Enduring Inspiration

A few days ago, I found myself in a Walgreen’s store, passing through the magazine aisle. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a copy of MAD Magazine. I resisted the urge to solve the back cover Fold-In (a sure sign that I have gained some willpower at some point over the last 20 years) and flipped through the pages backwards. I stopped suddenly when I saw a feature about Multiple Personality Disorder, not because the topic gripped me, but because I recognized the artist immediately: John Caldwell.

During the mid to late 80s, “Caldwell” was my favorite single panel newspaper cartoon. It was carried by King Features Syndicate, and featured cartoons that often dealt with literary, music, or technology themes. The strip only ran for a few years, but I found it to dovetail so well with what was important in my life that I eagerly sought it out every day in the Rocky Mountain News. Occasionally, I would find a panel that made me laugh so hard I would cut it out and hang it on the shelf above my desk.

I kept some of those panels over the years, and they moved with me from house to house, state to state, office to office, marriage to marriage, always reminding me of my goals. Below are two of those panels, reproduced here with the gracious permission of the artist.

Things You Don't Say to a Poet #25
Jerry Lee Lewis School of Computer Programming

Anyone who has followed my website over the last ten years can see why these panels appealed to me. The “read your meter” cartoon tied together my love of puns with my desire to be a poet, and the “Jerry Lee Lewis” panel linked my music and computer interests. Integration has always been a theme in my life, and the “Caldwell” strip consistently brought together my interests in ways I didn’t expect.

I remember another panel in which a man is sitting in his pajamas, buried in a continuous roll of paper. The caption said something about the subject’s friend faxing back the copy of War and Peace that he had borrowed a few years earlier. Again, that panel tied together literature and technology. (It might not make sense to younger people these days, but those of us who were around for the commercial explosion of the fax machine remember that faxes originally printed out on continuous rolls, much like teletypes. See the prior post for more about teletypes.)

As the years went by, I dropped out of college, went through some hard times, climbed back up out of the pit, and now I’m finally realizing some of those college dreams. I’m a published writer and poet, I’m a computer professional for a major three-letter acronym, and I’ve played music in dozens of venues. Though I was slow to achieve some of those things, I never lost sight of them, even when times were hard, and I have John Caldwell’s tattered single-panel cartoons to thank for that.

Thanks, John. I’m glad to see that you are still writing, drawing, and making people laugh.

Update 3/2/2007 — I’ve been corresponding with John recently, and he pointed out that some of his cartoons were used in a pre-MTV video called “I Quit” by the band Blotto. That video is here on YouTube if you are interested in checking it out.

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