How I Became a Cartoon Character

And more importantly, why…

Drawing came late for me.

I was working fifty hour weeks in an industry that forgot how to shut off the lights at the end of the day. The magazine I worked for (a quaint idea, I know) had outposts around the globe, and the internet that I shut off when I went to bed in Pennsylvania was just waking up in Australia and Qatar. I spent my days and way too many nights on the phone or doing radio interviews, when I wasn’t hacking a path through the word tangles of my own writing, and others’.

Words, words, words! To quote Jig, from Ernest Hemingway’s short story “Hills Like White Mountains:” “Would you please, please, please, please, please, please, please stop talking?”

That’s why I enrolled in a mixed-media art class offered by the adult-ed department in my former home town. The idea was to give my overused verbal and written skills a break, and get my head onto the page through line and shading and color. I was shocked to find that I could happily pass two hours without opening my yap at all. I was right-brain at last, and gave my left brain the night off.

According to an article I found on Healthline, my right brain was in charge of :

  • imagination
  • holistic thinking
  • intuition
  • arts
  • rhythm
  • nonverbal cues
  • feelings
  • visualization
  • daydreaming.

No wonder I was enjoying it so much.

Meanwhile all these logs were floating down the river of consciousness and over the dam:

  • logic
  • sequencing
  • linear thinking
  • mathematics
  • facts
  • thinking in words.

I could always pick them up later, after all.

These were two essential, interconnected processes, reinforcing and supporting each other, each needing expression for me to be a well-rounded human being.

And at last I was.

Five years and countless studio art classes later, I launched into the writing project that would become The Road to Elsewhere. After I’d committed about 100,000 words to the manuscript, I surprised myself to be finished with the first draft.

But it felt incomplete.

My father was a huge Charles Dickens fan, which maybe wasn’t the most obvious choice of hobbies for a life-long accountant. At some point he picked up a full collection of Dickens’ novels and stories, and they came loaded with wonderful illustrations by Harry Furniss.

Like this one from Oliver Twist:

That lightning connection between his etchings and Dickens words were one of my primal reading/viewing experiences as a little kid.

I know I’m no Harry Furniss, but when I came to the end of my draft, I decided to attempt a chapter frontispiece or two.

There was this…

And this…

Suddenly I was viewing my travels in a new way, through images rather than text. Right brain, meet left. Now, get along you two.

It didn’t take long for me to give a good long stare at the photo-booth headshots I’ve included here, which I took on a street in Paris not long after my arrival there in the late summer of 1978. And I thought, well if young Oliver can spring to life in a drawing, why not me?

OK, I don’t have Fariss’s knack for artistic detail. Nor Dickens’s for character development. But with plenty of help from Peng, in his book I Can Not Draw (there’s an X through the “not” on the cover), and The New Yorker’s Bob Mankoff, in How About Never — Is Never Good for You?, I was encouraged to work the young me out on paper. Now he’s up to all sorts of adventures on my behalf.

And better yet, he never opens his mouth to whine or complain or explain anything. At last, my left brain has met its match. Perhaps you have some unexplored areas in your brain, just crying out for your visit?

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