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 *).

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Don't Mess With the Almighty

The Supreme Court this past week ruled in favor of an Alaska principle who suspended a student for unfurling a banner at a school parade that read "Bong Hits 4 Jesus." Justice Roberts, in writing for the majority, declared, "It was reasonable for (the principal) to conclude that the banner promoted illegal drug use-- and that failing to act would send a powerful message to the students in her charge." I'm guessing that the issue wasn't drug use at all. What offended the school principle and the judges, and remained unspoken in all the ensuing brouhaha, was bringing Jesus into it. Had the banner read something like, say, "Bong Hits 4 Ever," the principle would never have known what the darn thing meant. In fact, what the heck does it mean?

Friday, June 29, 2007

Loss Leaders

Once, in Italy, my wife and I were interested in buying a small parcel of land that belonged to the church in a small village. The local priest wanted to sell it so they could afford to replace the badly leaking and deteriorating church roof. Before the sale could go through we were required to have an audience with the bishop in the nearest large town and get his approval. We met with the well-fed man in his elegant villa, and as we spoke I noticed along with his other jewelry a large diamond ring on his finger. The money from the sale of that one ring alone, I thought, would be enough for new roofs on all the churches in the district.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Suffer The Little Children....

I trust that the phenomenon of the reality show on television is a fleeting one, and the day will soon come when we see the last of the fame and fortune shows. It started with American Idol, which spawned, among others, So You Think You Can Dance, Who Is the Greatest Celebrity Impersonator?, American Inventor, Last Comic Standing, and America's Got Talent, which is just The Gong Show redux and reaches new heights of irony with its title. The dirty and not exactly well-concealed truth is that while most of the contestants on these shows think they're jockeying for a place on the fast track to fame, they're in fact candidates for public humiliation. It says scary things about our culture that people seem so mesmerized by it, a blending of perp walk and red carpet.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Our Father Who Art Under Indictment

I've been wondering, if you have lawyer-client privelege, and priest-confessional privelege, when you put a lawyer and a priest together do they cancel each other out? Or to put it in another way, how many priests and lawyers together does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Answer: Doesn't matter, the lightbulb's going to get screwed.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Workers of the World

Here's a startling fact: the combined weight of all the ants in the world is greater than the combined weight of all the people. It's also a fact that in the insect world ants have one of the biggest brains in relation to their size, with little mushroom-shaped appendages that function in the same way as human grey matter, which is the part of the brain that processes input and responds accordingly. What ants don't do, so far as we know, is question authority. On the other hand, whatever consists of authority in the ant world apparently is doing things that have made the ant incredibly successul as an organism. When rainy season comes and they set up little trade routes in my kitchen, I temporarily solve the problem with great quantities of Raid. Ants are clever enough that, rather than fight back with little ant "surges" they get the message and clear out. One might be tempted to say that we should learn from ants and be more obedient to leadership, but that would miss the point. The individual ant instinctively does what's best for the entire colony, and therefore for ants in general. We rely on our leaders, and therein lies the problem.

Monday, June 25, 2007

So You Wanna Be A Director

The myth of being able to post a video to YouTube and have it go viral within hours has become to this generation what being discovered at the Schwab's soda fountain like Lana Turner was in an earlier time. People hear the tales of a film clip getting millions of hits and ka ching, their heads swim with fantasies of fame and fortune. Actually, there's about as much likelihood of success as there is of winning the lottery. There are thousands of new posts hourly cobbled together by wannabe Steven Spielbergs from around the globe. On the other hand, if you e-mail five friends with a link, and they e-mail five more friends, and this goes on, say, 8 more times, over 48 million people will know about it. This works with blogs as well. I'm guessing you can figure out where this is taking me.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Fly the Friendly Ionosphere

I admit that for a long time I dreamt of taking a hop into space. Still, it astonishes me that there are people willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for a few minutes of sub-orbital flight. If passenger rides on orbital flights ever become commonplace, I wonder if eventually the same thing will happen that's become the norm on the airlines now, where you have to pay extra for your meals. Imagine shelling out a few hundred grand for a trip into space and then having to buy a Subway sandwich. I got into an elevator once in Santa Monica, and the only other person
in it with me was Dennis Tito, who only days before had become the first multi-millionaire to buy his way into space. The only thing I could think of to say was, "how was it?" "Good," he answered. Then the elevator stopped, the door opened, and he got off. That was it. A couple million dollars, several days making ninety-minute circles hundreds of miles above the earth in a tin can, and all he had to say was "good." Ever since it's semed less alluring to me.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Something To Think About

Thinking and communicating are entirely different functions of the brain, so much so that we often have great ideas we can't seem to put into words, and attempt communication with no rational thought process whatever. The ideal, of course, is getting these two functions to work together, and it's better still when we can combine them with effective listening, which means actually thinking about whatever is said to us. Most people blurt out the first thought that pops into their head. Albert Einstein, one of the world's all-time great thinkers, was exactly the opposite. As a small child he was considered retarded because of his odd quirk of quietly repeating something to himself, testing it out, as it were, getting it right before directing it to others. Mathematics was the language with which he was most comfortable, because it allowed him to shape and refine his ideas before presenting them to the world. Frank Lloyd Wright's concepts for buildings often came to him in a flash, and then would be fully developed in his mind before being committed to paper. He thought about the iconic Fallingwater for months before picking up a pencil, and when he finally got around to drawing the plans he completed them within three hours. Perhaps it's a function of genius, the ability to shut up and think. It's a lesson the rest of the world would do well to learn.

Friday, June 22, 2007

God Doesn't Play Dice With the Universe

The most puzzling thing to me about the evolution vs. "intelligent design" conflict is why there has to be any conflict at all. It seems totally logical that an all-powerful creator, if there is such a thing, might easily have put into motion the evolutionary process beginning with a bit of carbon and some water, or whatever. Likewise, the faith vs. science battle need not be. Albert Einstein was deeply religous. He spent the latter half of his life searching for what he called the Unified Field Theory, a single explanation that he was convinced lay behind everything that happened in the universe, from the behavior of quarks to the strange actions of neutrinos. To prove its existence, he felt, would be tantamount to proof of God's existence. And now recently unearthed letters written by Newton, arguably the greatest scientist of all time, show him too to have been extremely religious. The man who discovered the force of gravity also, it seems, pinpointed the time that the Almighty would destroy the earth at around 2060. I hope I didn't ruin your breakfast.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Shrink Wrapped

Click on image to enlarge.

The lowly comic strip has its roots all the way back in early Egyptian times, with heiroglyphics, stories told in images and symbols and meant to be read in a certain order. Examples of sequential art can be found throughout history. The epic tales winding their way around ancient stone columns come to mind, There's William Hogarth's The Rake's Progress from the 18th century, and The Tortures of Erasmus from much earlier, around 1460. Well before that the 239 foot long Bayeux Tapestry chronicled the Norman Conquests beginning in 1066. In 1519 Cortes discovered in Mexico a 36 foot long brightly colored pre-Columbian folding screen that told of the exploits of a great military and political hero. Modern comics had their beginning in the mid-19th century, with the light-hearted satirical tales created by Rudolphe Topffer in Germany. It was the first time cartoon images were separated by panel borders and utilized the interdependence of words and pictures. Lest one think I'm attempting to assign lofty significance to my own incursions into the medium, I offer the words of Goethe, who said about Topffer: "If for the future he would choose a less frivolous subject and restrict himself a little, he would produce things beyond all conception."

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Sounds Like Noise

Of all the irritations that life in the city has to throw at us, the blasting car radio has to be up there at the top of the list. You're sitting in traffic, at one of those interminable several-direction stoplights where every other lane gets to move before you can even think about it, and a neon red low-rider convertible with flames painted on the side pulls up next to you with rap music blasting out of amps that sound like they were lifted from a Dr. Dre concert in the Colisseum. Your sinuses start to rattle, your eyeballs quiver, and the NPR discussion you were listening to about discrimination against Section 8 renters in the San Fernando Valley is swallowed up in the tsunami of sound. You sneak a quick peak in the car's direction, praying you don't make eye contact with the driver for fear he'll pull out a gun and shoot you. The best you can do is be thankful he isn't listening to Ethel Merman.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A Quick View of Tarot

Many, if not most people will discount tarot on the grounds that there's no "emprirical evidence" to prove its workings. As a result it can't be scientifically explained and therefore, they say, is "bogus." But there's another way to look at tarot. It requires no "explanation," no more than the myths and folk tales that have survived through the centuries. 78 cards. 22 are what is called the Major Arcana, and they chart Man's journey through a series of life lessons, from complete innocence to worldliness, and in so doing bring him back to a state of innocence. 56 make up the Minor Arcana, arranged in suits like a playing deck, with each card representing a universal archetype. When arranged in a "spread" they tell a story, which can have underlying meanings that connect to our lives, not unlike parables, fables, mystery plays, poetry, novels, and even dreams that invite us to perceive and understand ourselves in previously unexamined ways. The cards can be drawn and arranged in a virtually infinite number of random spreads, so the possibilities for storytelling are endless. It's that simple, and that unprepossessing.

Monday, June 18, 2007

It's In the Cards

When it comes to divination, I personally prefer Tarot cards. Tarot has less to do with the meanings of the individual cards than it does the syntax and grammar of the "spread." Meanings shift subtly in relation to where the other cards lie. Plus I love the pictures, filled with arcane symbols that draw one deeper and deeper into the cards' mysteries. Despite the common misconception, the reader is not necessarily a psychic, but rather an interpreter. Intuition plays a part, but it is an intuition born of knowledge. I'm often astonished at how one can read for a total stranger and see described in ten cards randomly drawn and placed in a pattern the precise issue that occupies a central place in the person's life at that moment. The I Ching has some of the same mysterious accuracy, the ability to zero in and define. I've never been able to get with the Ouija board. No matter how much I attempt to convince myself to the contrary, I can't shake the feeling that it's some trace energy from within me nudging the pointer exactly where I want it to go.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Phase Is Familiar

Kate yesterday contributed the astute and accurate comment, "sometimes the commentary is directly related to the cartoon, and other times indirectly, or not at all." From the beginning, it was a conscious decision of mine to keep cartoon and my mini-homily co-independent. That is, I will never post a cartoon and accompanying text that rely on each other for elucidation. My hope is always that the cartoon will be first and foremost funny, and of course understandable, though I'll admit that in both cases I may come up short. If it also makes some deeper social or political point so much the better, but it's not a given. Sometimes cartoon and text will make the same point, even if ham-fistedly. On occasion, the homily will careen off on its own, with no immediately discernible relationship to the cartoon. But cartoon and text should each stand by itself. Or fall by the wayside.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Do Unto Others

Back in 10 B.C., Horace wrote in his Epistles, "Your own safety is at stake when your neighbor's house is burning down." In Leviticus (19:18) it is writ, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." And according to an anonymous aphorism, when you have a plot of land the best thing to cultivate is your neighbors. Nowadays, all the world's a neighborhood. When will we learn?

Friday, June 15, 2007

It Takes Two To Tango

The struggle for rights often becomes defined, unfortunately, by the excesses of a minority fringe within whatever group is fighting for equality and an end to prejudice. The clamor for attention on the part of a few, be it gays, women, or ethnic groups, tends to obscure continuing injustices and ends up creating animosity that is more detrimental than helpful. But where there's smoke there's fire. Prejudice and injustice persist. I'm pleased that we finally have a viable woman candidate for president in this country. Whatever one thinks of her as a politician and potential world leader, pro or con, people are taking Hillary Clinton's candidacy seriously. We will have grown up as a nation when the pundits no longer have to ask whether "America is ready to elect a woman president."

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Age and Innocence

When I turned 50 a younger friend asked me, as someone inevitably will each time we tick off another decade, how it felt. I thought about it briefly and then answered that it suddenly occurred to me a century isn't nearly as long as I used to think. When you're a youth, 100 years is about as close as you can come to forever. As you get older, a century becomes a much more easily comprehensible time frame. Now that I'm a sestagenarian I realize that one need only multiply my current age by about 30 to be back at the time of Christ's birth. Multiply my present number of years by only around two hundred, and we're all the way back with the hunter-gatherers, before the advent of agriculture. What's really scary is that only 6 and a half times my current age separates me from the birth of Shakespeare. Gosh, I feel as if I must know somebody who knew him.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

It's Sensational, We Love It, Sorry, No.

Working in the film industry, one must become very thick-skinned. Rejection is the order of the day. As a writer-director pedalling "spec" scripts in between commissions, or seeking financing for independent projects, I discovered that the default answer is "no." The trick is to try and eliminate every possible reason for a turndown until the person behind the desk is left with no other choice but to give approval. This can be tricky. Let's say you've got Brad Pitt committed to star in your sensitive, low-budget story. "Sorry," the answer comes back, "nobody will pay to see Pitt in such a 'little' movie." You suggest quadrupling the budget. "Sorry, that kind of budget is too big for this kind of tender auteur film. We love it, but no." A number of years ago CBS
wanted to bring back Stacy Keach in Mike Hammer, but they were aiming for a new demographic. As it had been essentially a "male" audience, they hoped to interest women viewers. I was called in to pitch an idea for the movie-of-the-week. My entire pitch consisted of the single sentence, "we give Mike Hammer a mid-life crisis." "Yes, perfect," shouted the roomful of producers. So I was hired to write a script in which Hammer suddenly is no longer interested in the hedonistic life. Gorgeous loose women throw themselves at him and all he wants is to find a simple girl to settle down with. His curvaceous secretary goes on vacation and he hires a grandmotherly type to replace her. The producers' reaction? "It's terrific, but you've eliminated everything that makes Mike Hammer who he is." So much for irony.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Less Than Meets the Eye

The current state of politics, and the partisan squabbling in Washington, puts me in mind of a parable. Seems that back in the old west there was an outlaw feared by all, known far and wide as the most vicious and elusive bandit ever. The bravest, toughest sheriff in the region set out to track him down, but such was the reputation of the outlaw the sheriff was unable to put together a posse, so he was left no choice but to go it alone. After several weeks he found the bad guy hiding in the hills and closed in on him. A terrible gun battle ensued, and the sheriff managed to capture the man. He took his gun from him, tied him up, and they started back to civilization. On the way they were suddenly surrounded by angry indian warriors on horseback, whooping and hollering. The sheriff untied the bandit, handed him back his gun, and said, "if we're going to get out of here alive we're going to have to work together." "Screw you, Sheriff," the man replied, "you got us into this mess, you're going to have to get us out of it." And so they both died.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Naked Truth

Education is a wonderful thing, if only there were more of it. The problem is that too few schools really educate students, but rather teach them. There's a big difference. You teach people to think like you do, you educate them to think for themselves. This becomes critical when you have an entire population of high school and college graduates who have no idea how to gather information and reach educated conclusions from it. Instead they rely on the spewage that gushes out of the media for their recycled opinions on things they know little about. And most people limit themselves to those media outlets they can count on to provide them with opinions they already know will be acceptable to them, which saves them the time and effort of informing themselves. Information. In formation. Much better to have opinions that are in the process of being formed than to be perpetually stuck in a quagmire of ignorance.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

All That Doesn't Meet the Eye

My apologies for bringing up Paris Hilton again, but this isn't really about her. It's about pompous, windbag, know-it-all television punditry. Now I admit I've been a longtime addict of the TV opinion yakfests, but the thrill is wearing off. Back to Ms. Hilton for a moment, the latest brouhaha over her incarceration has nothing to do with her. It's about long-standing hostilities between the Sheriff's department and the judges, who've become increasingly teed off because the Sheriff routinely releases prisoners early due to acute overcrowding in the jails. Apparently, women prisoners on the average serve only 10% of their time. The judges complain that the Sheriff, in taking it on himself to shorten sentences, is assuming their role. Paris Hilton became the unwitting high-profile case for the judiciary to publicize their beef. In other words, no matter what you think of her, she was used. I bring this up because the gasbags on The McLaughlin Report this week sat around smugly condemning her, while totally missing the real story. Where do those gasbags get their information? Or fail to get it.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

No News Is Extremely Good News

Paris, Brittney, Lindsay, O.J., Don Imus, Robert Blake, Mel, George, Anna Nicole, Jo Beth (remember her?), it's all become one big blur. When did the civic duty of being informed turn into an endless feeding frenzy of Peeping Tom-ism? Perhaps the worst part is the way these paroxysms of mass obsession with the unbearably uninteresting inevitably are accompanied at a certain point with the media's questioning who's to blame for the hysteria. It's like the proverbial fox wondering who bears responsibility for his raiding the hen house, his rapacious self, the tasty chicken, or the farmer who left the coop door open. Being informed nowadays is beginning to feel like being raped. Have people's lives become so drab, loveless, and unbearable that they actually desire to be violated in order to spice up their otherwise humdrum existence?

Friday, June 08, 2007

Out of the Mouths

The best laugh of the week for me came out of the G8 Summit on gobal warming. Pres. Bush stood before the news cameras flanked by Russian President Putin and told the assembled reporters, "I was talking to Vladimir.... that's what I call him, Vladimir.... and I said...." I missed the rest of the sentence because I was already doubled up laughing. It was funny enough as it was, but the way Bush pronounced Putin's name, Vladamer, made it all the more hysterical. I don't know, it was something about this odd juxtaposition of highly level discussions about a subject that has dire consequences for the planet and down home, dung-kicking Texas folksiness. It almost made me forget that global warming got exponentially worse this week with so much hot air coming out of Germany.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Under Medicare Even the Bills Are Doctored

As Ben Franklin said in Poor Richard's Almanac, "God cures, and the doctor takes the fees." If old Ben had been alive today he might have added, "and the insurance and pharmaceutical companies get rich. For the same thing a hospital stay costs you could take a suite at the Hilton, hire your own round-the-clock care and it would still come out to less. Problem is, your insurance wouldn't cover it.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Recipe For Cooking Books

My former roommate from college is a dyed-in-the-wool, lifelong conservative, and he's got some pretty impressive credentials in his resume: Time Magazine correspondent and bureau chief, Wall Street Journal Contributing Editor, Vice President of a major international banking institution. We've remained close friends all these years, and when we get together we invariably enjoy debating politics, often heatedly but always with mutual respect. He also happens to be horrified by the current administration. My point here is that somehow the whole liberal vs. conservative frenzy that's been blown out of proportion by the media has obscured the damage that's being done to our country. One just has to connect the dots. With massive tax cuts, where's the money supposed to come from to pay for America's foreign adventures? Meanwhile, much of the support structure for the war in Iraq, supply lines, feeding the troops, etc. which used to be done by the military, has been handed over to private corporations at a hugely inflated rate. One of the biggest beneficiaries of this largesse is Halliburton. The Vice President, its former CEO, still draws down deferred salary while his stock continues to earn him millions. As Willy's wife said in Death of a Salesman, "attention must be paid."

Speaking of politics, I'm amused to see the presidential debates being referred to in the media as part of the "accelerated" campaign. Accelerated? Huh? It's way longer than it ever was before, which means it's a lot slower. It's just one more example of something being called the exact opposite of what it really is. I suppose it's meant to make it sound more thrilling. Once again the public allows itself to be hoodwinked.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Any Landing You Walk Away From Is a Good One

To get a pilot's license one not only undergoes extensive flight training, but must also complete ground schooling in things like principles of flight, weight and balance, meteorology, rules and regulations, and navigation. To get through it quickly there are full immersion three-day courses. Basically they're designed so you can cram like crazy Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and then show up at the FAA bright and early Monday to take the required written test, after which, I'm guessing, well over half the applicants forget everything they've learned. It's scary to think that once you've got your license those bozos are up there with you, inhabiting the same airspace.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Put Asunder

Lady Astor, so the story goes, was at a formal dinner party also attended by Winston Churchill. For most of the meal she suffered through the Prime Minister's outrageously chauvinist views on women, getting angrier and angrier. Finally, as dessert was being served, she could take no more and snapped at him, "If you were my husband I'd put poison in your coffee. "If you were my wife," Churchill replied without hesitation, "I'd drink it."

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Up In Smoke

According to the latest news, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, on an official trip to Canada this week, bought himself a $17 Cuban cigar and smoked it. This, it turns out, is a serious violation of U.S. law. I am adamantly against smoking of any kind, and particularly detest cigars. I'm also no fan of the governor, though I'll admit that while I don't trust him and oppose many of his policies, I still don't dislike the man. In any case, you might think that his current difficulty with the law would be cause for some healthy schadenfreud, but it's not the case. I'm much more concerned with the idiocy of the law itself. I can see where smuggling verboten items into the country would be a no no, but I can't understand why the long arm of
the American system can follow a citizen to another country and forbid him from buying and consuming there something illegal within the U.S.. On a related subject, what was Ahnold doing on an official trip to Canada? Something to do with California's Canadian border, perhaps?

Saturday, June 02, 2007

X Rated

I got a call from the Anti-Smoking people. They're very upset about the way smoking is glorified in the Travesty documentary. I promised I'd post a notice that smoking is hazardous to one's health if they would denounce me in the mainstream media. I figured it would do wonders for the traffic here. These are the same people who want warnings on those movies in which anyone but Hitler, terrorists, or serial killers smoke. I'm no fan of smoking, and have never smoked in my life, but if some cruddy actor needs something in his hand to give his rotten performance verisimilitude, then I say let him have it. Things are getting out of hand. I can see it now, a notice when you walk into the theatre: "Warning. This film contains a scene in which someone rides in a car without a seatbelt." Or how about: "Notice to Parents: Some characters in this film are eating foods that may contain transfats." If some kid becomes interested in smoking because he wants to emulate Travesty and Cutie, I want to be the first to know.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Work Equals Play

Click on image to enlarge.

I was asked yesterday by a friend if I wanted to go to a movie. "I can't," I answered, "I have to work." Almost immediately I burst out laughing. I wasn't working, I was drawing. From early childhood, ever since I knew what it was, one of my favorite things to do was draw, and if I wasn't drawing I was looking at pictures. Strange Anglo-Saxon word, work. It means such a plethora of things to a multitude of people. Those Anglo-Saxons were a stern, hardscrabble lot, dividing their time between back-breaking toil and getting totally ripped on mead. I enjoy writing, but that's work to me. Oddly enough, one of the reasons I drifted toward a career in writing eventually was that I felt I had to do something serious for a living. The old Judeo-Christian work ethic. Drawing and painting was way to much fun to be considered a.... well, a life's work. I'm glad I finally got all that sorted out.