Pitts: The Funnies
February 28, 2017
As a youngster I never dreamed I'd one day make my living as a writer, but that doesn't mean I didn't hope to be syndicated in newspapers and magazines nationwide.
What I really wanted to be was a cartoonist. There was only one problem — I can't draw. I know what you're thinking, I can't write either but that hasn't stopped me from being a cowy columnist.
I grew up on the funny papers. Although we really couldn't afford it, my mother always made sure we subscribed to two newspapers because she knew it was important for our education.
All my life I've read three things religiously every day: the sports section, the business section and the funnies. It's no accident that I grew up to be an entrepreneurial sports-loving humorist.
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During the week, the comics were in black and white but on Sundays the funny pages were expanded and in full color. These days many newspapers have dropped the funnies because they contained no advertising and were a loss leader for them, but in my childhood the funnies were the only reason many people bought the Sunday paper.
I grew up trying to draw my favorite characters including Nancy, Sluggo, Snoopy, Andy Capp, Tarzan and more. Dick Tracy was one of my favorites because he was the easiest to draw. I doodled and drew my own comics and, because I had to write my captions in really tiny spaces, I've always had really good printing, although my writing is not that great, as you all know.
In high school ag class I discovered Ace Reid, who has to be considered the Godfather of the cow comedians. I had his cartoons pinned up all over my room. Although he's been dead a long time, many ag papers still carry his weekly cartoon and some relative is still raking in the royalties. I was sorry I never got to meet Ace because I hear he was a real hoot.
Today my favorite cow cartoonists include the recently retired Jerry Palen, Earl and Mad Jack Hanks. One of my prized possessions is an original Jerry Palen cartoon that Jerry sent me with a note saying thanks for the idea my column had inspired.
I also have several full-color Mad Jack cartoons framed and on a wall. I've always felt there should be a Cow Cartoon Hall of Fame somewhere in Texas in Ace's honor and those gentlemen I mentioned would be the first inductees.
There would be retrospectives on the cartoonists and include self-drawn portraits. I can't imagine there being a Hall of Fame for cow columnists but if there was it would probably consist of a filing cabinet in someone's house somewhere stuffed with Baxter Black and John Erickson columns. Speaking of John, I saved every one of his columns that appeared in the back of the Texas Cattlemen every month.
Although there have been many lovable cowy cartoon characters (I like Jerry Palen's Flo and Elmo the best, and not just because they remind me of my wife and I). John was the only writer I know of who created a long-lasting and lovable character in Hank the Cowdog. Hank catatpulted John to well-deserved fame and fortune. The only character I've managed to develop in 40 years of writing was my horse, Gentleman, who was always a lot funnier than I ever was.
Cartoonists are different than columnists. They are artsy and speak in shorter and often incomplete sentences. Sometimes I wonder if they skipped that day in English class when they taught us every sentence must have both a noun and a verb. Cartoonists are not politically correct and can get away with things that a columnist never could.
And something I'm very jealous of, cartoonists rarely get edited. What's an editor going to do, erase and redraw an arm or a leg? But there is far more pressure on a cartoonist to perform because they only get one shot at being funny, whereas a columnist can take several stabs in one column in an attempt to make someone smile.
There's only one person I know who has been both a wildly successful cow columnist and cartoonist and that's Mad Jack. Does that make him a bi-humorist? If so, does he get his own public restroom now? ❖