Saturday, March 19, 2005

The Final Note

And, finally, I note that Mark Anderson majored in jazz trombone in college, which is our last tenuous coincidence: I went to college, but I wasn't there long enough to declare a major, and I would have majored in English if I had stayed, not trombone.

But I do play the trumpet, and when I do it's jazz.

And as long as Mark's middle name isn't Winslow, I think that's it.

Friday, March 18, 2005

On Noses And Other Things Missing

Mark Anderson had a post at his blog this morning about noses and coincidence. He was on the verge of publishing an essay on the early absence of noses on his characters when a St. Patrick's Day theme diverted him.

At the same time, I was posting about Cathy and her lack of a nose.

But there's another coincidence:

Years ago, when The Artist Magazine asked me to write a column on cartooning markets, I asked the editor an obvious question: why? I was -- and continue to be -- one of the less-successful magazine cartoonists. I had my sales, but they were threadbare compared to the fine garments that other cartoonists enjoyed. But I was selling every month to TAM -- cartoons and essays -- so the editor knew my name and chatty notes, and for all I know I was the thirteenth cartoonist he'd approached. But he said he liked my writing and drawing style.

"Drawing style?" I asked, hungry for compliments, hoping he'd gush over the warmth of my line, the brilliance of my wit.

"Yeah," he said. "That thing you do with the foreheads."

"What's that?"

"You don't draw them."

I'd been drawing cartoons for years and I'd never noticed that the space between the nose and the hairline was vacant.

So here's the coincidence: Mark Anderson, from what I can tell, omits the forehead as well.

It's been awhile since I've drawn a single-panel cartoon (the last was in the February Reader's Digest.) I'm not a multi-tasker. I'm barely a tasker. I take one task at a time and hope for the best. So the magazine cartoons have been supplanted by Spot. And I've left something else behind; if it's possible to leave behind something that wasn't there in the first place. The lack of forehead.

You wouldn't notice the missing brow with the color sundays, but the black and white dailies would give Karl a B-movie demeanor -- the look of a comestible extra in Night of the Living Dead. Which is why Karl has a full complement of head, if not hair.

I Ribbet

From, a story of arranged marriage, frogs, and an impending drought. To inspire a wedding gift from the Hindu rain god Indra, a dozen weddings like this were conducted in the state of Assam:

The residents split into two groups - one pretending to be from the bridegroom's side and the other from the bride's family. Accompanied by beats of drums and cymbals, a Hindu priest performed the marriage rituals with turmeric pastes and vermilion splashed on the frog 'couple'.

And amid the chanting of religious hymns - and some croaking of the frogs - the two were declared 'man' and 'wife'.

The frogs were released to enjoy their honeymoon.

I'd be surprised if the nuptials influenced the weather, but I'd also be surprised if it didn't rain eventually.

Life is often about playing the odds. Millions of Americans buy lottery tickets in hopes of another sort of downpour.

They'd be better off tossing rice at frogs.

Thursday, March 17, 2005


From the May 1 Sunday; A stalk in the grass.

No Nose Is Good News

Here's an interesting bit from the Shrewsbury Chronicle. A reader wanted to know why Cathy lacked a nose. Staff writer Deborah Gauthier sent Cathy Guisewite a letter, and got this reply:

"My first drawings -- in 1976 -- were scribbled self-portraits. I had no art training and when I drew my face, which -- at the time -- included big glasses, I didn't have room for a nose. The drawings were so cryptic the people at Universal Press Syndicated mistook my rendition of glasses as giant eyeballs, and only wondered why I had drawn lines sticking out on either side of them (they were supposed to be the sides of glasses). They thought the giant eyes, while unusual, were "expressive." So I got rid of the lines, but never got back to figuring out the nose.

Though Cathy lacks a nose, I wonder how many people notice? Cartoon faces can be very spare, but they'll almost always need two things: eyes and a mouth. (I say almost because the Henry strip did well for a good long while, without speaking a word, or cracking a smile... and as you'll see from the link -- and to my surprise when I Googled for Henry -- it continues to do well, if longevity is any measure.) As long as the reader has eyes to connect with, and a mouth to study for emotional cues, the character is as real as a mirror-image.

I'm not dismissing the nose, of course. After all, I wear glasses.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Silverware, Grenades, And Toner Cartridges

Another sign of spring: fresh toner. My printer was down to its last few ashes of toner. This is a nuisance since I use the printer in several ways: I print out the strips at the micro-newspaper size to see how they hold up; after I sketch my roughs at a size smaller than the finish, I scan, enlarge, then print them en route to the light table; and today, while I work on my Sunday, I enlarge and print out the sections (I don't draw my Sundays in one piece.)

I've had this printer since '98, I think, and I change the toner once every few months. And I'm still amazed when it I lift the hood and slide a new cartridge inside. I have trouble fitting forks and knives into a silverware drawer. I've never been able to change the film in a camera without lobbing it like a grenade missing its pin. When I worked in retail, nothing turned my blood to water faster than the dread streak of red on the register tape that signaled the need to be replaced. So it's a miracle of design that the NEC printer takes the cartridge as naturally as a baby taking a pacifier.

It's Spring When You Look Up

I need to get batteries in the digital camera. The lilac bush outside the window is gathering its breath and starting to show the first hint of buds (the picture above is an artifact from last year.) We have a small backyard. When this towering bush decides it's spring, it's spring. All eyes look up, and the piles of snow and icy mud are out of sight and far away.

Inside my office/studio/the room in the back where we used to have a dining table, it's the usual season of paper drifts and deep debris. The season that never changes.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Incredible Music

I've just seen -- and heard -- the best James Bond movie in years, perhaps decades. It's hard to think clearly with the music racing through my head. I didn't see The Incredibles in the theater, but the sound must have struck every ear like a thunderclap.

I watched it on DVD, and listened through tiny TV speakers.

And even then the sound was enormous.

The composer is Michael Giacchino, television stepchild to John Barry and Lalo Schiffrin and Count Basie.

Here's Giacchino in an interview with, explaining his -- and Brad Bird's -- musical inspiration:

When I first met with Brad, he asked me what I grew up listening to I told him I loved the Pink Panther movies, Star Wars, "Jonny Quest", "The Flintstones", "The Jetsons", "The Twilight Zone" - all these things. And we quickly realized what he and I both had a love for those 1960s jazz orchestra scores. It was an amazing time, when they were just going for it, with those jazz influences. No one was saying, "Oh that sounds cheesy" - it was what it was, and you believed in it, and just went with it. Brad's point was, when he was a kid he would hear that theme to "Jonny Quest" and would want to be Jonny Quest.

I'm 44 and paunched and it's likely I'll never grow up to be Jonny Quest. But as long as I hear the music, anything seems possible.

A Closer Walk With Thee

Spot strikes a sinister pose for the April 1 strip.

Nothing pleases me more than having an excuse to put an ominous leer on Spot's face. Generally Buddy has the personality that's closest to mine, so luring Spot to the dark side brings him closer to his maker.

Monday, March 14, 2005

That's $50,000 A Leg

Mark Anderson linked to an article about Matthew Diffee, a New Yorker cartoonist. Lots of interesting bits, but the one that caught my eye was this:

[Sam] Gross sold one cartoon to the former National Lampoon magazine 35 years ago, and its resale has since earned him $100,000. The cartoon: A couple in a restaurant sits near a sign that says frogs legs are the special. The kitchen doors swing open and out rolls a legless little frog pushing himself in a sort of frog wheelchair.

Frogs. Always ready to sacrifice for the cartoonist.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Sometimes Hippo Rhymes With Orange

As I continue my theme of hippopotomi and cartoonists, here's a quote from Hilary Price's website:

My first actual cartoon character was a friendly monster that looked a little like a sitting-down hippopotamus. I used my mother's blusher from her cosmetic's bag to "paint" it. That's probably that last time I have touched a cosmetics bag for any purpose.

With credentials like those, it's my opportunity to welcome Hilary Price to the Hippopotami Club For Cartoonists, and to talk about her work in general.

It's sweet. It's smart. It's funny. A drawing style clear as glass -- not stained glass, and not some bobble on the end of a glassblower's pipe. It reminds me -- and this is a compliment -- of those little jelly jars with Fred Flintstone or Charlie Brown printed on the glass. I have a small set of Peanuts jelly glasses. They're too small to sip from, and too small to support flowers. But they're large enough to remind me of the strip's good humor. They're transparent enough to hold each character to the light.

Rhymes With Orange
is just the right size, and perfectly clear.

On Pickles And Talking Carrots

I've mentioned Pickles by Brian Crane before because his character Earl and my character Karl have a certain resemblance. They both have noses, for one, and are bald with a mustache for another. And just now I'm noticing that they share the same first names, save for the first letter. It's all coincidence, of course. When Pickles launched, Karl was a talking carrot. Sure, he wore the same clothes and had the same mustache, but he was a vegetable.

All that aside, I mention the strip once again because I've recently convinced myself that readers will go along with the vagaries of pen line that develop over time as Spot and cast change their appearance. But apparently the accommodation can vanish if the change is abrupt. Via

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Crane says he deliberately tries not to be offensive or "edgy for the sake of being edgy." He did strike a chord a few years ago, though, when Earl grew a beard.

"I was just totally inundated with passionate responses to how this imaginary character looked," he says. The majority ruled; Earl's whiskers were history.

So allow me to repeat: puberty aside, Spot won't be growing a beard. A tasteful little soul patch, perhaps, but never a beard.