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, April 30, 2008

It's Only a Game

It seems as if on a regular basis some new fad appears that every kid must have, whether it's a video game, a doll, or even a book, like the latest edition of Harry Potter. It's funny, but I don't recall anything on the scope of these "rages" back when I was a kid. Sure, we had hula hoops and silly putty and stuff, but it was never a question of being with it or die like today. Even television took a few years to catch on big time, but my memory on it might be faulty because my parents drew a line on the sand and we didn't have one in the house until I was in my teens. It didn't matter to me. I had my own TV made of a cardboard box with little cardboard dials I'd cut out. I pretend watched it for hours. The programming was way better than the real thing.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Word Play

Computers have done more than simply add some terms to the language. The astonishing thing is that this little box has brought about the greatest advance in human communication since Gutenberg invented moveable type, and yet it's become so ubiquitous we barely realize it anymore. On the one hand I can't imagine life without the Internet, and the ability to exchange e-mails with il professore sitting in a hotel suite in the Arab Emirates, and yet I remember well struggling with a friend to get our modems to calibrate to each other so we could send one-line messages between our computers a few miles apart. It seems a century ago that I "discovered" word processing with Wordstar and all the key combinations necessary for the simplest operations, back before "cut and paste." Back then most of my writer friends sniffed dismissively when I would proselytize about computers. "Never," one of them insisted, "I will never give up the satisfying thwack of the typewriter." I couldn't wait to throw mine out the window.

Monday, April 28, 2008


The bloviators were at it big-time over the weekend. In the hours after Hillary's win in Pennsylvania last Tuesday they didn't know quite what to make of it, so they blathered a lot about how even though the victory was decisive her percentage of the vote was down from earlier polls. The story's changed now, and the wagging media yaps are declaring that while Obama has been beset by bumps in the road lately, Hillary is stronger, more confident, and, well, presidential. True, the new party line goes, Hillary didn't win as big as she might have liked, but she was outspent by Obama three to one. If it keeps up like this by next week they'll probably be saying that even though Obama has an all but insurmountable delegate lead he should get out of the race for the sake of party unity. We should all learn from the NASCAR race yesterday at Talladega. Half the field crashed on the final lap.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Render Unto Caesar

On this Sunday morning let's remember that St. Paul was a rug salesman named Saul of Tarsus until a bolt of lightning knocked him to the ground and turned him into a Christian. Like most major biblical events this one too is metaphorical. What really happened is that like a bolt out of the blue it occured to him that holy Hannah, there was money in this religion thing. St. Paul became the first fund raiser and PR guy in history, trooping around the countryside visiting Thessalonians, and Philippians and the like, and then writing them letters either thanking them for their money or asking for more. Little surprise he pissed off the Romans.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Ain't No Flies On Me

It's interesting that an eavesdropping device is called a "bug." The technology hasn't been around all that long, so it's in relatively recent times that someone came up with the term, which also happens to mean to annoy someone, as in "he's bugging me." In poker a bug is a restricted wild card. College students refer to a student who's a lesbian until graduation as a bug, and the Volkswagen Beetle is commonly known as a bug. It's also the slang term for a union label, as well as a river in the Ukraine. Two rivers, actually, the North Bug and the South Bug. And in horse racing a bug is a weight allowance for a rookie rider. Darn bugs get around.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Dress Code

On the subject of fashion Henry David Thoreau had it right when he wrote in Walden, "On the whole, I think that it cannot be maintained that dressing has in this country or any other risen to the dignity of an art." Thoreau went on to say, "Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new." It's astonishing the level of discomfort people have been willing to endure through the centuries for the questionable obsession with being in style.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

May the Best Loser Win

One can only wish that some of the mental energy being poured into the nefarious scheming and plotting in the presidential campaign was being directed toward some real problem solving, like ending the war in Iraq and reversing the downward plunge of the economy. Here's one for the books. The South Carolina Republican Committee is releasing a low blow TV ad aimed at Sen. Obama. John McCain climbs on his high horse, takes for the high road, and "asks" the committee to withdraw it. The committee refuses. So now the ad gets run not just as a paid spot locally, but repeatedly on every news program in the country. The message gets out, for free. Now if only they could do something about education or health.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

As the World Turns

What's going on? We're exporting jobs like crazy because they can get done cheaper overseas, and we're in a frothing lather about immigration. Meanwhile we're in a war somewhere far away, gas prices are soaring at the rate of about 10 cents a week, and nobody seems especially concerned. Are we in some weird national state of denial or what? It's as if none of it is real, and everyone has the stuff that spews from the television and radio daily confused with I Love Lucy reruns. It's all background noise while we, as the kids say today, chill. What ever happened to good old-fashioned panic?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I Do, I Do

Here's an idea for the presidential debates, hook candidates up to a lie detector test. If they refuse, it means they have every intention of lying. It would save us all a lot of time and money. In fact, it would ensure an almost instant campaign. Like on reality TV, one lie and you're out.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Unnatural Acts

Locksmiths rule the world. We're so obsessed with "private" property that even the gates of heaven are presumably locked, with St. Peter possessing the keys. I wonder, if one were to preach from the Bible, Acts of the Apostles chapter 2, would he be respected for his religious fervor or reviled as a commie: "Now all those who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need?" Sharing doesn't come naturally to the human animal, neither devout Christians nor impassioned Socialists. I remember one of those evangelical preachers, a man infamous for his impious accumulation of wealth, once being asked what his denomination was. "Fives, tens, and twenties," he answered.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Tower of Babble

I went to Italy in 1970 to direct a movie, met Carla, got married, and stayed for a decade. We spoke English together at first. Gradually, as I learned the language, we shifted to Italian, and now speak it together virtually exclusively. In the beginning I struggled to learn by memorizing the vocabularly from a how-to book, one chapter a day. After a couple of weeks I had learned words for furniture, rooms of the house, table settings, and so on, and verbs like "to clean," "to sweep," "to rinse," and "to dust." I realized I was becoming qualified to be domestic help. Carla struggled with language a bit too. In one intimate moment early in our relationship she wanted to tell me I was her one and only, in Italian "tu sei il mio unico." She cooed what she thought was the correct translation: "Oh, you are my eunuch."

Saturday, April 19, 2008

TV Or Not TV

We've come a long tortuous path from the first televised presidential debate between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon. Perhaps it was a sign of things to come that nobody remembers one thing either of them said. All that stands out in our collective cultural memory is the five o-clock shadow that supposedly sunk Nixon's first run for the White House. We don't have debates any more, even though they continue perversely to be called that. They're really televised press conferences. This week's So You Want to Be President episode was essentially reality television at its nadir. I suggest that in the future they hire writers to provide a script and then get actors to play Hillary and Barack, like Sally Fields and Eddie Murphy, with maybe Alec Baldwin and Jake Gyllenhal as Charlie Gibson and George Stepanopolous.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Mean Streets

One of the brightest, most interesting and articulate people I've ever met was a homeless man on the beach at Santa Monica. I lived half a block from the strand then, and walked my dog along the promenade daily. I used to see him on a somewhat regular basis, and we would talk mostly about the day's news, which he would get from his little transistor radio and newspapers he fished from trash bins. I didn't know a lot about him, but I did find out that he'd been in publishing, came on hard times, and had "fallen through the cracks." He found occasional work doing telemarketing, but was usually cheated out of a lot of what he was owed. Once a month or so he'd save enough to rent a cheap motel room for a night, and enjoy the luxury of a hot shower. Eventually I moved and never saw him again, which is sad, much sadder than losing track of all the neighbors with actual roofs over their heads that we leave strewn behind us as we meander through life. Even sadder, I can't remember his name.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Kids Today

Picking up on the subject of today's young people that I've touched on here before, as well as the theme of a worrisome decline in manners that my friend Jean Burman is presently exploring in her blog (, my lacrosse team won yesterday 5-1 against their most intense rival. Happy news for us, but more to the above point, during the game two players chased a ball to the sideline where I happened to be standing, and I was driven backwards by their combine weight. I fell straight back with nothing to break my fall, slamming my head on the metal bench. I'm an astonishingly tough old bird, so I sustained no injury beyond being very briefly shaken up. My players were concerned, of course, but what was edifying to me was that after the gane several of the players from the opposing team, who had just been soundly beaten, came up to me to ask with sincere concern if I was alright. There's hope for us, folks.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Room at the Inn

Every time my wife Carla checks into a hotel she invariably refuses the first room she's shown. I'm always slightly abashed, but I have to admit it works. Hotels routinely give away the worst rooms first and save the best for last, on the theory that there will always be guests like Carla who'll complain. It reminds me of the old joke about the man who tried checking into a hotel and was told they were all booked. "Would you have a room for the president if he showed up unexpectedly?" the man asked. "For the president, of course," the desk clerk replied. "Well, he's not coming," said the man, so you can give me his room."

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

We the Papal

Sadly almost forgotten nowadays is Pope John Paul I, the sweet avuncular pope who preceded John Paul II and died after only 30 days in the papacy. Carla and I had special seats in the stands atop the steps of St. Peter's Basilica for the mass at which he was installed. The stands flanked the altar, and we sat facing Princess Grace and then Vice President Mondale. The previous day Carla had accompanied her mother to a doctor appointment, and Carla had mentioned to the doctor I wanted to attend the mass. He told Carla he could get us passes. I asked Carla where in the world he got them, and she said that all she really knew was that the doctor's father had a villa at Castel Gondolfo, where the papal summer residence is located. The explanation fell short, I thought. The new pope surely hadn't had time to meet the neighbors. I found out later the doctor's father was the top civilian in control of Vatican finances. In religion like anywhere else, just follow the money.

Yesterday, on the eve of Pope Benedict's visit to the U.S. I received the happy news, along with an invitation to the wedding, of my friend Maria Roncalli's upcoming nuptials in Chicago. She's the grandniece of Pope John XXIII. I wish her a long and happy marriage. She's a delight, and deserves it.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Chock Full O' Balls

I begin with a gross-out alert, though it must be said that neither the television nor print media that reported on this story issued any such warning. The story in question is the $100 cup of coffee. That in itself is, of course, not difficult to swallow, unless one is prone, as I am, to choking on exhorbitant prices. The disgusting part is what this coffee consists of, and I assure you I'm not making it up. It seems that in South America somewhere there is a little rat-like animal that eats coffee beans and then -- how can I put this delicately? -- poops them back out. These "recycled" beans are said to make the most exquisite coffee known to man, hence the inflated prices that put oil to shame. I'll stick with my one daily cup of decaf, thanks, not because I think it's good. It's not. But it satisfies my hot liquid habit in the morning.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Out Damned Spot

The suggestion has been made in the media that there's something very Shakesperean about the current political situation, but in fact it's closer to Lewis Carroll. The liberals, along with the candidates, are screaming about John McCain's supposedly saying we'll be in Iraq another hundred years, except that's a complete distortion of what he did say. The conservatives, along with McCain himself, keep charging the Democratic candidates with wanting a "precipitous" withdrawal of our troops from Iraq. That too is a shameful misrepresentation. Until our leaders grow up and stop acting like squabbling schoolyard brats it's going to be impossible to have a serious and productive national dialogue on the issues that confront us. Meanwhile the economy is tanking, our young men are dying, and billions of dollars are going down the tube. Is there any chance for us?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Guilty As Charged

A man once asked to be excused from jury duty because he was needed at his job. "They'll just have to get along without you," the judge scowled. "You're not indispensible, you know." "That," replied the man, "is exactly what I'm afraid they'll find out." Ba da boom.

As Dirk Bogarde said in King and Country: "It's a bit amateur to be speaking about justice when you're dealing with the law."

Friday, April 11, 2008

Who're They Kidding? Dept.

I would never argue to abolish the Olympic. Why should they? I just think they've got it blown out of all proportion. It's nothing but a big track meet with some other stuff thrown in, like softball and skeet shooting, or some such thing. I love sports as much as the next guy, but all this argument about keeping politics and money out of it is plain silly. It's a highly political, highly commercial enterprise. If a head of state attends it's a political statement, if he doesn't it's a political statement, and all the bloviating to the contrary isn't going to change it. Here's what sports are about. My lacrosse team is totally raw, and most of the teams we're playing this year are highly experienced, so we're getting our butts whipped constantly. One coach whose team beat us badly early in the season called to ask if we'd prefer to play their JV squad in our next scheduled game with them. I put it to the team and they adamantly said no. They gave up a chance for an easy win in favor of measuring their progress in what in all likelihood will be another loss. That's character. That's sports.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Mind of the Beholder

Dr. Toni Grant, the pioneering Los Angeles radio psychologist for a number of years, once said about watching pornographic video that for the first five minutes you don't want to do anything but have sex, and after five minutes you never want to have sex again. You'll notice that in the upper right hand corner of this blog there's a small advertisement. Presumably every time a visitor to this site clicks on one of those ads I get got some fractional amount of money. The ads are magically keyed to the content of my commentary. If I write about going on vacation, say, next day there will be an ad for Caribbean getaways. Having mentioned sex twice above, I hate to think what tomorrow's ad will be for.

I'm pleased to mention that Michael Levine has been publishing some of my more editorial cartoons in his e-mailed news digest, which goes out daily to several hundred thousand "movers and shakers." Subscription is free at

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

What Are Words Worth, Longfellow?

When, I wonder, did the custom of putting writing all over the place begin? We've turned the entire world into personal billboards, with clothing labels turning brand names into fashion statements, bumper stickers telling everyone our child is student of the month at Mrs. Dunkles Day Care, luggage with the maker's logo writ large, and so on. By the way, have I mentioned lately that my cartoons are available on t-shirts, mugs, mouse pads, hoodies, and aprons? I have it on good authority that some people are having them tatooed on their bodies. There's even a nonegenarian in Topeka, Kansas who has one covering her back. It tickles the heck out of her nurses in the senior citizens' home when they give her sponge baths.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


It's widely known that actors tend to identify with their roles to the point where it begins to affect their everyday life. I can attest to it. When I was playing Einstein eight performances a week off-Broadway I hoped maybe a bit of genius would rub off, but it never happened. I did become bumbling and absent-minded though.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Collective Bargaining

Years ago, when I was in my 20's, I had a walk-up railroad flat in the part of New York City that used to be called Hell's Kitchen. One day a besotted wretch sidled up to me on the street and asked for some change. Feeling particularly magnanimous at that moment I reached into my pocket and gave him all I had, which was a considerable amount, several dollars worth. The fellow couldn't believe his good luck. He continued to thank me profusely as he accompanied me to the next corner. I was headed east, toward Columbus Circle. He pointed north, up Ninth Avenue, to the Shandon Star, and slurred, "C'mon, lemme buy you a drink." "No thanks," I said, "but you go enjoy yourself." Overwhelmed with emotion that was beyond his ability to express, he could barely contain himself. "Ooooh," he squealed, beaming toothlessly, his eyes brimming with tears, "I jes' wanna bite your nose."

Sunday, April 06, 2008

You Name It

The big buzzword in the marketplace nowadays is "branding." It used to be that the idea of name brands was confined to things like breakfast cereals, hair care products, and gasoline additives, but today it's all over the place. Indeed, it's reached its reductio ad absurdum now that celebrities aren't really established until they're considered a brand, at which point they can put their name on a line of perfume or bluejeans. Not long ago they were simply stars, with star quality, but stardom has become a baby step on the way to real fame. Perhaps it's come about because so many people have been attaining celebrity status who can't really do anything, like act, sing, or hit home runs. The ne plus ultra of branding is "going viral," and all that requires is doing something really stupid and having a video of it posted to YouTube where millions of people will view it before you can say American Idol.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Clothes Make the Man

"Eat to please thyself," Benjamin Franklin wrote in Poor Richard's Almanac in 1738, "but dress to please others." There's an old aphorism that tells us fashion is just a more polite term for forced obsolescence. Even more to the point, it's forced obedience. Nothing in our lives quite encapsules our obsession with being part of the crowd than the clothes we wear. Businessmen in particular are constrained to a narrow rectangle to express whatever trace individuality they possess, and even then the choices are limited. I say if we're going to insist on being sheep we ought to wear wool.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Sing a Song Of High Rents

Nursery rhymes, we're told, are really coded stories. For instance, the "contrary" Mary we grew up with is supposedly Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII, who when she became queen tried to heal the rift with the Catholic Church. The silver bells referred to were cathedral bells, the cockle shells were a symbol of a pilgrimage to a Catholic Shrine, and the maids were nuns. With a bit of tinkering Pop Goes the Weasel, a song about hard times, could be a contemporary lament:

Half a pound of tuppenny rice
Half a tank of diesel
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop! goes the weasel.

I'm guessing The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe with too many dogs is really about athlete's foot.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Old Men and the Sea

It's way worse than the experts are telling us. Or maybe it's nowhere near as bad as some are leading us to believe. Maybe there's nothing we can do about it, it's just one of those cyclical things. Or perhaps drastic steps must be taken to avert disaster. The economy? Nope, global warming. If things keep going the way they are we all may wind up bailing.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Monkeying Around

Evolution is an amazing thing. A report on the evening news last night documented the mating rituals of squid. It seems the male squid is able on will to change color, so that the side of him facing toward his intended is dark and, presumably seductive, and the opposite side is white, to scare off rivals. If the lady of his desire happens to swim casually around to his far side, he can almost instantly reverse the colors. Squid have been around for 15 million years, so evidently the strategy works. They also haven't done any damage to the planet that we know about. Humans and our hominid ancestors, on the other hand, have been around a mere million and a half years, and we have sex clinics, therapists, how-to books and the Kama Sutra to help us with our hang-ups, anxieties, and ignorance. I'm sure there will be some people writing in to ABC to complain about sex being discussed on prime time, even if it was the sex life of squid. They're the same people who think we're descended from Adam and Eve.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart

Whoever said that age is all in the mind should have their head examined. It doesn't take a medical exam to figure out the joints are getting stiffer. On the other hand, old age doesn't stop a man from chasing women. He just has trouble trying to remember why. When Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. was in his nineties he was strolling with a friend when they saw a beautiful young woman. "Oh my heavens," said the Justice, "what I wouldn't give to be ten years younger."