CARTOONS AREN’T ALWAYS FUNNY


Triangulate
“TRIANGULATE” original sculpture by kayti sweetland Rasmussen

I have a method to reading the morning paper. Instead of ruining the day by railing at the political and world news until the cream sours in my morning coffee, I try to grab the funny papers from Dr. Advice and get a clearer perspective on the important things in life.

Comic strips take me back to a kinder and gentler time when I could climb onto my Grandpa or Great-Uncle’s knee while they patiently read the Sunday comics in the Los Angeles Times newspaper. Together we laughed at the antics of Blondie and Dagwood, Lil Abner, Katzenjammer Kids, and my favorite, Little Orphan Annie. Uncle Phil could pop his false teeth out at will, and Grandpa was able to wiggle his ears, which never failed to delight.

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Starting in the late 1920’s, comic strips expanded to include adventure stories and then soap opera type serials. Prince Valiant was a serial strip drawn by Hal Foster and taking place in the time of King Arthur, when dragons were running rampant, and the handsome prince in his page boy bob, was the designated dragon slayer. Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan was put into serial cartoon form by Foster as well. Tarzan showed us how easy it was to shinny up tall trees and make friends with monkeys, but the message brought forth in both of these strips was that good triumphed over evil, and all it took was a pure heart and a lot of muscle. I had a pure heart and though I lacked the muscle, I climbed, and promptly fell out of a neighbor’s cherry tree and drove a rusty nail through my leg. On another occasion, after dreaming I could fly, I jumped out of a second story bedroom window, and though I landed more or less upright, my ten year old teeth bit through my tongue. It was my only attempt at flying. Popeye the Sailor Man gave a boost to the canned spinach industry by showing Popeye scarfing down large cans of spinach and mothers tried to induce obstinate children to eat the terrible slimy green slop, so they could be like Popeye. Loyal Olive Oyl, his fair lady, was part of the love triangle between Popeye and Bluto. and later Swee’Pea appeared as either Popeye’s ward or son.

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Story telling using a series of pictures has been around for centuries. Cartoons have been found in Egyptian tombs, as well as in ancient graffiti all over the world. One medieval European example in textile is the lovely Bayeux Tapestry. The entire tapestry, which is 230 ft. long, has fifty different scenes depicting the Norman invasion. Germany and England presented us with some of the first satirical or humorous sequential narrative drawings.

In America, the great popularity of comics was due to the newspaper business. Various newspapers ran different strips, encouraging readers to follow their favorite comics which often ran in serial form, ensuring regular readership. Newspaper comic strips come in two different types; daily strips and Sunday strips. Most are syndicated, and distributed to many newspapers for a fee. In the United States, a daily strip appears on Monday through Friday and is printed in black and white. Sunday strips are usually in color, and follow their own story pattern. The two conventional formats for newspaper comics are strips and single gag panels. Bizarro, Dennis The Menace, and The Family Circus are two examples of gag panels; Charles Schultz’s Peanuts is a strip. Strips usually consist of three or four squares carrying the narrative along. Who would want to miss seeing Lucy kick the football away from Charlie Brown, or watch Snoopy attach the Red Baron? For Better Or Worse, the creation of Lynn Johston, is a running strip about the daily life of a family. Cartoons frequently are somewhat autobiographical, similar to a blog, but with pictures illustrating the story line.

The funnies are not always funny; the decade of the 1960’s saw the rise of underground newspapers. Political strips such as Doonsbury and Mallard Fillmore, frequently began in college newspapers under different titles, and continue the daily commentary of current affairs. Dilbert is a parody of today’s tech industry, pointy heads and all.

As long as newspapers keep running the comic section, I will look forward to keeping the daily news in perspective by chuckling along with the antics of Hagar, the irascible Dane, and watching the evolving love affair of LuAnn and her handsome Aussie beau Quill. Cartoons tell a simple little story in a simple way.

LANGUAGE OF COLOR


The boy spoke little; only when necessary, and then mostly in single syllables.  He had been adopted into a loving family as a newborn, along with another newborn boy, who took care of most of the conversation for both of them.

His mother had what she called “smiling” classes with both babies and whoever happened to be around long before he could walk, just to get a glimmer of sparkle from him.

As the years progressed, he became familiar with tests, therapists and doctors to no avail.  He showed an interest in art and music, so when he was five, his mother took him to a children’s concert in San Francisco.  Though she chattered about the music on the drive home, he gazed out the window with no response.  That night she told his father the afternoon had been  another failure.

In the morning, coming down for breakfast, she found the boy had taped sheets of printer paper together which stretched across  the floor.  On this “canvas” he had drawn the entire orchestra he had seen the day before.

He seemed to favor a cartoon medium for his drawing, and drew comic strips which his mother put onto the family Christmas cards.  His interests were his drawing, the computer and briefly, piano.  He tried to stay in his room most of the time, preferring to be alone with his computer.   He was very close to his brother, who found nothing strange in his behavior, nor did the neighborhood kids who included him in their games as long as he was willing to stay.  But to his parents and everyone else, he remained a stranger.

When he was twelve, his mother asked if I would mentor him as an art instructor.  Though I had known him since he was first in their family, I was hesitant.  He had been tested by experts in their field, and his parents had given him every opportunity that money and love could give.  I wondered if the fact of his adoption was the cause of his lack of response.  It must be difficult to wonder why your birth parent “gave” you away.  In spite of being in a loving family, with parents, grandparents, and a sibling, there must always be a lingering question.

He came to me once a week for about a year, and we covered art exhibits and museums and tried “off-the-wall” drawing.  I talked; he didn’t.  I tried not talking so much and he didn’t either.  It was abundantly clear that there was an unhappiness somewhere in his psyche.

One week there was an exhibit at my home gallery of a woman who did very large, very vivid abstract oil paintings.  As I unwrapped them for hanging, it was obvious that they  were more or less divided into two genres;  happy and unhappy.  She was an artist unfamiliar to me, so as we sat and talked over coffee she explained the reason for the difference.

She had been very ill for a long time; had not been expected to live.   Gradually she had gotten well and had resumed painting.  It explained the brilliant color, and the difference between the two groups.

When she was in distress, her paintings were wild with red, black and bright greens.  As her health returned, the colors were softer and happier.

The color red symbolizes danger, stop, and anger.  In other words, keep away.  But red also means excitement, and extrreme happiness!  Black is certainly unhappy, as were all of her violent brushstrokes and jabbings in mismatched color.  She had clearly shown her feelings in paint, just as she did in her “well” paintings, though the brushstrokes and color were still bold.  You felt the artist speaking to you.

As we toured the exhibit, I told the boy that I was so happy to be an artist, because you could put all your feelings on canvas, paper or whatever you chose to paint on.  Just the color alone did all the talking necessary.  You could show your unhappiness, and joy.  You just had to learn the language of color.

I made a self mocking remark and he gave me a weak chuckle!  In the year we were meeting, it is the only response I had from him.  I felt a failure at mentoring, so we stopped meeting.

The boy became extremely tech savvy, and unbeknownst to his parents, he discovered both of his birth parents.  They had married, though not to each other, and had families in the Midwest.

As a teenager, he went back to meet all of them, a trip which was highly successful.  In the ensuing years, they have exchanged visits a number of times and here in California meeting with his adoptive parents as well.

He now lives in San Francisco, and works as a performance artist.

Bammie & the Boys

Jazz

Oil painting

kaytisweetlandrasmussen

Don’t Worry Be Happy

Clay sculpture

kaytisweetlandrasmussen