A cartoon based on my difficulties in getting my children’s book published

September 8, 2023 • 8:30 am

I’ve kvetched about my difficulty of getting my children’s book, “Mr. Das and His Fifty Cats,” published, apparently on the grounds that a white guy like me isn’t allowed to write about an Indian man and his love of animals (the story is fiction but based on fact).  Such writing is “cultural appropriation”, Jack! And criticizing it or rejecting it on those grounds alone is an insane example of performative wokeness.

Well, reader Arthur from Australia read about my travails and took action:

I shared your saga of getting your cat book published with Phil Somerville (Australian cartoonist). He said this gave him the idea for the cartoon below.

I hope you enjoy it.

Somerville is a well-known Aussie cartoonist (his website is here and his biography is here.  Have a look at his cartoons, which are very good.

I put his cartoon below; I enjoyed the hell out of it as it’s hilarious and is a snarky take on my own situation. I hope you like it, too. But first you have to embiggen it.  Click to enlarge the cartoon below (click twice in succession, with a pause between)

Equity vs. equality: a cartoon

September 7, 2021 • 10:45 am

The cartoon below, whose URL is linked to the drawing, has now appeared in a gazillion places (for examples, see the results of an image search). It clearly implies that there’s a difference between the outcomes of equality an equity. But of course that depends on how you define them. (The cartoon also appears on the Peace Corps site, and is credited this way: “Equality vs. Equity – by the Interaction Institute for Social Change | Artist: Angus Maguire.” Image Found: interactioninstitute.org)

To me, “equality” means “equality of opportunity”: everyone from the moment of birth has the same possibilities open to them. Given income and class inequality, however, that’s a practical impossibility. All we can do is try to ensure that nobody is discriminated against when making important decisions based on factors over which they have no control. Upper-class kids will have opportunities, like tutoring, vacations, and private schools, that simply aren’t available to those with less money.

“Equity” means the same thing to almost everyone: groups are represented in schools, in companies, and in various trades in the same proportion they occur in the general population. Achieving that may be impossible as well given group differences in culture and preferences (as a reader mentioned the other day, there are few blacks in hockey, but many in basketball). Many people, however, think that “equality” and “equity” mean the same thing. Not to me, or, I suspect, to most of us.

The cartoon implies that equality is unfair, and what we must strive for is equity. Now I could argue that the cartoon’s literal interpretation is wrong: there is in the left panel no “equality of opportunity to see the game.” The goal of equal outcomes in everything is what Ibram Kendi sees as the only evidence that racism has been eliminated, and I think that goal—equity—is what’s instantiated in this cartoon. On the other hand, you could argue that giving everybody the same thing (the box) does not seem fair when people start from different places (the different heights of the three people).

You might agree with the cartoon (I think it’s a tad misleading), or even with the striving for equity. This is really a discussion starter, so weigh in below.

h/t: Paul

First they came for Dumbo, and then they came for Pepe Le Pew

March 11, 2021 • 12:30 pm

The Washington Post reports that Pepe Le Pew, the cartoon skunk who appeared in the first Warner Brother’s “Space Jam” movie in 1996, will not appear in the new sequel coming out in July. Why? The skunk, who first showed up as a cartoon character in 1949 (the year I was born) is a sexual predator, setting a bad example for everyone.

Click on the screenshot to read:

I wasn’t a big fan of Pepe Le Pew (I liked the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote), but I do remember he was always coming on to female animals. I can’t even remember if they were skunks. I guess Pepe came on too strong, as he’s now canceled, and probably for good. He was the Harvey Weinstein of cartoon wildlife:

Over the weekend, Pepe’s name resurfaced when Deadline reported that the lecherously predatory skunk won’t appear in the sequel “Space Jam: A New Legacy” due out in July, after a scene involving Pepe — shot by the film’s first director, Terence Nance — was cut. Director Malcolm D. Lee took over the movie nearly two years ago.

Deadline reported that Pepe Le Pew will “likely be a thing of the past across all media,” and the Hollywood Reporter also noted that “there are no current plans for the controversial cartoon skunk to return.” (The Washington Post reached out to Warner Bros. for comment but has not yet been provided with one.)

On Deadspin, Julie DiCaro said Pepe Le Pew deserved to be “canceled,” writing that since his World War II-era creation, “we’ve learned a lot more about consent and women have fought and won more recognition of their bodily autonomy. And yet, we continued to see these same old ‘she’s just playing hard to get’trope[s] inentertainment even today.”

Oops, there goes Jessica Rabbit, an example of objectification if ever there was one!  Now I’m not sure whether Pepe ever raped anyone (I doubt it, since they don’t show sex in cartoons), but he probably tried to smooch other animals without consent.  He was a roué for sure, but human equivalents exists, and here’s an object lesson for kids. Further, Pepe was actually modeled as a spoof of a Looney Tunes worker called Tedd Pierce, who “was always baffled when women didn’t return his intentions.” But that doesn’t matter: what matters is that he’s a predator. And maybe there’s a point there, but I don’t think it’s a no-brainer to ditch the predatory mustelid.

It’s hard to find Pepe cartoons online, as I wanted to check how bad he was. I came up with one in Spanish (below). Pepe appears at 2:28, and, sure enough, he jumps the faux female skunk and then pursues her relentlessly. Is this going to give kids the wrong idea? Some certainly think so:

Andrew Farago, curator at San Francisco’s Cartoon Art Museum and author of “The Looney Tunes Treasury,”says Seuss characters and the Warner Bros. animators used “then-commonplace racial and cultural stereotypes,” though“the enduring popularity of Dr. Seuss and Looney Tunes has led to some issues that their creators, born in the early 1900s, never could have anticipated.”

. . . . Farago says it makes sense why companies would alter and remove certain visual images as they endure through new eras: “Letting these problematic works fall by the wayside is a very reasonable way to address this issue.”

Is it? If you disagree, watch a few minutes of this cartoon, starting at about 2:30:

You know, I can see where watching these cartoons could give kids the wrong idea about how to behave, but isn’t that what parents are for? Do we really need to keep kids from watching them by letting them “fall by the wayside”? (It’s curious that Speedy Gonzalez isn’t getting canceled: he’s a stereotyped Mexican with a sombrero (remember, Halloween costumes with sombreros are out).  Here’s the defiant Gabriel-Iglesias (nicknamed “Fluffy”) who voices Speedy in the new movie, along with a response:

But Pepe Le Pew isn’t the first cartoon they came for. I was horrified to read this:

The examples keep stacking up: Disney Plus recently removed such films as “Peter Pan” and “Dumbo” from its set of titles designated for children’s viewership profiles, because of stereotypes and racist depictions.

Somegolden-age Warner Bros. characters have changed in recent years in response to changing times. HBO Max’s “Looney Tunes Cartoons” showrunner Peter Browngardt told the Times last year: “We’re not doing guns,” meaning Elmer Fudd would no longer carry his hunting rifle and Yosemite Sam would be stripped of his pistols. Looney Tunes reportedly would still feature tools of the stock cartoon chase like Acme dynamite.

What the deuce? No pistols on Yosemite Sam? No gun on Elmer Fudd? WHY? would that encourage gun use? And why, then, is Acme dynamite still around. There was FAR more violence in Roadrunner cartoons than in Yosemite Sam cartoons.

What we’ll be left with, eventually, are bland and anodyne cartoons stripped of everything that could offend someone’s modern morality.  No Peter Pan and no Dumbo? Bloody hell! (I have yet to learn how Peter Pan and Dumbo cause “harm.” You might amuse yourself by trying to guess.)

h/t: Randy

New Gary Larson cartoons!

July 7, 2020 • 12:00 pm

Gary Larson published his wonderful The Far Side cartoons from 1980-1995. And was there a biologist during that period who didn’t have at least one on their office door? (My favorite is this one.)

And then, after 15 years of belly laughs and in-joke humor, Larson retired at only 45.

That was a major bummer. Why, many of us asked, couldn’t he produce at least one cartoon a week, or one a month, just to feed our Far Side jones? Sadly, nada, zilch, and bupkes, though he started a new Far Side site with colorized old cartoons and the promise that there may be some new ones. But again, bupkes. Nothing new, though we could peruse the old cartoons and once again see the man’s genius.

Larson explains the new cartoons on the “New Stuff” page of his website, noting that he didn’t start drawing again because his cartooning pen got clogged:

So a few years ago—finally fed up with my once-loyal but now reliably traitorous pen—I decided to try a digital tablet. I knew nothing about these devices but hoped it would just get me through my annual Christmas card ordeal. I got one, fired it up, and lo and behold, something totally unexpected happened: within moments, I was having fun drawing again. I was stunned at all the tools the thing offered, all the creative potential it contained. I simply had no idea how far these things had evolved. Perhaps fittingly, the first thing I drew was a caveman.

The “New Stuff” that you’ll see here is the result of my journey into the world of digital art. Believe me, this has been a bit of a learning curve for me. I hail from a world of pen and ink, and suddenly I was feeling like I was sitting at the controls of a 747. (True, I don’t get out much.) But as overwhelmed as I was, there was still something familiar there—a sense of adventure. That had always been at the core of what I enjoyed most when I was drawing The Far Side, that sense of exploring, reaching for something, taking some risks, sometimes hitting a home run and sometimes coming up with “Cow tools.” (Let’s not get into that.) But as a jazz teacher once said to me about improvisation, “You want to try and take people somewhere where they might not have been before.” I think that my approach to cartooning was similar—I’m just not sure if even I knew where I was going. But I was having fun.

So here goes. I’ve got my coffee, I’ve got this cool gizmo, and I’ve got no deadlines. And—to borrow from Sherlock Holmes—the game is afoot.

It is indeed! And there’s a new cartoon.

Out of respect for Larson’s request that his cartoons not be reproduced by others, I won’t show it here. But if you click on the screenshot below, you’ll see it. I have to say that although it’s okay, he’s still got a way to go before he attains the achievements of his glory days:

h/t: Matthew Cobb

The runaway duckling

June 19, 2020 • 1:45 pm

Here’s a lovely video starring a brood of ducklings mothered by a gray cat named Prince Michael, and featuring an Ostracized Duckling, one Gabriel Aaron Duckworth. Watch Gabe’s travails as, unable to take the jeers of his four siblings, he runs away from home. Gabe has many adventures as the distraught Prince Michael searches for him. But no worries—it all ends well.

This is one in a series of Aaron’s Animals, and there’s another duckling video here.  There are three million views of this one.

h/t: Paul

Photos of readers

April 13, 2020 • 2:30 pm

Please send in your quarantine photos, and we also need more diversity (e.g., women, non-Americans, and so on).

Today’s reader is Art Williams, who sent a photo, a caption (with an appropriate background) and his hand-drawn cartoon.

Art Williams, a surgeon and evolutionary medicine enthusiast in Cincinnati, in his natural habitat, between cases, back when elective surgeries were still a thing.

And you’ll surely get his cartoon:

The first commercial Wizard of Oz release, never shown in theaters

April 1, 2020 • 2:30 pm

Thanks to reader Barry to alerting me to this 8½-minute cartoon, highlighted in a short piece at Boing Boing. That piece largely draws on the Wikipedia article about this 1933 cartoon, The Wizard of Oz, which came out six years  before the famous movie. According to the article, the cartoon version never made it into theaters because it used Technicolor, which was at that time licensed only to Walt Disney. In fact, what you see below didn’t appear for sale until 1985.

But we can watch it now.  A few words about this version:

[This] is a 1933 Canadian-American animated short film directed by Ted Eshbaugh. The story is credited to “Col. Frank Baum.” Frank Joslyn Baum, a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army and eldest son of writer L. Frank Baum, was involved in the film’s production, and may have had an involvement in the film’s script, which is loosely inspired by the elder Baum’s 1900 novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It runs approximately eight and a half minutes and is nearly wordless, working mainly with arrangements of classical music created by Carl W. Stalling.

It’s a lovely cartoon with a plot considerably different from that of the 1939 movie. There are no witches, no Cowardly Lion, and very few words spoken. Nor is the Wizard a little man behind the curtain. But there are a lot of pictures of bloomers and underwear—even the Wizard’s, as well as two salacious honeybees.  But what the cartoon and movie have in common is the initial monochrome setting in Kansas that becomes multicolored when Dorothy and Toto arrive in Oz. I wonder if the movie’s director, Victor Fleming, got the idea from this cartoon.


The latest from The Far Side

December 28, 2019 • 1:00 pm

Gary Larson, who has activated his Far Side cartoon site, is posting a spate of old but beloved cartoons. He doesn’t want other people posting them, and I will respect his wish to control his work. But I will put up a screenshot of the site, as you should go over there today (and regularly) to have a good guffaw. These cartoons, from Friday, include TWO about ducks (one of Larson’s favorite animals) and one about creationism; and they all have animals.

I’d advise you to bookmark the site and check it daily!

h/t: Peter N.

The Far Side returns!

December 18, 2019 • 1:30 pm

I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like Gary Larson’s cartoon The Far Side, but Larson retired from producing it in 1995: 24 years ago! It doesn’t seem like that long, for his cartoons are constantly circulating and are much beloved, especially by scientists. (Almost every biologist had a Far Side cartoon on their office door.)  I’m not sure why he retired, but it was a sad day when he put down his pen. It’s not his age, for he quit when he was 45, and it seemed a waste of an immense talent. Nobody was as funny as Larson, and nobody had as much biology—accurate but hilarious biology—in their strips.

But we have good news today, which was sent to me by several readers and is now on Wikipedia:

On September 13, 2019, the official Far Side site was updated with a major redesign, teasing that additional updates will be forthcoming. The full site was launched on December 17, 2019. It features a “daily dose” of several randomly selected Far Side comics, a weekly themed collection, and additional material including art from Larson’s sketchbooks. Larson, managing the site, said that while he does not plan to draw regular Far Side comics, he may include new material every once in a while when updating the site.

Now there still seem to be a few bugs, at least on Chrome, but I’m looking forward to some new cartoons, even if they’re sporadic. And the new site also collects many of his best cartoons in one place, which wasn’t possible before today.

In “A letter from Gary Larson” on the site, Larson attributes the new site to improvements in graphics and security:

Truthfully, I still have some ambivalence about officially entering the online world — I previously equated it to a rabbit hole, although “black hole” sometimes seems more apropos — but my change of heart on this has been due not only to some evolution in my own thinking, but also in two areas I’ve always cared about when it comes to this computer/Internet “stuff”: security and graphics.

Okay, so better security is, of course, just better security. But it helps. If they wanted to, I’m sure the Russians could get inside this thing and start messing with my captions. (I know they’re thinking about it!) But the other one — the advancements in graphics — has been a big incentive for me.

He then gives an example (which would make a great cartoon!) of how better computer graphics enables him to make better cartoons, which sort of implies that new ones are coming. And then he requests that people not reproduce his cartoons, a request that I understand and will respect, hard as it is not to show his best efforts. (My favorite is when a truck carrying rodents collides with a truck carrying small flightless birds, releasing the beasts to the street, while an indoor cat, face and paws pressed to the window, watches in excitement and frustration.)

And here’s his second reason for returning:

Finally, I also concede I’m a little exhausted. Trying to exert some control over my cartoons has always been an uphill slog, and I’ve sometimes wondered if my absence from the web may have inadvertently fueled someone’s belief my cartoons were up for grabs. They’re not. But it’s always been inherently awkward to chase down a Far Side–festooned website when the person behind it is often simply a fan. (Although not everyone is quite so uncomplicated in their motives; my cartoons have been taken and used to help sell everything from doughnuts to rodent control. At least I offer range.) So I’m hopeful this official website will help temper the impulses of the infringement-inclined. Please, whoever you are, taketh down my cartoons and let this website become your place to stop by for a smile, a laugh, or a good ol’ fashioned recoiling. And I won’t have to release the Krakencow.

So keep checking the new site, and let me know when new cartoons appear (right now most are recycled old ones, which you can see by looking at the date by the cartoon).