Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, September 11, 2006
Here’s another good example of how goofing off can really pay dividends. I was up early one morning working in my office with the intention of getting an idea for a comic. The topic was obvious because the publish date would be September 11th. So… Five years later. What to say? What to say?
I had a flood of thoughts: Perhaps I should do a memorial type comic -– a dramatic drawing with a simple epithet such as “Remember.” Nah. Those can be schmaltzy, especially if you don’t have the artistic chops to pull off an exceptional drawing. (Know thyself.) How about something political? Stick it to Karl Rove & Company for wrapping the Republican Party in the 9/11 flag yet again for election season. Nah. Attention, any attention, gives the idea validation and is sort of like letting terrorism win. Besides that leaves the Democrats off the hook. I would want to say something about their inability to articulate their position. Do they have one yet?
Lacking a clear focus, I started to waste time in earnest: juggling, nerf-hooping, playing with the cat, getting a cup of tea, and — the queen mother of all time wasters — surfing the Internet. Eventually I found my way to one of my favorite cartoonists, Keith Knight. He does an autobiographical comic called “The K Chronicles.” Very, very funny. Apparently Mr. Knight has (had) pneumonia because he had a guest artist for the week. Her name is Nina Palely. I had seen her work before. She actually had a couple of syndicated strips over the years. So I started down that path and quickly found an animated piece she did called, “Fetch.” Check it out. Completely family-safe. A beautifully conceived and produced short film playing with the illusions (and delusions) of 2D drawing creating 3D spaces. (It’s actually infinitely funnier than that description would lead you to believe.) It was quite inspiring but then I moved on to my old friend, Wikipedia, and became immersed in some arcane historical tidbits about the Ottoman Empire siege of Vienna in the late 1600’s. (I’m not sure it was exactly that, but that sounds like something I’d be interested in reading more about…. It’s a sickness, really.)
An hour or so later I still had no ideas and, even worse, no time. I felt bad and guilty. This was not a new feeling for me, so it didn’t take me long to get over it. Later that morning I was on my way to a client, and as I drove it occurred to me that the reason I couldn’t get a definite feeling about the fifth year anniversary of 9/11 was because it depends on how deeply you look at it. September 11th is sort of an optical illusion for Americans; we see 9/11 fairly clearly, but when we try to look deeper, we see different things (disaster, bravery, political opportunity, confusion, etc.). And having seen Nina Palely’s animation, Bingo! I instantly had my idea. Gosh, I sure hope the surfing I did this morning pays off this week. Did you know that the introduction of the longbow was a deciding factor in the English victory over the French in the Battle of Crécy?…