I've been doodling for a long time. I was the type of kid who kept things bottled up and finding a good therapist for a second grader was difficult in a small town where a hot dog shop was considered haute cuisine. My mother -- an off and on again professional artist -- taught me to relieve tension headaches, stress and constipation by drawing cartoons of whatever was bothering me.
As I got older and my communication and coping skills got better, my doodling fell by the wayside, only to resurface now and again when something rendered me truly speechless with irritation. Like Star Trek: Voyager. Usually the Trek franchises mix some decent sci-fi with a healthy dose of camp (William Shatner, for instance, is a comic genius whether he's trying to be funny or not). Voyager, though, was so painfully stupid I couldn't sit through an episode without getting a bout of trichotillomania. I did watch for a little while -- I so hoped they'd kill off Neelix -- and rather than buying Rogaine for the patches I was plucking out, I worked on a spoof comic for the few weeks until I gave up on the show.
A while ago, my husband found my old scrapbook, filled with many pages of Voyager's Tuvoc trying to solve the problem of his thong riding up by using his Vulcan Mind Powers and many pages more of second graders looking for aspirin and bran muffins. Because he's so supportive, instead of having me committed he suggested, "You should really try sending some of your stuff in. And, baby, if you ever want to see a therapist, we'll find a way to afford it. Seriously."
So for a while now, I've been doing illustrations, graphics and comics for a couple places. Some come out better than others, and like anything else, the learning process is an adventure in and of itself. For instance, classical sources tend to feature a fair amount of nudes. Being a Modern Woman, I used to grumble about why most of the nudes had to be women, muttering "chauvinists" and worse under my breath as I studied my reference materials.
Then I picked up a book in which about half of the nudes were male.
There is no all-audience safe way to state my observations other than: gender equality is overrated, Adam probably adopted the fig leaf to stop Eve from alternately sniggering at him or slapping him, and in this instance, drawing cartoons to vent my traumas wasn't going to help. There are some things that I simply don't want to cross hatch.
Artists are also a pretty rough crowd to associate with. (See? I can't even say "to hang with" anymore.) On a cartooning forum I frequent, an artist mentioned his just-for-fun project, a comic about ninjas based on something he glimpsed once in an episode of the kids' show, "Hi Hi Puffy Ami Yumi".
Hi Hi Puffy Ami Yumi is trash, from the cheap art to the lame story (two teen pop starlets bouncing bubble-headedly from one gig to the next). But I wasn't going to judge. You can see an idea done badly somewhere else, take a facet of that idea and do it well yourself. That's legitimate. So I glanced at his comic and then pointed out that though the art was totally different and unrelated, I liked the way he had kept the style of just the eyes, as kind of a reference to the source.
"What??" came the response on the forums. "Everyone draws eyes like that! It's a common stylistic device, like making heads round. You're seeing things that don't exist, you over-caffeinated loon! And how come you recognize the stylistic details of Hi Hi Puffy Ami Yumi anyway, Alex? DO YOU WISH YOU WERE THE PINK HAIRED ONE OR THE BLUE HAIRED ONE??"
There were no winners in that argument. Once I pointed it out, the trademark eyes were painfully obvious. And no one buys that I only watched a few episodes to see if the show was okay for my daughter to watch. We're both wrongly and forever tainted as Hi Hi fans. The trauma will be good for us, though. Because in the end, it's true what they say -- art is all about suffering, and the more profound the suffering, the more profound the art.
And looking at it that way, I'm pretty relieved to be still churning out doodles instead of giving the world another La Pieta.
Originally appeared 2006-03-13
This article first appeared in the Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin.