I began getting a few cartoons into print while I was in high school.

The one on the right appeared in a 1960 issue of The Baptist Student.

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

My first nationally published cartoon feature (which zeroed in on the hilarity potential of contact lenses) appeared in Fooey, one of the most scuzzily designed and edited of the Mad imitations that were everywhere in 1961.

A major highlight of my teenage years was the trip I got to take to New York to meet Milton Caniff, the legendary creator of Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon.

A side benefit of the 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 performing on Broadway in Once Upon a Mattress. My seat in the orchestra set me back $8.

(My only disappointment was that I remained unseduced by any of my fellow YMCA-dwellers.)

While I was visiting him, Caniff began telling me an anecdote from his own youth that I recognized as one he had recounted in any number of interviews over the years.

(It was all I could do to keep from reciting it along with him.)

I was thrilled.

My cartooning ambitions persisted at Birmingham-Southern College, where I contributed "The Commonest Conspiracy," a 4-page comic strip satire about the John Birch Society, to the student literary magazine Quad.

Our faculty advisor, unenthusiastic about the inclusion of a mere comic strip in territory normally inhabited by "real" art, was even more upset by the strip's content, which he felt was unflattering to conservatives in general and explicitly insulting to the John Birch Society. (In other words, he understood it.)

Extended negotiations led, as they usually do, to lame compromise. My comic strip ran unaltered, but was preceded by a full page notice assuring readers that I was spoofing general cultural currents and that my strip should not be interpreted as a criticism of any group in particular!

In 1964 I succeeded in cracking Sick, a somewhat 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." It featured a dismal little girl who looked like Charlie Brown in drag in the process of killing herself in a number of inventive ways. The editors substituted the more oblique title: "Did You Wring, Sir?"

As you can see, I was well on my way to achieving the stellar cartooning career I'd always dreamed of.

But then a new and powerful force entered my life, steering me for several years in a drastically new direction.

The illustration showing me visiting with Milton Caniff was drawn for the first installment of Loose Cruse, a column I wrote for early issues of Comics Scene Magazine. ©1981 by O'Quinn Studios, Inc.