Cartooning Dean Bridgers (Part 1 of 2)

Never having been a student at the University of Alabama in Birmingham’s School of Public Health, I never knew that school’s late Dean, Dr. William F. Bridgers. Now I feel like I do, having been asked to design cover art for a bound compilation of his "reflections and recollections" that was reprinted this month under the title Yellow Dog Tales of a Late Century Southern Liberal Geezer.
Dr. Bridgers
It was clear once I began reading Dr. Bridgers’ writings, though, that I would have enjoyed knowing him if I had had the opportunity. Others obviously did: fond memories of the man filled the room at a fundraiser for the Bill and Judy Bridgers Scholarship Fund that I attended during last week’s trip to Birmingham.

Drawing a cover for his book presented challenges, though. The guy would pretty much have to be front and center, since his ruminations were the book’s raison d’être. But how do you draw a cartoon version of a man you never laid eyes on?

I’ll get to that tomorrow, in the second part of this exercise in cartooning shop talk. First I had to figure out what my drawing was going to look like. Dr. Bridgers would be in the middle of — of what?

I took my cue from the book’s title. I mean, a book called Yellow Dog Tales has gotta have dogs on the front, right? Not brown ones or black-and-white spotted ones; yellow ones. But what exactly is a "yellow dog" anyway? And how did that variety of canine get tethered to some people’s political leanings?

A little Googling led me to the Yellow Dog Democrat web site, where all things became clear. Way back in 1928 a Democratic Senator named Tom Heflin committed the unpardonable crime of supporting Republican Herbert Hoover for President. According to legend, party loyalists denounced Heflin’s offense by reaffirming their own party loyalty. "I’d vote for a yellow dog if he ran on the Democratic ticket," they angrily proclaimed, and a super-partisan archetype was born.

As for the real-world dogs hijacked by the term, I learned from the Internet that an alternative name for a "yellow dog" is "Carolina dog." Here’s what such beasts typically look like.

Above: Carolina dogs found roaming on the Web

They’re not really all that yellow, you may notice. But reality shmeality! I for sure would be "yellowing them up" or my drawing, just to reinforce their connection to the book’s title.

Now how could I gather these critters into an entertaining picture also featuring a one-time university dean given to composing written ruminations about whatever was going on in the world, from health care reform to Bill Clinton’s dalliance with one Ms. Lewinsky?

Pretty soon I found myself riffing on the classic image of dogs who helpfully bring slippers and/or the morning paper to their grateful masters.

I sketched out that image roughly and submitted it to my clients for approval. In my version of the familiar scene, the "yellow dogs" surrounding Dr. Bridgers would be supplying him with subject matter for his essays, like a newspaper and family album. I figured I would add additional clippings if the sketch got approved — which it did.

Come back tomorrow for a further description of how UAB’s much-admired Bill Bridgers was turned into a ‘toon.

About Howard

I'm a cartoonist and writer, best known for my graphic novel, Stuck Rubber Baby, and my comic strip from the 1980s, Wendel.
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One Response to Cartooning Dean Bridgers (Part 1 of 2)

  1. Jessica says:

    Elaine, you are just to funny. Don’t ever loose your sense of humor.
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