Cartoons, cartoons, cartoons.... John Crowther's Cartoon Odyssey

I think of it as The Fool's Journey. I've been asked who the "fool" is. It's me, but in the classical sense of the court jester. Only the fool was allowed to tell the king of his follies. All cartoons are available as prints or originals, framed or unframed, through my website or e-mail. For mugs, t-shirts, and other products visit my gift shop at* (be sure to include the *).

Sunday, December 31, 2006

It's Not Beautiful, It's Art

In the words of the great Andrew Wyeth (son of the arguably even greater artist, illustrator N.C. Wyeth), "abstract art is made by the inept and sold to the ignorant by the unscrupulous." And that was back before the advent of conceptual art, when "movements" like dadaism were mere footnotes. Just this past year a New York sculptor sent a piece to a gallery in England. By accident, the sculpture and the plain base it was intended to sit on were displayed separately. The sculpture was ignored, but the base sold for an enormous sum of money. When I was at Princeton I was involved with Theatre Intime, the undergraduate drama group. In the basement were some very large canvases, all painted a solid murky black. Assuming they were old sets, I suggested they be thrown out. "Oh no," I was told, "those are Frank's paintings," Frank being Frank Stella, then a senior. Today those "paintings" can get seven figures at auction.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Tarot, Tarot, Tarot

What an honor and thrill to be chosen as Time's Man of the Year this year because of my efforts in putting my work up on the Internet. When a friend told me it was actually along with several million other website owners, bloggers, filmmakers, teeny boppers at MySpace, publishers of on-line newsletters, spammers, and e-zines I didn't believe him, and rushed out to buy a copy. (You'd have thought Time could at least have sent me a copy for free.) Sure enough, I was right, there was my picture on the cover staring back at me. There's just no living with me anymore.

(Note: it was called to my attention that my website and e-mail address were not, as I'd believed, on my bio page here. The situation has been rectified, in case anyone cares to e-mail me directly or look at other work of mine. I still, however, have not posted my favorite song.)


Friday, December 29, 2006

Off Their Rockers

I take heart in the fact that rock is here to stay. I was a high school junior when a classmate came back after a vacation with Elvis's first album, known then to an elite few. What a breath of fresh air it was, after growing up being force fed Abba Dabba Honeymoon, Che Sera Sera, I've Got a Lov-ah-lee Bunch of Coconuts (made popular by Merv Griffin), and Mule Train. Then came the Beatles, and my generation's affront to grownups slid into the mainstream. Today The Rolling Stone and other rockers who are left from back then have oxygen and defibrillators backstage, just in case. One thing hasn't changed though, the older generation for the most part scorns the music of the younger generation ("you call that noise music?"), and some of the most cutting edge work comes from kids barely out of high school. And Middle America (speaking culturally, not geographically) gets its treacle fix from "American Idol" rather than the likes of Phil Harris and Doris Day.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Some Light Bedtime Reading

I once was hired to write a film for the legendary producer Dino De Laurentiis. He insisted on flying me from Los Angeles to New York to tell me the story. If I liked it and wanted to do it, he promised, we had a deal. In our first meeting he "pitched" me his entire idea: "a Chinese detective is working in Chinatown." For this he flew me first class all the way to NY and put me up at the Mayfower in a suite overlooking Central Park. I needed the money, so I loved the idea. In one of our early story conferences he handed me a stack of books, a series of novels about a Japanese detective in Los Angeles. Chinese, Japanese, New York, Los Angeles, to Dino it was all the same. "Take whatever you like in these and incorporate it into the film," he told me. Naive me, I asked if he owned the rights to the books. "Oggi giorno," he said, "non si deve creare, si deve rubare." Nowadays you don't create, you steal." I'm guessing that plagiarism has been with us in the world ever since the second person put pen to paper, or scratched symbols on stone.

Referring to il Professore's comment on Dec. 26, you weren't off-topic at all. Good story. Another one I love concerns Samuel Goldwyn, who drove writer N. Richard Nash crazy all through the scripting of "Porgy and Bess," calling him at all hours of the night and day with minor suggestions and notes. When the script was done Nash retired to a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel for the weekend, and got Goldwyn to promise not to bother him. Sure enough Nash's phone rang at 3 in the morning that first night. It was Goldwyn. "Sam," Nash mumbled almost incoherently, "do you know what time it is?" Nash heard Goldwyn turn to his wife without missing a beat and say, "Frances, Nash wants to know what time it is."

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A Tantrum By Any Other Name

Have you noticed there aren't any "brats" around anymore? In the name of linguistic purification, or rather linguistic sterilization, which as always reflects generalized cultural hiccups, kids don't have "tantrums" nowadays either. Both terms suggest a deep insensitivity to the acute pathology called "childhood," which lasts in many cases for decades. Actually, we all have tantrums all the time. A tantrum is a way of saying "I want what I want and I want it now, and I don't want to have to do anything to get it." Once we pass age 12 tantrums are replaced by more socially acceptable behavior such as drug use and anorexia, but they're still just tantrums. As we get older these are replaced by socially acceptable adult tantrums like obesity, alcoholism, road rage, and spousal abuse, which are manifestations of the more socially acceptable term "acting out." Why don't we all just grow up?

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Hooray For Hollywood

I was once hired by a major producer to write a gritty New York detective story. This was just after "Fort Apache, The Bronx" had become a big hit. Sometime after the first draft was finished and we were working on revisions, "Raiders of the Lost Ark" was released and turned into an even bigger hit. So the producer ordered me to turn our hard-hitting drama in a comic book style comedy. Needless to say, it never got made. Later it was turned back into a drama, but by then a new writer had been brought in.

Monday, December 25, 2006

I Do, I Do

Years ago when there were still some things worth watching on television, a man named David Susskind hosted a discussion program that was among the best. I remember one show that dealt with the work of Tennessee Williams. Joining a theatre critic, a couple of academic types, and two respected directors on the panel was the brilliant actress Maureen Stapleton, who had starred on Broadway in Williams's "The Rose Tattoo." After a lot of very lofty intellectual rambling about deeper meanings, Susskind turned to Miss Stapleton, who had remained mostly silent. "Maureen," he said, "you haven't said very much, but since you've played many of Williams's most memorable heroines we'd all be interested to hear your opinion." "Well, David," she answered, "I don't know what everyone is going on about. As far as I'm concerned, Tennessee's characters are just folks." And that's the reality, my friends, we're all just folks, who love and need to be loved. We all hurt and grieve and laugh and celebrate, and want to do those things with someone else, and in the end more than anything else we're terrified of ending our days on earth alone. That's all it's about, finding someone we want to join us on this journey. All the rest is political posturing that has nothing to do with loving, and that's just terribly sad.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

To All a Good Night

I realize there are lots of ways
To wish you all Happy Holidays,
But the one I prefer is not PC,
Which frankly matters squat to me.


Saturday, December 23, 2006

Don't Throw Away the Box

Thinking "outside the box" has become so au courant it can now be considered thinking inside the box. Producers and young network executives are urged to think outside the box and it's given us some of the most mind-numbingly banal programming ever in the history of the medium. Not satisfied with giving us "Deal or No Deal" a quiz show where contestants don't even have to know any answers to anything, they've now come up with"Identity," where to win the million you have to match up people and their.... well, their identity. Like you have to figure out that the barechested guy with long hair, lots of bling bling, and more tattoos than the Sistine Chapel has frescoes is the alligator wrestler, the looker in a skimpy bathing suit, high heels, and carrying balloons is the Vegas showgirl, and the barrel-chested mean-looking dude is a nightclub bouncer. Duh. Talk about thinking inside the box. I wish programmers would all get back in their boxes and give us shows where reasonably intelligent people have to know things like the capital of Ulaan Bator.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Up Up and Away

This past week the Iraq Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, bowing to pressure from the U.S. Adminstration to shake up his government, changed his Minister of Tourism. As Dave Barry says, I'm not making this up. At last, I thought, some real progress, putting life back into a potential engine for the Iraqi economy. I mean, think about it, throngs of German tourists sunning themselves on the endless stretches of sand along the Tigris and Euphrates, going pub crawling until the wee hours when the suicide bombers are off-duty, or admiring the painting at the National Art Museum, you know, the one not good enough to get looted. What was the old minister thinking? Here he was, sitting on a potential goldmine, and the best he could do was hide out in the Green Zone watching "Gilligan's Island" reruns.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

To Steal or Not to Steal, That Is the Question

It used to be we couldn't pass a mirror without sneaking a glance at ourselves. Admit it, now it's hard to avoid a peek at the security system monitors you see all over the place. And this has had a really bad influence on our self-image, because if the ubiquitous "fat mirrors" threw us into a funk, these monitors can wreak havoc with our sense of self. In the supermarket I go to they have one by the fruit and vegetable department. Notice they don't put it by the cakes and pies.

It's long been known that in L.A. every waiter, bartender, valet parking jock, and telephone sales "specialist" is a wannabe actor, but I've had lawyers, cops, physicians, airline pilots, journalists, and Lord knows what else take my classes. The only thing I haven't had are undocumented aliens. Makes sense, they have no time to learn acting, they're too busy doing all the work.

I discovered yesterday while doing a Google search , I had spelled Chesley Bonestell incorrectly. Still, his name came up immediately. Good old Google, they have such a nice way of telling us we've been a doofus, and they don't even hold it against us. They gently suggest that "perhaps you meant to type....." Anyway, check him out, his paintings are awesome.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Out of This World

When I was a kid I didn't much like to read. I far preferred looking at pictures. One of my favorite books was "Conquest of Space," by Willy Ley. The illustrations were by Chesley Bonestall, and they were breathtaking. I spent hours and hours gazing at the landscapes on alien planets, and travelling among distant galaxies. It's astonishing how accurate so many of the meticulously researched and detailed paintings were, judging from images sent back by wandering spacecraft. Ley described with astonishing prescience today's space program, and Bonestall's paintings imagined men floating high above the earth in pictures eerily similar to the photos we've become familiar with. For a while I wanted to be Chesley Bonestall when I grew up. Fate and a lack of his work ethic (not to mention talent) took me in other directions. This is as close as I can come. I can take comfort in the fact that Ley and Bonestall weren't especially funny. But then, hey, there are those who'd say I'm not either.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

It's Never Too Soon

It's no joke. I've heard some nursery schools now are even offering scholarships to high achievers. If you have a kid who's really good at seesaw you might get help with tuition. It's not good enough if a kid is just smart. They've got to be all-around, so by all means parents should have their 3-year olds out doing some community service. A year of interning with a local law firm or ad agency is not a bad idea. Counting to 10 is no longer acceptable. At the very least an understanding of prime numbers is suggested. Names of the presidents doesn't cut it. Junior should know their vice presidents, wives and children, home state, home state's capital, and mother's maiden name. If they get turned down by nursery school maybe they could get a shot on "Jeopardy."

Many thanks, all of you, for your comments. The most fun of all this is finding out what you have to say. Keep it coming!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Dial H For Hostage

I remember the first person I knew to have a cell phone, called a portable phone back then. It required that he carry a box around, like a small attache case. When he was at a restaurant he would ostententatiously set it on the table so everyone knew he had it, and when he spoke on it he'd talk a little louder than normal so that everyone in the place knew he had one. People still talk too loud on them, but now it's just bad manners, not showing off. Before hand-held cell phones, car phones were the rage. In Hollywood some genius made a bundle selling fake ones. My friend Bayard pointed out that if you were seen talking on your car phone you probably weren't all that important. Gotta love Hollywood.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


It's traditional and expected that adults are dismayed by kids' slang, which changes with each successive generation. And kids are equally dismissive of adults trying to preempt their linguistic additions. Try using "dude" with a straight face when talking to a group of teenagers and you'll get howls of laughter. (The pronunciation is key, the vowel must be flattened out, "dood," with zero hint of a dipthong.) I really like "my bad," however. I hear it all the time while coaching lacrosse. "Sorry," after an error, always sounds slightly insincere, but "my bad" is a genuine acknowledgement of wrongdoing. Just once I'd like to hear one of our politicians in a press conference cop to a screw up with "my bad."

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Eye for an Eye, Aye Aye

I'd like to know what in the world closure is. As commonly used nowadays it generally means "somebody's got to pay" for whatever harm has befallen oneself or a loved one. It's as if the meting out of punishment is sufficient to end heartache and suffering, and the harsher the better. It's a kind of emotional enema. In Old Testament times they thought in terms of real honest to crackers retribution, like the hand of God blasting down from on high in the form of a lightning bolt and smiting whoever the bad 'ites of the moment were. Nowadays it's a matter of a law suit, or a bad guy getting longer than ten to twenty. Whatever happened to forgiveness? Ask the Amish. They got it right.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Happy Hour

Christmas is an especially difficult time. With so much to do, activism just has to take a back seat. I mean, sacrifice is well and good, but let's face it, things just aren't the way they were back in biblical days when folks didn't have television or so much to do. Giving up a hardscrabble life as a shepherd or fisherman to troop around the countryside with some prophet was probably a better deal. So for the month of December, PETA, the Democratic National Committee, anti-smoking groups, Parents Against Whatever, the fight to rid the world of transfats, and myriad other causes will just have to take a back seat. Meanwhile, you can ease the guilt by giving some loose change to anyone at the mall with a bucket ringing a bell.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

'Til Justin Timberlake Do Us Part

Kinky Friedman, the Jewish country-western singer who ran for Texas governor in 2006, famously endorsed the idea of same-sex marriage, saying "if they want to be as miserable as the rest of us, let 'em." The notion that granting same-sex couples the right to wed somehow threatens "traditional" marriage is pretty silly. What is traditional marriage, after all? You don't have to go back too far to get to the time when a wife was considered property, with as much social standing as the husband's ox and dog. If the "social conservatives" really wanted to protect the sanctity of marriage, they'd be putting all their energies into outlawing divorce.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Domestic Blish

I see that Apocalypto got off to a good start as the number one box office grosser last weekend, which proves something, but I don't know what. Maybe that a drunken antisemitic rant isn't enough to dim the public's voracious appetite for blood, guts, and mayhem. Or maybe people just figure that boorish behavior and bad taste prove that celebrities are like the rest of the population after all. One thing is certain, it's the weekend numbers that determine the fate of a career, not virulent insults. Michael Richards ought to have a movie coming out, perhaps a glorious epic celebrating the life and heroic deeds of Attila the Hun.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Tree's Company

The SeaTac airport serving Seattle-Tacoma this week removed 14 plastic Christmas trees because a rabbi wanted a menorah to be displayed. The authorities reasoned (if you can call this "reason") that if they erected a menorah they would have to put up holiday symbols from any other religion that came along and wanted to be included, and this, they said, would have been too much work. Instead they eighty-sixed the trees. Sounds like a bit of a knee-jerk snit to me. One more way to turn the Christmas season into a great big squabble. So much for the holday spirit, peace on earth, good will toward men, all those phrases that decorate greeting cards and highball glasses, but have little meaning otherwise. I personally think the fact the trees were plastic is enough to get rid of them.

(Heartfelt thanks to Taylor Jane Rowe, age 5 1/2, for inspiration for the cartoon.)

Monday, December 11, 2006

Walkman Walkdog

Mankind was genetically engineered to survive in a hostile environment, evolving strategies and physical attributes that allowed our forebears to gather nourishment, seek protection from the elements, and hopefully escape being eaten by other animals. One has to wonder if maybe we've hit an evolutionary dead end. Survival is being taken care of for us. Our food comes preprepared and prepackaged (and in some cases, predigested), our clothes come off a rack, and our shelters await the turn of the key. We no longer even have to pay attention, that ability to detect imminent danger. The irony is that all the means for survival provided us by technology are doing nothing but erode the innate tools we once used to survive. One can only wonder where the human being is heading genetically. What will we look like in fifty million years? Will we and our pets be born with little earphones already attached?

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Play Better Be Good

One hundred dollars plus for a Broadway show has become normal, but I read the other day that in Lost Angeles some seats have hit the century mark for a one-woman show by a celebrity offspring who has become a celebrity herself in past years whining publicly about her parents and blabbing about her battles with substance abuse. Wow, how's that for fascinating? Go to any Beverly Hills cocktail party and you can hear the same sorry tale from anyone sipping from a glass of Evian while pigging out on the Brie and miniature tacos. But hey, theatre's a bargain. A courtside seat at a Lakers game can run you a couple of grand. And that's without the hot dog and beer.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Ubiquitous Cell

One of the most fascinating news stories of the past week concerned an association of outraged homeowners in Beverly Hills that is fighting the construction of a cell tower in its neighborhood. It's got to be the ultimate in conflicted interests, they want their convenience, but God forbid anything convenient should despoil their environs. Yeah, like "put the ugly stuff in somebody else's backyard." These people should get out more and see the rest of the world. I'm always amused by the cell tower alongside the 405 freeway in L.A.'s Sepulveda Pass. Some genius at Caltrans had it painted to resemble a palm tree. Well, not resemble exactly, more like roughly approximate badly camouflaged cargo pants. I'm surprised some overly paid curator hasn't tried to call it art, haul it up the hill, and put it in the Getty plaza alongside the huge thing that looks like melting construction scaffolding.

Friday, December 08, 2006

'Tis the Season

I'm proud to say I'm a union member. Of course, it's a stretch to say the Writers Guild is a union in the factory labor or dockworker sense. Ninety-five percent of the members are out of work most of the time, and they're the ones who call the shots when it comes to a strike. They love striking, because they can be seen in public on the picket lines, and get their pictures in the papers, and for once really feel like they're writers. But the union has been a good thing for me. It collects residuals. I got one the other day for $34. And that was for a movie I wrote over 25 years ago. And then there was this one, for one cent. I'm torn between framing it and going to B of A and trying to open an account with it.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Baby Steps

Why 12 steps? I mean, why couldn't there be a 20-step program? Okay, maybe that's a bit much, by the end you'd have forgotten why you were there in the first place. But why not a 10-step program, or a 5-step, or a 3-step program for people with ADD? I'd like to start a 12-step program for folks addicted to 12-step programs. It would start as a 12-step program, but the facilitator would announce at the end of the first session that the idea is to gradually cut back. How about a one-step program? Like, say, for chocoholics? Step One: "Put down that chocolate bar! Done."

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Pope George I

I think that even the most partisan among us would be appalled at the headline I read yesterday: "Bush Tells Shiite Leader He's Unhappy With Violence." Unhappy? Almost 3,000 dead American soldiers, hundreds of thousands of dead and maimed Iraqis, billions of dollars squandered, a country in flames because of the war he started, and his way of dealing with it is to tell the head of one of the warring factions he's unhappy with the violence! It occurs to me he thinks of himself as a spiritual patriarch who exerts his influence with either a blessing or an admonishment. He simply doesn't realize what a political leader does, especially in times of great conflict. Real leadership requires deep understanding of all the opposing forces, a cold-eyed perception of reality, an evaluation of the options, courage to admit mistakes, and the diplomatic skill to bring everyone to the table and get them talking. Of course, this was the guy who looked into Putin's soul and liked what he saw, the guy who had a summit meeting (what in Hollywood we call "doing breakfast") a week ago with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki and stopped just short of declaring to him, "Nouri, you're doing a heck of a job."

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Unlike Father....

Educators and parents associations are deeply concerned with what they perceive as a "problem" with schoolyard bullies, but they miss the larger picture. Bullying is nothing but a ritualized aspect of the human experience (like sports and window shopping). We're a nation of bullies, accountants and a tiny minority of independent thinkers, and it's reflected on the playground where the accountants suck up to the bullies and they all beat the crap out of the independent thinkers.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Those Wacky Cavemen

I've wondered through the years what was the first joke. Not the first recorded joke, mind you, but the first ever joke. When did irony creep into human interaction? Did Homo Sapiens tell Neanderthal jokes, like, "did you hear the one about the two Neanderthals out fishing in a dugout, and the fishing was so good they wanted to return to the same spot the next day, so one of them suggested carving an "x" in the bottom of the boat?" This one acquired an additional punchline when it became a Polish joke, but hey, that was a few hundred thousand years later. Jokes don't just spring up fully formed overnight, you know. I've heard the Egyptians carved some really hilarious comic strips on the walls of their burial chambers, so the dead could have a good chuckle in the afterlife.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

What's In a Word?

Look what you started, Michael Richards. Well no, actually, you didn't start anything, you just grabbed the elephant lurking in the corner and hauled him onto center stage for his 15 minutes. The astonishing thing is that the consensus among the professors, attorneys, activists, opinion shapers, and pundits who trooped past broadcast journalism's microphones and cameras this week was that the "n" word ought to be banned. Like banning stuff works, right? The way prohibition got rid of the desire for booze. I didn't hear anyone dare to suggest that banning a word would not only fail to solve the problem, it would exacerbate it, driving it underground where it could fester and metastasize. If we want to get rid of a word, let's ban the word "super." In my opinion it's a really dumb word. Or better still, let's ban dumb opinions.

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Saturday, December 02, 2006

A Writer's Rights

The bitterest part is, getting the manuscript to the publisher in the first place wasn't free. Free country? Bah, humbug. They talk about the 'free skies of United." So when did they last let you fly to Paris for free? And freeways. Don't make me laugh. I spent an hour an a half yesterday going sixteen miles.

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Friday, December 01, 2006

This Can't Be Right

I'm not saying the account of Noah is bogus, but I figure we're not getting it exactly right. I mean, something's been lost in translation. For one thing, who measures anything in cubits? And where would you get gopherwood? Ever since I was a little kid, this threw all the rest of the story into doubt. So undoubtedly somewhere along the truth got distorted when someone put spin on it for propoganda purposes. Most likely official sources. And then it was spread by the media.