less objectifying outfits in keeping with the seriousness of this event.

Drawlloween 2017 – Day 23: Sewer Setllers

Drawlloween 2017, Day 23 is:

SEWER SETTLERS

Even though I know most of these 31 prompts are titled the way they are merely for alliterative purposes, I am going to take them literally for the most part, unless I have a better idea. In today’s case, I did not. It’s not a very exciting one, but I’m getting a little worn down from the daily grind, so here are two hardy cockroach pioneers bravely taking their covered wagon of goods across the sewer lands, driven by their two rat livestock.