Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Rooster vs. Mullahs

Here's a blast from my past. My uncle in South Carolina was cleaning out various items from his office when he came across this old clipping that my mother had sent him many years ago. He snail-mailed it to me and it brought back a lot of memories of my first newspaper job at the San Angelo Standard-Times in West Texas.

It was mid 1979 and I had just graduated from Angelo State University after a grueling summer semester. I wasn't exactly sure what I would do and so I was delighted to receive an offer for full-time work. The low pay did not concern me--to me it seemed like a lot of money compared with the bakery job that put me through college. More importantly, I had a chance to sit in a chair, design and draw--and get paid for it.

This was also the year of the hostage crisis in Iran. Jimmy Carter should have supported the Shah who was trying to modernize Iran. Instead he helped usher in Khomeini and all the religious Muslim fanaticism which we must still deal with today. I was asked to draw some small cartoons that would appear above the nameplate on the front page each day that would help show the paper's support for the hostages. At first everyone thought the crisis would end in a few days. Instead, it dragged on for over a year until Reagan was elected. The cartoons were a big hit. I used the S-T's 'fighting rooster' and mascot, General Beauregard, to represent America. (Beauregard was a confederate general--I'm sure the rooster has been renamed by now due to today's pervasive and unctuous PC thinking). Anyway, the cartoons whetted my appetite for editorial cartoons and I began drawing a few for the editorial pages. Most of them were clunky and ill thought-out, but they generated a lot of buzz. Most of my cartoons dealt with Texas politics. Soon I had a syndicate going and sent cartoons to other newspapers in Texas. Many were also republished in a college textbook.

A few years later I left for San Antonio where I was promised the editorial cartoonist job at the Express News (along with a lot more money). I was told their cartoonist had been offered work elsewhere. I soon learned that this was totally bogus. The cartoonist had no intention of leaving and saw me as an interloper (or worse). Naturally he was not happy and neither was I. Instead of editorial cartoons, I worked on feature pages and designing 'wingo' ads and promos. I was also asked to work on serious informational graphics. I had done some for the Standard-Times but I really didn't know what I was doing. They had another star cartoonist there named Bob Dale. He drew very quickly and had the slick style of cartoonists from an earlier era. Everyone loved him. I was a big fish in San Angelo. In San Antonio I was a small fish--a nobody. Worse, I was not very good at design and info graphics. I became frustrated and so I left there to work for the competition--the now defunct San Antonio Light. They had an info graphic expert there who helped whip me into shape and also some good designers who really helped me out. The editorial cartoonist there did not think I would ever make a good editorial cartoonist. He said I wasn't mean enough. He was right. I enjoyed the drawing part of them but I really didn't like taking pot shots at politicians even if they deserved it. It didn't sit right with me. Also, I was subject to grumpy/depressive streaks. I love to laugh, but forcing out humor on a daily basis would not come naturally to me, especially since the situation in the world seemed way too serious for that. Lastly, I did not at that time have much of a political ideology. I didn't know if I wanted to be a liberal or a conservative. I wanted to be able to change my mind on subjects over night. A big no-no for cartoonists.

So I gave up hopes of enjoying the glamorous life of editorial cartooning. Instead I became a designer, an info-graphic artist and illustrator. I don't presume to be expert in any of these fields, but I have achieved a certain measure of competency and I'm happy with my accomplishments. I'm glad I gave up cartooning even though on occasion I get a brilliant idea for an editorial cartoon. And even today I could still draw General Beauregard kicking an Iranian mullah.