Sunday, July 23, 2006

Shadows of the Past....

Back in summer of 2004, I was living with my girlfriend (now fiancee) Laura in Mt. Pleasant, preparing for our last year of college at CMU. At the time I was holding a few jobs, one of which was staff cartoonist for Central Michigan Life, CMU's school paper, a gig I maintained for my full 3 1/2 years there. Generally, the summer edition of CMU was weaker than the yearly edition: not as much big news to report, minimal student activity and we only published once a week rather than three days a week during the school year. So coming up with material for my editorial cartoon, WASTE PRODUCTS OF A WARPED VISION, got really tricky considering how little was actually happening on campus. But then the night of June 25th rolled around, and suddenly I found my editorial inkwell filled to the lip.

A guy named Damarcus Graham was set upon by a mob of people outside a Mt. Pleasant bar and breaten unconcious. Not surprisingly, interviews from the police would result in tight-lipped witnesses claiming ignorance to the whole situation. Also not surprising was the death of Graham three weeks later, having never regained conciousness from the beating.

Despite the lack of witness testimony, two facts were made immediately apparant in the case: there was no shortage of witnesses that night, and CMU football players, historically the most revered and protected group on campus, were involved in the attack.

At CMLife, as my editors and staff writers scrambled to hammer out stories about Graham's beating, I sat at my drawing table at home, creating my own response to those responsible for the attack. What follows is four of my editorial cartoons that were published in the pages of CMLife around the time of the case.

The last cartoon was actually based on an unrelated incident, but was intended to show a related string of occurances at CMU at the time. Before the Graham case, a kid named Jacon Showalter was attacked in the street outside a CMU frat house and horribly beaten. This went to trial as well, but the assailant regretfully got aquitted. Then after the Graham case, two guys in an apartment building were beaten outside their door while neighbors kept their doors locked and did nothing to help. This case is what prompted me to make the resulting cartoon.

I'd just gotten fed up with the thug mentality that ran rampant at CMU, and moreso with those responsible who were being covered for and those in positions of authority to do something about it sitting on their hands and doing nothing. So I lashed out the only way I knew how: through my cartoons. Understandably, I pissed off some people, either those who were friends with the accused (and presumably, the accused as well) or those in charge whom I felt were as responsible as the players whose scholarships and team positions they sought to protect. But in editorial cartooning, pissing people off is the real payoff. We seek to get the bad guys by making them look stupid and crooked in print. So I was as satisfied to have done my part as I imagine the guilty were to have seen me graduate the following Christmas of 2004, relieved of my editorial cartooning duties which made them look so bad for so long.

The reason I bring this all up now, two years later, is because on July 19th 2006 the Damarcus Graham case came to a close. Many of the football players involved in the beating have earned themselves sizeable jail sentences. But two of them, by all accounts those most directly involved, pleaded no contest to a lesser charge and will consequently receive much, much weaker sentences than they deserve for their actions. A recent CMLife photo shows them leaving the courtroom all grins and elation, convinced of their success and planning to celebrate. Celebrate a murder.

So, being a graduate two years out the door and no longer having CMLife as my soapbox, I feel powerless to make my voice heard as per the injustices that still surround this case. So instead I dig up my spent ammo shells of past battles and display them here, to show that though I'm no longer in the fight, I still know a just cause when I see one....

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The World's Hardest Working Cartoonist (or at least the tri-cities')

For the few of you out there who try to stay regularly updated with my blog, I apologize for the lapses between entries. I like to have a good body of news built up before I throw one of these gab sessions together, and sometimes that takes a few weeks or longer to accumulate. This time around, I figure I have a few things I can share. Nothing too groundbreaking, just a few nuggets of interest to pick through for you cartooning geologists out there.

The latest issue of Interlude that I provided illustrations for (see last blog entry) came out on July 1st. I suppose I should have posted a shout-out that day to tell everyone, but I figure if you live in the tri-cities then you'll stumble across it at one of the locations I've mentioned before (I find Bay City to have the most locations). And if you're not in the tri-cities, you have as much of a chance of finding an issue as you would a copy of Donkey Bondange Weekly in Pat Robertson's bathroom. At any rate, the illustrations looked good, and I'm hoping for further work with the magazine.

I also completed a caricature for a retiree of Dow Chemical (see last entry) which was commissioned by his secretaries. It was a bit of a challenge. Usually when handed an assignment like this, the client will give me a choice of several ideas to incorperate into the drawing (interests, job, etc.) and I'll choose one. But in this case, the clients gave me several ideas and wanted them all in there. Admittedly, the ideas were all disconnected. But I like creative challenges, so I did my best to unify the concepts into a complete drawing. I've posted the completed drawing here so you can see what I was up against. To verbally explain, the guy was a chemist for Dow who invented a new type of Styrofoam, once owned a Corvette and liked to turkey hunt. The biggest challenge for me was the Corvette. Most people know of my difficulty in drawing cars. But as I said, I dig challenges. So by using a visual reference, I was able to satisfy myself by creating what was at best a caricature of a Corvette. Hey, it worked for me. And it worked for the client, too. They liked the caricature and suggested that they may hire me to draw caricatures for their staff picnic sometime this summer.

Last night I had a gig where I drew caricatures for a home builders show/banquet at the casino in Mt. Pleasant. For the most part it was a good time, partially because I got paid when I first got there rather than having to hunt my check down at the end of the night, which I hate. I brought Laura with me, and for the bulk of the time we just sat and people-watched, since from my experience, home builders are not generally caricature fans. Gradually people came up and got drawn, and a lot of them were nice. But one couple that I met got on my bad side. And I mean big time.

At the beginning of the show, this couple comes up to me to see if I'm "giving stickers" which a lot of representative businesses were giving out at the function. Getting all the business stickers qualified you for a raffle with a $1,000 prize. I told them I didn't have anything to do with that, but offered them a caricature instead, to which they rudely declined.
So three hours later, the same couple, now presumably less than sober, come back to my table expecting my services. They're all giggles, and the girl says, "We want you to draw us, but we have a really funny idea!", and eventually composes herself enough to suggest I draw them engaging in "doggie style." Now, I've allowed certain "adult" suggestions into my caricatures in the past, but admittedly, they weren't always appropriate for the crowd (I narrowly avoided a talking-to from an administrator for agreeing to write "Tits" above a football jock's caricature at his prom). So I'd learned my lesson from the past and told the girl that it wouldn't be appropriate for me to draw that. She swore she wouldn't show the drawing to anybody. I told her it didn't matter, that the peoiple who hired me wouldn't approve. She said she'd go ask them herself. I said fine, if she came back with written authorization from the company head who hired me that I would draw this for her, no problem. Obviously I called her bluff, since she gave up after that. But then she proceeded to "threaten" me.

Her: "We'll just go over to that OTHER caricaturist! I'll bet he'll do it!"
Me: "I'm sure he will. That's why he only gets two gigs per year (and few repeat customers)."
Her: "Well, if you won't do it, then we don't even want a caricature from you!"
Me: "No problem."

Of course, Laura's sitting next to me, seething and wanting to deck this chick, whose boyfriend or husband or whatever seems to want a caricature regardless of my refusal towards his lady's suggestion. Then the merchant to our right leans over and says to the couple, "You know, this guy's really good (meaning me)." To which the girl responds:

Her: "Must not be!"

To which I reply:

Me: "So you're saying you want me to draw you ugly."
Her: "Hey, I don't care. I can just throw it away when you're done."
Me: "That's what I tell people. I'm getting paid either way."

At some point, I guess her man says something to her along the lines of "Just shut up and let him do his job", and from that point on, she shut up just enough. But she could have shut up more for my satisfaction. Hell, for my satisfaction she could have
spontaneously combusted. And I sat there with a fake smile, boiling with fury. But I'm a pro, and I finished the non-sexual caricature with a much scripted "Thanks for stopping by!" I kept an eye on her until she was out of sight, so see if she'd go through with throwing the drawing away...

So that's one of the joys of the caricature game. Unless it's a kid's party (and sometimes, sadly, even when it is), alcohol is usually involved, making the people you draw turn into real jerks. But as I told Laura, I refuse to accept alcohol as an excuse for that lady's behavior. I just chalk it up to her being a bitch.

So anyway, that's what's been going on, with little other news to report. I have a gig lined up in mid-August where I'll be drawing caricatures for a hospital company picnic in Clare. I've done this gig twice before, and the people are nice and the money is good. I've also been talking to some people who want family portraits, and I have a gig lined up with my parks boss' class reunion for some caricature work there.
So there's still stuff coming in, but there's always room for more.