Who IS That CHILD?!!

At right as seen on my iMac: Me on TV in 1984

It’s a clear sign of advancing age when you respond to images of yourself recorded when you were forty with a rueful shake of your head accompanied by the unvoiced question: Who IS that child?

But that’s how I felt last week while taking a fresh look at myself as I was 23 years ago, when a half-hour television interview about underground comic books featuring yours truly was taped at WDCN-TV, a Public Broadcasting station in Nashville.

Crumb and S. Clay Wilson being unavailable, it fell to me, a one-time flower-powered longhair who by 1984 had discovered the convenience of a shorter trim, to acquaint a mainstream television audience with what we dope-smoking, acid-tripping counterculture cartoonists of yore had brought forth once we applied our comix-creating impulses to the dispensation of outrageous sexual fantasies, religious transgression, political belligerence and, in my case, cockroach-infested parables on cosmic matters—all in "easy-to-read comic book form."

The interview I’m talking about was one installment of twelve that were broadcast as a series under the umbrella title Funny Business: The Art in Cartooning. All episodes in the series concentrated on one aspect or another of cartooning. (WDCN subsequently syndicated the series to interested PBS stations across America.)

Veteran gag cartoonist and cartooning educator John R. Cassady (known to his friends as "Jack" or "Cass"), was the creator and host of the series. Cass and I had met shortly after my 1977 move to New York during gatherings of the now-defunct Cartoonists Guild.

Funny Business was seen widely enough in its day to generate fan mail from cartooning enthusiasts in various cities, but it never achieved a high enough profile to be a viable candidate for contemporary commercial re-release in DVD format. But that hasn’t stopped Cass from recently burning DVDs of individual episodes on his own for sale on his web site. I was made pleasantly aware of this welcome development when a jewel case through whose plastic cover my unlined face was peering arrived in my Massachusetts mailbox, courtesy of my longtime colleague and pal.

It’s not my first opportunity to see how my interview turned out. Although I never lived in a city whose PBS station carried the series, WDCN provided me with a complimentary tape of the episode once it was edited. Watching myself being interviewed always has its rewards, despite the cringing I invariably do at my every instance of stammering and garbled syntax. Seeing yourself on TV makes you feel fleetingly like a star, even if it’s only a passing shot of you sitting in the audience of a Phil Donahue Show. Well, maybe "star" is too strong a word. It makes you feel that your existence on the planet has been documented for posterity, no matter how neglected you may feel at any given time. For those of us who occasionally wonder whether we actually exist, this is a comfort.

The thrill of temporary video affirmation swiftly passes, of course, and recordings like the one from WDCN soon begin gathering cobwebs. I realized when Cass’s newly-burned DVD arrived that I haven’t pulled the ol’ VHS tape of my Funny Business interview off the bedroom shelf for many years now — possibly to avoid being directly confronted with the disparity between the amount of hair I had on my head then and the amount remaining there now.

But having been propelled anew into the past by this artifact from my mid-career youth, when some interesting things had happened already but many even more interesting events still lay ahead, I find nostalgia trumping vanity. It was a fun day in Nashville, one during which I got to shmooze with the great New Yorker cartoonist George Booth, whose Funny Business segment was to be taped the same day as mine. Cass, a fellow southerner whose drawl from the interviewer’s chair combined with mine from across the set provided healthy balance to the British-to-mid-Atlantic phonics that typically crowd our Dixie quadrupthongs off the airwaves (unless a really stupid or really devious fictional character is needed for plot reasons).

Cass may have forgotten by now that at a certain point he opened my eyes to new artistic possibilities. He was, for the record, the first cartoonist in my orbit to educate himself about and then enthusiastically extol the merits of adding digital graphics to the ‘tooner’s toolbox.

I had previously been skeptical about permitting soulless computers any foothold in my creative realm, but that was before Cass sat me down in his hotel room during a visit to New York and showed me a bunch of dazzling Photoshop-enlivened additions to his portfolio.

Those examples told me more clearly than any lecture could have that my former misgivings were overdue for reevaluation.

At left: A cartoon by the Cass-man himself.

Above: In between tapings in Nashville I ran around the studio taking snapshots of the equipment. Who knew whether I might want to use a television station as the setting for a future comic strip?

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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0 Responses to Who IS That CHILD?!!

  1. God, you were so cute! And still are, of course, but, I mean, really.