Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Point of Beginning

When the first Stickles cartoons were published in thursday, Pud was still a high school student. I'd been drawing cartoons about my high school and posting them on the bulletin board in math class for almost two years, so when I had an actual newspaper in which to get them published, I decided to stick with what I knew.
I went to a performing arts high school in Houston, Texas. In fact, I was in the very first graduating class. We were already regarded as misfits and oddballs, but I took it even further by being the one student in the high school who successfully got into MIT - a fact that was noted obliquely by one of the local newspapers, which wrote that not only was our class sending graduates off to places like Berklee and Julliard, but also MIT (we also sent our share of students to the University of Houston, but that was expected; "Cougar High" claimed many of the college-bound locals, as did the University of Texas).
For those who can't remember back that far, the jingle is from a commercial for Contac Cold Capsules ("give your cold to Contac!") I think you can still buy the Tiny Time Pills at your local pharmacy.

Obviously, a campus full of MIT undergraduates was not really going to be interested in comics about high school students, especially high school students from Texas. So I had to find generic subjects to draw cartoons about, including the terrible stagflation of the '70s.
I even drew a couple of cartoons about Akira Endo, who conducted the Houston Symphony Orchestra for a brief stint, prior to ending up in the orchestra pit at the American Ballet Theatre. He didn't quite have the heft of Seiji Ozawa, but his concerts certainly left their mark.
But I knew I would have to shift the locale, which meant Pud had to graduate high school and get himself into MIT.
It was not easy for him; in what was a true-life story, there was a city election in my senior year that placed the school board in the hands of what today we would call members of the Tea Party. Only then, they were called the Concerted Action for Responsible Education (CARE, get it?). They did not get our high school at all. Or MIT, for that matter. 
One of them ran a car dealership and one of them was a minister who had actually been elected on the slate that previously held power, but then switched sides.

And then, there was Hazel Bracken. At a time when Sarah Palin was still in her chubby stage, Hazel Bracken was the equivalent. She was a batty right-wing extremist given to making off the wall comments on any number of subjects and proudly demonstrating her profound ignorance of all things cultural and intellectual, and she had a daughter whose great ambition in life was to go to Lamar High School and sing with the Choralettes. She could not tell a flute from an oboe, but she claimed to love rhythm and blues. Places like Harvard, Yale and Princeton were just too pointy-headed for her, and MIT was a place she could not fathom. All she knew was that dinosaurs had walked the Earth with humans just like the Bible said, and any book learning that taught otherwise was just un-American poppycock, and she was not going to stand for that. She also didn't understand high schools devoted to the performing arts, perhaps because neither of the two (no, make that three) "Fame" movies had been released yet, and no one had come up with either "Glee" or "High School Musical".

All of this made her an easy caricature, much like the real Sarah Palin. I did several cartoons about a radio interview she once gave. But she lived in a time when there was no Fox News Channel (well, there wasn't even cable TV), so being on the school board was her only source of power, and a heady source it was. She made all kinds of noises about closing down our high school, but after we'd won a raft of artistic honors and our students had brought home any number of academic awards and National Merit scholarships, she left the school alone. I'm not sure how many students my high school has sent to MIT over the years (for a time it was sending one a year to the 'Tute), but I do know that Beyonce Knowles had other plans after high school.
By the way, there really was a Whataburger Institute of Technology, a fact that was documented by the Texas Monthly in its 1974 "Bum Steer" Awards.
Pud eventually did find himself at MIT, despite the odds. I'm still trying to find that strip of him on the airplane with his dad.

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