My brush with cartooning greatness

Lee Salem passed away earlier this week. I had conversations with Lee about cartooning and also Jay Kennedy, both heads of the big cartoon syndicates – Lee ran Universal Press Syndicate (now known as Andrew McMeel and GoComics.com) and Jay ran King Features.

In the mid 1990s I had sent them my work and they both liked it and both engaged with me. In other words, I didn’t receive form letters of rejection, which is usually the case, they were both nice enough to reject me personally.

In Lee’s case, he felt that my work was too much like The Far Side, which I believe had just ceased publication around that time. Today there seems to be many panel cartoons in that vein, but I guess right after Gary Larson left the scene, they didn’t want copies cropping up. I didn’t realize I was doing the same thing, but I must have been influenced enough by Gary that I was drawing weird single panel comics.

far-sideBut look at this famous Far Side comic panel; still hysterical today, just as it was the day it was published. I felt it was a compliment to be compared to him.

I’ve always loved single panel comics. I’m not sure why, but I was always drawn to them more than comic strips. Maybe it’s the concise nature, where you only have the one space to tell your story in the most economic way. I’m really not sure. I still love Hazel and Charles Addams, Out Our Way, They’ll Do It Every Time, Flubs & Fluffs, Dennis the Menace and so many more. But that’s not to say I don’t enjoy comic strips, but I do find myself drawn the less wordy ones, so maybe that’s why I like panels; they’re less wordy.

In Jay’s case, I remember receiving a personally written note from him, I have it somewhere and I’ll share it some time when I find it, but he encouraged me to continue my work and he asked to buy some of the current submissions and for the next few years I was part of “The New Breed,” which featured single panel cartoons by various cartoonists each day.

I would send the syndicate a bunch, maybe 20 or 25 at a time and they would purchase maybe five of them. They would send back the ones they wanted edited (change this word, move that shading, things like that) and I would make the changes and send the comic back and it was published in about 300 daily newspapers a few weeks later. Many who are published today started cartooning for The New Breed feature. It was a way for them to groom cartoonists before the internet.

I regret not continuing with them after a couple of years. I had started a business and that took off and I guess I became too busy to continue with the comics on a regular basis. A less than smart decision on my part at the time, although I’ve lived a very good life thanks to my business.

I’m ready to start publishing again. I’m preparing comics for daily publication, I keep going back and forth between a strip and my single panel Tomversation comic, which I tend to love more.

Madison Square; the Flatiron District

flatiron

I love this old photo. I’ve seen it many times over the years. This is my favorite area of NYC these days. I fell in love with it a couple of summers ago where I spent a few weeks. I’ve always had favorite parts of the city over the years and now it’s the Madison Square/Flatiron district. I like that it’s a few blocks from another favorite area of mine – Union Square, which you can get to by walking down Broadway a few blocks.

When I look at this photo I see almost everything that is still there today. The Victory Arch was temporary, it’s made of wood and it’s something they did at that time to commemorate things – this was a tribute to New York soldiers who fought in World War I. It was erected in 1918, over 100 years ago. It’s at 24th Street and 5th Avenue in the photo.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked on that exact spot. Broadway is to the right of the photo and 5th Avenue is to the left. That’s where they meet and form Madison Square, at the Flatiron Building, which is straight ahead. That’s Madison Square Park to the left (I recently stood there to watch a parade this summer). On the other side of the park is where the original Madison Square Garden was built in the 1800s. It’s now the site of the Met Life Building, which was built in 1909. So many times I sat across from that building on Madison Avenue, where it’s a quiet area of the park/city.

In this photo you can see the building to the right which has Eataly in part of the first floor now and to the right almost out of the photo is a place where there is a chicken restaurant that I like. I think that’s it.

What’s great about this part of Broadway is that it’s a very small street – the original Broadway and it doesn’t get much use. Traffic takes 5th Avenue instead. There’s a Starbucks on Broadway at 26th that I use a lot. And that gold dome behind the Flatiron Building at 170 5th Avenue is known as the Sohmer Piano Building because they were an original tenant there. It was built in 1897. It’s condos now.

The photo is taken from the Porcelanosa Building, which I love, too. It wasn’t there at that time, but it’s a great building now that faces the Flatiron Building. And that obelisk in the photo is still there today. It was installed in 1856. There’s a body under it! It’s General William Jenkins Worth’s mausoleum. he fought in the War of 1812.

Anyway, that one photo says so much to me. It tells so many stories.

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A comic on the subway wall

subway-comic

I took this photo on the NY subway on Saturday. Do you see what I see? No. Not the girl, not the filthy walls outside the window, either. I’m talking about the comic strip on the wall. It’s an ad, but still, it’s a comic.

For years I’ve had this idea of a comic panel, or possibly strip, on this square box ad space on the subways. I always imagined my own comic, Tomversation, in that space. It would be changed out a couple of times a week, maybe weekly, I don’t know how convenient or inconvenient it would be to change the image regularly.

I also had an idea about Amazon. What if there was a daily comic strip panel on their homepage? It would give people a reason to visit the site daily.  I love Amazon and I shop there all the time, but I haven’t been on the site in weeks (yes, even with their Amazon Prime Days). I can picture it now, a daily Tomversation comic panel, right at the top of the Amazon home page. I wonder how I could pitch this to Jeff Bezos. Hmmm.

Naked and afraid

iphoneNaked and afraid, that’s how I felt when I lost my cell phone. I didn’t actually lose it, I left it in my cousin’s car. The problem is I didn’t have her contact info. No one has a home phone anymore and I didn’t have her address or cell phone number.

This past holiday, we all went to another cousin’s house in The Hamptons for a few days for July 4th. A few of us drove back to the city after a couple of days. One cousin dropped me off at the train station to take the number 7 train back to Grand Central Terminal. As soon as I got out of the car, I realized I had left my phone on the seat, but I turned around and they were gone, already heading home. I panicked.

I started to think, how will I reach anyone? I do remember my aunt and uncle’s home phone number, but they were in the Hamptons, not at their house. Luckily I found a pay phone that worked and I called information, but nothing came up, they could not find anyone’s numbers. So there’s a lesson, keep a couple of contact numbers in writing somewhere where you can access them easily. Or memorize them – like the old days!

As I rode the subway back to the city, I thought of calling my father back in Miami and having him contact one of my relatives and then have them call me at the hotel, but then it dawned on me that I could contact my cousins through Facebook messenger. And that’s what I did. So for all the problems with Facebook these days, that was a life saver.

I arranged to meet one of my cousins tomorrow at his office and I’ll get my phone.

I know it seems like a first world problem, but everything is in that phone. I need it for work, my office number rings through to that and also I need it for Uber, for Apple Pay, for Google Maps, for living! Cell phones, Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft – they control our lives these days. I did write this blog post on my computer back at the hotel, but still, I needed my phone.

I wanted to Uber to my cousins’ house to get the phone last night, but how could I get Uber when I was stranded in a street in Queens? They dropped me off in a neighborhood I was not really familiar with because the usual place was too hard to get to due to the fireworks and all the people. Normally, they would drive me into the city, but again, due to the crowds it was not a good idea to drive in last night.

Think for a moment, if you did not have access to your cell phone today and you were dropped off somewhere that you were not familiar with, where it’s impossible to get a working pay phone, where you can’t just ask a stranger to use their cell phone. But even if you had access to a borrowed phone or a  pay phone, how would you call someone when all their contact info was lost? Other than your parents, whose number do you have memorized? I bet you don’t know your own brothers’s phone number by memory.

You could possibly sign into an email account through someone else’s cell phone, and contact people that way, or through Facebook messenger, which is what I did on my computer when I got back to the hotel. But life is quite difficult without our own cell phones these days. It’s something to think about. Where would I get people’s contact info, a working pay phone, a paper map, a GPS if needed or even access to Uber, without my cell phone if I am just lost (and afraid) in a strange area, on a strange street?

Even waving down a cab last night would get me nowhere since I don’t know any of my relatives and friends addresses even though I’ve been to their houses 100 times. I do know my aunt and uncle’s house phone number (not their cell phone numbers) and street address because they have had that house phone number and lived in that house for so many years, but they were in the Hamptons, not at their house in Queens so that info did me no good. I needed the contact info of people who were nearby and in town and that I didn’t have.

One more thing – the NY subway system is transitioning to a system where you would use your cell phone to access the subway. They will do away with Metrocards totally in a few years, so without my cell phone, I could not get through the turnstiles and get onto a train.

But anyway, all’s well that ends well. I’ll be back part of the world by noon today once I go to a cousin’s office to pick up my life, I mean my phone.

Oh, and the ironic part is that if I had just gotten on the train last night, came back to my hotel and went to bed, it would be like it was 20 years ago. The whole thing about not having the phone and trying to locate people to get my phone back was all entwined in the phone. In other words, what if I didn’t have a phone. What if I didn’t leave it in the car, what if I just came back to the city and went to bed and woke up today and went on with my life. Without a phone?  I mean if I just lived my life without the phone, and didn’t let it control me. then I wouldn’t have been in such a panic last night.

Beach life

beach5

At the Bay side on Key Biscayne

Went to the beach today. According to my car, it was 105 degrees! You know for about 25 years, I went to the beach almost daily. When I was growing up, it never got past the mid 80s. Never.

I stopped by Key Biscayne today, which is/was one of my usual spots, along with Miami Beach. Usually I would go alone on weekdays and with my friends on weekends. Sometimes for an hour, sometimes for eight hours. Sometimes I would meet my friends and we would walk or run on the boardwalk on South Beach and then go drinking at Mac’s Club Deuce or places like that. Other times I would go to Crandon on Key Biscayne alone; sometimes Matheson Hammock. I have an alligator story about Matheson hammock that I’ll tell you some time.

There was a period where I would go to Key Biscayne alone and I made myself stay on the beach until I came up with two or three comic strip ideas, then I could go home.

I would stay until it got dark many times, then come home, shower, change and go to happy hour with my friends. Most of my life I lived as if I was on vacation or retired. I didn’t work many hours in a day, most days I worked an hour or two in the morning and was free the rest of the day. So many days I was done with work by 10 am. I want to go back to living like that again. Sometimes, when I stopped going daily, I would still go for maybe an hour once in awhile. I would grab lunch somewhere and sit at at picnic table at the shore and have lunch.

I now live near the beach, it’s a quick drive. Back then I had to drive sometimes long distances, but I would make that trek daily. Summer and winter. All times of the year.

stmoritz

There was a period where I would go to 16th and Collins, right on the beach in front of the St. Moritz Hotel, the Loews Hotel is part of The St. Mortiz now and 16th Street is closed and part of the Loews property. The Loews wasn’t built then and 16th Street was open, so you could park there. It was so derelict that you would put money in any one of the parking meters and it would fall out at the bottom. It was just a regular street like the South Beach side streets are today. A street that ended at the edge of the sand/beach, on either side there were parking spaces and meter. Broken meters. My car got broken into there one time. It usually was only me at that beach and a few older people from the Charles Hotel which was nearby.

This old postcard above is how I remember the St. Moritz from the back, the beach side. It was desolate at the time, closed in the mid-80s. I don’t remember the pool, but I guess it was empty and covered. For some reason I just remember the hotel. I guess it was so far back from the shore that that is all I would see, the tall hotel. If you look at this second photo below, that is the same color blue I would see. This smaller image is from the front. I would park my car to the left of the front, which was 16th Street. Today it is closed and part of the Loews Hotel.

stmoritz2

My best friend Franco talked about buying the St. Moritz. It was just a dream of his. When I would lay at the beach at the shore but facing up at that hotel, I would notice that the two top windows had tinfoil on them, so I would imagine laying on the beach, looking up and seeing the tinfoil sparkle in the sun. That was Franco opening and closing the jalousies so that he could get my attention – sort of like a Bat signal, we didn’t have cell phones back then. That was my cue to come in from the beach to work my shift at the front desk. This of course all in my head, Franco never bought the hotel and I would just imagine it as I lay on the sand. If you look at the larger photo above, the one on the postcard, you can see the two top center windows I was speaking about.

One time as I was leaving the beach, I was in my car, and a traffic cop came up to me and said, “Do you want to be in a movie? If you do, drive naturally when the light changes.” They were filming the opening credits on Collins Avenue to the movie, “Making Mr. Right.” The movie came out in 1987, so this may have been one of my hey day years, 1986.

There really was no traffic in South Beach, which I don’t think was even called South Beach at that time, so they could just film a movie without really disturbing anything. It was the same with Miami Vice at the time. They would just shoot the show right there, mere feet from you. Even car chases on Ocean Drive were just a few feet away, I’m not sure how they got away with it.

One time they were filming at the Hare Krishna hotel, just off the boardwalk. I walked over with my friend jak and we were watching. I was leaning on a director’s chair watching, and my friend jak says, to me, “Isn’t that Karen Black?” I asked, “Where?” He said, “You’re leaning on her chair!” And it was Karen Black. It was that small of a town and homespun at that time period. Whenever I see the rerun of that episode I think of the Karen Black incident. It was an episode called, “Victims of Circumstance.”

If you look at the opening credits of Making Mr. Right you’ll see that car scene, that very day I was asked to be part of the traffic in the opening. I didn’t make the cut, but you can see that moment in time. The whole movie takes place during that period, so I like to watch it sometimes just for that. Speaking of credits, on the Miami Vice shot, it was the closing credits they were filming that time. At the very end, the Hare Krishnas come out from behind a wall as Crockett and Tubbs walk by them. When the last image is shown on tv, they literally froze the scene at the moment the Krishnas were coming out from behind the wall. The directors/producers whomever, screwed them out of their moment in the sun!

Crandon and Key Biscayne, was another world. It was like being on a tropical island. It was never busy during weekdays and the water was gin clear. There was hundreds, possibly thousands of palm trees. Key Biscayne or parts of it were a coconut plantation around the turn of the century, so it was paradise. I used to break open coconuts and rub the coconut milk on my body. Sometimes when I’m watching the tv shows Survivor or Naked and Afraid, it reminds me so much of that time and period.

South Beach, which wasn’t South Beach yet, was run down and old, just the way I loved it. We all knew each other before all the New Yorkers and party people came and overtook it in the 90s. Back in the 80s it was a small village, rundown and all ours, no tourists or wanna bes.

I was at a party once at the Versace mansion only it was not a mansion, it was a rundown apartment building. It was long before Gianni Versaci, there was an open courtyard surrounded by apartments where people lived. As you entered, there was a wrought iron spiral staircase where the big wooden door is now. There were no gates and no big door at the entrance, you would just enter the courtyard and go to the apartment you lived in.

I can go on and on, we had the run of Miami Beach, we were all over the place, we went to every dive bar on every side street, we hung out at the beach, Flamingo Park and everywhere in between. Lincoln Road was desolate then. You wouldn’t go there after dark, but during the day we hung out there. So many memories, I’m not sure why they are all flooding back now, but I’ll tell you more next time.

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She’s putting down The Flintstones; how do you put down The Flintstones?

the-flintstones

There’s an article in AV Club by Emily Todd VanDerWerff, who rips apart my favorite all-time cartoon.

The article, “In The Flintstones, Hanna-Barbera found a shameless rip-off that worked,” she tells of how it’s a take-off of the Honeymooners.

I guess I always knew that, but I always thought it was an homage to the Honeymooners, I mean there’s a thought in life and art that nothing is original. Everything is “stolen.”

I wrote about a book once called, “Steal Like An Artist,” where the author Austin Kleon says that there are no original ideas.

I guess I’m touchy about The Flintstones because I think that’s my favorite all time cartoon. Fred Flintstone was the first character I would draw as a child. When people are asked who their influences are, I always say Hanna-Barbera first, followed by Charles Schulz.

But my early years, I mean, like being two and three and four, was The Flintstones, Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear and Quick Draw McGraw.

My earliest childhood memory is me running around the apartment in Brooklyn naked (I was about two or three years old), my mother was running after me trying to get me into the bathtub and Huckleberry Hound was coming on the tv – the actual theme song for the show was playing! I can see this scene in my head and remember it!

The writer, VanDerWerff is probably a millennial who doesn’t get it, she probably grew up with the Cartoon network and all those other channels like Boomerang and Nickelodeon. They show cartoons all day. But we watched cartoons when they were on, not at any whim of time or day and we didn’t have 20 channels just for cartoons. So we appreciated the cartoons we had. It sounds like I trudged through snow to get to school, but you know what I’m saying.

The only thing I like is her name – VanDerWerff, because it sounds like Vander Pyl, the voice of Wilma Flintstone – Jean Vander Pyl.

By the way, I have a comic that I did which is a spoof of The Flintstones. I took it out of circulation, because I would like to publish it again, but people find it somewhere on the internet and ask to buy it for various things – business cards, invitations, things like that. I’m always surprised that every once in awhile I’ll get a random email from a stranger. It wasn’t for sale anywhere, people just out of the blue contact me and ask to purchase the rights. It started last summer. And I often wonder how many people have just taken it and used it without knowing how to reach me or that they should ask for permission. But it’s interesting that it’s usually the same comic all the time, a Flintstones comic.

The Flintstones is my favorite cartoon and always will be.

Sticking up for printed newspapers

newspapers1

A guy posted this old photo of people reading the newspapers on a subway in NYC on a Facebook page I follow. He commented on how people used to read the papers daily and mentions that he hasn’t read a paper in years. I mean years, like since the 1990s, he says.

If he felt some sort of way to post the photo, why not support the newspapers once in awhile and buy  printed copy? He makes it seem like something from the past that can’t be attained anymore, when all he has to do is go out and buy one – a fresh one, printed today with today’s news and features!

newspapers2

Other people were mentioning that they hadn’t read a printed paper in years. And I don’t know why, but it really got me pissed. I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut these days so I didn’t comment or reply to any of them but I felt like telling them all off. They all sound like people of  certain age, one guy was mentioning reading the New York Journal-American for God’s sake, I think that went out in 1966, so doesn’t he feel sort of an obligation or curiosity to at least pick up a paper now and then?

I had posted this great video about the NYC newspaper strike of 1945 here in the blog awhile back; I watched it again the other day on my tv- it was so enjoyable on the big screen.

I’ve spoken before about dumping the daily newspaper, but I can’t do it. I tried going just digital, but for some reason, I need to hold it in my hands and read it that way every day, even though I’ve gotten 99% of the news and features on the internet the day or night before.

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