Famous Artists Schools

May 7, 2010

On July 29, 2009 I did a post titled “Cartooning Lessons,” in which I described my experiences as a Famous Artists Schools correspondent student back in the early 1960s. The post featured my first FAS cartooning instructor, Randall Enos, who is now a famous illustrator and cartoonist himself. Somehow, Mr. Enos came across my little blog memoir, liked it, and in a comment suggested that I—but wait, let’s let him explain what happened next in his own words, which I copied from his blog post. If you’d like to check out the original Enos post, here’s the link: http://www.drawger.com/bigfoot/?article_id=9751

“Between 1956 and 1964 I worked at The Famous Artists Schools in the correspondence art school. I worked on the Cartoon Course. We would get a student’s assignment and put overlays on it and point out various “trouble” spots and sometimes re-draw the whole situation and then send a letter to accompany the crit. The letters were standard form letters (after all everybody would make the same “mistakes”) but we would “personalize” the letter by inserting certain words that applied specifically to the student’s particular picture. We had lessons on inking, heads, action etc.. There were 4 or 5 of us doing the lessons and we would bounce the student around between us so he or she would have the advantage of more than one point of view. I was the youngest, being hired at the ripeness of twenty years. The others were pretty much retired guys in their 60’s having had careers in the field. One of them had and continued to draw Popeye, another had worked on the Lone Ranger, another on Katzenjammer Kids, another on Captain Marvel Jr. and Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang and Playboy girlie cartoons etc..

“So . . . the other day I’m surfing the web and I come across a blog called “Doodlemeister”. The fellow that runs it named Jim Sizemore had a post where he, in great detail, described critiques of mine he had received when he was an FAS student. It was a trip down memory lane alright. He complained that I had always given him high grades and flattery when he really wanted tough criticism. He pointed out that my overlay comments were a little more to the point than my letters (form letters). I made a comment on his blog post and invited him, if he wished, to send me an assignment NOW and I would give him a free crit. He was 25 then and is in his 70’s now as I am. I promised him, in addition, that this time I definitely would not give him a good grade. Here then is my crit of his “assignment” because he took me up on it.” (Click images for larger views.)

The one disagreement I have with Mr. Enos’ critique is not visual but verbal—his suggested caption, making it about the mythical memory powers of elephants instead of cross-species relationships. In the writing process I considered the memory angle but quickly rejected it as too much the cliché. I  think the relationship idea is the more original—and funnier—choice.

Mr. Enos ended his blog post with these kind—and much too generous—words: “Y’know, the more I look at it . . . the more I like his cartoon better than mine.”

Copyright © 2010 Jim Sizemore.

The Last Dog

June 24, 2008

Short Fiction/Part Two

At Fort McHenry it was so hot I could rub inside my elbow and roll up little balls of sweat and dirt. A black fly bit my left ankle right through the sock. The flies came in late August, like it was their vacation. I was on the grass near the sea wall, where I loved to be, alone. Tug boats made big waves in the harbor that splashed against the wall. Gulls swooped. Ted told me about the swallows, the littler faster birds with split tails, how they never landed and ate bugs that jumped up from the grass. They made sharp turns, low to the ground, fast as bullets and even drank harbor water without stopping. I wondered, Did swallows ever sweat? It was hot but it wasn’t the heat, it was the “hume-a-diddy-tee.” That was Ted trying to be funny. He claimed water in the air made it all sticky. “You can breath water like fish do, Andy” he said, “did you know that?” One thing sure, I knew summer was over. “Done and done,” as Ted would say. No more back and forth under water at Riverside Pool for me, just to see how long I could hold my breath.

That night alone in Ronnie’s room I slid the radio dial across the stations looking for The Lone Ranger. I loved that show. When Alice sent me up there for punishment it was pure pleasure in disguise, like Brer Rabbit in the brier patch. I had saved a bunch of Sunday comics just for punishment situations, so I’d have something I liked to do. I drew Little Audrey without tracing, just by looking back and forth from the comics. She was easy—circles mostly—but I wasn’t good enough yet to draw Ozark Ike, who looked almost like he was real-life.

The Lone Ranger music came on at seven-thirty and I tried to draw him from memory. Got his face and hat and mask almost perfect, but Silver’s back legs gave me a big-time fit. That horse came out looking like a giant muskrat. Meanwhile, my stomach growled from being sent off to bed without supper. What happened next I don’t know, must have gone to sleep. Then morning came and my stomach hollering woke me up. I loved breakfast, especially at Alice’s—eggs and bacon and white milk gravy over biscuits—she was five times the cook Momma was, even on a bad day.

On one of Ted’s Saturday Evening Post magazine covers—he kept piles and piles of them—bright sunlight comes in the huge living room window. The family is dressed for church, and most of them head out the door, except the daddy—who looks like Ted. That daddy, he’s slunk down in his chair with the Sunday funnies, and you can tell by his face he’s in big trouble. Mr. Norman Rockwell, the best drawer in the world, drew that. There was always a story in one of his pictures because of how he made the faces, the expressions on the faces, and the way people sat and stood and dressed. Just by looking you knew exactly how it was all going to turn out. His pictures were funny, too—but not just funny.

Ted’s ugliest pigeon was his best one and for some reason he was the only one I wanted to draw. Ted called him Mister de Leon, after a Spanish guy who discovered the world. Mister de Leon was the biggest pigeon I ever saw, and he had two shades of brown feathers and one white spot just under his beak. I tried to draw him like Mr. Rockwell would, but he moved around too much. Waddled when he walked. But that thing could fly. No matter how far Ted took him on race days, he’d find his way back to the roof coop faster than real. Forty, fifty miles sometimes. Won all the races. Beautiful in the air, but—like I say—not much to brag on on the ground.

As usual Ted’s pigeons were every which way all over the roof. He had the coop doors open and used a long handled scraper to clean out the mess. Birds were perched on Ted’s shoulders and one on his head. You could tell they were glad to see him. “A pigeon is lazy,” he said. “Won’t take the time to clean up after itself.” Ted had carried feed up in a fifty-pound sack and sat it off to one side. He took the garden hose and washed out the coop, then filled the drinking troughs. “Serious, Andy,” he said. “It’s a fact. Watch ’em in the park. A pigeon won’t fly if it has a choice. A pigeon’d rather stroll anytime than lift a wing.”

Ted did a special wave and his pigeons took off and flew huge oval patterns over the rooftops, all together, in perfect time. The sky was a deep blue with three clouds out over the harbor. A skipjack slid by on the water. Some guy five roofs down the block used a towel to wave his birds off, then he whistled once and they mixed in with Ted’s flock. Ted laughed and watched them all circle together. He said, “Gotta remind coop pigeons to exercise, otherwise—like some women—they get fat fast.”

Ted put shallow birth nest cups in the coop for the momma pigeons about to have babies. He filled their feed boxes. “Yeah, you gotta keep ’em happy,” he said, pigeons and women.” Ted looked at me but I didn’t say nothing, so he kept on. “I learned about pigeons from pigeons,” he said, “but women—well, I learned about women from pigeons, too.” Ted did a big sigh. “Be careful when you marry, Andy. If you marry. Impossible to take an unhappy woman and make her happy. No man can do that.” He smiled. “Best a man can do is find a happy woman and keep her busy.”

Ted held up a handful of feed and let the grains fall through his fingers. Even as high as his birds were you could tell from how their wings dipped they heard the grain hit the roof. Beautiful. The guy down the block whistled three times, two long and one short. Ted quick did a code whistle, too—five short and one long—and the mixed flock split up and swooped back to their roosts. Somehow Ted got five of the other guy’s birds mixed in with his. He had won a pigeon war and I didn’t even know there had been one going on. “The main rule of pigeon raids,” Ted said, “is you have to return captives to their rightful owner.” He shooed the prisoner birds off the roof and sent them home. Ted was no schnocker, the name he called the guys who’d cheat and keep a bird that wasn’t his. Damn right. Ted was no mutt.

When it came to girls Ted was just like my Daddy, and according to Momma that was the problem, or at least one of the problems. She claimed other women were the main reason she chased him off—that and the drinking. Ted was no drunk, but more than once I spotted him at Cross Street Market messing with some girl. That one day I was watching a guy hose off the concrete floor down at the fish end and Ted was with Rhonda Duffington working in her daddy’s fish stall. He didn’t see me. All five Duffington sisters worked at in family business, but Rhonda was the best looking one. She was married to some Polack guy, but everybody still thought of her as a Duffington anyway. “All them girl’s,” Daddy said once, “now there’s wall-to-wall beautiful.”

I had ducked behind the fish stalls and snuck up the aisle where they keep the trash and worked my way close enough to the Duffington stall to try and find out exactly what was what with Ted and Rhonda. First thing I heard was her saying, “My marriage ain’t no business of yours, Ted.” But meanwhile Rhonda smiled at him like he was Clark Gable.

Ted laughed. “Girl, do you know the Italian way to keep a man happy?”

She said, “Mister, you here after seafood or what?”

“Sort of,” he said, and pointed to Rhonda’s fish display laid out on crushed ice. “Your creatures look awful puny, though. Cloudy eyes.”

Rhonda looked at him like her brain was thinking about anything but fish, maybe some kind of delicious dessert. She batted her eyelids and said, “You gonna be at Lombardi’s tonight, Hon?”

“Maybe.”

“I can get out,” was all she said back.

Ted did his silly grin. “Then who knows, I might just show up for a drink or three.” He winked at her. “Now let me explain about pasta.”

“You ain’t I-talian!”

Ted put his hand on Rhonda’s arm and looked in her eyes. “Damn straight I am, girl!” That was a lie. Ted was no Wop—he was pure Bohunk—but you could tell by the way she ate him up with her eyes that Rhonda believed his every word.

Part three of The Last Dog will post tomorrow.


The Last Dog

June 23, 2008

Short Fiction/Part One

Ronnie claimed he learned to lie good from crime movies. “The best way, Andy,” he said, “is fast and furious with a straight face. Do it speedy so they believe you believe it.” He was perfect at it. When Ronnie said bats were just short fat snakes with wings, I bought it. Later, he got me again saying bats were night birds grownups don’t like ’cause they don’t sing. Yeah, Ronnie loved bats. He had stacks of bat books all over his bedroom. “I worship the god Zotzilaha,” he said, “human body and the head of a bat.” That was pure bullshit of course, but I let it roll off me like it would a duck’s back. I had to sleep in the same room with the jerk. See, Momma sent me to live with Ronnie’s mother, my half-sister Alice, while Momma ran off someplace else. And since she had kicked Daddy out—I didn’t know where he went, or why—I was sort of an orphan. Anyway, after supper Alice was mad about who knows what and made us come up to Ronnie’s room. He was on his bed with a book about zoos, Fred Waring music on the radio. I sat on the edge of the army cot Alice put in for me and used the seat of a wood chair to draw on, trying to make the picture I’d promised Ronnie. Now and then I heard snatches of Alice and her husband Ted come up from down stairs, all hollow and bent out of shape. Ronnie made out he didn’t hear his folks fighting and kept at me with, “Andy, you can’t fool an animal.” That statement was just to hear himself talk. I went on about my business. “Now you take Tarzan.” Right there Ronnie made a big pause for me to say something back, like I was fool enough to bite. He knew Tarzan was my all-time favorite, but I stayed quiet. “All the animals,” Ronnie said, “they love Tarzan. So you know he’s a good guy. A chimp like Cheetah, or an elephant—a man can’t bullshit ’em.”

More talk from downstairs. “Yeah, and then what?” That was Alice, her voice soft, mostly mumbles.

“If Tarzan wasn’t a good guy,” Ronnie kept on, “animals wouldn’t rescue him from quicksand.”

“More gratitude!” Alice again, loud and sarcastic to beat the band. Ted said something back I couldn’t make out, then Alice said, “Easy for you, you don’t have to put up with—” something, something, “—or wash his stinky socks, or—” then she said something else I couldn’t make out, talking about me, I figured. Ted came back at Alice with something.

“Now, you take a baboon,” Ronnie said. “Big exception. Ain’t seen one yet gives a damn about any human.”

“Yeah, Ronnie, you’re the expert.” I said it just to be mean so a normal person would notice, but not him.

“My house always looks nice!” Alice again, hollering. Ted came right back at her, but real low—some stuff about money, I think.

Alice yelled, “Not if I can help it!”

“A baboon’ll screw his girlfriend in public,” Ronnie said. “Then he’ll throw shit-balls at you, then turn right around and play with his food. Then he’ll look you in the eye—no blinks—like he’s saying, ‘I’m having a good time!'” He laughed. “Man, baboons don’t give a damn!

Ted’s voice came upstairs strong but not loud. “Yeah, well, I’ll be here ’til the last dog dies.”

“Can’t have it both ways, Mr. Man,” Alice said.

“Gorillas are almost human.” Ronnie still ignored his momma and daddy. “Same family arrangements we got. Apes use eyesight for identification, like us. Four-legged animals, they use scent markers.”

“What?”

Ronnie tapped his book. “What it says. Apes tell different individuals by eyeball, not like a dog who looks for assholes to sniff.”

“Go ahead!” Alice hollered. “Get gone!”

“How long’s my leash?” That was Ted.

Then something slammed downstairs and Ronnie cut his eyes at the bedroom door, but he didn’t say a word, didn’t lift his head, just eyed that door like he had Superman’s x-ray vision. Then he went back to his animal book, quiet for a change.

Meanwhile, the naked fat people I was drawing for him, they were giving me stagger-fits. Some parts didn’t look right—legs, mostly. Pretty soon I got disgusted and tore the picture into five hundred pieces. More like five thousand pieces. Ronnie looked up, surprised. I just shrugged at him. “Didn’t look natural.”

Shit, Andy!”

“Lousy pose,” I said. “They just stood there all stiff.”

“You had ’em holding hands!

At first I thought he was going to bust out crying. “I’ll start over, Ronnie. Make ’em move. Maybe have ’em dance around some kind of way.”

“Shit, shit, SHIT!

“You’ll get your picture before school starts tomorrow. I’ll come up with some kind of idea.”

Ronnie hollered “SHIT!” one more time.

Right there I got my idea, it popped into my brain like it was hiding in there the whole time and too shy to come out. The picture was going to be three fat women and two fat men, a whole bowling team, and ever one of them naked. The picture wasn’t just for Ronnie anymore, but more for my own sake. It was something I just had to try and see if I could draw it. But not right then. Right then I was tired, so I put the pencil down and pitched back on the cot. My eyes went out like one of those movies where the person’s in a daze. I saw pictures in behind my eyelids—balloons and clouds and Army trucks—big faces of girls came and went—voices, too—all of it in my brain somehow. At first I couldn’t tell who was talking, but pretty soon it came clear, like when you tune a radio around the dial. Those voices got to be my own Momma and Daddy somehow—and those sounds?—they were ghost sounds.

Did I mention that Ronnie was some kind of crazy and stupid at the same time? Like, he collected yo-yos and empty cigarette packs and special rings. He’d wear two rings on the same finger and change them every week, to show off. His main ring was the Green Hornet one that his daddy gave him when Ronnie was still tiny. It was Ted’s from when he was little, and it had a secret compartment for magic codes. Also, it glowed in the dark. You couldn’t get them no more. The Lone Ranger atom-bomb ring was Ronnie’s favorite that he sent away for off a corn flakes box. It cost him ten cents plus five box tops and he stole the money from Alice’s purse. I had Ronnie in my brain ‘way too much. See, he was this momma’s boy who couldn’t do any wrong and he knew it and took advantage of it. Meanwhile, Alice was my half-sister but old enough to be my momma and liked to remind me of it ever chance she got. Sometimes I’d tell lies on Ronnie to get back at the both of them, but Alice, she’d never bite. She’d just smile and shake her head and move on. What Ronnie got away with was no fair. Alice trusted Ronnie just because he was her precious son, without any sense to it, and him lying with every other breath.

When we were done our homework and such, Ronnie got his cigarette’s from under the mattress. Had them stuck up in the springs so Alice couldn’t find them. He brought the “Lucky Strike” pack to me cupped in his hands like it was pure gold. Right, like I never saw Luckies before. I just nodded. “Try one?” he asked. I shook my head. Ronnie went to the window and pushed it up as far as it would go. “C’mere,” he said. I didn’t move a muscle. Ronnie tapped the pack on his hand and a cigarette popped out. He tilted the table lamp on his night stand and reached up under it, undid the bottom and pulled out his Zippo. He held the lighter and cigarette up and smiled his evil smile. Then Ronnie motioned at me with both hands to come on, like Dracula in the movie where he meets the Wolf Man. Another dumb temptation. I shook my head again. “Don’t know what you’re missing, kid.” That last word was a sneer like I was pure pussy. Ronnie tossed the Luckie in the air and caught it in his mouth. He looked to see if I watched— which I did, couldn’t help myself. He flipped the Zippo lid and stuck sparks against the night sky out the window. The flame flared up yellow-orange five inches high, seemed like, and he had to come at it sideways or burn his face off. Ronnie pulled the first drag real big, then let part of the smoke come out and go up his nose. His tongue sucked the trail of smoke back in like a frog catching a fly, and his head jerked back with such pleasure I never saw before or since. He made a click-noise too, just like a frog. Beautiful. Ronnie kept at it—pulled big drags, inhaled, smiled. He blew the smoke out the window and watched me out the corner of his eye. He knew he had me hooked. After a while Ronnie said, “Andy, you seen any Alan Ladd movies?”

“Nope.” That was a lie. Alan Ladd wasn’t no favorite of mine—too sissified—but I did know his stuff.

“Best smoker there is,” Ronnie said. “Watch this.” He hit the Zippo with the back of his hand, which somehow flipped the lid and struck a spark to light it, all in one slick move. He smiled and closed the lid over the flame. “Alan Ladd,” he said. I kept quiet. “How about Dark City,” Ronnie said. “Seen that, with Lizabeth Scott?”

“Nope, ain’t seen it.”

“She’s good too, great smoker for a woman. Stupid mouth, but she’s special. The best smokers are movie stars and sluts.” Ronnie took another fancy drag on his Luckie and blew perfect smoke rings that floated out the window. The warm breeze bent and smeared them in with the dark. He flicked the cigarette outside. “See how I did that?” Ronnie smiled. “Pure Alan Ladd.”

He tapped another Luckie out of the pack and offered it to me. I felt how crinkly and stale it was, but when he went to light it I said, “Later,” and stuck it in my shirt pocket. There was a loud bang downstairs. The front door? A ghost? Whatever it was, the sound made me jump. Baby Elizabeth started to cry. Ted’s old dog barked. Ronnie kept quiet. Finally I said, “What was that?

“What was what?”

“You know damn well, Ronnie.” He just shrugged. Right. He knew it wasn’t Baby Elizabeth or the dog did that. Ronnie knew a noise that loud had to be Alice or Ted.

Part two of The Last Dog will post tomorrow.

Copyright © 2008 Jim Sizemore.