July 30, 2009
On March 20, 1962, I finished my first assignment for the Famous Artists Schools (FAS) Editorial and Commercial Cartooning Course, and mailed it off to Westport, Connecticut. The 24-lesson course is contained in three huge custom-designed binders crammed full of pages with profusely illustrated text on good quality paper. I still have them. Each of the three binders measures 11 7/8″ X 14 4/8,” and the pages measure 10 6/8″ X 13 6/8″. The FAS course name is stamped on the covers in gold, and my name is tagged, also in gold but much smaller, in the lower right corner. (Click any image for a larger view.) Ten days after I mailed the first completed lesson I had a critique in hand. The return package consisted of my original assignment drawings with tracing paper overlays correcting my crude attempts to render several cartoon heads with properly placed features, the tracing paper overlays beautifully sketched in colored pencil by the FAS instructor. As far as I know, none of my assignments from the 24-lesson course survive. I have a vague memory — like something from a fever dream — in which, in a fit of embarrassment because of the poor quality of my work, I destroy them all. If that is in fact what I did, my only regret is that I must have also destroyed the overlays done by my FAS instructors, some of whom went on to fame and fortune in the commercial art business.
(Click images to enlarge.)
Also included in the Lesson 1 critique package was a neatly typed six-paragraph letter in which the FAS instructor listed the things I needed to work on if I entertained the hope of ever making anything of myself as a professional cartoonist. (See letter scan.) Finally, there was a biography page with a photo of the instructor himself. Though not much older than me (perhaps even younger), he was shot from a low angle that made him appear, at least in my awe-stuck eyes, god-like. While being photographed, I imagined that he was hard at work on one of his own pieces of cartoon art, perhaps a full-color illustration for a slick weekly magazine such as Collier’s or Look. (See bio scan.) My instructor was Randall Enos, a very successful illustrator to this day. His work has embellished magazines, newspapers, books, record and CD covers, posters, and animated film. Some of his clients include NBC, National Lampoon, Playboy, Boy’s Life, Atlantic, Time, Sports Illustrated, Fortune, and Forbes. As recently as two months ago I saw a poster by Randall Enos, done in his distinctive “wood-cut-like” cartoon-illustration style, advertising a Broadway play in the Sunday New York Times.
When I mailed that first FAS lesson back in 1962, I was an immature twenty-five-year-old, married with one son and another on the way, afire with the vague hope of beginning a career in the cartooning field. Mr. Enos’ comments, most of which I now realize to be well-written and instructive boilerplate, were meant to encourage new students such as myself. Part of the FAS instructors’ job, I’m sure, was to accentuate the positive so we wouldn’t get too discouraged too soon and drop out. Which may explain what I call the “damning with faint praise” tone of the first sentence in the first paragraph of the critique. “You have a nice touch with that pencil of yours,” Mr. Enos says, “which speaks well for your future in the business.” Even at that early stage I could see they were blowing a bit of smoke in my direction. If memory serves, the balloon heads that I drew for the assignment looked a lot like the bad example in Lesson 1 at the top of page 4. (See scan 1-4.) It’s the one with the caption, “Don’t draw it like this with a single hard line.” My so-called “line,” especially in those early days, couldn’t have been harder, or uglier, or cruder.
Then, as if he’s already tired of pussyfooting around, Enos nails me with this comment: “Your heads have an uncertainty of outline that weakens your drawing.” In paragraph three, he seems to get downright testy and writes, “Use the two guidelines to plot the turn or tilt of the head BEFORE you locate the features.” In paragraph four he uses all caps thrice again, but with what I choose to take as kindliness. (Or is it pity?) He’s gently suggesting that my cartoon heads appear too “NORMAL,” drawn with awkward hard lines, and that they would have more “sparkle” and be less “STATIC” if I used more “EXAGGERATION.” (See scan 1-9.) He expands the point, saying in paragraph five that I should study my own face in the mirror . . . “ham it up and see how you naturally turn or tilt you head in gestures that go along with and emphasize the expressions of your face. Don’t be afraid to exaggerate these head gestures and expressions — but base your exaggeration on what you’ve observed.” Finally, in paragraph six of the critique, Enos tried to buck up my now deflated ego by saying, “You are off to a good start with these assignments, and we look forward to seeing your work for Lesson 2. Keep it simple! Your grade for Lesson 1 is B+.”
B+? Really? Doing the first assignment I already felt awkward and ill prepared for what I had taken on with the FAS course, so the grade surprised me. At that point I was totally intimidated by the 23 lessons that lay ahead, convinced that I had come too late to the craft of cartooning. Considering the general negative tone of the letter — and my view of the work I had done on the assignments — I would have given myself a solid D-. But I quickly got over the bad feelings. I refused to let my disappointment with my own work stop me, or even slow me down. For the rest of 1962 I sent off a completed assignment every few weeks, on average. All of which pointed to either undimmed confidence on my part — or arrogance.
My grades for lessons 1 through 10 never dropped below a B, with most of them being B+ to A-. I don’t say that proudly. Despite those grades, I’m very aware of how crude the work that I did was. I came to suspect that FAS instructors were instructed not to drop below the “B” line for any student. The policy — if that’s what it was — I came to think of as a sort of affirmative action program for poor kids getting late starts in the commercial art game. In other words, the FAS correspondence course in cartooning was designed just for the likes of me.
My assignment for Lesson 2, “The Comic Figure,” pulled a B+. Here’s one of Randall Enos’ pointed tips in his letter critique of that effort: “Remember that the human figure is really quite flexible — avoid rigor mortis in your cartoons.” (See scan 2-6.)
On Lesson 3, “Inking the Head and Figure,” he gave me an A-, my best grade so far. To quote Mr. Enos: “Above all, don’t expect to master the technique of inking in a few days. Only long practice and self criticism of your own lines will give you the sure hand of a professional.” This bit of wisdom is illustrated on page 4 of the text with photos of the pen hands of three famous cartoonists, Milton Caniff, Al Capp and Rube Goldberg, and a section demonstrating various pen lines. (See scan 3-4.)
For Lesson 4, “The Head in Detail,” I suddenly had a new instructor. His name was Peter Wells, but no biography or picture was provided, so I can’t tell you much about him. But I noticed his writing style was exactly the same as that of Randall Enos. In the critique of Lesson 4, which is a full page and a quarter of single-spaced tips, Peter Wells had this to say about my inking skills, or lack thereof: “In your outlines you have a tendency to leave gaps between your pen or brush strokes. This gives your drawing a disconnected or almost ‘exploded’ look which you can overcome by joining up your lines solidly.” (See scan 4-10.) Mr. Wells gave me the lowest grade so far, a B.
FAS instructor Randall Enos returned for Lesson 5, “The Figure in Detail.” The first paragraph of his critique ends with a line the various FAS instructors seem to favor: “On my tissues (overlays) I have given you some practical tips that will make this good job even better.” One of those tips, the visual logic of which appealed to me, is something I find useful to this day: “I find that it helps, when drawing hands, to pencil in the mitten shape first in the action I want. Then I draw in the individual fingers, keeping them WITHIN the outline of the mitten.” On Lesson 5 Mr. Enos gave me an A-. (See scan 5-8)
With Lesson 6, “Anatomy,” I had the professional help of Bernard Thompson, another new (to me) FAS instructor. Once again, no biography or picture of Mr. Thompson was provided. He begins and ends his letter with something at which all the FAS instructors were well versed: that old “damning with faint praise” thing that I mentioned earlier. “You have done a fairly good job with your anatomy here,” Mr. Thompson says. He then continues: “However, in cartooning we have to go a bit beyond a neat representation of the figure with all the lumps and bumps in the proper places.” He ends a page and a half later, all of it written in the usual clear FAS boilerplate style: “This was a tough assignment and, all in all, you did well with it. Your grade for Lesson 6 is B.” (See scan 6-4)
Lesson 7, “Pretty Girls,” must have stumped me for awhile because I finally completed the assignment a full three months after Lesson 6, the longest gap between mailings up to that point. My favorite picture in the first FAS textbook came in Lesson 7, a photograph of a naked lady on page 4. (See scan 7-4.) The nude model was combined with a series of drawings to make a serious point about reality versus comic illustration. As you might have guessed, I returned to that picture time and time again for close study — but I confess that not all of had to do with cartooning. I still admire the image, but at my age it no longer has the power over me it once did. (A good thing?) And I still like the caption: “The female figure, as the cartoonist draws it, is a stylized figure based on the popular American ideal. Everything is done to accent sex. Try for a provocative line . . . without being vulgar!” That was good advice and all the professional justification I needed to revisit the image often, without a hint of early 1960s pre-sexual revolution guilt. Mr. Thompson gave me a B+ for the “Pretty Girls” lesson, something I know I didn’t deserve then and don’t today. I still can’t draw pretty woman, at least not up to FAS standards. Ugly women and men, with their various lumps and bumps, are just so much easier — and more fun, too.
Randall Enos returned as my instructor for Lesson 8, “Action and the Figure.” Near the end of his letter, Enos gave me a tip about what I’ve come to know as “spot shadows” a device that has served me well over the years, including when I’ve taught cartooning myself to kids in schools and libraries. In his letter he called them “ground shadows,” and they were placed below and behind a running figure as an aid in giving a feeling of forward motion. He also says that to “give the figure additional action, get it into the air by leaving a clear space between the feet and the cast shadow.” (For example, as a spot shadow under the body. See dancing bobby soxer in scan 8-6.) On Lesson 8, Mr. Enos gave me a very generous B+.
Then came Lesson 9, “Clothes and Folds.” Of the first ten FAS lessons, this turned out to be my least favorite. As with pretty girls, I still can’t draw decent folds in clothes. So I guess it should come as no surprise that on page two of his critique, Mr. Enos inserted a mini lecture in the form of 4 rules, all of which I believe I had consistently violated throughout the previous lessons. (Some I still do, but at least now it’s fully conscious.) Enos set’s up his lecture by suggesting that having completed nine lessons in less than five months, I may have overdone it. “You are now a little over one third of your way through the Cartoon Course,” he writes, “and this is a good time to review your practice and working methods. There are several important responsibilities that you as a student should keep in mind.”
1. “Remember the importance of practice. You learn to draw by drawing and this means continual practice.” (I rarely practiced. I still don’t. Even now, I’m not sure what that means. I somehow got the idea that I could practice by doing, so I tend to just plow ahead, muddle through and manage to always come up with a solution of some sort.)
2. “Study and practice each lesson before you tackle the assignment.” (See above, which may explain why I’m seldom happy with anything I do.)
3. “Don’t try to go too fast. This is a three-year Course so you can spend as much as six weeks on each lesson.” (With later assignments I manage to go too far in the other direction, occasionally taking months to complete and send in lessons.)
4. “Never start the assignment for a lesson until you receive back the criticized previous lesson. Study your instructor’s suggestions and corrections. Make use of their teaching in the following assignment.” (That’s one bit of advice I found easy to follow.)
It’s too bad I wasn’t smart enough to figure those things out myself much earlier in the course. Still, on Lesson 9, Mr. Enos was kind enough to award an A-. (See scan 9-13.)
On September 24, 1962, six months after beginning the FAS Cartooning Course, I mailed in the assignment for Lesson 10, “Special Types.” The first line of instructor Peter Wells’ critique letter says: “These drawings of yours for Lesson 10 are full of good cartoon ideas and I enjoyed doing the overlays on them. On my tissues I have made suggestions which I felt would help make your good job better.” (There’s that boilerplate phrase again.) Of course the bolierplate critiques worked because the mistakes beginning cartoonists make were, in many cases, the same or at least similar. Over the course of ten lessons I noticed that once in a while the FAS instructors tried to individualize their comments. A case in point comes in the first line of paragraph four of Mr. Wells’ letter, where he says: “You have drawn your banker gesturing toward the table with that left hand. Why not have him banging it with his fist?” Then, reverting to boilerplate, he continues: “Stop and think about what happens when YOU smack a loaded table. Things jump and rattle — action, good messy action results. Draw that smack and the resulting clatter and add excitement to your picture — something that INTERESTS your reader. It’s this constantly thinking of and drawing things that interest readers that keeps professional cartoonists eating.” Excellent cartooning advice, boilerplate or not, the sort of practical content I found in every paragraph of every critique letter I received from FAS instructors. Again, deserved or not, Peter Wells gave me a B+ on Lesson 10. (See scan 10-10.)
I was pretty proud of myself when I mailed the final assignment in the first textbook of the Famous Artists Cartoon Course. One textbook down, two to go. Ten lessons completed, just shy of half of the entire 24-lesson course. Amazing. And I’d done them in less than five months! At that rate, I told myself, I should have my Certificate in Editorial and Commercial Cartooning in 15 months, less than half the 36 months allowed to finish the program. Was I feeling cocky? Sure. Was my optimism correct? No, not so much. Oh, I did get my certificate all right (see below), just a hair shy of the three-year deadline. With the various things going on in my real life at that time — a young and expanding family, work, etc. — turning out the cartoon assignments became harder as I went along. But that’s another story. And, perhaps, it will make another blog post . . .
Copyright © 2009 Jim Sizemore.
Copyright © 2009 Jim Sizemore
The following short essay is adapted from a longer e-mail responding to my post of July 3. The original post was a satire critical of Ocean City, Maryland, delivered by a fictional character called “Mort.” In the late 1970’s and early ‘80s I used Mort to do the heavy lifting in a series of satires on various subjects, most of which were published on the Op-Ed page of the Baltimore Evening Sun. My post of July 3, titled “Down the Ocean: Insulting Remarks from a First Time Visitor,” derived from a 1978 published essay. The blog version can be seen by scrolling down a bit. Meanwhile, I hope you will take a few minutes to enjoy Angela’s very different take on her first “whirlwind” visit to Ocean City.
By Angela Adams
For a girl originally from a small town near Lansing, Michigan, driving into Ocean City, Maryland, for the first time early last winter, I had the impression that the place was asleep but beautiful — and lacked something. We parked and walked along huge black rocks (the breakwater) out toward the sea. I looked out over the most beautiful, never-ending body of water I had ever seen. The wind was cool but the sun was out and warmed my face. We walked toward the end of the rocks as far as we could without getting soaked. The view simply took my breath away. I had never seen the ocean before.
Later, hand in hand, we strolled down the boardwalk, even though many of the shops were closed for the winter. I noted that the amusement rides did not compare with those of Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, but I could imagine how alive the area would be once people started visiting again in warm weather. We walked the shoreline, picking up special rocks and shells to bring home to my children. The whole time, all I could think about was how badly I wanted to some day bring them to this place.
As we drove the main drag, I saw closed hotels and businesses that gave the impression that the place was recently vacated due, perhaps, to an incoming hurricane. I can’t say that I paid much attention to the presence of storm drains, or noticed an overwhelming amount of power lines, but I will trust Mort’s assessment on those points. I do remember that all the hotels on the ocean side of the road were built almost on top of each other and were very colorful. One was pink, the next blue, followed by a yellow one — I thought: Is it the end of the rainbow? What also crossed my mind was where would all of the cars park when they did return in the summer? On the West side of the drag, there were at least eight miniature golf courses and some go-cart places intermixed between various restaurants, something for just about any taste imaginable.
I couldn’t wait for summer to return to Ocean City. We took my three boys, ages, 7, 9 and 11, there the first weekend in April, during their Spring Break. The sun was bright but the wind was chilly and the water was down right cold. But that didn’t stop the boys, as you can see in this photo. Even though they were shaking from the frigid waves, we still had to make them get out. They can’t wait to go back.
Angela Adams is 34, a single mom, and claims that she still doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up. She recently moved to Baltimore for the employment opportunities and has a job with a new payroll company, Pay Partners, beginning in August. Angela has a Masters in Business Administration, another Masters in Human Resources, and a Bachelors in Healthcare Management, so I think she’ll be just fine.
Copyright © 2009 Angela Adams.
By Susan Middaugh
At least once a year, go someplace you’ve never been. One fall I went to eastern Arkansas for a volunteer vacation sponsored by the American Hiking Society. (They sponsor summer trips, too. For complete information click the AHS link in the sidebar blogroll.)
Although the week long trip would be work instead of play, it appealed to me for several reasons. Physical labor was a complete change from my office job. Being outside in the fresh air, in the woods, away from email and telephones seemed like heaven. Encouraged by a positive experience during a Sierra Club service trip to Maine a few years ago, there was the prospect of meeting nice people from all over the country. The trip also suited my budget; preliminary expenses consisted of a round-trip airline ticket to Memphis and a modest registration fee. Finally, there was a sweetener. Not all AHS volunteer vacations include free transportation between the airport and the work site, but this one did.
Gretchen Sacotnik, the enthusiastic and outgoing superintendent of Crowley’s (pronounced Crow-Lee’s) Ridge State Park, picked us up herself. In our airport party was Ben, a chiropractor from Ottawa; Sarah, a young professional woman from Washington, DC; and myself. Before heading 90 miles west across the flat Mississippi delta to Arkansas, we stopped for lunch. For this Yankee, that meal offered an introduction to Southern cooking: gravy automatically goes on top of the mashed potatoes — whether you like it or not.
The rest of our party of volunteers drove in from the South and Midwest: Dallas, St. Louis, Louisville, Beloit, WI, Edinburgh, IN. We ranged in age from 30’s to 70’s; several of us, including myself, were grandparents. Eight of the 12 members of our group had been on AHS volunteer vacations before.
Our accommodations, built by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) in the 1930’s, were luxurious by backpacking and tent camping standards. We had heated cabins, indoor showers, and a spacious kitchen equipped with a commercial stove and refrigerator. Everyone took turns cooking and cleaning up after meals. Great grub!
Our day started shortly after 8 A. M. The work, repairing and rerouting hiking and access trails, was often strenuous. I used arm and upper body muscles I never knew I had. (One night in bed before 8:30 p.m.!) We lifted and hauled rocks, raked away leaves and topsoil, and created swales and water bars to prevent erosion. Usually we worked in teams with the more experienced volunteers leading the newcomers.
“Pace yourselves,” the parks superintendent advised. Snacks, water breaks, an hour-long lunch, and leaning on rakes helped. So did the two half-day field trips Gretchen planned.
At night we had campfires, conversation and the occasional board game. There were some surprises, too. A pet deer in a neighbor’s goat pen. And as the park’s law enforcement officer, Gretchen had to carry a gun. Working alongside a woman with a firearm on her hip was a new experience for me.
Also unexpected was the opportunity to experience new language and new meanings for familiar terms. I learned to use a “Pulaski,” a two-headed tool similar to a pickax. The Pulaski helped in removing roots to prevent hikers from stumbling up or down the park’s Dancing Rabbit Trail. When our crew leader told us to “ugly it up,” that meant covering the original trail with downed tree limbs, old logs and underbrush for diversion purposes, then creating a new path in its place.
The best part of the trip? Surveying our handiwork at day’s end. Although many of us were strangers at the start, it was heartening to come together for a common purpose and feel a sense of accomplishment, things one doesn’t usually expect to experience on vacation.
Copyright © 2009 Susan Middaugh.
Susan Middaugh is a self-employed business writer in Baltimore who also writes the occasional personal essay. Her essays have appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Baltimore Sun and on the website New-Works.org. Susan is also a playwright with short and full length works produced in the United States, Canada and England. The One Act Play Depot in Canada has published her short play, Such Good Neighbors. Several of her personal essays have appeared on this blog. To find them, check out the archives in the sidebar, beginning in April of 2009. Also in the sidebar under the Blogroll, Business and Writing labels, there are links to Susan’s website, Have Pen Will Travel.
Insulting Remarks from a First-Time Visitor
“Ocean City, Maryland, is one of the three ugliest places on the face of the earth. The other two are that strip mall-strewn stretch of Ritchie Highway between Baltimore and Glen Burnie — and Glen Burnie itself.”
Those words were uttered, I’m ashamed to say, by an old buddy of mine one recent Sunday afternoon as we crossed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge on our way back to Baltimore. We were returning home after spending what I had thought were three delightful days over the Fourth of July weekend at my favorite beach resort. The weather during our stay in Ocean City had been ideal: sunshiny days with a haze-free and cloudless deep blue sky; warm ocean water, alive with gentle breakers, perfect for swimming; and cool, sea-breeze nights which induced deep and restful sleep.
It was the end of Mort’s first visit there and I had innocently asked him to sum up the experience. I figured that with his fresh eyes he could offer some special insight into the appeal of the place — besides the obvious attraction of sand and sea, of course. I’m too close to the subject to be objective because, along with thousands of other Marylanders who have spent their summers there for generations, I feel an irrational and uncritical love for that city by the Atlantic. And I assumed that Mort, too, would respond to it in a positive way. I hoped that his comments would explain, or at least justify, the emotions I felt.
“The buildings in Ocean City are a string of discarded matchboxes,” Mort continued, “tied together with telephone wires and power lines. Have you ever in your life seen so many telephone poles? And all those gross cables running off in every direction? The jumble and smell of the place bring to mind old clothes on a wash line, middle of the night television advertising slogans, rancid tuna fish salad, loud next door neighbors arguing endlessly through humid city nights. Ocean City is so ugly that a sort of negative beauty slithers into it — anything that honky-tonk becomes interesting by the very depth of its bland bad taste.”
I should explain that Mort has led a sheltered life. Until that trip to the ocean he had never traveled outside the Baltimore city limits — so, naturally, his points of reference are rather limited. But those very limits lend an innocence and purity to his remarks. He has an uncanny knack for describing familiar things in new and often surprising ways. His slightly bent perspective allows light to strike areas that would otherwise — perhaps should — remain in darkness. “You’re missing the point,” Mort, I said. “The ocean is the thing. The rest is just icing.”
“The town is ultimately more interesting than the sea,” he replied, “because of what it tells you about human nature. The ocean is just a beautiful sideshow. After a while it’s boring to look at something so endlessly perfect. When that happens it’s fun to turn from God’s handiwork and contemplate what the paws of humans have wrought. And when you look at Ocean City — I mean really see it — it quickly becomes clear that 99 percent of what has been created there is truly tacky.”
“It’s a family resort, Mort — not the Taj Mahal. It was designed as a place to vacation in, not to stand back from and admire.”
“The fact is, Ocean City was ‘designed’ and built by businessmen with one motive only: pure profit. That explains the shoddy matchstick construction, the dime store aesthetics, the unplanned sprawl. The whole town is a great example of what greed can create when it’s given total control of local zoning laws.”
“Well, it may not be perfect in your opinion, Mort, but millions of people love Ocean City just the way it is.”
“In the first place, even calling it a ‘city’ is incorrect. Real cities have storm drains.”
“Didn’t notice, huh? Whenever it rains the streets fill up with water and stay that way for hours after the storm has passed. Driving the Coastal Highway then is like fording a stream — lengthwise.”
“You’re right, Mort,” I said. It pains me to confess this, but, by the time I pulled up in front of Mort’s row house in East Baltimore I had been swayed — to some degree at least — by his argument. For the first time in my life I was seeing Ocean City with a less than loving eye. It was depressing.
We said our good-byes and Mort, as usual, had to have the last word. As he left my car he looked back over his shoulder. “There was one thing I did love about O. C., though.” Mort paused, but when I refused to bite he continued. “I thought all those beautiful, nearly naked young girls were fantastic! They alone would have been worth the trip — that is, if they’d had had anything on their little sun-fried minds besides the perfect tan.”
As is turned out, my Mort-induced funk was short-lived. Once he removed his gear from my car and mounted the white marble steps to his front door, my indiscriminate love for Ocean City began to revive and surge within me. By the time I had driven to the end of the block and turned onto Eastern Avenue, I was planning my next trip down to the ocean for the next weekend—without Mort.
Copyright © 2009 Jim Sizemore.
The original version of this small fiction, slightly longer and with a few word changes, was published in the Baltimore Evening Sun on August 2, 1979. It was one of a series of pieces I wrote at the time featuring the acerbic character “Mort,” my imaginary East Baltimore friend. In those days I was in an H. L. Mencken phase, strongly influenced by (stealing from) the Master. I discovered that the character served me well when I wanted to be critical and/or acidly humorous about any subject that popped into to my mind. And the best part was that I could shift resulting recrimination to my fictional alter ego. Mort the character was a handy writing tool indeed.