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Archive for 2007




Dialogue in Democracy

Written on Monday, December 3rd, 2007 [permanent link]

You know a forum on democracy is cool when they include the cartoonists! A few weeks ago PBS gathered about 50 American leaders to Colonial Williamsburg to debate a 21st Century description of American citizenship. Mixed in with the founder of the online Craigslist and the mayor of Youngstown, Ohio, was Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Mike Ramirez and Kansas comic book publisher Alonzo Washington. I wasn’t there as a cartoonist but as a reporter for the Daily Press, where I have worked to varying degrees since 1992.

The three days put air under my feet and ideas in my head. Democracy matters! And these people practiced it with great care and vigor. Sometimes it got heated as they discussed immigration and health care and service to the larger community, but they also did the one thing that seems to be a vanishing skill in our loud media society: they listened to each other.

We live in an age when opinion is bursting out all over, thanks to cell phones and blogs. We’re yakking and yakking. But democracy happens only when we listen and then decide in a group way which is the favored solution to the problem at hand. Some people aiding this conference are pushing hard to exercise democracy in this new century. This session at Colonial Williamsburg will air on PBS early in 2008, but if you or your civics students want to read about it now check out

www.pbs.org/newshour/btp/did2007.html

Extra credit: check out the Center for Deliberative Democracy at Stanford University. Prof. James Fishkin has a new way of political polling that involves online debate and Q-and-A with experts, and he told this CW session that the numbers are clear: the more people learn and study an issue, the more their opinions change! It’s exciting stuff to realize that we the people CAN have the power!

cdd.stanford.edu/

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A Fest of Cartoons

Written on Tuesday, November 6th, 2007 [permanent link]

Last week’s Festival of Cartoon Art at Ohio State was inspiring! I love the fact that one minute we’re discussing the meaning of language in the graphic novel format, the next minute we’re hearing old poker stories about “Steve Canyon” artist Milton Caniff, and the next we’re listening to a Wagner opera as a music video to a comic based on one of his pieces. WOW! Here are more highlights:

* I met Mike Peters, Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist and creator of the “Mother Goose and Grimm” comic strip. It was like meeting Robin Williams. The guy never stops talking, reacting, connecting. My Author’s Purpose visits are like his — on about 1/5 Peters speed.

* I chatted with Arnold Roth, who did the layouts for the Schoolhouse Rock episode “The Three Ring Circus” (about the three branches of our government. He is a funny, kind man – his sketch of himself in my sketchbook says, “Everything I know I learned from Bentley Boyd.” Ha!

* Seeing the Caniff originals in a campus gallery was wonderful. His Sunday comic episodes from the 30’s were as wide as my arm span. HUGE ART! I love getting close to see how he put the story together. Young readers who love adventure would do well to read Caniff’s “Terry and the Pirates” collections. He is credited for bringing movie-like images to the comix.

* One of the biggest inspirations was my friend Nick Anderson, who is doing amazing digital things for the Houston Chronicle. His political cartoons are in color every day and they’ve given him a staff to produce animated satire on their Web site. He has very funny music video parodies at www.chron.com/nickanderson. Check it out!

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Heritage is History?

Written on Wednesday, October 17th, 2007 [permanent link]

I spent a week digging through my Dad’s studio/barn with him this August, cleaning out musty old stuff and cataloging his artwork. (it was a great exercise in primary document research: “Hey, there’s my old Santa statue!!”) I found a goldmine of several boxes of American Heritage magazines.

Well, “magazine” isn’t the right word. American Heritage began publishing in 1954 as a hardbound periodical, and each new issue was hardbound until 1980. Then the magazine went to a softbound edition, but inside all these issues is a wealth of visual information for me. The Web is great for speed research, and I do get a lot of images by searching Google, but that resource is like a lot of the Web: a mile wide and an inch deep. (I can get 6 or 9 hits of the same image but little else relevant to my need on Google image search.) There are a lot of historical images that I’ve only seen in American Heritage and other historical magazines. Those images inform all the history comix I draw. I may have a talking crab on Jefferson’s shoulder, but it’s vital for me to get the buildings behind them historically correct.

Like many other print periodicals, American Heritage has had trouble making money lately. There’s simply too many Web sites out there offering things for free. The magazine stopped its print edition in May. The good news is that it continues to add new things to its awesome Web site: www.americanheritage.com

I have mixed feelings about this dramatic change in our human development. Fewer print books and magazines means fewer trees killed. That’s good. We’ll continue to use the skill of reading, but we’ll do it on a screen. That’s fine. But I worry about how permanent our new history is going to be when it’s nothing but zeroes and ones hanging in cyberspace. What happens when the power goes out??

Posted in History Book Review | No Comments »


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