Toon Musings: A Community of Strippers

I had the privilege to visit the island of Manhattan recently. It was my first time and I cannot get it out of my mind. I’ve visited, and to a greater or lesser extent, familiarized myself with a few cities: Dublin, Florence, Trieste, Toronto, Mexico City. Chicago and I have a long history. I loved New Orleans. I continue to be charmed by Cleveland. Detroit is a fascinating place, and I once had two(!) nice walks in Indianapolis. Manhattan sticks in the mind, not because it’s wildly atypical, but because America, and the Americans who inhabit it, are awash in communications media like no other nation on Earth. It surrounds us and sustains us; we marinate in it constantly. From the moment of our conception till the last second of our last breath our bodies’ atoms resonate with the assorted radio waves, television signals, microwave pulses, and the various wifi, bluetooth and infrared emissions that infuse the air, and that’s just the stuff we can’t perceive. And most of the communications we can perceive tell us, have always told us, that Manhattan is the Center of the Universe. Life happens everywhere; but if it happens in Manhattan, someone is apt to put it on teevee, or in the movies.

Vanity Fair recently ran a piece by Cullen Murphy about Fairfield County, Connecticut, and how it used to be infested with cartoonists. This occurred mostly due to the area’s proximity to Manhattan, back when proximity mattered. “That’s where the magazines and book publishers and comic-strip syndicates were based.” Cartoonists used to have to shlep their submissions for review at the various magazines that published panel cartoons, or actually report to offices and studios at ad agencies or comic book bullpens or wherever and do their jobs there, at desks the employers provided. Syndicated cartoonists worked where they pleased, but were still encouraged to show up for meetings and stuff in person on occasion. It was truly the Dark Ages. For those troubled souls, you could live in Manhattan, or you could live in the suburbs; and at the time Connecticut had no state income tax, so…

It’s a loving portrait of a bygone age, and it made me sad to think that such a community is no more, and that the revolution in communications technology that provides so much opportunity has also made such geographic anomalies much less likely to come about.

Cartoonists, in my experience, are solitary creatures, unused to sunlight or the voices of other humans. As Mr. Murphy tells it though, with so many comrades in arms in such close proximity, a jolly community developed, with cartoonists dropping by each other’s homes and having lunch together, and doing golf, which I hear is popular with cartoonists. As with other professions, they have a unique and exclusive glossary of relevant terms, as revealed in Beetle Bailey creator Mort Walker’s The Lexicon of Comicana (1980). Apparently, we’ve got our own jargon! Made me bust out in plewds!

A currently famous cartoonist (they do still exist) supposedly lives in my village. I have a friend who has seen him at the grocery store; I never have, and I’m not sure what I would do if I did. That’s the extent of my cartoonist community. The local library has a comics collection in the Young Adult section, but whenever I try to hang out there, it’s ‘restraining order’ this and ‘psychiatric evaluation’ that…

It’s probably for the best that much of the cartoonist community these days is virtual; otherwise, I fear I might have to take up golfing. The only golfing I have done is of the miniature variety, and any attempt of the full-size sort on my part could result in injuries and property damage. But I’d enjoy the companionship. And, I’d be happy for the walk!

The Vanity Fair piece

The Lexicon of Comicana


Phil Maish is a freelance cartoonist of no repute. His modest efforts may be viewed at He has worked for the Government, the Press, the Opera, and a Soulless Corporation. Self-taught and beholden only to his formidable wife and amazing son, he spends his free time gadding about in his vintage autogyro and, with his faithful manservant Nicopol, exploring untrammeled wildernesses, discovering hitherto unknown animal species, smashing spy rings, and regaling fellow members of the League of Intrepid Adventurers with tales of his intrepid adventures. 

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