The argument still rages among paleontologists as to when precisely I began my career in cartooning. Carbon dating confirms that my first, primitive scrawls originated when the great reptiles walked the earth, when we called the landmass beneath our feet "Pangea," and you could get a cup of coffee for a nickel. It was in that time -- and I can remember this most clearly -- that I was informed of an imminent visit from three of my cousins, and I was importuned to go comb my hair so as to look presentable to the bastards. Seething with resentment that a Sunday afternoon should be blemished with the presence of such stinking little wretches, I purloined a crayon from my sister's stash and carefully limned, cave-painting style, three coffins on the bathroom wall. Beneath each coffin, I inscribed their vile names and, smiling at my effort, retired to a nearby spinney with my dog and a whoopie pie, which we shared.
My mother used to insist through clenched teeth that this was my first public venture into a life to be squandered, in part, on cartooning (her teeth were clenched because she was the one left to clean the art from the bathroom wall). The other part of my life has been squandered on musicianship.
The pursuit of cartooning was not really pursuit as much as an obsession. Everything that held still long enough in my presence would likely depart with some sort of sketched illumination -- a portrait of a dog; a cat; a vicious, fanged flower; a vicious, flowered fang. From my earliest recollection, schoolbooks, lunch bags, desks, boxes, dollar bills, mirrors and wallpaper all acquired some drawn memento of my happening by. Had I visited the moon, I would certainly have inscribed on its surface some sort of cartoon. In other words, there was no beginning. I probably left doodles on the uterine lining -- possibly depictions of mastodons in bowler hats.
That sort of thing, incidentally, did not cease with my passage into manhood (a condition I have done my utmost to circumnavigate anyway). Relict of my undergraduate and graduate days at the Juilliard School, where I studied viola with Paul Doktor, are countless little sketches in orchestral viola parts, marginalia generally depicting conductors in the process of being garroted.
Paul Doktor talking to me at a gathering beneath the Metropolitan Opera House in the early '80s. The seat of my trousers was ripped, so I stood most of the evening.
Many of the people I admired for their brand of genius, a brand that touched on drawing as an art only tangentially, but attested to the afflatus that fuels it directly: Jascha Heifetz, Stan Laurel, Marcel Marceau, Herbert von Karajan, Serge Prokofieff, Stan Freberg, Noel Coward, Johannes Brahms, Dorothy Parker, Jane Austen, S.J. Perelman, James Thurber, Robert Benchley, P.G. Wodehouse. On the graphic-arts side of the afflatus were John Singer Sargent, Johannes Vermeer, Norman Rockwell (for sheer narrative power in one image), Peter Arno, Helen Hokinson, Ronald Searle, Gerald Scarfe, H.M. Bateman...somebody stop me.
Oh, and there are two films for which I'll drop everything: "It Happened One Night" and "Brief Encounter."
A cartoon by Frank Reynolds in Punch, 1921. It says it all.
I have to say here that one of the greats, possibly the great as far as I'm concerned, is Pat Brady, the creator of "Rose is Rose." I can't gush sufficiently over his comic drawing, his gentle observation and his humorist's soul. Cartooning is practiced at its highest level by a number of comic artists, but Pat is the only true humorist I've ever seen wielding the pen. I hope it doesn't make him lonely. For me, the ne plus ultra of my cartooning was my first publication in the pages of Punch. That was during the editorship of Alan Coren, which particularly meant something to me. Everything after that has been nice, but nothing like being in the pages of Punch.
I entitled this little panel "Grand Pause." After Pat Brady saw it, he called it "Playing With Feeling."
In the end of this month (October, 2014, in case you have no idea which month, or year, this is, which is my usual quandary), my play "Many Mansions" will run in "The City" -- the generic name for Gotham, The Big Apple, NYC. Even as I type this, it is being directed by my daughter, Nicola, under whose wing has gathered a rather handsome cast. More information can be found on Indiegogo by clicking here. I wrote "Many Mansions" before its present director was born, but age, so far, has not withered it, nor custom staled its infinite variety. At least, if you ask me. Script-wise and otherwise, there is also my screenplay for the Edie Ernst story that ran in 9 Chickweed Lane for 11 months, bridging 2009 and 2010. The working title is "Edie Ernst, USO Singer -- Allied Spy," which is also the name of the book in which they have been anthologized. The story has been optioned for cinematic realization. I can't wait. Counting Edie Ernst, we have published, so far, 12 books of my work, with more in the offing, all available at pibpress.blogspot.com.
I also, very possibly, will show up at the San Diego Comic Con this summer to demonstrate how I draw. Plans are afoot leading in that direction, at any rate.
As for the present, I continue to cobble my strips, 9 Chickweed Lane and Pibgorn. Pibby was born in December 2001. Chickweed began syndication in 1993, and still keeps its looks at 21. It also collected an award from the National Cartoonists Society, possibly after a night of excessive drinking on their part. I am still a professional musician (viola, as well as, more lately, lute). However, Chickweed and Pibgorn do rather consume my hours and days.
Pib as Puck (A Midsummer Night's Dream)
Lastly, people, I am told, are always interested in seeing the artist's workspace, which in my case, is rather like rubbernecking a pileup on the interstate. However, if I'm about anything, it is satisfying the reader's voyeurism. Best wishes. If you come to New York for "Many Mansions," try and find me.
As P.G. Wodehouse would say, tinkertytonk.
In my workspace, avoiding my deadline by playing my lute.
Read 9 Chickweed Lane here or Pibgorn here.