I came to a realisation today. I am heading into my 25th year as a published cartoonist. That freaks me out. (In a good way.)
If you read the 'About Me' section of this site, you'll get a bit more of the background of how I got the opportunity to do a weekly cartoon strip called The Twangups for a dinky little weekly country newspaper in the Riverina region of Australia at the ripe old age of 12 years old, so I don't need to repeat that here.
What I will do here, for the first time - and quite probably the last time - is publish some of those strips online. (i'm sure my 12 year old self would freak out in his own way at the very concept of the Internet.)
It's been interesting (and a little cringe-inducing) to look back through those first 100 or so strips, which I haven't done in almost a decade. It's a slightly unnerving peer into the primodial soup of my pre-pubescent brain.
For the uninitiated, The Twangups were a struggling punk rock band doing their best to survive as musicians, with an incompetent manager, frequent personality clashes and a tendency to freak out in frustration when things got the better of them. Not a bad premise. There are worse sitcoms out there.
By all accounts though the cartoons are awfully drawn. It was an exercise of trial and error, with about 90% error, and I know I should consider myself lucky that the paper actually agreed to keep publishing the thing for two and a half years. The writing is almost illegible and the plots of the strips are frequently confusing, and the humour often lame.
I can also see now how heavily influenced they were by the Charles M Schulz's Peanuts strips which I read all the time, with the 'wide-shot' layout and the body movements of the characters.
What does appear to me - like shiny buttons in a mud puddle - are signs that this 12 year old did understand some of the basic fundamentals of cartooning, such as how to set-up for a punchline, and even include the occasional humorous twist. Over time I got to know and like certain characters and enjoyed the banter they would have between them.
However, what shines out most brightly for me is the memory of how much fun I had drawing them, and how I looked forward to every Wednesday morning when I would see them in print - and watch the faces of school mates on the bus who read them and laughed.
I learned a lot from the process and discipline of having to produce something to a deadline, and how to communicate humour to a reader by putting myself in their shoes and asking what they would see as funny, not just what I would see. It's something I still try and work to today.
I'm too ashamed to put up too many of them here, so I've picked out three of my favourites, which just barely survive the test of time. I do still like the "Free measure and quote" gag, and the action sequence of the skateboard episode shows a pretty good grasp of cartoon character movement. I also like looking at the one of the punk rock band who have just been lined up for a gig at the Sydney Opera House - a classic Spinal Tap style moment ... written before I'd even seen Spinal Tap!
What I like most about it however, is just the fact that it was the first cartoon I ever had published. I'm really happy to still be drawing cartoons and having them published a quarter of a century later, and hope I'll be doing it in another quarter century.
Thanks for the memories Twangups, and for everything I learned from you. Until we meet again in 2037, keep freaking out!
Does anyone use the term 'snag' anymore? (ie. Sensitive New Age Guy). I think this cartoon was probably more linguistically relevant a couple decades ago. Putting that aside for the moment, they say that writers (and cartoonists) should write what they know, and I think I recognise the two guys in this cartoon.
About 15 years ago I was the guy on the left. These days I like to think I'm the guy on the right (minus the skin-head haircut and the anger management issues.) Truthfully, I'm probably somewhere in between.
Still, if the 36 year old me met the 21 year old me, I think I would want to punch him in the face too and say "Harden the f*** up!" (a la Chopper Read, as interpreted by comedian Heath Franklin.)
Now I've just realised that I released my inner snag by using the words "a 'la". Oh well.
Tomorrow night I'm off to see another comedian, Wil Anderson, in his new show, 'Man vs. Wil'. Sounds like it will be relevant to my current train of thought.
From what I've heard of his material to date, he sounds like the kind of bloke you can respect; one with heart and backbone - a phrase I first heard in Steve Biddulph's excellent book, The New Manhood.
In that book, he outlines The Five Truths of Manhood, which he borrowed from another writer, Richard Rohr. I repeat them here, for your own thought provocation.
THE FIVE TRUTHS OF MANHOOD
1. You are going to die
2. Life is hard
3. You are not that important
4. Your life is not about you
5. You are not in control of the outcome.
Wow. That's a punch in the face to most modern views of manhood. But as Biddulph says, "When we fail to accept these truths, we become a culture of perpetual childhood." Read the book yourself to get the full explanation, but I think those are wise words.
Maybe that's what this cartoon is all about. That is, recognising that it's good to keep an inner balance between the bastard and the wimp, the bloke and the metrosexual, the tough guy and the snag, the heart and the backbone.
All I know is, we need more blokes with both.
It might say something for my current state of mind that I'm reading Michael Dobbs' book "One Minute to Midnight" for relaxation these days. It's a blow-by-blow account of the Cuban missile crisis, from all points of view - American, Russian and Cuban. If ever I'm feeling stressed - and there's been quite a bit so far this year - I just think how JFK must have felt over those thirteen days, with the potential destruction of the world by nuclear war closer than it's possibly ever been.
Still, who needs nukes? It's felt like the world has gone into self-destruct mode this year. Be it floods, tsunamis, tornados or earthquakes it seems like the planet has it in for us. Acts of God, they used to be called. And yet, from what I've seen of the human response, it seems that in the midst of it all, we're starting to realise that the real acts of God are not the ones that come from without in the form of destruction, but the ones that come from within that show care and love for people in need.
It's a sense that inspired the above cartoon about the Christchurch earthquake. When I first completed it, I thought it was fairly ordinary, but the number of people who've seen it since and responded enthusiastically to it has surprised me. They've been from all walks of life and spiritual journeys ... progressives, Pentecostals, Catholics, atheists ... all have seen a truth in it.
As New Zealand continues to creak and crunch with daily tremors and powerful winds, I'm keeping an eye out for more Acts of God. Not from the ground below or the sky above, but in the eyes and hands of people everywhere who are bringing God into being every day through their care for each other.
Had some fun this week with a cartoon I did for the St Matthew-in-the-City Easter billboard. It made page 3 of the NZ Herald and was even reported about on a couple of the TV news programs tonight (primarily because the media were waiting to see if it would be as controversial as their last one.) I think we did pretty well!According to a few comments on the Internet, it's “blasphemy”. For me, it sums up the following point made by Marcus Borg; “If Jesus had been only a mystic, healer and wisdom teacher, he almost certainly would not have been executed. Rather, he was killed because of his politics – because of his passion for God's justice.”There's the meaning of Easter right there; ie. the crucifixion as an inevitable consequence of speaking truth to power, rather than a “sacrifice atoning for sin”. And yes, being nailed to a cross for something you said would suck. And I don't think Jesus, being human, really thought in that moment that he was coming back from it. But he did, when those who had followed him realized the meaning of his life, rather than his death. And that's true resurrection. Not a reanimated dead body, but in bringing to life an idea that will never die. That's Easter for me.May you find your own Easter truth this year!
Flawed, but glorious
In my final blog post last year I blogged that I would try to blog more in 2009. What a massive blogging fail. Oh well. I guess late is better than never.
Speaking of late, I’m pretty chuffed right now because I’ve finally got to see the DVD of Series Two of The Tripods – a brilliant, but underrated and often maligned 1980’s BBC sci-fi show – almost 22 years after it first screened on TV.
I vividly recall the first time I saw the show. With its eerie, industrial-pound theme music and its bleak storyline of three teenage boys fighting ominous metallic monsters whose mind control technology renders the adult human populace docile and subservient in a peaceful but enslaved world – it scared the hell out of me. I was instantly hooked.
Tragically however (for my budding TV fan brain at least), I never got to see Series Two. Even more tragically, the BBC management of the day decided to cancel production of the third and final series, before the second had even finished filming. The cliffhanger ending of Series Two, which was supposed to be a set-up for a glorious victory over the oppressor in Series Three, just became a horrible ending – destruction, confusion, tears and an unanswered question, “Has it all been for nothing?”
So many creative endeavours can often seem like they’ve been for nothing. Some of the best films tank; brilliant bands break up after difficult second albums; good books end up in sale bins then go out of print; and great TV shows – like The Tripods (Firefly, The Riches, Action! etc.) – are cancelled. So is such ‘failed’ creativity all for nothing?
No. Never. Not at all. 22 years later, in spite of some clunky special effects (groundbreaking for their time, thank you, but far surpassed since) and the occasionally wooden or overacted dialogue – The Tripods stands the test of time for its strength of story and its ingenuity. Like any great piece of creativity that might meet an early demise, it never jumped the shark. It will live in my mind forever – flawed, but glorious.
It’s kind of how I think about my cartoons. I know the humour works, but I often beat myself up for not being the greatest artist. Still, I feel like I’m slowly making headway in that department, as per the following cartoon.
In his latest book, ‘Outliers’, Malcolm Gladwell talks a lot about the “10,000 hour rule”; that is, you need to spend 10,000 hours doing something before you can become truly proficient at it, and thus increase your likelihood of success. Considering the number of cartoons I’ve drawn in my time, I probably have about 8,237 hours to go. Oh well. Until that time comes, if there are any mogul producers who like the idea of a TV series about my super-heroine Amazing Grace, please contact me. All multi-million dollar offers will be considered. Third Series optional.
Time is moving on
Time moves on. Things change. Life finds a way. (A line from Jurassic Park, I believe?) Time has moved on in a good way for me. I'm between jobs right now and plotting a new path. It looks like that path will involve much more cartooning, which is incredibly exciting. More info on that in future posts, but for now I thought it was high time that I post another cartoon on this blog ... one of my favourites of recent times, I might add. Stay tuned for more exciting news coming soon ...
It’s good sometimes to stop and think about the people who have influenced your life.
Today, as I prepare to draw another cartoon for the monthly Touchstone magazine, I thought it was time to give a shout out to someone who is known to virtually no-one, but who has played a significant part in my life and deserves homage. Let me start this back a couple years…
At the beginning on 2006 I made a New Year’s Resolution. This would be the year that I finally got off my butt and published the book of cartoons that I had been planning in my head for a number of years. I vowed to myself that come December, I would have a properly printed book of my own cartoons to give out to family and friends as a Christmas present.
By early October, things were looking a bit grim. I had the title, and had written the acknowledgements and thought vaguely about which cartoons would be in there, but the main thing holding back its completion was money. It would be a big commitment to fork out the kind of cash I knew would be needed to get this thing printed to the quality I wanted. And it was money I didn’t really have to throw around at the time.
I was thinking about this very thing one day when I went to the post office to pick up the mail. In the PO Box that day was a letter from a barrister based in Sydney , Australia . My first thought was that someone was suing me. However, inside the envelope was a letter and a cheque for A$2000 which I was informed had been left to me in the will of Alma Gertz, a 92 year old Estonian woman who had died a few months earlier.
So, who was Alma Gertz?
Born 17 September 1914 in Estonia , Alma migrated to Australia after WW2 with her husband, as displaced persons. They settled at Llandilo, near Penrith NSW, and ran a chicken farm. She had no surviving children, only horrendous memories of contact with Russian soldiers in her homeland, memories that tormented her until her death.
My parents met Alma early in 1970, soon after her husband died and she had moved to Werrington, Penrith. With no grandchildren, life had little meaning for her at that point.
My parents were also going through a time of isolation. They were starting a new life at the St Marys Lutheran Parish in Sydney and had no parents nearby. (My mum’s mum had died in December 1966 and her dad in December 1971. My dad's mum died in January 1972). As my mum says about Alma , "We adopted each other". She regarded my mum as her daughter and would send her a card on Mother’s Day. She also adopted me and my older sister as her grandchildren and would babysit us regularly, knit rugs for us and care for us as her own. I always knew her as Grandma Gertz.
My family’s relationship with Grandma Gertz continued long after we moved away from Sydney . I remember she visited us in our new home in rural NSW in 1984, where this photo was taken with me and my younger sister, Krysta. I don’t recall having much contact with her personally in the years after that but know that she suffered severe dementia in her last few years and eventually did not recognise anyone. Her latter years were spent at Edinglassies Retirement Village and Nursing Home at Emu Plains until her death. She was buried on 25 July 2006 , aged 92, after a funeral at St Paul 's Lutheran Church at St Marys, Sydney .
Apart from hearing from mum that she had died, the next contact I had with her was in the letter that came from the barrister’s office that day in October 2006. As any loving grandmother would do, she had left a little something to her grandchildren in her will. What she would never realize was that she had left me something much greater than $2000. For me, in that moment on that day in October 2006 standing in line at the post office that I realized I was holding my much dreamed of book in my hands.
The next two months went by quickly. I chose my favourite 80 cartoons, put them in the order they would go in the book, wrote the intro and the wayfinder pages and got it all on disk to the designer. By December 15, 2006 , I was holding a copy of ‘Gone Astray: A Collection of (Sac)Religious Cartoons by Jim’ in my hands. I had my Christmas present to give to family and friends. But more than that, I had received a present from this dear old soul, Alma Gertz.
My mum says Grandma Gertz would have been so thrilled to know that her gift was used in this way, and I guess that’s enough for me. I wish I could have got to know her better and told her what it meant for me to be able to produce that book. Since its publication, Gone Astray has received some great reviews and sold a few hundred copies in New Zealand and around the world. Beyond that though, it has become a great business card and opened many doors for me. I’m now cartooning for four magazines in New Zealand , and have the confidence to approach many more with this book in hand. Without Alma Gertz, it perhaps would never have come into being. And for that I will be eternally grateful to her.
Alma Gertz, 1914 – 2006
Ever heard of a singer called Joseph Arthur? Probably not. He's one of those gloriously obscure singers who doesn't seem to care how "huge" he is, but just keeps developing his art, releasing album after superb album of the most beautiful, soulful music I have ever heard. Prolific. That's the word. Not only is he releasing four EPs and a full length album this year, after releasing two last year, there always seem to be new songs appearing on movie soundtracks and on his web site. Now I see he's creating an ongoing, ever growing never ending album of music on another web site. And it's all gold. I feel a massive wave of love every time I hear it. I can hardly express how much it affects me. Reminds me of Jack Spong's motto, "Love wastefully." Joe plays 'wastefully'. He's amazing. Then I stop and look at my cartoon output. Seems a bit sparse in comparison. I'm not prolific. I know some famous writers were prolific (eg. Victor Hugo writing 90 pages of prose a day, including the masterpiece 'Les Miserables', vs. Harper Lee, 'To Kill a Mockingbird'. One great book, and call it a day.) All I can hope is that when I do squeeze a cartoon out, it's been worth the ink. Even if it isn't, I can still listen to Joseph Arthur while I draw! Now, go check out his web site! http://www.josepharthur.com
"Religion is a gimmick; We want back the God they stole." (Joseph Arthur, All of Our Hands)
One movie (or should I say, two movies) that I've been watching obsessively lately is (are) the superb apocalyptic thriller(s), 'I Am Legend'. When I saw the original theatrical release, I was left impressed - but slightly cold - at the bleak concluding dichotomous vision of an unredeemable humanity infected by rage, and a minority hiding behind a giant wall holding onto a potentially vain hope of survival guided by God and guns. However, thanks to double-disc special edition box sets, I saw an alternate version (vision?) of the movie. All it took was three minutes of an alternate ending and every scene in that movie meant something different. It was more hopeful, and at the same time, less hopeful. I liked it better, although something about it made me like it less. If you've seen both versions, you'll know what I'm talking about. I still don't know which I prefer, but what I do know is that each says something completely different because of those very different conclusions. Endings, like punchlines, are important. They can retroactivate meaning throughout an entire narrative; so you've got to think about how you end. It can mean the difference between making sense and not making enough sense, communicating or confusing for the sake of it; perhaps even between dying and really living.
I got up early today to watch a news segment that I had helped set up for a client whose business is sustainability. (An aside, for those who don't know ... Cartoonist is my dream job, but PR is my day job!) The segment was last item on the news, so while I was waiting for it to come on, I channel surfed and came across a programme by a televangelist called Creflo A. Dollar. (Yikes!) Skipped back to the sustainability. Nothing yet. Skipped back to Creflo. (Eek!) Back to sustainability. Still waiting. Creflo. Sustainability. Creflo. Sustainability. The lines were getting blurry. Then, I remembered I'd done this cartoon a while back. Sort of sums it all up I reckon.
Watched the news about sustainability. All good. Went back to bed.
Here we are
OK. Here we are. The bizarre world of blogs. Don't mind me while I just get a few lines down to start with. Thanks for visiting my site, and rest assured that future posts here are going to be more interesting than this, and probably even feature a few new cartoons that I've been doing lately.
In the meantime, please send me an email through my contact page, especially if you would like to be added to my email / newsletter / update thingy (another beast which is yet to take form.) Oh yeah, and while you're here, don't forget to purchase a copy of my outrageously hilarious book, Gone Astray (if you haven't already!)
Thanks for visiting, and stay tuned for more!