When I was a kid, my biggest ambition
was to create a syndicated comic strip
like the ones I saw in the newspapers.

Obviously, in the long run,
things went a different way.

My goal of drawing comics that looked like
the ones being drawn for newspapers
was initially hampered by an over-dependence
the tools typically used by children: pencils and crayons.

Fortunately, my dad saw that I needed
more sophisticated drawing implements
and bought me a Rapidograph drawing pen
once I was eight.

I drew like a demon from then on,
and when I enrolled at Indian Springs for high school
I suddenly had lots of chances to practice.
My cartoons appeared regularly in our student newspaper,
for which, conveniently, either my brother or I served as editor
during three of my four years at the school.

I also began getting a few cartoons into off-campus publications
while I was still a high school student.
The one above appeared in a 1960 issue of The Baptist Student,
a regional magazine aimed at religiously inclined teens
(a group of which I was not actually a member).

Does the term "low-key humor" come to mind?

And I was still at ISS
when my first nationally published feature
appeared in Fooey, one of the most
scuzzily designed and edited
of the Mad imitations that proliferated in 1961.

In case you're wondering,
my piece explored the hilarity potential
of wearing contact lenses.

A major highlight of my teenage years
was getting to meet Milton Caniff,
the legendary creator of Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon,
during a trip to New York City that was engineered
by Fred Cameron, our PhysEd coach at Indian Springs,
who had lived next door to Caniff at an earlier time in his life.

A side benefit of my New York adventure
was getting to stay alone for two days
at the Sloane House YMCA in mid-Manhattan,
from which I ventured out to see Carol Burnett
starring in Once Upon a Mattress on Broadway.
My seat in the orchestra set me back eight bucks.

My only disappointment was that, horny teenager that I was,
I remained unseduced by any of my fellow YMCA-dwellers.
(Perhaps my jailbait status had something to do with that.)

Throughout my undergraduate years at Birmingham-Southern College,
I continued polishing my cartooning chops however I could.

In 1964, for example, I succeeded in cracking Sick,
a more respectable Mad imitation than Fooey had been.
(I mean, they had Jack Davis doing covers for them, for chrissake!)

I called my piece "Suicide For The Young," and it featured
a dismal little girl in the process of killing herself
in a number of inventive ways.
Without consulting me, Sick's editor substituted
the less mordant title "Did You Wring, Sir?"

Above left: An installment of "The Cruse Nest,"
a regular cartoon series about campus life
that appeared for a while in The Hilltop News,
the college's student weekly.

Above right: A spot illustration that I did
while working at the Birmingham News
during the summer of 1967.
My main, mundane duty was retouching photographs,
but what I really wished I could do
was stick "a flower in my hair"
and be part of the hippie pilgrimage
then heading across the country to San Francisco
for the "Summer of Love."

Forget about that! Sigh.
The News's art director
would occasionally let me do spot art for the paper,
but when I raised the possibility of creating
an ongoing comic strip he nixed that emphatically.
He didn't want me to start "feeling like a star," he said.

"Commonest Conspiracy," my 4-page satire
on the notoriously extremist John Birch Society,
marked the first time that a lowly comic strip had been allowed
in the pages of Birmingham-Southern's literary magazine.
Breaking that barrier took a lot of lobbying on my part,
since the magazine's faculty advisor was pretty grudging
about letting low-brow stuff like comics in.

Another first for me: Convincing the Birmingham News editors
that they should hire me to do cover art for their Sunday supplement
plugging that year's annual Festival of Arts.

What was that? Well,
every year the Birmingham art establishment
celebrated the culture of some foreign country or other.
(The windmill and the wooden shoes in my drawing
may clue you in as to which country was the 1966 choice.)

I find the "Disney-ish" style of this painting
a bit embarrassing from today's perspective.
But it was getting seen by all of the News's subscribers,
and that wasn't chopped liver for a beginner like me!

Obviously, of course, my individual cartooning style
was still in the early stages of finding itself.

Despite those scattered instances I've described
where my cartoons made it into print,
I got largely diverted from cartooning
during those undergraduate years
by being lured into the world of theatre.

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