If Only There Were a Sign!…

Originally published in the Ann Arbor News, Bay City Times, Flint Journal, Grand Rapids Press, Jackson Citizen Patriot, Kalamazoo Gazette, Muskegon Chronicle, Saginaw News
November 18, 2012

When you’re good — when you’re really, really good — you get away with stuff. You can do things, and people say, “Oh, well, that’s so-and-so. He’s really good. Exceptional. Has a deeper understanding of things. Knows more than the rest of us. Just better, I guess.” And they can push that envelope just as far as they want.

So in 1979, the really, really good cartoonist Pat Oliphant drew the following cartoon, which was printed in family newspapers:

That’s Jimmy Carter speaking as the ant. And that’s Ted Kennedy as the grasshopper. As a teenage boy, I was obviously impressed with both the cussing and the scantily clad female. But as a budding cartoonist teenage boy, I was more impressed with how — by using the cussing and scantily clad female in context and with wit — Oliphant took a decent analogy to an Aesop Fable and made it absolutely hilarious. (The born-again President Carter would never say that! But that’s just how much Kennedy frustrated him!)

I remembered this cartoon as I was drawing my cartoon. I wanted the sign in panel 3 to read, “Fix the goddam roads!” I’m no fan of gratuitous cursing (as if any curse word truly has any shock value any more). And I understand and endorse the 4th commandment. But in a cartoon, funny is funny, and funny wins. Still, I knew that “goddam” wouldn’t get printed so I made my case for a simple “damn.” (It’ s unlikely anybody would write swearing gibberish instead of an actual curse on a placard.) But understandably (alas), my editor opted for the gibberish. I still aspire to someday be Pat Oliphant….

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