Click image to enlarge. This cartoon tip originally appeared in the January-February 2016 issue of The Cartoon!st, the newsletter of the National Cartoonists Society. All series images and texts are copyright © 2016 by the artist.
By Jim Sizemore
On August 26, 1981, I wrote a longish letter to my niece, with whom I’d been corresponding for some time. What follows is an edited draft of the short note in that letter about one of my yearly visits to Ocean City, Maryland. The original draft also includes the doodle, below. (Click image to view a larger version.)
When we arrived at Ocean City last Saturday the weather was crummy; rain, wind, etc. It was like that all afternoon and evening and it was cold, too. By Sunday morning the rain had stopped but it was still overcast. Mid-morning showed a little sun between the clouds and by the afternoon it was beautiful; bright sun and clear, Kodachrome-blue sky and big white-capped surf. It’s been like that since.
I’m here with some friends and their kids—a boy and girl, ages 14 and 15—who happen to be the same ages as my son and his male friend, who are also here. So everyone has someone to play with. Last night the adults dined and shopped and strolled on the boardwalk at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, just 16 miles north of here. Who knows—or wants to know—what the kids did?
Each weekend the rental units quickly empty out and fill right back up. Pale families arrive and tan families depart. Car doors and trunk lids pop open and suitcases, boxes, bags, coolers, folding chairs, beach towels, are packed in or pulled out. The air is full of greetings and goodbyes. The people leaving seem more relieved than rested. For better or worse, they have survived an intense week of togetherness and are now ready to return to the normal routine of everybody going their own way, doing their own things. Leisure, they have learned, can produce its own kind of pressure and they’ve had enough of it for this year.
The folks arriving, on the other hand, can’t wait for an early morning walk on the beach. Joggers, all sizes and shapes—with few exceptions grim-faced—separate into groups; some run on more or less solid ground, others prefer the shifting sand. Gulls scavenge near the water’s edge and casually turn their backs on human walkers. Surf fishermen, who never seem to catch anything, stand like sentinels with their poles pointing to England.
In the afternoon small airplanes, one every ten or fifteen minutes it seems, fly perhaps a hundred yards beyond the beach and a couple of hundred feet above the ocean, trailing commercial messages. (There’s no escape from the big bad Ad Man!) One banner, reading “MELLOW ROCK,” advertises a local radio station. The phrase seems to me to be a contradiction in terms. An attractive young woman yells to a macho boy in a bikini brief: “The water’s too rough.” He: “Rough, yes, but wonderful, too.” With that, chest out, he struts into the sea.
Now it’s late afternoon, around dinner time. Fewer human bodies still on the beach: some ugly, most average, a few beautiful. As you stand very still at the fringe of the surf, the ebbing water pulls the sand from under your toes and soon you are ankle-deep in the wet grains. Meanwhile, back at the beach house, aggressive black flies hang out at the screen door, demanding entrance.
Your uncle Jim.
Copyright © Jim Sizemore 2014
This is an edited re-post from June 20, 2008
My Sunday “Lonely Guy” activity is to read the New York Times and watch C-Span 2 Book TV, muted. If I glance something interesting on the screen — Christopher Hitchens, say, ranting about why we should be in Iraq — I may bring up the sound. That seldom happens. Most Sundays, only the rustle of newsprint is heard in my living room. Sometimes, though, the thing on TV that catches my eye is the shape of a nose, or a hairstyle, or an odd mouth and I feel a powerful urge to draw it — and the rest of the head. So I open my sketchbook, select a soft pencil from the coffee mug on the table by my chair, and set out to prove once again that I’m not only the world’s worst caricaturist, but should also get a medal for being the slowest. Of course, the nice thing about sketching talking heads on TV is they hold still for long periods, which means I can take all the time I need to get it wrong.
I have no idea why I doodled all that stuff on the sides, or wrote “The Other End” at the bottom, but I do enjoy making those little “drop” shadows under the letters. The thing that drives me mad, though, is that I have no memory of who most of the people are. (Memo to self: Keep better sketchbook notes). All I know for sure is that these folks appeared on C-Span 2 sometime in December, 2006. Also, I’m pretty sure the guy on the top left is a well-known newsman, one of the Kalb brothers, but which one? And the blond woman near the bottom of the left column is an expert on world religions. Interesting face, and I loved the informed talk she gave (I have the sound up while I sketch). Of course, all this assumes that I managed a passing likeness of at least those two.
Copyright © 2013 Jim Sizemore.
An Image Problem
Some years’ back, a client of mine commissioned a humorous illustration to be used on a non-governmental organization (N.G.O.) flyer about world population issues. First he had to educate me on the subject, and sent along a thick sheaf of reading material that I quickly skimmed (this was a pro bono effort), underlining sections that I hoped would offer up image ideas.
As one who specializes in cartooning and humorous illustration, I’m more about visuals than words, and after hacking my way through all that verbiage I came away with only some general tidbits about the negative effects overpopulation has on human development, from the N.G.O. point of view. Not an easy-to-draw idea in the stack. Meanwhile, the client had specified that he wanted “an arresting image that would interest people not otherwise attracted to the subject — one picture worth ten-thousand words.“
When I reported that I had had no luck with the first batch of material, the client sent two specific ideas for the illustration. His first concept was six comic strip panels with people talking, talking and talking. They talked about too many rich people living in too many carbon-inefficient McMansions; too many middle-class people in too many cars clogging too many high-speed highways; and too many poor people needing too many government services.
The client’s second idea was visually no better (read: no easier to draw). He suggested a cartoon of a stuffy middle-aged businessman watching a television picture with crowds of poor, homeless city beggars in the first panel; starving kids in Africa in the second panel; and hundreds of polluting factories just south of the Texas/Mexico border. (But hey, at least this time it was only three panels.)
Again, no single “arresting image” suggested by any of that stuff. By wading through all those words, though, somehow my brain became focused (at least the visual half did) on what I needed to not do, which in turn suggested what I should do. The simple concept I came up with was this: The population problem is about infinite hordes of people on the face of a finite planet. But how best to show that? Especially how to show it without getting so complex that people would be almost as bored looking at the image as they would be reading a long research paper on the subject? Even more importantly, since I wasn’t getting paid, how to expend the least amount of time and effort in production?
After a lengthy doodling session I came up the rough idea you see above. The stack of people is a pretty “arresting” image, in my opinion (perhaps influenced by the National Cartoonists Society “Reuben” Award statuette designed by Rube Goldberg). The oblivious commentator off to the right side represents people like me, those of us still under-educated to the importance of the world population crisis. At any rate, my client was pleased.
(Click images for a larger views. To see the final illustration, scroll down to the “Today’s Gag” post of 5/2/11, directly below.)
Copyright © 2011 Jim Sizemore.
Dinner is over. I’ve washed the dishes and read the paper and watched the news on television. Now I’m sitting on my balcony looking straight out at lush treetops. It’s dusk, and a cawing crow alights on a branch in front of me. Its cries are a mighty effort even for such a large bird, and its wings recoil with each shout-out. Soon, a second crow as big as the first one lands on a wire very near the first, then a third settles on a telephone pole several yards away. The first two are mates. I know all three, having watched them now for many sun-downs. They look identical, but I recognize their interactive behavior. For a beat or two the second crow eyes the antics of the original screamer, then takes up the cawing game. Quickly, the third crow follows suit. The first time I saw this crew I remember wondering what the bond between them amounted to. Are the two merely a couple? Is the single one an offspring, returned to live — so to speak — at home? Is the furious caterwauling some sort of family argument? Or perhaps a jealous complication created by a complex domestic arrangement? Interesting, I think, how my lonely thoughts create personifications.
Minutes pass. The sun is well below the horizon and my crows have disappeared from view. I suppose they’ve gone to their nests or caves or whatever for the night. The sky continues its slow darkening. The last trace of orange streaks the western horizon. One by one all sound abandons the evening, every distant warble. For twenty minutes or more there is no movement or noise near my balcony — just early evening stillness.
For a long time I’m in a dreamy trance, then I notice a rapid movement at the edge of my vision. Wings are once again propelling in the cool night. Another “friend” of mine, a bat, has emerged to feed on night bugs. It flies directly at me, then veers into a steep diagonal climb, then swoops down and darts sharply in the opposite direction. I watch its stunting display and wonder: Does it have a mate? Is that sharp ticking noise a coded message, or simply sonar? Before I have time to think again my tiny messenger is lost in the black sky.