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 *).

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Quick Fix

Drug and alcohol rehab has become a major industry. Stars are paying thousands of dollars for their two week stays at virtual country clubs with ocean views run by psychologists with Swiss bank accounts. I'm guessing the primary approach to therapy is making sure the guests are happy, and if they can also be kept away from mood enhancing substances until they decide to check themselves out, wow, that's a plus. I wonder how come there hasn't been a movie about it. I can see it now, Will Ferrell and John C. Riley as booze and uppers addled matinee idols spending their every waking moment trying to get goody bags past their keepers, played by Meryl Streep and Wilford Brimley. How about Club Meds for the title? Any other suggestions?

Monday, July 30, 2007


Click on image to view enlarged.

All great art has two essential components, an idea, and the skills necessary to give form to the idea. All art criticism basically boils down to either the artist has the ability to do good work but lacks ideas, or has a great idea but isn't sufficiently skilled to pull it off. I like to claim that I'm the greatest interpreter of Mahler alive today. Unfortunately the music must remain in my head, since I can't play a note.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Because the Bible Tells Me So

It was Mark Twain who said, "God created man in his own image. Well now, who thought that up?" One of humanity's most enduring curiosities, and if there is a God somewhere it must keep him up at night roaring with laughter, is the game of My God Can Beat Up Your God that has had groups of people at each other's throats throughout recorded time and caused unimaginable suffering. I don't consider myself an atheist or agnostic, and my intention here isn't to knock or praise either, but I'd hazard a guess that neither of them has ever taken a single life because of their religious beliefs, or lack thereof.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Space Cases

It was back in 1959 that the original seven astronauts appeared on the cover of Life Magazine, the paragon of dashing good looks and symbols of moral rectitude. Even then there was a widespread suspicion that image was more important than substance. One can't deny the courage of those early pioneers, allowing themselves to be strapped into a tin can smaller than a Volkswagen Beetle and exploded hundreds of miles to the edge of space, not to mention eventually being hurled into a trajectory that took them to the moon. Thinking back, I still get chills when I recall the long heart-stopping silence followed by Neil Amstrong's words "Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed." I think the first almost imperceptible crack in the armor of perfection came hours later, when Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon and flubbed his carefully crafted and rehearsed line, which came out, "One small step for man, one giant leap for Mankind." It was supposed to be "one small step for a man," and though NASA has insisted ever since he got it right, the evidence is on the tape. It was downhill from there, and now we have news out of Houston that gives new meaning to the aphorism, "the higher you get, the further you have to fall."

Friday, July 27, 2007

A Cuppa Joe By Any Other Name

In a matchup between a capuccino at Starbucks and one from just about any coffee bar in Italy, Starbucks is left in the dust by 1,6 kilometri di campagna, which works out to a country mile. The foam in the American version has the unserious consistency of bubble bath, as opposed to the dense, rich Italian original. When ordering a coffee in Italy, one does well to know what one's doing. Tourists from the U.S. often stick with caffe americano, just a regular cup of java with the feel and taste of warm dishwater. It's usually served with a look of pity. Order un caffe in Rome and you get the mother of all coffee, the espresso, a quick intense jolt that heads straight for the veins. Then there's the doppio, which is the same thing doubled, a body slam to the system, and the lungo, or elongated coffee, with hot water added so that it's weaker but not nearly as insipid as the americano. Put a few drops of milk in the espresso and it's caffe macchiato, which translates as "stained." But my favorite is the caffe corretto, or "corrected coffee," un espresso given added authority by the addition of a shot of brandy or whiskey. Now that's a way to get the day started.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A Little Workplace Humor III

Years ago -- decades actually -- I was flying Mohawk Air to upstate New York in a DC3, a "tail-dragger." Mohawk was notoriously unreliable, and you always felt you were taking your chances when you booked. One especially tried to avoid making a reservation toward the end of the month, when the pilots had used up their legal flying time, not unlike the situation with Northwest today. This particular flight was packed. Moments before we were scheduled to depart the pilot came back into the cabin and asked for anyone who weighed more than 165 pounds to raise their hand. A number of people complied. The pilot did a quick calculation and announced that by his reckoning we should be able to take-off. Good Lord, I thought, what if some of these people are lying?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Global Harming III

I believe that if the earth is hurtling toward disaster in the form of global warming then no amount of activism is going to stop it. Few people are going to change their habits or give up things like gas guzzling cars, air conditioning, and bottled water to achieve an intangible goal like preventing a two degree rise in average world temperature over the next twenty years. Still, despite the occasional excesses on the part of activists, activism is necessary, whether we're talking about rights for minorities, better treatment of animals, ending the war, or anything else. Activism keeps an issue alive, so that everyone doesn't become totally complacent and descend into a media-fueled sloth where Lindsay Lohan's drug problem and David Beckham's ankle become the only things that matter.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Battle of the Sexes

With absolutely no statistical evidence to back me up, I would suggest that the eternal conflict between men and women provides the central theme for the overwhelming majority of movies, plays, television shows, and novels. And when the narrative drive comes from something else, as in a detective story or a historical drama you can be sure there's a secondary plot in there involving the hero and his wife or girlfriend or scheming, ambitious mother. Even Coriolanus, the bloodiest of Shakespeare's plays, has Volumnia and Virgilia. And so-called reality television is constantly pitting the "girls' team" against the "guys' team." As Rodney King famously asked, "Can't we all just get along?" But if we did, what in the world would we do for entertainment?

Monday, July 23, 2007

A Little Workplace Humor II

We all grew up with the assumption that grown-ups know what they're doing, so it comes to us as something of a shock that it's often not the case. Architects design flawed buildings, corporations fail because of inept decisions, politicians blunder big time, and everywhere we look there's more evidence that Murphy had it right when he concocted his famous law. Take doctors, for instance. They have a diploma on the wall that attests to their mastery of medicine, but that piece of sheepskin is deceptive. Does anyone ever think to ask their doctor where in his class he graduated? 124th out of 125? Not good. Like everyone else who goes to school, doctors only need to score 70% on their tests in order to pass. I'm always afraid when I have to consult a physician that with my luck whatever is ailing me might be one of the 3 out of 10 things he knows nothing about.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Car Culture

One of the most astonishing things about the automobile, I think, is how few accidents there are. I live a short hop from the confluence of two major freeways, an interchange that is second in the world in terms of overall traffic only to another interchange just over the hill. Thousands and thousands of cars passing by daily, with remarkably few incidents, and only very rarely anything serious. What's remarkable is that you can always, without fail, see people doing boneheaded things that miss disaster by inches. What does this tell us about the ability of human beings to survive by, as Thornton Wilder reminded us, "the skin of our teeth?"

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Oops, My Bad

There's one reason and one reason only why I would back John McCain for President, he's the only candidate older than I am. It's time we had a grownup in the office again, even if it's one I don't agree with. It's par for the course to disagree with grownups, after all. I felt as if Bill Clinton was like the hot shot sophomore in high school when I was a senior, brilliant, dynamic, charismatic, and always in trouble, the one we'd call a juvenile deliquent if he weren't the smartest kid in his class. And when he screwed up we'd all secretly admire him for it. But George W. is like somebody's really annoying doofus little brother, the one you and your friends were forced to take with you to the amusement park and then ruined everyone's day by wandering off, the one who whenever one of the big kids got something new and cool he'd get his hands on it and lose it or break it.

Friday, July 20, 2007

A Little Workplace Humor

In a world where we can spend half a morning on a telephone waiting for assistance of some kind or other from a person in Punjab, you have to be grateful for 4-1-1. Tell the little recording you're looking for the number of Benny's Restaurant in Muleshoe, Texas and in no time a real person without an accent is on the line asking whether that's Benny's Bar and Grill in Upper Muleshoe or Benny's Happy Time Cafe in Muleshoe Creek. Information has come a long way from when I was a kid. Mapquest is something else we can be grateful for. In preparing to drive cross country I asked how to drive from my house in Los Angeles to my brother's house in Nyack, N.Y. and in a couple of seconds I had exact directions. It even told me the distance was 2818.22 miles and would take me 41 hours and 40 minutes if I avoided traffic and didn't stop for a Subway's sandwich. What it didn't tell me, however, was that I'd have to sell the car if I wanted to afford the gas.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Parking Rage

Nothing else so thoroughly defines who we are as a nation than the automobile. Between the insatiable need for oil and rubber it has driven our foreign policy for over a hundred years. It is responsible for the look of the country as one crosses it coast to coast on the Interstate system, and it has dictated the aesthetic of cities, which are uniformly paved over and criss-crossed by ribbons of interconnecting surface streets and speedways. It has given us the most heavily attended spectator sport by far, car racing, a chilling metaphor for the way we challenge injury and death every time we climb behind the wheel. It sets us against each other as adversaries, and it makes us lawbreakers in a dozen small ways every day, racing lights, pushing the speed limit, and making illegal left turns. The size and power of our cars is an expression of our national psyche, our obsession with being the biggest and strongest. Is it any wonder then that collectively we're driving off a cliff?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Campaign Without End

One of the things I get most annoyed with when it comes to politics, a field that is endlessly annoying, is the way whenever one side takes a position on something the other screams they're playing politics. Well, of course they are. That's their job, for heaven's sake. I once asked a leading member of Italy's parliament about a puzzling aspect of the Italian political scene. He answered it could be summed up by the story of the man who came home early one day and found his wife naked in bed. A man's clothes were strewn on the floor. He found the man huddled in the closet and in a rage demanded to know what was going on. "I know it sounds odd," the stranger said, "but I was passing by here and had to go to the bathroom. Your wife was kind enough to let me in and I was just taking my clothes off when you arrived." "Do you expect me to believe that?" the enraged husband shouted." "No," the stranger said, "but under the circumstances can you come up with a better answer?"

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

All the World's a Stage

Click on cartoon to view enlarged.

An unexplored aspect of acting is the degree to which it's a metaphor for life. I'm not talking about theatre or movies, which utilize acting for narrative purposes, I'm talking about acting itself, the assumption of roles that are something other than who we are. We're all acting all the time, projecting a version of ourselves as we'd like to be perceived. Most people assume multiple roles in various situations throughout the week. It's not surprising that the family doctor plays the role of doctor, based on the doctors he's known since infancy. At night he goes home and plays the role of dad, based on his dad, or dads he's admired. On Sunday he goes to the golf course and suddenly he's Slammin' Sammy. This concept should make it easier for an actor to understand the process by which one can morph easily and naturally into a character, except it doesn't usually work that way. Most actors, instead of assuming the role of their character, a Danish prince, say, avenging his murdered father, or a fading Southern belle with delusions of aristocracy, assume the role of an actor who is playing a role. It keeps them one step removed from something we can fully believe.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Democratic Way

In 1988, at the very time Bush I was running for president against Michael Dukakis, I happened to be in Zambia, then a repressive dictatorship. It just so happened that our elections coincided with theirs, where Kenneth Kaunda, not unsurprisingly, was running unopposed. A Zambian said to me, "You're so lucky, you live in a democracy where you have free elections." "Oh, I don't know," I said to him, "there's not really a lot of difference between our systems. You have to vote for one guy you don't want, we have a choice of two."

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Absinthe Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

You've heard the zen saying about if a tree falls in the woods and nobody's there to hear it, does it actually make a sound. I'm wondering, if you talk to yourself and no one else is listening, did you actually say anything? Or to put it another way, if you talk and people are listening but not really paying attention, are you making any sense? To me this sums up the 2008 presidential campaign. Already it seems like it's been going on forever, and we still have half a year to go before the primaries even start. Which is really scary because there's a war on costing billions of dollars and countless lives that nobody seems to have a clue what to do about. And that's only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the problems we face. Is anybody listening?

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Anything For a Cheap Laugh

A new study out of Washington University in St. Louis says that one's sense of humor dimishes as one gets older, and things that used to be funny no longer are. Conversely, one sees humor where there is none. I'm not so sure that's an age thing. There have always been lots of things that tickle me and seem to leave other people cold. I laughed out loud once at a perfectly awful story about a group of Russian fisherman whose boat with their dead bodies aboard was found drifting in the open ocean. Turns out they had run out of vodka, and at the end were so desperate they were gulping down paint thinner. I wondered, neat or with pineapple juice? This was years ago, and I still chuckle about it. See what I mean? I wish I could figure out how to turn it into a cartoon.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Office of Homeland Insecurity

I've long since given up getting emotionally involved in poltical shenanigans, and have settled on a role as observer. We live in a fascinating time of turmoil and upheaval. This is true of all periods throughout history, but some periods, such as the fall of Rome and the French Revolution are turning points, and this is one of them. So it's as observer that I wonder what to make of yesterday's news. On the one hand we have a report from the government that Al Qaeda is getting stronger, while the head of Homeland Security is telling us he has a "gut feeling" that the chance of an imminent Al Qaeda attack on U.S. soil is high. On the other hand we have the president telling us that we're winning the war against Al Qaeda and terrorism. Huh?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

It's Not the Sex, Stupid, It's the Company

It's nice when the morning's news brings a real belly-laugh howler. In past days Sen David Vitter of Louisiana did a heartfelt mea culpa after it was revealed that his phone number was on the list of a Washington, D.C. madam. Yes, he admitted, he had succumbed once in a moment of weakness and hired a call girl (which is to the prostitution business what home delivery is to Chinese food). He begged his wife, family, and constituents to forgive him his one transgression. Now it turns out the "family values" Republican was a regular client of a New Orleans brothel, which puts him in the awkward position of having to apologize for his apology. This has been happening increasingly lately to the lying scum underbelly of society called politicians. But there's a sweet side to the story. The ladies Vitter frequented say he was a real gentlemen, who basically needed someone to talk to. Yeah, right. One can always start conversations with people in the park feeding pigeons. His supporters are breathing a sigh of relief it didn't turn out he was gay.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Follow That Cliche

I wonder if anyone ever actually jumped into a cab and shouted "follow that car" to the driver. If I were to find myself in the unlikely situation that I had to utter those words, no matter how dire the circumstances my awareness of the absurdity of it would trump whatever emergency made it necessary and I'd burst out laughing. The screenwriter in me would lose precious time trying to come up with a less shopworn way to express the same sentiment. The driver would sit there tapping the steering wheel impatiently, and by the time I was able to sputter, still feeling foolish, "please proceed wherever that vehicle up ahead is directed," the car would have sped off and we'd be stuck at the next light.

Everybody race to your newstands and get the new Mad Magazine (August, issue#480). Then check out page 7. Yup, there we are.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

It's a guy thing, our propensity for pushing things to our absolute limit of not being able to handle a situation before asking for help. It must be in the DNA. Imagine a cave man running into a stranger on the savannah and asking, "excuse me, do you know where the sabre tooth tigers usually can be found?" To which the stranger answers, "I'm sorry, I'm just a visitor here." I think his descendents all wound up in Los Angeles, where the answer is, "no habla ingles." There's a certain justice to that, since we stole it from the Mexicans in the first place.

Monday, July 09, 2007

I don't know how true it is, but I've heard that a good sign spinner can earn up to 60 grand a year. Sure, they train like athletes and master several hundred different moves, and they must periodically continue to attend sessions to learn new moves as they're invented. But 60 grand? That's obscene. It's more than most teachers, all for standing on a street corner waving a sign around. Aren't they lethal? I keep waiting to read a headline, "Passerby Killed By Spinner With Bong Hits For Jesus Sign." (I threw that in to avoid having a fatwa put on my head.)

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Ikea has edged out Pizza Hut on my list of television advertisers I will not patronize because of their commercial. For months now Pizza Hut has run an ad featuring a man who whoops with joy because he thinks he just cheated the delivery boy out of a couple of bucks. Now Ikea has a woman racing out of their store shrieking "start the car" hysterically at her waiting husband because she thinks she's been undercharged. "It's not a mistake," a title proclaims. Our legislators went ballistic about television's showing a fleeting glimpse of a woman's breast in extreme long shot, so fast and distant you hardly had time to realize you missed something. But sending a message to children that cheating someone is acceptable seems okay with everyone. Now, it seems to me, is the time for the family values hooligans to speak out, but they remain silent on the subject of dishonesty.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

We've now reached the reductio ad absurdum of political discourse in America. I was watching Washington Week on PBS last night. Almost the entire broadcast was devoted to.... you guessed it..... the endless presidential campaign. One of the pundits mentioned that while the candidates are all offering worn out bromides and slogans, none are dealing with the real issues that matter to us. Someone else asked, "like what?" "Oh, you know," he answered, "like education, health insurance, the economy." Yeah, I thought, all the things that matter to us that the talk shows don't discuss because they're too busy discussing the candidates who don't discuss the things that matter to us. Elections were once a staple of the real world, an opportunity for change. Whoever thought they would become a distraction? Like the rest of the news.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Youth Is Wasted on the Elderly

According to the old aphorism, adolescents like to rage against conformity by all dressing like everyone else. What is it about costumes? I tell young actors that everyone in life is acting all the time, and it seems like a big part of it is dressing for the role. The stuffy businessman doesn't just head to the golf course on Sunday, he becomes Tiger Wood, or more accurately, Slammin' Sammy Snead in plus fours, because the image has been etched into his consciousness from childhood. Or how about all those doctors and accountants who get into their leathers, boots, chains, and Nazi helmets on the weekend and roar around the Malibu mountains on their "hogs." I call them the Heck's Angels. A lot quieter but no less ridiculous are the obscenely overweight bike riders on their $5000 carbon frame with Shimano components, their mounds of flesh stuffed into racing colors that Lance Armstrong would envy. The idea is to get exercise and lose weight, right? So what's with the tights, the purpose of which is to cut down wind resistance and make it easier? Doesn't that defeat the purpose?

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Word Play

Since Roger alluded in yesterday's comments to my meeting my wife, I feel it incumbent on me to explain. I was, in fact, casting a film I'd gone to Italy to direct. I had not then nor have ever been a lecher, and was always the soul of propriety when in casting sessions. Indeed, I'd long envied the ability of some directors and producers to circumspectly allow professionality to give way to the expressions of a more prurient interest, on occasion at least. My reluctance, I think, to engage in suggestive banter with job aspirants has less to do, I think, with any admirable morality, and more to do with my fear of coming off as ridiculous. At any rate, when Carla appeared in my office in Rome accompanied by her agent, almost the first words out of my mouth, which escaped before I could edit them, were, "do you have a boyfriend?" I was just kidding around, but as it turned out she did. And lied. So that's how I became a living cliche, the director who married the leading lady.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Single Entendre

I once had a casting director tell me with a straight face and no hint of irony that when actors came in for an interview she deliberately made them as uncomfortable as possible. I told her that seemed strange to me. In my experience casting in theatre and film you get the best from an actor when he or she is at ease. "No," she answered, the really good actors are the ones who can deal with the pressure." And I always thought the really good actors were the ones who knew how to act.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

What Goes Around

I wonder if the "intelligent design" crowd ever considered the symmetry of microscopic organisms' ablity to bring us to our knees. God, so they say, created the heaven and earth, and all the beasts in it large and small, and then man. At what point in there did He create e-coli? Imagine all the disease that got carried aboard Noah's Ark. Intelligent design, it seems to me, requires a really cool master plan, but if that is the case, there are still a lot of glitches in it. Maybe God's still beta testing. He has a long way to go before He gets it right.

Monday, July 02, 2007

What's In a Painting?

We're always talking about the "art world," but what the heck is it? If one were pressed to define it, the answer would probably be the relatively small coterie of high-end dealers, galleries, and auction houses in New York, London, and Paris that decide what wealthy collectors and museums should acquire and what the price should be. It's hardly a world. They're sustained and supported by the handful of curators, critics, and academicians who set the standards for everyone else and thus determine what is currently fashionable and historically acceptable. Thus a fairly average Renaissance portrait like the Mona Lisa has been foist on us for generations as the epitome of greatness, an icon against which centuries of painting are judged, but without anyone's ever explaining what the rules of this game are. So what's the big deal? It's all because of the "enigmatic smile." On the other hand, let's face it, 17th century Michael Sweerts was passed over by the in crowd, and yet his Portrait of a Woman makes da Vinci's boring effort disappear like drab wallpaper. Check it out at

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Memories Are Made of This

Look on the bright side, the kid will develop a skin thick as a Rhino. She'll wind up enduring every sling and barb Simon Cowell can throw at her and go on to become the American Idol of 2017. Now that I think about it, that's looking on the dark side. The bright side is she'll give up singing, become a research physician, and develop a cure for the common cold.