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 *).

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

All Hallow's Eve

Halloween can't really be called a holiday, for the simple reason it's not one, not any more, though it has its roots in an ancient gaelic festival ( All the trappings of halloween, children dressing up as ghosts and goblins, the giving out of candy and other goodies, the symbolism of black cats, jack o' lanterns, and witches, even bobbing for apples, have very specific origins. Sadly, they're all lost to us, just the way we've lost the true origins of almost all our holidays, leaving us with nothing but marketing opportunities. Meanwhile, I have a nagging suspicion that kids can't enjoy halloween the way we once did because it's been taken away from them, preempted by closeted cross dressers.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Good Clean Fun

There's no better indicator of the mess this country is in than the absurd phrase levelled by both Democrats and Republicans alike when sniping at the opposition: they're playing politics. As if voicing disagreement with a policy or action is all just a game they play while score is kept by the pollsters. It makes me think of when I was back in grade school and we would have an election to see who got to be mayor for a day. The winner would shake hands with the real mayor and sit at the mayor's desk for a photo op. I never made mayor, but I did get to be councilman for a day once. Now that's playing politics. The pollsters. There's another subject altogether. It's like watching a football game and the announcer says after a touchdown, "AP puts the score at Redskins 44, Patriots 27, while UPI has it at Redskins 41, Patriots 30. All polls have a 4% margin of error." Hey, it's all just a game.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Up Up and Away

In 1923 there was a successful play, later a film, by Sutton Varne named Outward Bound, about a group of people who find themselves on an ocean liner and discover they have died and are headed toward an afterlife in which heaven and hell are the same thing. For a long time I thought it would be interesting to put it in an airplane endlessly circling in a holding pattern, but perhaps now an even more apt metaphor would be a space station, the job of maintaining it best outsourced to Richard Branson of Virgin Air fame. I would hate to think of NASA taking over the job of delivering us to eternity. Some things just can't be left up to government.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Stairway to Success

What the heck is Fred Thompson doing in the presidential sweepstakes? The other day, in his latest gaffe, he characterized the Iraq debacle as "fighting against a bunch of kids with pipe bombs," as if it's just Columbine on a larger scale. He's even further removed from reality than the current doofus. But the surreality of today's political climate is sufficient to have his candidacy concern me, unlike back when Ronald Reagan announced his hope of becoming president. My future as a political pundit and prognosticator was thrown into serious doubt when I refused to worry. "It'll never happen," was as much thought as I initially gave it.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Double Trouble

There's something delightful about the way women rally around when one of them is expecting or has given birth. It became clear to me what a natural, evolutionary strategy it is when from a safe distance I witnessed elephants do it while I was on safari in Botswana's Kalahari Desert. The baby elephant was scant hours old, the mother still had blood on her hind legs, and the "aunts" were gathered around, urging the newborn to take his first unsteady steps. It reminded me of watching a gaggle of Italian women hovering over an infant as the mother proudly displayed her pride and joy's genitalia while the friends oohed and aahed. Every culture celebrates its priorities.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Dead Letter Office

Back in the 60's I lived for a while at 57 W. 75th St. in New York City. One day I received in the mail a letter addressed to Mary Crowther at the American Institute of Psychology at 75 W. 57th. The original mistake that happened when the mail was sorted was compounded when the postman saw the name Crowther and put it in my box. It was an amazing coincidence, given that there were only about five Crowthers listed in all of Manhattan. In this perfect storm of postal service error, it turned out Mary was my cousin, who worked at the institute. The god who looks after fools was telling me I should stay in touch with relatives.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


I have a suspicion that the less we've got, the more we value what we do have. Belongings require a lot of maintenance, much more than most of us realize. Books and art especially are problematic. I value books, mainly for the treasures inside them, but my bookshelves are filled with books that I've read and will never look at again, books I've started and won't finish, and books I keep meaning to read and never will. Meanwhile, I keep acquiring books that get added to the pile. Ideally we should actually own at most ten books, and all the rest should be passed around to the world. Recently I bought one of my ideal ten, What Am I Doing Here? by Abner Dean ( It's a slender volume of cartoons, though cartoons isn't the right word. They are philosophical and metaphorical musings, appealling at once to intellect and emotion. A copy was in my parents' library when I was a kid, and I spent hours contemplating it. I'd long ago forgot about it, but recently Dean was brought to my attention, and I located a copy through Amazon. If I'm ever homeless, it will be with me, part of my stuff.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


The difference between the mafia and the government is that when a shopkeeper is forced to pay protection money to the mafia he gets protection. We can't always be sure of a return on our tax money. I directed a film on location in Sicily once. We had a young local working with us as a driver, and he was wildly unreliable. I complained to the production manager, who informed me that he was the son of a local mafia chief. I assumed therefore that nothing could be done, but a phone call was made, and next day a black limo showed up on the set. Two goons took the young man aside and had a discussion with him. From then on he was a model of efficiency and punctuality. Nepotism works sometimes.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Good News Is No News

When I was at Princeton I was a newscaster on WPRB-FM, the college station. Our studios were a warren of rooms in the basement of a dormitory building, and I was always struck by the odd sensation of disconnect between our bunker and the rest of the world. It was as if events happened out there for no other reason than for us to have things to report on the air. Even a presidential campaign had no national or international import, it was just grist for our mill. I remember a bad blizzard one night. Snowed in, we relied on the UPS ticker for information, and things were happening so fast I was grabbing copy and going on the air without so much as looking at it first. "Philadelphia," I reported breathlessly at one point around midnight," is buried under 50 feet of snow." The late-night DJ cornered me after I'd finished my newscast. "Good job," he said, "but how'd they know it was Philadephia?" I thought of it last night when my wife called me from Italy, frantic with worry. "Los Angeles in flames," the Itaian news was reporting.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Music Hath Charms

My mother was a master of reverse psychology. She told my brothers and me when we were small that if we ever wanted to smoke just tell her, and she'd give us the cigarettes. I remained a non-smoker. She never pushed serious music on me, but when I was in boarding school she sent me a stack of LP's. I don't remember what most of them were, undoubtedly whatever it was a 15-year old would have been "into" in 1954. What I'll never forget were the two Aaron Copeland albums slipped in among the other without comment from my mother. She was way too smart to urge me to listen to them, or even mention them, she just let me discover them for myself, and discover them I did. It took a while, but eventually I dipped my toe in the water and was hooked. Pretty soon I moved on to the three B's, Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. Clever lady, my mom.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Republic For Richard Stands

Like so much in our contentious, highly polarized political climate, the notion of separation of church and state is wildly misunderstood. Just take those two little words in the Pledge of Allegiance, "under God." They weren't put there by the founding fathers, nor were they in the original version. Nor indeed has the pledge been around since Betsy Ross first stitched us up a flag. But here's the best part, it was written in 1892 by a Baptist minister as part of an advertising campaign for a celebration commemorating the 400th anniversary of Columbus's discovery of America. It was the New York chapter of the Knights of Columbus who in 1951 added "under God" when the pledge was recited at the opening of their meetings. It spread throughout the fraternal organization and a year later was adopted for the entire country thanks to the efforts of [irony alert] that great America Richard Nixon. If there is a deity somewhere, he's got to be laughing. That was just about the time I started going to a Friends school, where it was wisely perceived that keeping politics and religion separate was a very good idea.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The American Pass Time

I enjoy sports, but let's face it, the whole idea of a professional sport is lame unless you remember it's not really a sport at all, but entertainment, and as such is no more lame, say, than Gigli. Still, I have to admit that I enjoy going to the ballpark to watch big league baseball. there's something relaxed and, well, unimportant about it, time out of time. I have the distinction, along with several thousand other spectators, to have been in Dodger Stadium the night in 1999 that Fernando Tatis of St. Louis hit back to back grand slam home runs off the same pitcher, Chan-ho Park, in the same inning, a feat so unlikely that it was the one and only time it's ever happened in the major leagues. I was sitting right behind the Dodger dugout, and someone nearby me exclaimed loudly, "we've just watched history being made. " "No," I answered, "we just watched trivia being made."

Friday, October 19, 2007

Go Fish

It occurs to me that cartooning is a lot like fishing. With the latter, in most cases standing around waiting for a bite takes far more time than actually landing the catch. It's the same with doing a cartoon. Coming up with the ideas is the real work. The drawing part of it is like reeling it in. The late Charles Schulz was asked in an interview once how he got his ideas for Peanuts. He answered staring out the window mostly, and added that people don't understand that staring out the window can be serious labor. It's true about a lot of things really. Imagine how much better the world might be if people spent some quality time thinking about what they were going to do before they actually did it.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

It's My Story And I'm Sticking To It

My friend the novelist, Nicholas Delbanco, once said that fiction is the truth passed off as invention, and non-fiction is invention passed off as the truth. In any case, I'm going to go right ahead, despite my objections, and write my own unauthorized autobiography.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Irony and Steal

Irony is at the heart of humor, but some things just ain't funny. I'm referring to the Blackwater debacle. The whole reason we have a mercenary army in Iraq in the first place, its run-amok-soldiers being paid far more than our regular military, is because the administration knows if there were a draft the American people would rise up and demand an end to this mess once and for all. But the thing that's flying totally under the radar is that the Blackwater CEO, Eric Prince, a major Bush supporter, is also a board member of Christian Freedom International, an organization whose stated purpose is helping "Christians who are persecuted for their faith in Jesus," a euphemistic way of saying they're aggressively dedicated to eliminating everyone who doesn't think like they do. Now here's where the irony comes in. Besides being above accountablity for the innocent civilians, including children, they've killed and maimed, Blackwater is also denying responsibility for helping victims or their relatives. Is that Christian? Oh, wait a minute, maybe there is no irony. Those people, after all, are Muslims.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

It's All In the Diagnostics

Teenage boys especially have a tendency to jiggle their legs when they've been sitting too long, as in math class or at the dinner table. The cure used to be simple. Their mothers would bark, "stop jiggling your leg." But then the pharmaceutical companies saw another opportunity to make big bucks and gave it a name, Witmaack-Ekbom Syndrome, after the geniuses who "isolated" it. Actually they didn't do any such thing, since it covers such a wide range of symptoms that it's best defined as "involuntary moving which relieves the urge to move," further clarified by the fact that once you're actually moving the urge is gone. As Dave Barry says, I'm not making this up. But let's face it, the name Witmaack-Ekbom Syndrome isn't sexy. You can't sell it in a TV ad, so they came up with RLS, or Restless Leg Symptom, which may be great marketing but doesn't help a kid in school who needs a medical excuse to get out of a trigonometry test. If he's being one hundred percent honest when the teacher asks why he's bouncing his leg he'd answer, "I'm horny," but "I'm so sorry, Miss Verplanck, I'm suffering from Witmaack-Ekbom," will at least elicit sympathy.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Men and Their Toys

Man says to his friend, "I've had the same car for twenty-five years and never had a wreck." Friend replies, "I've had the same wreck for twenty-five years and never had a car." Ba da boom. I first heard that joke as a kid, but it doesn't work anymore. Nowadays nobody keeps the same car for that long. I've got a Nissan Sentra now that I love. It was almost new 11 years ago when I bought it, but before that I never kept a car more than three or four years. I just kept exchanging one wreck for another.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

We've All Got Connections

I finally caved a couple of years ago and got a cellphone. I was driving across the country from Los Angeles to the east coast and invested a few extra bucks for the AAA "premier" card, which entitled me to a 200 mile free tow if the need arose. The phone made sense. What good would the tow be if I broke down 200 miles from civlization and there was no way to call one? I got all the way to Maine and back, and was about four hours from home when I pulled into a rest area. I relieved myself, walked the dogs, and was about to make the last final push when I saw that the right rear tire was flat. It was the God who looks after fools, I thought, the one who has blessedly sat on my shoulder lo these many years, telling me I didn't make a mistake getting the AAA card. On the other hand, a few feet from my car was a public phone booth. The cell phone, my private deity was informing me, was excessively cautious.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


Global harming is way overrated when it comes to things that can bring about the end of the world as we know it. I rank telephone gridlock high on the list. Mind you, it's still a few years off, but be forewarned, folks, it's coming. There are still a few pockets of the world with no telephones, and even some places with telephones but no call waiting, but the day is fast approaching when everyone in the world will be connected to everyone else by these evil, ubiquitous devices, and when it comes, look out. Someone in Ulaan Bator will have a problem with a computer and call tech support, which will be located in Chad. At exactly the same moment a housewife in Cleveland will be trying to reach her bank, while a Bombay businessman will be attempting to place an order with Hammacher Schlemmer. Simultaneously people all over the world will be placing each other on hold until from one end of the globe to the next everyone is glued to their phone, waiting. One by one they'll just drop off to eternal sleep. And they'll remain as they are until aliens discover the bodies, pick up the little devices they have glued to their ears, and hear a recorded voice saying over and over, "your business is valuable to us."

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Marlboro Brat

Aggressive salesmanship began in the marketplace, before the industrial revolution. Before it was recognized as an art form Commedia del'arte was a come-on, the bait to attract buyers to an artisan's booth much the way television programming is secondary to the commercials today. A number of years ago in Czecholslovakia an elderly gentleman told me the story of two shoemakers a hundred years ago, selling their wares at adjoining booths on market day. "Get your shoes here, get your shoes here, ten krona," the first shoemaker cried out. "Get your shoes here," the second man shouted, "only six krona." Naturally he was outselling the competition. Finally the first shoemaker could stand it no longer and asked the second, "How can you sell shoes for six krona? Even if I steal the leather I couldn't make a profit at that price." "Don't steal the leather," the second man said, "steal the shoes."

Thursday, October 11, 2007

What Is It About a Uniform?

One of the major challenges of a democracy like ours is weighing the demands of national security against the fundamental principle of openness. A lack of security inolves risk, but without the latter there is no democracy. Democratic process requires in absolute terms that the electorate have all the information necessary to make informed choices. How can we make judgements about whether or not our leaders are doing the right things if we are kept in the dark about the factors that affect their decisions? Executive privelege is a way of telling the people "you might as well not bother to ask, because we sure as heck aren't going to tell."

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Call Central Casting

I don't get the whole Rudy Giuliani thing. Here's a guy who's built an entire campaign on strutting around the streets of lower Manhattan on 9/11, creating for himself an image of heroic leadership. What the heck did he do, for heaven's sake? There were many heroes that terrible day, and some genuinely fearless leaders, and he was neither. Still, there are a lot of people who see him as their hope for the defeat of terrorism. At the same time, he's on his third wife, his kids won't have anything to do with him, he's "flip-flopped" on the issues of gay rights, gun control, and abortion, and a lot of so-called "family values" types see him as their man. It all makes me think of the story about Jack Warner of Warner Brothers, when first asked what he thought of the idea of Ronald Reagan for governor. "No," he said, "Hank Fonda for governor, Ronnie for the governor's best friend."

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Insourcing Anyone?

The scary thing about outsourcing things like war is that it turns the job over to the corporate mentality. In the corporate structure about seventy-five percent of everyone's energy is spent in-fighting, the idea being to make your fellow employees look bad while you politic and maneuver and backstab to get your immediate superior's position. In the military you try to do your job and stay as anonymous as possible. It's way more efficient. Also you don't have Pfc.'s turning in padded expense accounts.

Monday, October 08, 2007

No News Is You Know What

I have it on good authority that the networks are planning to cancel all news except for coverage of the presidential campaign starting next week and running until the elections a little over a year from now. It sounds harsh, I know, but it's a small price to pay to eliminate school shootings, high-speed car chases, Brittney and Lindsay, various and sundry wars, and congressional bickering. At the same time, the candidates have all signed a contract negotiated by the William Morris Agency to take the debates on tour, to compete with the American Idol Tour. Over a hundred and fifty cities between now and the selection of the candidates presumptive in the primaries. Between then and November there will be an additional fifty cities, but since the field will be narrowed down to only two, Bruce Springstein and the E Street Band will open for them part of the time, with Ross Perot, Ralph Nader, and John Dean filling the rest of the dates. Afterward the entire country will be entering rehab.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

....And Not a Drop To Drink

Jared Diamond's book Collapse takes an instructive look at the downfall of several societies throughout history, almost always because of a combination of exhausted resources, primarily fuel, arable soil, and water, and a leadership too arrogant to take it seriously. Southern Californians take note. It used to be a point of pride to be called "sunny California," but that was back when there was plenty of water coming from elsewhere. The situation is becoming dire now, and yet Los Angelenos go right on watering their lawns as if, well, as if water fell from the sky, which alas it doesn't much anymore. It's interesting to note that among the wandering desert tribes of Botswana the word for money is the same as that for rain.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Save the Stamp

How desperate does a person have to be before they write to an advice columnist? I would think that would be the last place one would turn to when their life gets snarly. Besides, there are only about four problems that ever come up: 1) boyfriend/girlfriend (husband/wife) is cold and unresponsive, 2) in-laws are making life miserable, 3) significant other is cheating and/or wildly jealous, and.... come to think of it there are only three.

Friday, October 05, 2007


One of the many things I love about Italy is that the cocktail party is non-existent. Italians can't fathom the concept of mingling. All my life I've loathed cocktail parties, and I've never been good at mingling, so I'll gravitate to someone I know, latch onto them for dear life, and ignore everyone else. Moving around the room and making small talk with people I barely know I find ludicrous. Even worse is being faced with a roomful of strangers and having to either come up with lame ice breaker conversation or else respond to lame ice breaker conversation like, "How do you know the host?" or worse, "What do you do?" It's an art form I never mastered. Just as bad is the cocktail party where you know everyone superficially and move around the room having brief conversations with people until you both run out of things to say, and then your eyes start to wander while you try to figure out how to detach yourself without seeming rude. "Um, I think I'll just go over there and grab me another of those miniature brie and pate tacos."

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Hear Ye, Hear Ye

Henry David Thoreau had it right. Explaining why he paid no attention to newspapers he said, and I paraphrase, once I know that one farmer's barn has burned down, one carraige has turned over, and one cow has got on the railroad tracks and been run over I'm acquainted with the principle and don't need to be exposed to endless variations. He also refused to vote, saying that in agreeing to participate in an election where the choice was between an immoral position or a moral one, you essentially entered into a contract to accept and live with the immorality, if that's the side that won, and that made you complicit in immoral acts. Wise man, Thoreau. What would he make of the situation today, with immorality on all sides and the news media distracting the vox populi with trivia far less interesting than cows on railroad tracks.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Party Time

It seems like rudeness is becoming pandemic. Between talk radio, television discussion shows, and so-called reality programs we're beseiged with a tsunami of bad behavior ranging from
nastiness to sociopathic. Case in point, David Letterman's interview with his guest Paris Hilton. I'm not a follower of Miss Hilton, nor am I usually one of her defenders. I'm also not a Letterman watcher, but I clicked on an Internet link to a clip of the encounter and was appalled. He was downright mean, relentlessly grilling her about her prison experience as she squirmed in discomfort. "So how was the food," Letterman asked, chortling. "Bad," she answered, looking pained.
"What did you have for breakfast?" he demanded, not letting up.
"Toast? How bad can that be? What about lunch?"
"A sandwich."
"What kind?"
"Baloney." [squirm, squirm]
"Can't go wrong there. [chortle, chortle] Dinner?"
And so it continued. Meanwhile the audience ate it up. You can't argue with ratings.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

They Ain't No Justice

I can never put out of my mind what for me, but not obviously for anyone else, was a key moment in the confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas. He was called before the committee immediately after Prof. Anita Hill completed testifying about being sexually harrassed by him. The first question put to Thomas was, "did you hear any of Prof. Hill's testimony?" "No," he replied, "I refuse to listen to lies." Not one senator picked up on it. "The man's in line to be one of the nine most important judges in America," I thought, "with a job for life, and he's just characterized as lies testimony he hasn't even heard!" I don't know why he's complaining now. He beat the rap and became one of the Supremes.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Karmic Relief

Venice Beach in California is a year-round carnival. I once had my studio there, a loft space on the main drag, just steps from the boardwalk, and it was like perpetually being on a midway. One of the memorable events each Springtime is the Hare Krishna Parade of the Elephants, the lead-in to a colorful festival along the oceanfront. I've always cried at parades for some reason unknown to me, and this one I find particularly moving, with the hordes of faithful in their saffron robes walking along together swaying slightly, looking blissful as they chant to the accompaniment of ching ching from their finger cymbals. There's something delightfully sturring and wonderful about the festival, the floats, the food booths with savory eastern treats, book stalls, incense wafting on the sea breeze. The exotic meets the tawdry.