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 *).

Monday, December 31, 2007

Til Life Do Us Part

Following on the heels of yesterday's enjoyable and illuminating comments, I wasn't planning to post this cartoon today but it seemed appropriate. In fact, the more I think about it the more appropriate it gets. It wasn't my original concept, but it now occurs to me these folks may be watching Dick Clark's New Year's Eve from New York. The focus of yesterday's discussion seemed to be on why people marry each other initially, and once married why they fail to stay together. What we didn't talk about was why people remain married. I've quoted my friend, the late producer Bruce Paltrow, on this in the past, but it's worth repeating here. On why his marriage to my old school classmate, actress Blythe Danner, worked, Bruce said, "we never wanted to get a divorce at the same time." Oh, and by the way, Albert Einstein was rather handsome and dashing as a young man. So much so that his friends and family were puzzled at why he would choose to marry Mileva. It probably helped that she was a brilliant physicist.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Art of Seduction

I could never be a pick-up artist, I've always been incapable of coming up with a line that didn't sound so obvious that it was ridiculous. When I was working as a director and casting director there were plenty of times when I was inclined to show interest in someone that was other than professional, but I was loathe to come off as a cliche. The one time I tried it was in Italy, casting my film The Martlet's Tale. A stunning young actress appeared in my office one day with her woman agent. After a few moments of talk I could see she was as smart and charming as she was beautiful. "Do you have a boyfriend?" I blurted out. "No," her agent answered. "No," the actress echoed. She was lying. I wound up marrying her.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Sunday on the Strip

I've long thought of religion as a form of gambling. I'm not talking about church basement bingo. Let's face it, a lot of time, energy, and money goes toward sustaining religious institutions based on nothing more certain than belief in an almighty who presides benignly over an afterlife, and what is gambling, after all, but an unshakeable faith that Lady Luck is ultimately on one's side? You can always recover from a losing streak in poker, roulette, blackjack or whatever, but as far as we know, if we put our chips on the wrong god there's no second roll. I intend no disrespect toward those who are deeply religious, any more than I disrespect a serial gambler. It's a choice. Personally I prefer an occasional lottery ticket. That, and addressing my prayers to "dear occupant."

Friday, December 28, 2007

Word from the Tuba Ghetto

Just when you think you've heard everything along comes word of the International Tuba Euphonium Association, originally founded in 1973 as the Tubists Universal Brotherhood Association, an organization of tubists, tuba lovers, teachers, makers, and, I suppose, people who love people who love tubas. There's even a Tuba News, an annual tuba conference, and a yearly competition that draws people from all over the world. A glimpse at the latest issue of Tuba News reveals articles on "friction, also called sizzle or edge, an essential part of the tubists sonic repertoire," and those two fascinating tuba-related instruments, the ophicleide and cimbasso. The latter article was written by the acclaimed Roger Bobo, a wonderful name, I think, for a tuba player.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

See What You Started, Andy Warhol?

One of the things I find disquieting in the high-stakes, wild west shoot-out that is the "high-end" contemporary art scene is the rise of video as an art form. Granted, I admire the work of some video artists. Occasionally it's downright stunning. But a disproportionate amount is self-indulgent, self-important garbage. And what cultural currents, I wonder, have provoked the fascination with entrails, the less technically competent they're filmed the better? The field has the potential to be incredibly lucrative. Museums around the world are snapping up videos for their permanent collections, and anyone with the marketing savvy to make a name for him or herself can sell fifteen-mintes of guts poorly photographed and badly edited, if edited at all, for thousands of bucks a pop. Of course, one must realize that museums don't have to be repositories of the best art being produced at any given period, they just have to be representative of what was going on. In an age in which many artists are the product of ineffective potty-training, it's appropriate for collections to be top-heavy with crap.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

As Much Fun As a Barrel of Writers

I think I've finally answered the question of what happened to all the typewriters once everyone switched over to computers. I think I was one of the early writers to give up the "instrument of torture" in favor of a computer, back when most writers I knew were still highly resistant. They came up with the most lame rationales. One even told me he would hate to miss the "satisfying thwack of the keys."

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Gift of the Magi


Ever since I've been using a computer with the joy of changeable fonts I've wanted to write something in Webdings, so here it is. Any good cryptographers in the crowd? This one should be fairly simple.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Santa In His Cups

If there's a school of fish, a gaggle of geese, and a pod of whales, what would a whole bunch of Santa Clauses be called? It's a question that came to mind yesterday when I saw a news report about a bunch of drunken marauding Santas rioting someplace. Another question that came to mind is how witnesses are expected to identify the individuals involved. "Um, he had a red suit and a white beard, officer?" Don't bother with cookies and milk tonight, kiddies, leave old St. Nick some chardonnay and brie. Or maybe a few brewskis and some beef jerky. Now we know why he's so darn jolly.

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE! And thanks for being such great travelling companions on this journey.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Way to a Man's Heart

A group of friends went on a hunting trip. None of them wanted to be stuck with the cooking, so they drew straws to see who would go first and agreed that if anyone complained about the food it would be his turn to cook. The loser was a lousy cook, so he figured it was only a matter of time before he'd be replaced. But since nobody wanted to cook, nobody complained. The poor guy started to take pains to make the food bad, but still the others remained silent. Finally, after several days, in desperation he went into the woods and gathered up some animnal dung, which he baked into a casserole. That night, around the campfire, the hunters choked down the stuff and suffered, until one of them finally piped up. "This tastes like crap," he said. "Excellent though!"

Saturday, December 22, 2007

By Any Other Name

Our first dog when I was a very small child was named Whiskey. I have no recollection of why. Our next dog was given the name Brandy by my father. He was a mutt, and as my father explained, we didn't know what brand-he was. Much later we had a Dachshund that got the name Tati because she arrived at our house the same day that Jacques Tati came to visit. I imagine he was charmed. When I got my first dog on my own, after leaving college and moving into my own apartment, I was in a quandry. For several days I kept thinking up what I thought were increasingly better names. This was compounded by the fact that my friends kept calling up with what seemed like equally acceptable names. Finally, after about two weeks when the poor dog was nameless I decided it was time to call it quits. The light went on, and Quits he became. I was staying with someone once in Johannesburg who had two labs named Black Dog and Other Black Dog. "Which one is Black Dog?" I asked him. "Whichever one comes first when I call," he answered.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Hark the Harold Angel Sings

I admit I'm a sucker for Christmas music, but some of it grates. I don't care if I never hear The Little Drummer Boy and "tara ta tum tum tum tum ta ta ta tum" again. It's the best reason I know to stay out of malls. And if I had a shotgun I'd be delighted to take out Alvin and the other chipmunks. Whose bright idea was it to resurrect that treacly trio? I'm guessing the family values crowds is responsible for the fact we never hear I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus anymore, though I never quite could envision how they managed to get "underneath" the Christmas tree. The carol that always puzzles me is the one where "the first noel the angels did say was to certain poor shepherds in fields where they lay." I can't parse it. Is "certain" supposed to mean some shepherds were told and others not? Or is it meant to be a verb, and the angels were running around certaining everybody who was tending his sheep?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Ho Ho Hokum

An inevitable part of "growing up" for virtually every adult is the realization that there is no Santa Claus. The time comes when our subjective selves, the part of our cognizance that "believes," is trumped by our objective selves, the part that observes the world around us and thinks it "knows," such as the fact that a fat man can't possiby fly around the sky in a sleigh pulled by reindeers carrying enough toys for everyone and slide down chimneys. There's no lasting trauma in the awareness, nothing that shapes our personalities. The belief in Santa remains a charming relic of childhood. It's interesting then that for millions of people, including at least one or two running for President of the United States and possibly one who is President, God is perceived as a real individual sitting on a throne somewhere in the firmament and making decisions about the fate of mankind, such as who should be punished with pestilence, plague, and worse for the evil of not believing in him, his son, and some vaguely defined entity called the Holy Ghost.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Inner Man

Click on cartoon to view enlarged.

I recently heard of a workshop here in Los Angeles where one can learn the new art of using living cells from animals or plants to create works of art. As Dave Barry says, I'm not making this up. Evidently there's a way to get the cells to divide and grow so that the "artist" can shape them into a new form. One can envision the day when a graduate of these classes can say, "see that sculpture on the table? That's grandma." Sure, there may be a few ethical problems to work out, but we live in a time when an art student in a university can hand it a blank piece of paper as a thesis and claim it to be the quintessence of minimalism.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

All For One, One For One

This week, once again, I'm reminded of just how fragile democracy is. This isn't a criticism of democracy, mind you. I, like any other sane, sentient being, am in awe of the democratic ideal. At the same time I recognize how difficult it is to pursue, given that it inevitably must come butt up against the imperfections of mankind, thus revealing it in all its paradoxes. In Orange County this week a student brought suit against a teacher because he is offended by statements the teacher routinely makes critical of religion. Disregarding the 1st Amendment, the suit claims that since a public school is a government institution, the teacher is violating the separation of church and state. It's a sticky situation, and you can be sure that people will line up on both sides of the argument depending on their personal axes to grind. It's a perfect example of how democracy can work only if everyone -- and it does take 100 percent participation -- starts thinking about "us" instead of "me." As Frank Lloyd Wright said, "Democracy is a wonderful thing. We should try it sometime."

Monday, December 17, 2007

Tis the Season To Give Gadgets

Click on image to view enlarged.

If it weren't for Christmas half of the $19.95 gimmickery offered up by stores and infomercials would disappear. Nobody actually buys that stuff for themselves, but it all makes irresistible choices for the person who doesn't come close to having everything but is so set in their ways you've got no idea what to get for them. My pick for all-time worst gadget gift would be the nose hair trimmer. Imagine actually giving that thing to someone. Aside from being disgusting, what does it say about the givee? You might as well present them with a year's supply of Desenex. While I'm on the subject, the term informercial makes me laugh. An entire hour given over to selling you some piece of crap with a set of Japanese knives thrown in, and you're supposed to believe there's an educational aspect to it. What was that noise I just heard? Must be the wailing of another newborn sucker.

My thanks to il professore for his update of Jerome Kern. "Nowhere could you get that happy feeling/ When you are stealing/ Another's show." Brilliant!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Poll Vaulting

I've got an idea. Let's get this whole darned thing over with in the next three weeks. We can throw all the candidates on both sides together, have one last mega-debate about nothing hosted by Jerry Seinfeld and Pee Wee Herman, and then, instead of these caucuses, the Iowans can stay home where it's warm and they'll take a final poll. Let Iowa decide who'll be the next president. I figure they're just as smart as the rest of us. Smarter maybe. At least they can figure out what this caucus business is all about. This way, when the country goes to hell in a handbasket we can blame it on Iowa. And let's face it, if the polls are so accurate, why don't we just leave it up to the pollsters and save the rest of us the trouble of voting? And if they're not, why are the hot-air bags on television even talking about them?

Saturday, December 15, 2007


Some of the best river rafting in the world can be found in Zimbabwe, where the Zambesi River flows east from Victoria Falls. I was there a number of years ago, on location with Damned River, a rafting film I'd written with my friend Bayard Johnson. We of course went rafting. They tell you that if the raft overturns get out of the crocodile-infested water as fast as you possibly can. It's startling to relaize that we're just part of the food chain, and not necessarily the top. Thanks to that movie we came face to face with predators of another kind. There was ample evidence a couple of years later that we had been mightily ripped off by Wild River, starring Meryl Streep. Our producer brought a plagiarism suit against Universal Pictures that promised to make us a bundle. I was in the offices of the studio's high-priced Century City lawyers, waiting to give my deposition, when an assistant informed me that our producer had called off the suit. Not surprisingly, he went on to produce films for Universal while we, as the saying goes, got bupkus. Talk about sharks.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Our Father Who Art an Independent

I wouldn't mind the kind of dueling piety that's going on in this presidential campaign if we weren't regularly subjected to the utter meaninglessness of religion as an indication of an individual's fundamental decency, intellectual mettle, and leadership capablities. From Cardinal Mahoney's serial cover-up of sexual abuse of minors by priests to evangelicals' violation of their marriage vows as they diddle with boy toys and chicks for hire in seedy motel rooms, we've been bombarded with it. At Oral Roberts University the president, Oral Roberts's son, was forced to step down because of rampant misdeeds. The current president claims Jesus as his chief political advisor and at the same time shows total disdain for human life and dignity as he trashes the constitution. Enough already. Let's take religion off the table.

In a delightful bit of synchronicity, after my commentary the other day regarding Captain Kidd, yesterday's news brought word that the wreck of Kidd's long sought-after ship, the Quedah Merchant has been found underwater in the Dominican Republic. Kidd left the ship there and sailed to New York in a less conspicuous vessel, apparently in the hopes he would be given a chance to prove his innocence, but he was arrested, shipped back to England, and hanged.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Gamboling Instinct

Deal or No Deal, a thoroughly mindless hit TV show, is worth watching at least once for its sociological value. Its premise is astonishingly simple. A contestant selects a case from among twenty, each containing a sum of money from one cent to a million dollars. The contestant then opens the remaining cases one by one, thus putting the sums contained within out of play. Select the case with the million in it, and you can no longer win that amount, etc. Along the way an offstage "banker" offers to "buy" the contestant's case from him. The amount offered rises as the chance of the contestant's case containing a large number goes up, and vice versa. It's amazing how often an individual for whom a hundred thousand dollars would be life-changing, will hold out in the blind conviction his case holds the million. More often than not the person with one dollar, ten dollars, a hundred, and a million left in play will turn down a reasonably good offer from the banker. Greed trumps good judgment almost every time, even with three to one odds against them.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

What's In a Name?

In Monday's comments, responding to Jean and myself, Kate asked what underlying meanings the cartoon contained. A valid question. The problem is that it would lose something in the telling. It's a bit like asking a pianist to just play the harmony without the melody. The fact is that it doesn't really matter. The cartoon should stand by itself, anything else is liable to be subjective. Suffice it to say, rather than romanticizing pirates it plays off the popular cliches and stereotypes of erstwhile pirates, not, however those that ply the China Sea and elsewhere today.
It's the romanticizing of democracy that worries me, the way we've allowed a "criminal' element to trash our system of government while we cling to sanitized notions of who we are and what we stand for.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A Fine Whine

The wine industry is one of the world's great con games. Don't get me wrong, I like to lift a glass, though I can assure my friend il professore I try to stop short before I risk acid reflux. But the very best wines I've ever had, better than every Chateau-this and Cuvee-that, are the young Tuscan wines I get direct from the grape growers in and around the Chianti region who make their own. It's wine so pure that it won't age because it's free of additives. I used to buy it from a friend, a local trattoria owner, when my wife and I had our place in Volterra not far from San Gimigniano. I got it in big demi-johns, hauled it back to Rome, and bottled it myself, enough to last the coming year. It always left the kitchen floor awash with wine. I find that with the so-called "fine wines," the really expensive stuff, the first sips are transcendant, but they begin to taste like metal shavings around the third glass. You can drink a novello all night and it will still be delicious. It doesn't get you drunk either, just blissfully high, but it does stain your mouth purple.

Monday, December 10, 2007

"Avast, Maties"

It's a little known fact that pirate ships were little democracies. We tend to think of pirate captains as tyrannical dictators, but nothing could be further from the truth. In most cases the captain was elected by the crew, mainly for his sailing skills. It was the crew who decided by majority vote if and when to attack. The infamous Captain Kidd was originally a respected middle class merchant captain with his own ship. He was forced by the British government to give up his business and hunt down pirates, and faced the threat of mutiny when his crew decided it would make more sense to engage in piracy themselves. In the ensuing struggle Kidd killed the leader of the mutineers and became a wanted man. It was a choice of being a pirate to survive, and it was a no-brainer. Later, when captured, his government refused to own up to their role in the debacle, and he was hanged. It shouldn't be a surprise that pirates today have co-opted our democracy.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Minds of Babes

I don't know what good it does to put parental controls on a computer when the average eight-year old nowadays has the skills necessary to hack into the Pentagon's computers if they want to. Times have changed. I thought I'd hit the ultimate in technological advances when I got my first electric typewriter. I was in my late twenties and was still a two-fingered typist, which I still am to this day. As for sexual awareness, I had a teacher once in junior high school when I was thirteen go on a rant because some bullies were taunting a boy in the class, calling him a "fairy." She decried the preemption and ruination of a perfectly good word, the same thing, she said, that had happened with "gay and pansy." "What the heck is she talking about?" I wondered.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Ridi, Pagliacci

Perhaps one of the most important lessons I ever learned about comedy was that you can't judge an audience by whether or not it laughs. I've performed in front of crowds that responded to all the "right" places in all the right ways and turned out to be relatively lukewarm in their overall enjoyment. Conversely, I've experienced audiences that hardly laughed at all, but were wildly enthusiastic about the play. The lesson to be learned for an actor: don't work harder for the laughs if they aren't coming, play the truth of the moment. It's much the same in cartooning, it's what lies beneath the surface "gag" that's important. I constantly remind myself of the story of the renowned and famously curmudgeonly London critic years ago. He took his daughter to the opening of a new comedy, and guffawed uproariously throughout. Next morning his daughter read his review in the paper and was astonished that he'd savaged the play. "But you laughed constantly," she said to him. "Yes, my dear," he answered, "I'll also laugh if you tickle me, but tomorrow I'll have forgotten all about it."

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Designated Drinker

I admit there was a time, before acid reflux tamed me, when I was known to lift one glass too many more frequently than was good for me. As the old saying goes, I knew my limit, I just passed out before I reached it. Actually that's not entirely true. There were only two occasions in my life when I drank so much I couldn't remember anything about it the next day. Unfortunately, I can only remember one of them. What saved my life more than once, I think, was that when inebriated I was not a reckless driver. Dangerous, perhaps, but not reckless. My tendency was to creep home, going so slowly as to become an obstacle for anyone driving a normal speed. It reminds me of the old joke about the guy pulled over by cops while he was headed home to Tarzana on the 101. "Do you know how fast you were going?" they demanded to know. "Um, seventy?" he answered tentatively, sure it had to have been much faster. "Seventy?" the cop said. "You were doing seven." Miraculously, I never did get stopped.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

"E.T., Call Home"

It's astonishing how easily the American electorate can be distracted into caring about the wrong things while the country goes to hell in a handbasket. Case in point, illegal aliens. They do not take jobs away from American workers. They are not a terrorist threat. They do not put a drain on social services. They are a necessary part of the economy. Drivers' licenses are not a proof of citizenship, only a proof that someone knows how to drive. And yet the powers that be have voters convinced this is a more important issue than soaring gas prices, the crumbling economy, the fading dollar, and numero uno, the Iraq adventure that's draining the national coffers by billions every month. Only Mike Huckabee on one side and Dennis Kucinich on the other are making any sense about it. Kucinich is the only one making any sense about a lot of things, and yet the media and the other candidates have marginalized him as if he's the village idiot. He took flak the other day because he evidently had once said he saw an unidentified flying object. When chided about it he answered, "I saw something, and it was unidentified." That makes sense to me.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Weapons of Mass Persuasion

I sit down each morning knowing which cartoon I plan to post, but only vaguely mindful of the commentary that will accompany it. Usually I just start to free-associate, but sometimes the day's headlines bring items so serendipitous they cannot be ignored, creating a perfect storm of synchronicity. In Florida yesterday some sharp-eyed citizen spotted a typewriter in its case, sitting in a locked storage cage. The "suspicious-looking thing" was duly reported to the police, and the bomb-squad was called out to defuse what turned out to be a benign writing apparatus. Benign? Depends on whose hands it's in. Meanwhile on this morning's news, the president warned us yesterday to ignore the report by several intelligence agencies that Iran gave up it's nuclear program four years ago and is not currently seeking to build either a bomb or a power facility. Our president, for whom the word "diplomacy" suggests lily-livered weakness, continues to rattle the saber in his determination to lead us into another tragic military adventure. Or point the rifle, whichever metaphor you prefer.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Scary Tales

I started reading when I was four. Curiously, as I got older but was still very young I didn't much like reading. I preferred looking at picture books. The assumption was that I had taught myself to read, but I think that presumes a more proactive role in the process than was the reality. The fact is I'm more visually oriented than verbally. I learned to read by osmosis when my older brother read children's stories to me, something that he, being a voracious reader, did endlessly. It was a simple matter for me to connect the graphics of the letters, combined into words, with the sound of those words. My older brother was reading Moby Dick by the time he was twelve, while I, by that age, had come to like Picasso far better than the simple pictures of the nursery stories. Maurice Sendak didn't come along until later, alas.

Monday, December 03, 2007

What's Cooking?

At thirty man suspects himself a fool;
Knows it at forty, and reforms his plan;
At fifty chides his infamous delay,
Pushes his prudent purpose to resolve:
In all the magnimity of thought
Resolves; and re-resolves; then dies the same.
(Edward Young, Night Thoughts, 1740's)

Show me a self-made man and I'll show you a man who was working with badly translated instructions.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Unkindest Cut

Today is National Homeless Day, the day we all stop for a moment to recognize the immense contributions homeless people have made to our nation. Pres. Bush is scheduled to honor the Homeless Person of the Year in a rose garden ceremony today, complete with a strawberry ripple toast. When it was pointed out to the president's spokesperson that the weather was expected to be bitter cold and everyone will be shivering, she replied, "what could be more perfect?"

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Politics As Blood Sport

Watching clips of the most recent Republican candidates' televised dust-up, it occured to me there's a strong likelihood that two of the verbal pugilists will wind up on the same ticket, like Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield on a tag team. Watching the about-face should be fun, as they scramble to take back all the trash they've talked at each other for months. The latest bout was sponsored by YouTube, the symbol of here today gone tomorrow culture served up in five minute chunks, the maximum attention span of the average viewer. Perfect. A mini-scandal erupted when it was discovered that one of the "ordinary citizens" asking a question was a Clinton campaign operative. A former general who came out of the closet when he retired, he wanted to know the candidates' positions on "don't ask, don't tell," regarding gays in the military. The organizers were embarrassed that they hadn't vetted the questioner more carefully. With these events you don't want valid issues brought up and getting in the way of the substantive stuff, like Giuliani accusing Romney of hiring illegal aliens to work as servants in his mansion.