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.
In 2012 and 2013, the alt-weekly paper I do a weekly cartoon for, The Mountain Xpress in Asheville, NC, has asked me to come up with and create a Halloween-Election themed cover for that particular week’s issue.
This year, they just wanted Halloween ideas , but local Halloween ideas. So I came up with a bunch, mostly playing on the current “beer city” spate of breweries and such that seem to be cropping up locally.
Then Margaret, one of the editors tells me, “Looks like we’re going a different direction for the cover for Oct. 29, but I like your cartoon ideas for that issue.” So I used some of the ideas for my usual (but not as high-paying as a cover assignment, just the same amount of work) inside cartoon.
For the cover, they ended up not going with a humorous cartoon theme, but rather using a nicely done, local landmarks, spooky cover design from Jason Krekel instead. I think it turned out well, but I kind of wish they had just decided to do that from the beginning, and not wasted my time.
u Asheville Halloween ideas
AVL Halloween ideas for cartoons
Some of the ideas for the cover did end up taking the form of this weekly cartoon, which I spent a lot of time on coloring for best effect. I think it turned out pretty good, but it seemed to garner the same “meh.” response from the public as any other, less work-intensive cartoon I would do, (as far as I can tell from online and social media responses, anyway). Here is a vertical version I made for online use and the actual, horizontal one that ran in the print issue:
finished MX AVL Halloween cartoon 2014 vertical
Horizontal version, as ran in the printed issue. Click to make larger.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.”
click to enlarge
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!
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:
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
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
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.
Sometimes you do a cartoon with what you think are pretty clear intentions, but then you hear back that those intentions were misread or misinterpreted or misconstrued or just missed completely.
Getting complaints about your cartooning efforts, especially when the complaints are based on the reader seeing the opposite of what you meant (or in some cases, just seeing something that is not there at all) is kind of annoying, but some would say it beats having your work completely ignored and receiving no feedback at all. (Hey, they may hate it, but at least you know someone is actually seeing it!)
Therefore, I would like to go back and address some of these “missed conceptions” that have happened and since there are more than a few, I will tackle each independently.
The first is this cartoon focusing on the plight of the growing local homeless population (always a touchy subject with well-meaning, but humor-impaired social advocates) and specifically a series of downtown bench removals by the city and private business/apartment buildings in order to deter the use of them by tourist-deterring and unmarketable homeless people, criminals, smokers, and/or other undesirable users.
This led to a reduction of available places to sit. So I did a cartoon with tourist-resident types complaining about the lack of places to sit (made ironic because the places to sit were taken away due to complaints about all the homeless sitting on them). Combining this with the usual stories of homeless being both complained about in letters to the editor and attempts to dissuade their presence by enforcement of loitering laws and I have the complainers actually sitting ON the homeless guy (who complains about not only not having a place to sit, but also not being allowed to stand around either).
So the cartoon was about the absurdity of having the indignity of the homeless guy being even further de-humanized by being made furniture—just so he can legally exist in a place where he can neither sit nor stand around. I thought it was pretty clearly on the side of the hapless gent’s circumstances, and that giving him that last line (which was, I thought, a clever pun on the repeated use of “can’t stand” turned around for his own use) was a clear indication that this was sympathetic to his position!
But noooooooooooo. The next week, there appeared this excoriating letter to the editor, as well as more of the same thing in a post on the very-ironically titled blog Community of the Beloved, decrying what the two people needed to compose this misconstrued missive attack as “appalling” and “blatant prejudice” as well as implying it could lead to “awful violence” against people who are homeless. Here is the full letter, as well as screen shots of the blog post:
“Prejudice is destructive to the fabric of our community
It is appalling that, on the one hand, Mountain Xpress can write such a powerful piece exposing the past prejudice of deeply rooted racism in “Back to Summerlane” [July 28 Xpress] and, in the same issue, promote such blatant prejudice against people who are homeless [in the cartoon] “Land of This Guy.” This kind of prejudice ripples out, changing the landscape of our city as revealed in “Benched” [July 28 Xpress] and can lead to the awful violence seen at Camp Summerlane.
We welcome citizens without homes, seniors, tourists and Asheville residents to find comfortable seating, rest and the opportunity to build real relationships that have the power to overcome our prejudices at Be Loved, a community house located at 39 Grove Street in downtown Asheville.
— L. White and A. Cantrell Be Loved”
Seeing they had obviously missed the whole point of the cartoon, I tried to reply to both their online letter and their blog post, explaining the actual concept, but got no reply to either.
I wrote back:
You have completely misinterpreted my cartoon. The entire premise of the comic strip is that while the complaining couple are worried about having a place to sit and having to (oh no!) see homeless people while they are downtown; the actual homeless man is forced to behave as their furniture in order to be legally allowed to exist downtown in lieu of the anti-loitering laws displayed on the sign.
This cartoon was (I thought, anyway) obviously taking a sympathetic view of the homeless person’s plight by showing how he is not only ignored, but further degraded by taking such anti-homeless laws and sentiments to an absurd degree, such as requiring them to be furniture. It is not encouraging such behavior at all, merely using the absurdity of it to make a larger point against treating them that way! It was also combined with the recent story of benches being removed.
It’s probably not a good sign when a cartoon has to be explained with three paragraphs. That could mean that the cartoonist did not get his point across well enough. It could, however, also reflect on the inability of the person reading it to recognize parody, satire or sarcasm. In any case, I hope the intended meaning is now clear to you.
For a place that likes to “spread the love” they sure don’t mind going off half-cocked and accusing cartoons, that they are too one-dimensional and literal-minded to apparently understand, of “treating our friends on the street with disdain and disrespect”.
So, that wraps up part one in this attempt to explain myself to the (hopefully) few who do not get my cartoons but are nevertheless so demonstrably and publicly vocal about their “outrage” that I feel I have to be equally public in defending myself, as well as pointing out what they got wrong.
I realize I should take the advice of other cartoonists and just ignore the few cranks (“fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke” my colleague at the Asheville Citizen-Times instructs) and be assured most people either did get it or (more likely) don’t even care about, or notice cartoons in the first place. Also remembering that said majority is rarely heard from the way the very vocal, terminally-outraged are, but hey, I have blog posts to make, and this seemed like a good recurring blog subject since these types of things require a long-form, multimedia approach.
The real tragedy is that this cartoon was also done in a style that evokes Tom Wison, the famous creator of Ziggy and even though I drew the homeless guy as Ziggy himself, no one seemed to notice that, either!
In it, I spoke about my late uncle’s produce business and how he would dress up as the stereotypical “hillbilly” that potential tourists/newcomer customers would expect to see. Here is a collage of some of the label/ad designs I tried to come up with for him, as well as a photo from a newspaper clipping of him and my late aunt:
Bob and Katherine McCombs at Mountain Man Produce stand in Hendersonville, NC
An interesting aside, is that I used him as the inspiration for a cartoon (featured in the same Carolina Public Press article) where I take up the issue of cultural stereotypes that was partially in response to another cartoon by fellow cartoonist, Randy Molton that was featured in the Asheville alt-weekly, Mountain Xpress. Randy’s “pigdemic” cartoon (suggesting certain bestiality inclinations inherent in certain people in certain geographical regions) caused not a small bit of controversy at the time (May 6, 2009 issue).
My cartoon was a little better-received, but still had its critics. As local writer and Appalachian historian, Betty Cloer Wallace remarked:
“Well, Brent Brown’s “Stereotypes” cartoon is quite humorous and a great improvement over Molton’s “Pigdemic,” even though Brown’s “hillbilly” character is the only person of the five types in his entire cartoon who is portrayed as being ignorant for real, ignorant beneath his stereotype. (It’s hard to get away from it, isn’t it?)
Even the double-negative frame, although borderline, is humorous.
I think the cartoon would have been even funnier, though, if Brown had left out the stereotypical language “whatchoo you in fer” and instead had the real person behind the ignorant stereotype saying something unexpectedly erudite.
It clearly is possible to poke fun at stereotypes in ways that are not insensitive or insulting toward a person, group, or culture, and except for “whatchoo you in fer,” this cartoon does that quite humorously.
By Betty Cloer Wallace 05/20/2009″
What she did not know, was that it was based on an actual person, my uncle, who—though he was playing the part of the cartoon hillbilly as a marketing gimmick—was nevertheless a rough-around-the-edges, rural, country type who was still prone to speaking in a NC mountain dialect with syntax and grammar not considered proper or correct and filled with regionalisms. To have him sound like Rex Harrison would, I agree, have been a funny idea, but in this case, I was being true to the comic strip avatar of my uncle Bobby. It was also a way to say that even though the people here may have an accent and non-standard way of speaking, that they are still nothing like the cartoon stereotype portrayals that may or may not even be based on reality, but became so prevalent that even the people they mock eventually used them for their own purposes.
The local alt-weekly paper in Asheville, NC that I draw a weekly cartoon for asked me to draw a humorous Halloween and Election cover for the issue that would fall on the week of both those events.
I gave them some roughs and thumbnails and sketches for some classic monsters (Dracula, Mummy, Invisible Man, Frankenstein’s monster, wolf man, etc.) and, on a different tack, maybe a jack-o-lantern and a ballot box?
We ended up doing some of them voting in different, yet appropriate ways:
The invisible man is voting, of course, absentee ballot and a ghost voting reinforces the often-cited claim that dead people are voting in our elections, incurring the wrath of an angry, 17th century voter fraud mob. Dracula and his vampire fangs prefer punch ballots and Frankenstein’s creature doesn’t know his own strength when even using a tombstone touch screen ballot.
2012 Halloween cover for Mountain Xpress by Brent Brown
They liked the Republican elephant Frankenstein monster and the Democratic donkey Dracula, so I ended up drawing both of those for inside illustrations:
Finally, the weekly cartoon I also have to draw was a Halloween-Election theme too: