Believe it or not, if you wade past the spam bots, name-calling and nuclear threats, there’s a heartwarming, human side to Twitter. Recently, 94-year-old Rose Marie, best known as Sally Rogers on the Dick Van Dyke Show, joined the fray, probably expecting it to be the soul-deadening echo chamber it is for most of us.
In a few weeks she’s gained about 100,000 followers, all coming out of the woodwork to express their love, admiration, and awe at her 90-year(!) career.
In case you haven’t noticed, we’re living in extremely weird times. There have always been people who take pride in stubborn ignorance, emit lies and spurious arguments to justify bigotry, and are fundamentally disposed toward seeing the world in terms of “us vs. them.” But, for the first time, we’re seeing these qualities in the supposed leader of our country.
As a person who’s rational yet anxiety-prone, it’s meant a year of lost sleep and gnashing teeth. So it’s hard to overstate the value of a late-night host who can make me unhinge my jaw laughing, while reminding me that there are plenty of people out there who are seeing clear through the BS and are not afraid to call it out.
Last week I had the opportunity to spend three days in a caricature drawing class led by Mad Magazine artist Tom Richmond. Basically everything that’s covered in the course can be found in the book that I bought way back in 2011, so if you’re a self-starter, that may be all you need to step up your game. As for me, I tend to require someone standing over me and telling me what the heck I’m doing wrong, which is almost always obvious in retrospect. Actually, I don’t think I drew anything during the class that would qualify as a successful caricature, but after the concepts marinated in my brain for a few days I was able to crank out a few I was reasonably happy with.
I’ll keep practicing! Nothing about this class made me want to become a guy who draws 5-minute caricatures for ungrateful tourists, but it made me realize that regular practice will help me improve my goofy cartoon faces the way figure drawing has improved my goofy cartoon bodies.
Speaking of which, last Saturday also marked the end of an era at the National Academy, where for the last 6 years I periodically took weekly figure drawing classes with Lisa Dinhofer. Of course, that’s nothing compared to the 25-plus years she spent teaching the course, or the 192 years the Academy managed to stay afloat before being run aground by new management. Jerks.
Opportunities for figure drawing abound in New York, but it’s rare to find a small, relaxed class with a teacher who is always 100% right about what you’re doing wrong. Over the years my observational skills have slowly but surely improved, and I couldn’t have done it without Lisa. If I put my mind to it, I can probably summon her critical voice while drawing from life on my own. But it’ll take decades more practice before I’m able to see past my blind spots the way she does.
I’m surprised I didn’t post this cartoon I drew for class a few months ago:
I should point out that these characters are merely based on Lisa and I. And I’m not just saying that because she was slightly offended by my portrayal!
Somehow the stars aligned, and there was yet a third class that ended this past week; my SVA course with illustrator Steve Brodner. This class was unique for me in that, instead of teaching the mechanics of drawing, it was all about what it takes to become an illustrator. Steve’s philosophy is that all good illustration tells a story, and that the point of your illustration should be crystal clear to any stranger flipping through a magazine and seeing it for the first time. Often times, us amateur artists have a tendency to rush to creating finished art, but that doesn’t give us the opportunity to come up with a really strong composition, which can be done much more effectively at the scribbly thumbnail stage. If you solve all your storytelling problems beforehand, creating the finished piece is much more straightforward and enjoyable.
Many of my regular readers (i.e. friends and family), though they tend to be overly positive about my work in general, have noticed that I seem to have upped my game in the last few posts. That’s not because I improved my drawing skills, but because I spent days and sometimes weeks, with the help of Steve and the rest of the class, refining the ideas and making sure I didn’t cut any corners.
The class in Steve’s studio; that’s him bottom right.
So, back to the self-starter thing. Steve’s class has taught me some good habits, in theory, but in order to really ingrain them I know I’ll need a re-up of the assignments and accountability that a structured class can provide. So for that reason—and also because it feels weird not to be enrolled in a class of some sort—I’ll be back with Steve in the fall, chipping away at a portfolio and summoning the chutzpah to actually sell myself as an illustrator at the tender age of 40!
I almost forgot the Golden Globes was on tonight, which is funny considering where I work, and the fact that several of my co-workers were on the red carpet. But Ricky Gervais pulled me in with his usual lack of reverence for Hollywood stars, which set the tone for a show has been entertainingly off the rails.
Well, it’s about time to say goodbye to the fella who made me desperate to live in New York long before I knew he wasn’t kidding about the rats and urine. There used to be a time when I wouldn’t miss a show, and there was even a time when I paid $400 as a broke college student to see him burst onstage mere weeks after quintuple bypass surgery. I still have the hospital bootie that I ripped off Robin Williams’ foot.
I don’t have any real complaints about late-model Dave. I think it was by design that, in the last decade or so, his show went from unmissable to the kind of show you could dip in and out of at will. Whether it was his bypass, or the inevitable perspective that comes with growing older, he settled into being television’s reliable raconteur. I slept soundly knowing that I wasn’t missing any of the ambitious comedy set pieces that characterized his early years on CBS. This new Dave, this real Dave, sat at his desk and told stories. And let’s face it, I’d find them on YouTube eventually.
I first became aware of Letterman at age 13 or so. It’s a critical age. 13-year-olds who reveled in sports grew up bumping chests, and grunting, and thinking they were god’s gift to the ladies. 13-year-olds who excelled in Dungeons and Dragons became the arrogant IT guy you can’t live without. 13-year olds who taped Letterman and watched him before school became self-deprecating wise-asses.
That may sound like a detriment, but believe me, there’s nothing better than laughing at myself, laughing at people, and laughing at the world. At age 37, I don’t need a talk show host to be my rudder. But if you’re ever offended by one of my snappy comebacks or sarcastic one-liners, you’d better believe I’ll blame Dave. And by blame, I mean thank. Thanks, Dave!
For my money (redeemable at Chuck-E-Cheese), the most touching scene in movie history occurs at the end of Chaplin’s 1931 “silent” City Lights. Charlie is the star, but it’s Virginia Cherrill that strikes me as beautifully, fallibly human, as her prejudices give way to the realization that she was revitalized by a Little Tramp.