Susanna McLeod, A Pencil in My Hand

30 April 2004

   I have always loved cartoons. When I was a little kid, those small pictures that magically appeared every day in the back section of the Kingston Whig-Standard kept me entertained for long periods of time. Though the humourous message sometimes went over my head, I was captivated by the drawings. And the coloured funny pages on Saturday, well, that just put me in paradise.

    With a pencil in my little hand, I liked to draw characters in larger size, each one on a separate piece of paper. I made good use of my eraser, too, scrubbing out those misplaced eyeballs or fingers. Occasionally, I would trace the body or face to get the hang of the shapes, but I always felt like I was cheating. Most of my troubles started when it came to colouring my drawings. Crayons were good but watercolours turned out messy and not what I had in mind at all. (Sigh. I still have that problem.) An older, distant cousin of mine was a wonderful source of inspiration for me. She was a whiz at drawing the Peanuts characters. On lined notebook paper, she drew Charlie Brown’s head, his orange shirt with black trim and the baseball glove on his hand. She then used coloured pencils to complete the picture. It was amazing to an eight-year-old kid to see the treasured comic come to life, even if it wasn’t by Charles Schulz’ hand.

    When my first son was about two years old, I drew up a small series of strips about family life. No doubt it was much too familiar to Lynn Johnston’s For Better or For Worse. One of the panels featured the smiling parents cheek to cheek, but far apart at the feet because of a smiling little fellow pushing through. The caption read “Something’s come between us!” The strips were rejected by the local paper, but the editor took the time to craft a letter about how many strips are received and rejected. He also included two pieces of the stiff material that was embossed with comic strips and fastened onto the drum to print. The information was fascinating but not encouraging.

    Even yet, I find comic strips, panels and cartoons to be an absolute necessity for a good life. Cartoonists can import the practical messages, they can say what needs to be said about church and state and get a laugh at the same time. They entertain by satirizing or exaggerating, such as The Simpsons by Matt Groening. Or they can just help us feel that we are not alone, that someone else has thought about a similar problem, even if they are a cartoon character. Those comics that strike a note find a special place in our house - the fridge door.

    The comic strips on our fridge door get rotated as new favourites come along; the old ones never thrown out but stored in a filing cabinet. It’s great fun to look back through them once in a while and reminisce.

pencil in hand

    I like to check out bulletin boards at workplaces. They are a fountain of comic wisdom and perhaps even a form of bonding. Workers almost universally are able find cartoons with a relationship to their jobs or employers. They tack them up for all to laugh at or to nod their heads in agreement. A good chuckle to start the day can only be good for productivity and team work.

    There are so many delightful cartoons in print now and plenty of new ones to enjoy. It is difficult to pin down a single favourite or even a few: I like ‘em all. As with many fans, Peanuts will always be a staple in my house, along with Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson and Citizen Dog by creator Mark O'Hare. (It's disappointing that these three comic strips are no longer in production.)

    Zits by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman has found a soft spot in my heart because I have two grown sons whose shoes were just like Jeremy’s – it takes the long jump to get past them. I love the sass of Bucky and the innocence of Satchel in Darby Conley's Get Fuzzy, the glimpse into the lives of seniors in Pickles by Brian Crane and the on-going story lines of Lynn Johnston's For Better or For Worse. I revel in the tell-it-like-it-is attitude of Doonesbury - somebody has to speak up against the absurdity of government and cartoonist Gary Trudeau seems to have it down to a fine art.

    Though I doodle and sketch out comic ideas, probably the pencil in my hand will never draw me into a cartoonist. From a distance I will admire the talented cartoonists, both established and upcoming, and their abilities to create laughter, serious messages and captivating drawings in such a short space and time.

    Let’s raise our coffee cups in a toast to cartoonists. It would be a dreary world without them.

© Susanna McLeod 2004  
(Originally published in The Cartoonists on