Playboy Or Not?

April 30, 2010

On Being Rejected By “Hef”

Back in the 1980s and ’90s when I was trying to become a magazine cartoonist and having only moderate success at venues such as  Saturday Evening Post, TV Guide, and Writer’s Digest, the publication I really wanted to crack was Playboy. Next to the New Yorker (which rejects just about everybody), Playboy was one of the highest paying magazines still in the gag cartooning game. The problem was I had no idea how to write a sexy caption or draw a sexy woman. But the money was good, so I decided to try anyway and hope that Hugh Hefner, the magazine’s founder and editor, would find my subtle attempts at fleshy humor appealing. After all, I thought, the man’s not just a booty-hound, he’s also claims to be an intellectual—all you had to do was read his essays in the magazine to know that. But as it turned out selling him one (or more) of my cartoons was not to be. (Click the letter to enlarge.)

Prior to receiving that letter I had been encouraged when the long-time cartoon editor of Playboy, Michelle Urry, “held” some images from three “batches” I submitted each month. So I knew that Hefner’s gatekeeper appreciated my indirect take when it came to male lust; she liked my gags enough to show them to her boss. Several months went by before I heard the final verdict, which you see above.

I showed the no-sale note to a feminist-Marxist friend of mine, just for laughs. She promptly displayed her sharp radical-chic sense of humor by scrawling the note in the upper right corner of the letter. Her comment alone made my efforts worthwhile.

Below are three rejected cartoons from one of the 1997 batchs of ten monthly cartoon ideas. You be the judge—are they Playboy-worthy?

To purchase reprint rights for these and many other of my cartoons, visit my archive at

Copyright © 2010 Jim Sizemore.

Confessions of a Camera Bug

March 25, 2009

camerabug2Dear Mr. Photo Magazine Editor:

My name is Asher. You don’t know me but it’s about time you got to. Us bugs who live in cameras are at the mercy of your readers—so-called photographers who always talk about “different angles” and such when in fact they can’t see nothing that doesn’t happen in the viewfinder of their camera—I mean about real life. Maybe hearing about my past history will wise them up some.

Right now I’m living in a Nikon but it ain’t always been this soft. In fact, when I was growing up (in a Hasselblad) things got to be downright tragic. See, my dad liked to tinker around up in the shutter release housing—as much to get away from us rowdy kids as anything. Anyway, he was bouncing on some sort of spring one evening when the “arty” type camera owner decided to do a time exposure of a snow scene at twilight. Dad was punched to death by the first plunge of the cable release. The mess that resulted jammed the shutter and it never did work right anymore. Mom said we had to move on to escape the bad memories—and the wrath of the snap shooter.

We relocated in a big old view camera belonging to a certain Mr. “A.” (I can’t write out his name because he was a big deal landscape guy and thought very highly of in ecological circles to boot.) One day while he was setting up a shot of a pile of rocks in Maine, Mom was munching on his diaphragm—the one in his camera. She claimed it was high-quality protein. Mr. A stopped down the lens and Mom got squished at f/64. Which goes to show when it comes to getting the picture they want, photographers have no consideration for anything else. Mom would be alive today if he’d settled for soft focus. We never did get all of Mom scraped off that diaphragm and Mr. A had to buy a whole new camera, which was poetical justice, says I. But I went into a depression after that— didn’t much care about anything. Popped tiny time pills and staggered from one camera to another with no discrimination.

Soon I was in the very depths of degradation, living in the camera of a sensualist! The picture-box this guy used was one of your reasonably priced SLR’s, but the way the dude handled it you couldn’t tell it from the higher-priced gizmos. All he shot was soft-focus-available-light art compositions of naked young stuff, if you get my drift. The guy always had at least two of them young lovelies hanging around his pad—plus his wife! It was a swinging scene, provided you could hack the company of a gaggle of skinny teen-aged girls with little on their bodies or in their minds. No matter—soon enough I had to leave anyway because I threw-up and clogged the mirror-action of the man’s brand new Minolta SRT-202. (For some reason I can’t stand the smell of a new camera.)

The weeks and months that followed was a blur of wandering. Once I even woke up in an Instamatic nestled between a fat lady’s boobs at Disney World—the very pits. I tried to end it all by frying myself on a hot flashcube but all it did was short out the battery circuit. That’s what finally decided me to shape up.

I’m sorta semi-retired now. It’s a much quieter life I lead in this Nikon than I have ever led before. The camera belongs to a former Life photographer who doesn’t get out much—mostly he just sits around and fondles his equipment and daydreams of past big-deal photo-essay assignments. And since he never uses his camera I can nap with no worry of being done-in by the film-advance lever.

Meanwhile, Mr. Editor, I hope you don’t think my only purpose in writing is to knock the guys and gals who expose their film and themselves for a living. No sir. While it’s true that I myself have it plenty good now, the fact remains I still got a bunch of relatives out there trying to survive under hostile conditions. So this missive is mainly to remind camera people to be more careful in the future—live and let live, so to speak. Us camera bugs may screw-up a mechanism from time-to-time, but we don’t go around steppin’ on photojournalists. And thanks for hearing me out. By the way, I’ll understand if you don’t have the guts to print this.

Sincerely, Asher.

P.S. The guy who typed this for me only thinks he’s a photographer. In my book that’s almost as good as not being one.

Confessions of a Camera Bug was originally published in the November 1979 issue of Camera 35 magazine. The professional photographers Asher references in his “letter to the editor” were the real deal back in the 1970s, all very famous pros in the field. If you think you can name any or all of them, please share the information with us via a comment on this post.

Copyright © 2009 Jim Sizemore.

Not A Book Review

January 14, 2009

Slipping the Moorings, By Susan McCallum-Smith

Book reviews are not something I do, but I highly recommend this particular volume because the author is,book1 I’m proud to say, a friend of mine.
Even so, I can also say that this personal plug is for a collection of accomplished and engrossing tales by a very talented young writer. Susan and I met in a Johns Hopkins University evening writing class some years’ back. When the class ended, several of us formed what we called “The Little Group of Serious Writers” and began to meet every couple of weeks to talk about writing and to critique each other’s work. For me, even when reading early drafts of Susan’s stories, I detected what I came to think of as “heft.” It’s a word I define, when applied to writing, as having depth and breath and clarity; also humor, insight, sensitivity and nuance. So, as I use it, that small word is actually very large (it contains multitudes), and applies to only the very best prose, the kind of writing that entertains even as it moves and informs the reader. Susan’s book gives us stories I believe my reading friends—and their friends, and their friends of friends—will find to be not just fun and beautifully written, but—dare I say it—even soul satisfying. Don’t just take my word for it; several of Susan’s professional peers also have great praise for her first collection of short fiction:

“No one could blame you for pausing with a slight air of forgetful uncertainty after devouring three or four stories in this fabulous collection, closing the book to glance again at the name of its author. Margot Livesey? Maeve Binchy? Sorry, no, but you’re in the right league, not by reputation but certainly by measure of aesthetic luminosity, narrative acumen, and dazzling descriptive powers unmatched except by the very best writers of this age or any other. Susan McCallum-Smith, a brilliant young writer making her debut, soars across the transatlantic pond of contemporary literature like a frigate bird, an old master with fresh wings, and Slipping The Moorings overwhelms with grace, elegance, gravity, humor, intelligence and dare I say perfection. Susan McCallum-Smith. Congratulations, dear reader–you just discovered a new and extraordinary talent.”
Bob Shacochis, National Book Award-winning author of
Easy In The Islands and The Next New World.

“Susan McCallum- Smith enters the minds and particularly the voices of her diverse characters with much understanding, humour, and sympathy. She renders moments of conflict and change with lively language, and illuminates these moments with an admirable attention to detail and imagery.”
Sheila Kohler, author of Cracks.

“Sean O’Faolain said the short story must supply both punch and poetry, and Susan McCallum-Smith’s debut story collection does that and much more. Ranging from the edgy to the elegiac, these stories feature characters living in contexts of emotional urgency within worlds richly, even munificently, observed.”
Margaret Meyers, author of Swimming in the Congo.

Susan’s publisher, Entsasis Press, describes her work this way: “McCallum-Smith creates vivid portraits of individuals who bear the scars of failed relationships, misunderstood intentions, sexual and physical abuse, and spiritual isolation. These nine stories, which move effortlessly from the 19th to the 21st centuries, take the reader to a Mexican colonial city for a Day of the Dead celebration, to visitors’ day at a Glasgow prison, to Belle Epoch New York, to the contemporary art scene of London, to villages of Scotland’s rugged coast, and to Montreal, where a hockey fan’s keen interest in the game leads to an unexpected dilemma. McCallum-Smith’s ability to give a comic and wry edge to a dark scene, to capture the patois of both high and low society, to navigate the turbulent waters of dysfunctional families, and to pull her readers through the emotional undertow of these stories attests to the power of her fictive voice. Much of the pleasure for readers lies in her masterful use of syntax and figurative language; her talent for finding exactly the right images to convey mood and setting gives her work its immediacy and its keen sense of place, creating elements of lasting beauty and transcendent insight.”

I couldn’t agree more. susan-colorFinally, Susan, being the modest lass that she is, tells us just a wee bit about herself: “I grew up in a family and a city (Glasgow) of storytellers, and many of the stories were tall, and not all of them savory, and it instilled in me a passion for language and a fascination with the nuance and diversity of the human voice.”

Born and raised in Scotland, Susan McCallum-Smith currently lives in Baltimore, where she is a freelance editor and book reviewer. Her work has appeared in Urbanite, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and The Scottish Review of Books; her reviews are often heard on Maryland Public Radio. She received her MA from Johns Hopkins University and her MFA from Bennington College. Slipping the Moorings is her first book. Visit her literary blog by clicking the “Belles Lettres” link in the sidebar blogroll.

Author Photo by Jason Okutake.

Copyright © 2009 Jim Sizemore.