All of today’s artwork was uploaded to this blog before the start of 2015.
Category Archives: surrealism
You know how creepy penguins in cartoons can be, right? The Penguins of Madagascar are like a Mission-Impossible Team gone horribly wrong and transformed into penguins. The penguin in Wallace and Gromit’s The Wrong Trousers disguised himself as a chicken to perform acts of pure evil. Cartoonists all know that penguins are inherently creepy and evil.
I recently learned a hard lesson about penguins. You know the joke, “What’s black and white and red all over? A penguin with a sunburn.” I told that joke one too many times. Who knew the Dallas metroplex had so many loose penguins lurking around? They are literally everywhere. One of them overheard me. And apparently they have vowed a sacred penguin vow that no penguin joke goes unpunished.
As I walked the dog this morning, I spotted creepy penguin eyes, about three pairs, looking at me from behind the bank of the creek bed in the park. When I went to retrieve the empty recycle bins from the driveway, there they were again, looking at me over the top of the neighbor’s privacy fence.
“Penguins see the world in black and white,” said one of the Penguins.
“Except for purple ones,” added the purple one.
“Penguins can talk?” I tried unsuccessfully to ask.
“Penguins only talk in proverbs,” said one of the penguins.
“But the purple one gives the counterpoint,” said the purple one.
“The wisdom of penguins is always cold and harsh,” said one of the penguins.
“Except on days like this when it’s hot,” said the purple one.
“You should always listen to penguins,” said one of the penguins.
“Of course, people will think you are crazy if you do,” said the purple one.
“People who talk to penguins are headed for a nervous breakdown,” said one of the penguins.
“Unless you are a cartoonist. Then it is probably normal behavior,” said the purple one.
“Is this all real?” I tried unsuccessfully to ask.
“Everyone knows that penguins are real,” said one of the penguins.
“But there are no purple penguins in nature,” said the purple one.
So, I sat down to write this post about penguins and their proverbs with a very disturbing thought in my little cartoonist’s head… Why am I really writing about penguins today? I really have nothing profound to say about penguin proverbs. Especially profound penguin proverbs with a counterpoint by a purple penguin. Maybe it is all merely a load of goofy silliness and a waste of my time.
“Writing about penguins is never a waste of time,” said one of the penguins.
“And if you believe that, I have some choice real estate in the Okefenokee Swamp I need to talk to you about,” added the purple one.
You may have looked at the name of my website here on WordPress and wondered, “Why in the heck has that fool Mickey called this thing he writes Catch a Falling Star?”
The answer is, he named it after the first good published novel he wrote at the insistence of the I-Universe Publishing’s marketing adviser. Very poor reason for doing anything, that.
But, the secondary reason is because of where that title came from. Look at the first stanza of this poem by John Donne.
So, now, you are justified in asking, “What nonsense is this? That doesn’t have any coherent meaning, does it?”
And you would be right. These are impossible things that I am being ordered to do by a very religious cleric in the Anglican Church who was originally a Catholic, but, in the time of Henry VIII Catholicism was made illegal, and he wrote this poem about not being able to find an honest woman in his drunken, wasted youth anyway. He is ordering me here to not only “catch a falling star” (and catching a meteorite with your bare hands has rather hot consequences), but also to have sex with a semi-poisonous plant, explain why we can’t go backwards in time, determine whether and why God might’ve given Satan goat feet, listen to probably-nonexistent humanoid creatures singing, find a way to avoid anybody ever looking at me with envy and then doing something to me because of it, and, most importantly, find a place where the wind blows in a way that fills your head with facts that actually makes you smarter.
It is exactly what I wanted to write about. Impossible things actually being accomplished. Finding the meaning behind alien beings from outer space developing an intense love of I Love Lucy television broadcasts and Mickey Mouse Club music. Discovering why intensely shy people need to embrace social nudity. Defining who is actually a werewolf and who is not, uncovering who and what real monsters are. Singing songs so sad that it magically makes people fall in love with you. Talking to clowns in your dreams and getting real answers to the meaning of life, love, and laughter.
Catching falling stars is the stupid idea that this wacky, idiotic little blog is about. It is what I write about constantly. You have to kill me to get me to stop. So, there is your fair warning. Read on at your own peril.
It is almost impossible to accurately draw from the future. One of the tests of good science fiction is how much of it finds its way into reality over time.
Computers and communicators and scanners and material printers are doing things daily now that were predicted as fantastical possibilities in the Star Trek episodes of the 1960’s.
Jules Verne’s novels predicted men walking on the moon and the existence of nuclear submarines patrolling the depths of the sea.
George Orwell predicted even worse things when it comes to government electronic surveillance and governmental control of everything they can take control of.
But it has never really been the future that my writing, as a fantasist/surrealist, has been about.
All of my writing is set either before the year 2000, or 3000 years in the future in the 51st Century and beyond. And all of the science fiction involved is really more about the past than it is even about the present. These drawings of the Civil War bugle boy and the Shakespearian portrait of Prospero, Ferdinand, and Miranda, were all drawn from either photos or paintings or woodcut prints from the distant past.
In my writing I don’t try to predict the future. I write about people who are basically the same now as they were in the 16th Century. In truth, only the costumes, props, and stage technology change over time. The actors in the great performance always play the same basic characters.
The homeless man wandered onto center stage just as the spotlight went on. He shaded his old eyes against the brightness and looked outward into the dark theater. It was probably some kind of mistake.
“Oh, so now it’s my turn to talk, eh?”
There was no response.
“Well, if you’re expecting something funny to come out of my mouth, good luck with that. More than half of what I say that makes people laugh is the result of depression, ill health, and just plain ignorant stupidity. And the other half of it is not meant to be funny, but is because I don’t always understand what I am saying.”
There was an embarrassed chuckle somewhere in the darkness.
“I mean, you can’t expect too much from me. I’m a bum. I have no money. I have no job. Not having any work to be bothered with is kinda good. But the other thing kinda sucks.
And all the great comedians that used to stand on this stage and try to save the world through humor are dead now. It’s true. Robin Williams died recently. George Carlin, Bill Hicks, Richard Pryor, and Bill Cosby are all long gone.”
There was some nervous laughter in the theater.
“Oh, I know, Cosby only thinks he’s dead. But he kinda killed the character delivering the wisdom in the form of observational comedy, didn’t he.”
“But most of them old boys tried to come up here and tell you the truth. And the truth was so absolutely unexpectedly wacky and way out of bounds that you just had to laugh. And the more wicked the humor, the more you just laughed. You didn’t do anything about the problems they talked about. But you sure did laugh.”
“It seems like the more they told you the truth and the more you just laughed about it, the more old and bitter they got. Sardonic? You know that word? Not sardines, fools, but sardonic. Bitterly humorous and sadly funny. Seems like a lot of them old boys got more and more bitter, more and more depressed up to the end. More and more sardonic.”
“I mean, Carlin was calling you stupid right to your face at the end. And you just laughed it off.”
The theater had grown eerily silent.
“But it ain’t all bad, is it? I mean, at least you all can still laugh. Only smart people get the jokes. The ones Carlin moaned about were laughing because everybody else was laughing. Those weren’t the ones we were talking to. There’s still life out there somewhere. Maybe intelligent life. Maybe aliens ain’t located any intelligent life on Earth yet, but they’re still trying, ain’t they?”
“You shoulda listened more carefully to what they were saying. Life and love and laughter were bound up in their words.”
“So I guess what I’m really saying is… just because I happened to get a rare chance to say it to you all… learn to listen better. The voices are quiet now. But the words are still there. And laughing at them is still a good thing. But remember, you need to hear them too.”
The theater suddenly filled with the roar of a standing ovation. The old man bowed. And this was ironic because… the theater had always been empty. No one at all was there now.
Creating myself as an author meant making some conscious choices at the beginning. I made some very clear ones. First of all, I intended to write as much about my real life as I possibly could. Accepting, of course, the fact that my real life was infested with imaginary people and events. There was the faun that slept in my bed with me every night in the form of a large, black pillow my sister made for me as a 4-H project. There were the three-inch-tall fairies that had a complete underground empire that surfaced at the roots of the old willow tree by the Rowan school building and community center. There was the gryphon that circled the skies looking constantly to swoop down and eat me at any opportunity. So, it wasn’t as much about realism as it was surrealism. It was necessary to protect my traumatized psyche from the damage I sustained as a ten-year-old.
Of course, I had literary heroes and inspirations to go by. I read some key books as a college student that deeply influenced how I wanted to write.
Winesburg, Ohio is the first major influence that affected the stories I began writing in my college years. Sherwood Anderson was writing about his own hometown in this short-story cycle, basing Winesburg on his home town of Clyde, Ohio in the very early 1900s.
Arguably he wrote stories about real people from his renamed home town. Thus, I renamed Rowan, my home town, Norwall, mixing up the letters from Rowan and adding two letter “L’s.” His stories were all themed about the loneliness and longings of a small Midwestern town. I would make mine about breaking out of the cages loneliness builds with the people who surround you.
I also determined that like Mark Twain, I would give my characters a sense of realism by basing them on real people from Rowan, Belmond (where I went to high school), and Cotulla, Texas (where I would teach for 23 years.) And I would change some basically minor physical details to hide their true identities behind names I found in the Ames, Iowa phone book from 1978. But I always tried to give them their authentic voices, though that often meant translating Texican and Hispanish into Iowegian.
And like Twain vowed to write stories only about the 19th Century, I decided to only set my stories in the last half of the 20th Century.
Of course, imagination is not easily limited, so I had to also accept that some of my stories of the science-fiction persuasion would be set in the 56th Century in the Orion Spur of the Sagittarius Spiral Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy.
And even before I discovered the genius of David Mitchell through his spectacular novel, Cloud Atlas, I had begun to explore how stories could be expanded and connected and revisited through shared characters, shared histories, and shared places, all of which develop, grow, or deteriorate over time. All things are connected, after all. Anita Jones from that first picture, and Brent Clarke in the last picture were both in the first novel, Superchicken, set in 1974, and Anita appears as an adult in Sing Sad Songs set in 1985, while Brent appears in the last novel in my timeline, The Wizard in his Keep, set in 1999.
I have claimed that I am a humorist and all my novels are comic novels, to some degree at least. But it is often pointed out to me that I write about things that make people cry. And I freely admit that I most certainly do.
But if you think about it carefully, analytically, or even emotionally, you have to admit, even a book like Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has some weep-worthy moments in it. I have read the book more than once myself, and I never get past the scene where Huck looks down at the body of his young friend Buck Grangerford, killed in the Shepherdson/Grangerford feud about something nobody living even remembers, without shedding gushers and gushers of heart-busting tears.
And in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, as much as I laugh and guffaw at the antics of quiet Mr. Dick and his kite, or the much deserved downfall of villainous Uriah Heep, it is the drowning of Little Emily on the boat with David’s school friend and idol Steerforth that leaves me surrounded by puddles… nay, lakes… that I have wept.
And I think that I may justify the sad parts in so many of my weary works with the fact that I am merely providing the necessary counterpoints to my merry-making and mirth.
There has to be that necessary balance, that well-rounded-ness, to a story that makes it feel truly complete. And, of course, we know that even in a horror novel by Stephen King, you find humor used as a balance point to lighten the moments just before the monster delivers its liver-shaking, earth-tilting scare.
Snow Babies, among my published books, is a good example. It is a story that celebrates how a small Iowa town comes together to survive a deadly December blizzard. And while it tells funny stories of kooky characters battling the elements, and both surviving the blizzard and ’84 Reagan/Mondale political debates, as well as putting up Christmas trees, it is still also about death and loss of loved ones, finding and losing love, and just what sort of self-sacrifice or other accidental happening truly makes someone a hero. Or a bus driver… this book has more than one bus driver in it.
So, I think, in the end, that I have made a cogent case for the notion that in order to be a humorist, you have to manipulate many emotions, not just mirth, but sadness also. As well as fear, bitter irony, and pain. And that may well also be the underlying reason that comedy is harder to write than tragedy.
He sat down to write something for the day. He rolled a fresh sheet of typing paper into the typewriter. Then he sat back to look at it. It was a totally horrifying stretch of cold, blank nothingness. There was nothing there. It left him feeling completely and hopelessly alone.
How do you connect with that person who is going to pick up and read the final copy of this thing once it is finished? His brain hurt thinking about it.
He knew that he needed to get started. And he wanted to start with something colorful.
So, he typed a word; RED.
“Well, that’s a start, at least…” he said, talking foolishly to the inanimate typewriter. “But what do I really mean by saying RED?”
Well, of course, red means emotional things, anger, love, shed blood, tomato sauce on Chicago-style pizza…
…But how do you make an actual idea out of that? It needs to be stretched some and pulled a lot. Bent out of shape, maybe even smashed by a hammer.
The typewriter became concerned and alarmed at the mention of the hammer.
But the writer was only thinking about the hammer. And the typewriter didn’t read minds. Heck, it wasn’t even electric yet. It was a typewriter that the writer’s grandmother bought in the 1940s. And writer loved it because it reminded him of her. And it reminded him of her letting him type his very first story on it when he was six years old. He wrote a story about a skeleton chasing a dog. And when the skeleton caught up to the dog, the dog ate him. Because he was bones. It was a short story. Very short. Less than a page. Because grandma only had one page of typing paper left on her desk.
And the story wasn’t red. So, why was he even thinking about it now?
Well, it was read. By his grandmother. And she laughed.
And he hadn’t thought about it until right now. But it was the moment he knew he wanted to be a writer some day.
And, so… Right now… This very moment… He realized… The real story is ready to begin,
Meet Harker Dawes. He’s a ne’er-do-well businessman, a fool, a bungler, a clown, and his job is comedy relief as a support player in multiple novels of my Hometown Novels Series. I would contend that he is the kind of character I can’t write a good story without. And why does he have a name like Harker? Well, it’s Charles Dickens’ fault.
What do I mean by that? Well, if you’ve never read a novel by Charles Dickens… Why the heck not? I mean seriously… A Tale of Two Cities is one of the best novels ever written by anyone. The history, themes, and tightly woven plot threads of that novel… pale in comparison to some of the funny names Dickens uses to tell that tale. Jerry Cruncher, porter for Tellson’s Bank, is also a grave-robber in his spare nights. He is constantly losing his temper with Mrs. Cruncher for “flopping against him” (which is how he characterizes how she prays for him). He is an essential clown in that narrative. Prim and proper Miss Pross is Lucie Manette’s hand maiden who is so fiercely loyal she ends up taking out the vengeful villain of the tale, Madame Defarge, for threatening her precious Miss Lucie.
And that notation is just the beginning of the long list of silly names used for critical supporting characters in his books. There is a wealth of them in every book you pick up; Uncle Pumblechook, Herbert Pocket, Abel Magwitch, and Joe Gargery in Great Expectations… certainly not leaving out Philip Pirrip (Pip) the narrator and main character of the tale.
Wackford Squeers is the perfect name for the abusive headmaster of Dotheboy’s Hall in Nicholas Nickleby.
A Christmas Carol not only contains Ebenezer Scrooge and Tiny Tim Cratchit, but also Old Fezziwig, a former boss who loves to dance at the Christmas parties he throws.
David Copperfield has wonderful character names like Edward Murdstone the evil stepfather, Wilkins Micawber the ne’er-do-well surrogate father figure (based on Dickens’s real father), jovial Mr. Dick, and the slimy, villainous Uriah Heep.
The multi-syllabic names he uses are not only comical or sinister or both, but uniquely descriptive of the characters themselves, defining for us in nonsense syllables what those characters seem to be all about.
So, that is why his name is Harker Dawes. It stands in for, “Hark, there will be guffaws.” The perfect moniker for a very imperfect man.
In the same book as Harker, you can find heroic Agnes Brikkleputti the social worker who chases four orphan runaways from Chicago to Norwall, Iowa and risks death in a blizzard to bring the orphans their medications. She is the putty that holds those four bricks together.
So, you should not be surprised if you read something Mickey has written and you run across a silly name. It is evidence that he might be Dickens reincarnated.