Posts Tagged ‘Tucson’

High School Cartoonist: A Retrospective

My high school had a murky mascot identity; we were the Dorados, but nobody knew what a Dorado was. The image we used was a stylized Native American head wearing a psychedelic headpiece. It was bizarre enough not to seem offensive. We were forced to attend pep rallies in which we listened to our student government and key administrators babble on about some canyon of gold. It was out of this that I came up with the name for my high school comic strip: Fool’s Gold.

High school was not the first time I had been published. In middle school, I did a few comics in the school newsletter (it was photocopied, not run on newsprint). They were met with critical indifference at best. The thing I learned from that experience was to not make your 2’s look like Z’s.

Fool’s Gold was the first comic strip I drew consistently and with an idea of who my audience was. Up until that point, I kept a sketchbook and made awful (even by kid standards) drawings. My first passion was writing, but I always liked the way comics looked. It was a much more powerful way to tell a story – pictures AND words! I naturally gravitated toward the four-panel format. It didn’t take long to create a finished comic strip, and there was always a joke at the end. It seemed achievable.

My submissions freshman and most of sophomore year failed to make it past the gatekeepers: the newspaper staff. As a teenager, there is nothing easier than putting your work out there only to have it mocked by the very peers you so dearly want to impress. I’m surprised I kept at it. But I was a Cartoonist, and nothing, not even my own terrible cartoons, could stand between me and my dream.

These first submissions were not in a normal format; they were really just sketches and ideas. I think the newspaper staff expected a finished comic strip, and when they saw my loosely-drawn ideas, they thought that was the finished product. Another strike against me was that I used a superhero parody I’d been drawing for a while, Vigil the Ante. Vigil was a man, possibly Asian, in spandex with antennae growing out of his helmet. It was impossible to tell where the superhero outfit began and the person ended – which was kind of the point. Even in his own home, he wore the same clothes. Vigil, though funny to me, was lost on the newspaper staff. I never got a direct rejection – I just never saw the comics printed in the paper. I kept trying.

By the end of my sophomore year, I figured out that what the newspaper staff wanted was not page-long superhero parodies but real, actual comic strips. My first attempt was a joke about how the administration would lock boys’ bathrooms if they smelled of cigarette smoke. In my comic, desperate boys would sneak into the girls’ bathroom. They published it. I was overjoyed.

After that, I was a regular in the school paper. I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of reaction, and generally I didn’t hear of any. One notable exception was a boy who approached me between classes. I had never seen him before, but he knew who I was. He told me that my comic was pretty bad, but “at least you do a whole strip, and not just a panel.” He was of the opinion that any loser could draw one picture with a sentence underneath, but to draw four panels with speech balloons required some minimum level of skill. He gave me the first of many backhanded compliments about my comics.

If my comic didn’t seem hugely popular, it was partly on purpose. I was constantly writing jokes that subverted people’s expectations. I was determined not to be a political cartoonist, but I did write about life in the high school. When I referenced P.E., people expected me to talk about a scandal regarding that class, but I just wanted to use P.E. to talk about a broader issue. I didn’t want to be limited by the events of the last few weeks. I wanted to write whatever I felt like. Instead of political commentary, I wanted to do social commentary.

Social commentary is much more fun, because it’s more open to interpretation. One person’s experiences can be used as an example of a bigger concern. Calvin and Hobbes did that a lot. It was relevant without being too obvious. Part of what makes that strip still accessible today is that Bill Watterson rarely (if ever?) mentioned a specific current event. He kept it universal.

I did make one comic that was strangely prophetic. I drew an eight-panel comic about a chemistry experiment gone awry. Between the time I turned it in to the paper and the paper was distributed, there was an incident in my chemistry class that resembled my comic. The punch line to the comic : “I wonder what they got on their lab report?” was answered by one of the guys in that lab group. “We got a C.”

I can’t remember where I learned this, but I write comics by brainstorming topics. I start by writing down big ideas, then get more specific. In high school, I’d start with English, track, lockers, cafeteria. Eventually one of these things caught my interest enough to write more about it. I’d write what I thought was funny about the lockers. Specific stuff; stuff that I had noticed or that had happened to me. I’d get a little story about whatever it was, then I’d cram that story into four panels.

I never reused characters in Fool’s Gold. I never drew enough of them to create ongoing stories. Besides that, I was annoyed at other cartoonists who would spend months building up a story only to abandon it. I wanted to read something that had a good payoff now, not sometime in the future. There. Maybe that’s why I like comic strips so much. Short attention span.

My senior year, I wanted to make the drawings better. I was pretty good at facial expressions, but couldn’t do backgrounds. The summer before my senior year, I took a bunch of pictures of my school. The halls, the buildings, the stairs. My high school was big and sprawling. The buildings were all separate, so you could have quite a hike if you had one class on the south end of campus and the next on the north. I decided that each picture could be the background of one panel. I slowly worked each one into my comics. The results were pretty striking. I went from this :
To this:
I felt like I was doing something specific, that people at my high school could relate to, but also wasn’t disposable. Timeless!

As you’ve probably noticed looking at these comics, I changed drawing tools frequently. I began with basic ball point pens, then jumped over to a brush for a while (I read that Bill Watterson used a brush, so I had to try it). By the end of my high school career, I had gone back to pens. I still experimenting with materials to this day.

Here is the final comic strip I drew for my high school newspaper. It ran the week I graduated. Since I didn’t get to speak at my graduation ceremony, this was my forum for saying goodbye and to sum up “my high school experience.” I always liked to tell stories, and here I got to tell two: one for the present, and one for the future. Enjoy.

I’m back.

Hello everybody!

I got back from a trip to see family in sunny Tucson, Arizona. There’s nothing like seeing all the old people cruising around in their golf carts in the middle of January. It would warm the heart of even the crustiest of grinches.

I usually end up spending at least some time on the campus of the University of Arizona while I’m in Tucson. There is a sandwich shop on 4th Avenue that I never miss – Bison Witches. From there, you can mosey on down to the campus.

This time, I found the space tree. This tree, a photo of which I will add in a future post, was planted in honor of the first flights into space. It is grown from a seed that was on one of the first Apollo missions. The seed was in outer space, and when it came back (along with the humans on the flight), it was planted at the University of Arizona campus. The tree still stands, proving two things. First, space monsters don’t eat seeds. Second, space monsters don’t possess seeds. The tree is totally normal; it does not pull itself out of the ground at night to feast on the flesh of college coeds. At least, so far it hasn’t.

Welcome back, everyone.

Space Tree, I love you

As promised, pictures of the Space Tree.
space_tree_sign space_tree_andy_andrew space_treeThe UofA prefers to call it a “Moon Tree”, but I don’t think you can call it a Moon Tree unless it actually came from the moon.

Mama’s Pizza

mamasMy informal series on the best eateries in Tucson continues with Mama’s Pizza.

My brother and I first knew Mama’s when we got their pizza by the slice. We spent the whole car ride home pontificating on the enormity of the single slice of Mama’s pizza. Big as your head? Big as the car? Big as the city, the state, the country, the hemisphere? I was learning geography in school at the time, so there were limitless locations to which I could compare the size of a slice of pizza.mamas_storefront
The true delight of Mama’s pizza is the taste itself. The closest comparison I can make is the pizza I ate while in New York City, which, I learned later, is where the owners of Mama’s originated. The toppings are all the usual: pepperoni, sausage, green pepper, onion,
anchovies…but somehow it is all better than a mere list can describe. If I were to give you the ingredients to, say, world peace, you’d look at me with disdain. “That’s it?” you’d say. “That’s all it takes to make world peace?” But you wouldn’t know the joy of world peace until I put it all in the oven and brought it out on a round, soft (but not too soft) piece of dough.
So now you want to take a pizza home and and enjoy the best circular meal of your life? Not so fast. The restaurant is an attraction in itself. Even on a hot summer day, the interior of Mama’s is dark, like a romantic dinner. There is a circle of tables that surrounds a lovely fountain. On each end of the restaurant there are slightly raised platforms with tables in front of the windows. When you’re a kid, you get to hop up that step to get to your table. To place your order, you must navigate around all of this and find the very back of the room, where you can peek at the large ovens cooking up the pizzas. The staff makes the pizza on the counter opposite a glass partition.

For pre-dinner entertainment, there are always two arcade games (switched out every one in a while) and one of those claw vending machines. When the pizza finally arrives, you will have to figure out where it can sit on the table. The diameter of a family size pizza is longer than the table’s width.mamas_interior

Mama’s is known for supporting local sports teams. I can be found in two team photographs hanging on the wall; two years of summer swimming remembered forever. After a meet, the team would often celebrate by going to Mama’s. The younger kids ran around in their swimsuits while the older kids joked with each other and the coaches.

Mama’s is one stop I always make when I go back home. It is a fine restaurant, one of Tucson’s best.

History of Bikes: High School Bike

The first bike I saved up for was also the bike that lasted me the longest. It was a Gary Fisher Wahoo. I prefer to think the name refers to the sound you make while riding it and not to the Cleveland Indians’ racist mascot.

I was one of, oh, about three people in my high school who still rode a bike. We had two gigantic parking lots but not a single bike rack. I had to lock my bike up to the fence at the school entrance. But I was proud to ride my bike to school. It let me avoid the parking lot traffic jam every morning and afternoon. I also got to listen to mix tapes on my Walkman, which made for a much more pleasant listening experience than any of the radio stations Tucson had to offer.

I rode my bike to Saturday track practice and Saturday swim practice, depending on the season. My track coach once told me I should be doing triathalons, since I did all three sports already.

Summers were the worst time for bike riding in Tucson. Once, bored out of my mind at home, I decided to take a trip to the public library. It was so hot I had to stop at a mall just to be in some air conditioning for a while. By the time I got to the library I was covered in sweat and didn’t feel like reading anything. I stayed long enough to cool off and headed back home.

The trip that really defined the miserable hot Arizona summer was one that I took with my two best friends and my younger brother. The four of us wanted to ride out to a baseball card shop. We told our parents what we wanted to do and they gave us a series of rules to follow. The rule that made the least amount of sense was also the one that our parents were most admant about. We were not to cross any “major intersections.” If you have lived in Tucson, you know it is virtually impossible to get anywhere without crossing a few roads. Some of those roads can be considered “busy” if by busy you mean cars are on them.

We of course agreed to our parents’ stipulations, little knowing the high cost of our little adventure. Below is an approximate map of the route from our house to the baseball card store. The longer, winding line is the route we were forced to take so as not to cross any busy streets.

Our improvised route took us through a golf course, a huge wash, some neighborhoods I’ve never seen again in my life, and finally up the biggest hill you’ve ever seen.bike_route

Each of these elements presented its own unique challenge, which would have been tolerable if the temperature that morning wasn’t 100 degrees and rising. Walking your bike through a sandy wash is not only uncomfortable in the best conditions, but when the sun is beating down on your back and you don’t know where you are you begin to wonder if life has any meaning. That question was answered by the huge hill at the end of our ride.

It had already taken us all morning to reach the hill. There was no way we were turning back. At the same time, we had been beaten down by the sun and the sand and the neverending ride. Our morale was very low.

We began to ride up the hill. It was slow going, made even worse by the cars that would speed past us, throwing dust and hot exhaust into our faces. If I had been in the mood, I would have remarked on the irony of avoiding every major intersection only to have to ride on the shoulder of a road up this steep hill. Dangerous? Perhaps. Uncomfortable? Definitely.

Needless to say, we made it up the hill and into the plaza where the baseball card shop was located. We called home and let our parents know that there was no chance we’d be riding our bikes back home. By this time it was after noon and the temperature would only rise for the next three hours. They came in shifts to pick us and our bikes up.

Beaten but not broken, we continued to ride our bikes throughout our high school years, though we never attempted a ride as long as that one in the heat of the day.

Next up, the bike held together by duct tape: my college bike.

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fall hard

tucson-dayHello dear readers. I’m back from my trip to the Southwest. It was a good trip. As is usually the case for me on a trip, I learned a few things. Since I have you people as a captive audience, I present my findings for your enlightenment.

In Albuquerque, when you fall, you fall hard.
albuquerque-slippery-when-wetI have seriously never seen a “slippery when wet” sign with such a horrific stick man. I walked with care.

I’m trying to get them to start referring to Albuquerque as “the Querque.” As in, “Yeah, I just flew in from the Querque a couple hours ago. Want some green chili?”

Steven Spielberg sure likes to make movies about divorce and father figures. Oh, and
Speaking of airports, they have added to the list of a hundred indignities that you must endure for the privilege of paying to fly through the air for a few hours. Now you must pay to check your bags. $15 for the first bag, $25 for the second. Thanks, US Airways. I spit on your grave.

Bison Witches continues to be the best place in Tucson to get soup in a bread bowl and a sandwich.

My brother continues to stink up the world, both literally and metaphorically.

Stay tuned for a post on our quest to find the secret Scientology base in the desert. It will thrill you!

Glad to be back.tucson-night


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you auto buckle up

Driver’s Education didn’t take an entire year at my high school. It didn’t even take an entire semester. When you signed up for Driver’s Ed, you actually took about a month and a half of real, actual instruction on how to drive a car. I took Driver’s Ed my sophomore year.

Anyone, including the teacher of the class, will tell you that the real knowledge doesn’t kick in until you begin driving. Like most of high school, class is about killing time until you graduate. The best thing to do is to fantasize about the girl sitting in front of you. Her smell will make you forget your own name; she will play with her hair, tying it up, then letting it back down. She’ll hunch over in her desk a little and you will notice how tiny her shoulders are.

The rest of the semester was filled with Health, a perverse joke played on us by a group of gym teachers. They sat around between class joking and talking sports. The upside of Health was that I got to read a book about Ebola. But back to Driver’s Ed.

There were a thousand ways to get extra credit. It was almost as if the teacher didn’t want us to learn the regular way, by reading the textbook and taking tests. We could just turn in an endless series of extra credit projects. I think I finished Driver’s Ed with a 240% out of 100.

One of these throwaway extra credit assignments was to design a billboard extolling seatbelt safety. I almost didn’t do this one at all, but on my way to school one morning I got a brainwave and quickly sketched out my idea. The whole process, from thought to completion, was maybe 15 minutes.

A man, first shown sitting upright, is thrown slowly through the air. He lands on his head, then bounces back up, then lands on his crotch, then bounces again, and finally comes to rest on his back. The tagline underneath read: SEATBELTS: THE RIDE ISN’T THE SAME WITHOUT THEM. The man, had he been wearing a seatbelt, would have remained in the car. A much better outcome for him, I imagine.

When I turned the paper in for extra credit, my teacher asked if I wanted to enter it into the contest. “Sure,” I said, not thinking about it.

A little over a month later (when we had moved into the Health portion of the class), my teacher told me I had won the seatbelt contest. I was flabberghasted. What did that even mean?

The contest was for the winning desgin to be made into a billboard. I invited to an awards lunch downtown. The mayor of Tucson was going to be there! I also got a certificate.  you-auto-buckle-up-certificate

My dad drove me downtown. He made a joke about making sure we wore our seatbelts when he picked me up from school. I hadn’t yet gotten my driver’s license, an irony that went unnoticed by the group at the awards ceremony. The mayor of Tucson was a no-show, a snub I will remember until my dying day. The group, including representatives from the police department and Golden Eagle Distributors, were all very pleased with my design. They asked if I could add color, which I did happily. I probably should have redrawn the whole thing, but at that point in my artistic career I hadn’t learned the joy of revising. It didn’t matter to them; they loved that I had made it funny.

This is a detail of the billboard. I tried to make it sharp enough to read:seatbelt-drawing-close-up

The billboard went up a few months after the ceremony. It was on the way to the airport, a fairly high traffic road. We took some pictures.seatbelt-billboard2

It must have been popular with the sponsors because it remained up for almost two years. I have a clear memory of a girl telling me she’d seen it when we were seniors. I could not for the life of me figure out how to parlay that into asking her out.

In spite of my fame, I didn’t get big-headed. My stride remained uncocky. Though I haven’t won any big contests recently, I don’t dwell on my glory days in high school. I let them exist in my mind (and now, on this blog) as milestones. I know I’m capable of greatness; the Tucson police force says so.

What I did learn was that sometimes the best ideas are the least worked-over. I try to remember this when I write comics. Leave the good ideas alone. I also learned that a throwaway idea can sometimes prove the most enduring.

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jaguar in tucson

I am greatly saddened by the second loss to the feline community in such a short span of time. It was not my original intention to report on the death of a jaguar, but nature has a way of doing whatever the heck it feels like.

A jaguar was captured near Tucson, Arizona yesterday. The big cat had been previously outfitted with a small, unobtrusive satellite-tracking collar:Collared Jaguar
Officials became concerned when the jaguar cut way back on his daily wanderings. Concerned, the officials transported jaguar to the Phoenix Zoo, where he was pronounced “alive” by a wildlife veterinarian.

Later yesterday the vet had to euthanize the jaguar. He was suffering from kidney failure, something his years of heavy drinking no doubt had a major factor in. I am positive it had nothing to do with the large metal collar clasped tightly around his neck. No age or living relatives were reported. This jaguar will be missed.

According to the Arizona Daily Star, the only news outlet brave enough to report on this elusive creature, jaguars generally live in South and Central America. They used to travel north, from Arizona and Colorado all the way up to the San Francisco Bay area. Those days ended when the United States government encouraged ranchers to shoot any and all jaguars. More recently it has been unheard of to spot a real, live jaguar in the States. Until now.

For an animal to travel from Mexico to Tucson undetected is quite a feat. Though details are not forthcoming, it is has been speculated that the jaguar was acting as “coyote”: running illegal immigrants into the United States. Either that or he was merely roaming his natural territory in search of food and a mate. It will never be known what the jaguar was thinking in the days before his untimely death.

Falling Rock applauds the courageous jaguar. We extend our sympathies to his family and to jaguars everywhere. If heroism is doing exactly what you want, when you want it, then jaguar is a true hero of our time. I hope his journey, from somewhere in Mexico to the Tucson mountains to the Phoenix Zoo, shines as a beacon of hope (or, Hope Beacon) to other jaguars. This land is your land, jaguars. Long may you run.

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friday robots were here

These robots are flying around a conglomeration of Denver, Portland, Seattle, and Tucson. All places I’ve been! Amazing coincidence.friday-robots-4-9-10

P.S. Buy Falling Rock book 4, See America First!

tucson comic-con

I’ll be at the Tucson ComicCon this Saturday, November 6th!
It is at the Hotel Arizona in downtown Tucson, which is located somewhere in this photo:tucsonvalley
Hope to see you there.

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