Bill Watterson is a genius. He’s the creator of the iconic comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes” and the reason I became a cartoonist. I’m no Bill Watterson.
But reading those strips about that rambunctious boy and his stuffed constant companion inspired me to pick up a pen, dip it in ink and try to create my own little cartoon worlds.
I’ve read every comic strip Watterson ever published. I’ve emulated his drawing style. Heck, I even went to the same college he attended and took classes with some of the same professors that instructed him. I know I will never be as brilliant as he was.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t try.
Today, that trying begins. I’m launching a new weekly comic strip in the Wisconsin State Journal that will appear on the bottom of the Sunday Opinion page. The first two strips are running today. So, welcome to Mendota Marsh.
Mendota Marsh will celebrate what makes Madison amazing and poke fun at our peculiar foibles. The main characters of the strip might seem slightly familiar to the regular readers of my political cartoons (or anybody who has been around Madison for awhile).
Lewis Crane is a Madison-area native inspired in part by the pony-tailed hippy guy who has appeared in many of my cartoons over the years. Lewis is politically correct, socially conscious and not afraid to tell you that. Sure, he’s snooty and misses the good old days before Madison was ruined by developers, but his heart is in the right place.
Lewis’ companion, Oscar Fox, is a younger new arrival to the area inspired in part by all the hip young people who have been moving to Madison to work in our burgeoning technology sector. Oscar is completely cool and trendy, has a passion for craft food and drink, and likes to rib the out-of-touch old timers. Sure, he’s insufferable and clueless about the way the world actually works, but he means well.
So why bother drawing these characters as creatures and not just silly old humans? Well, first and foremost, animals are fun to draw. But more importantly, animal traits can instill instant personality on the characters.
Cranes are majestic Midwestern animals. They strut their stuff around Madison’s parks and other natural areas. On one misty Madison morning in particular I came across a few sandhill cranes hanging out in the front of the State Journal offices like they owned the place. Cranes always seem like they have a bit of a snooty superiority complex — something that some folks in Madison suffer from as well.
While cranes are longtime residents of the area, more and more foxes have been moving into Madison. It turns out that foxes, like millennials, have learned how to thrive in urban environments. Many of my Near West Side neighbors regularly come into contact with foxes. These cool and crafty canines are altering their urban ecosystem to meet their needs — not unlike Madison’s young arrivals.
I moved to Madison in 2005. So while I’m not an old-timer by any stretch of the imagination, I’ve been here longer than most of these darn kids. Since I began drawing political cartoons for the State Journal in 2004, my goal has been to have a regular conversation with readers in Madison through my artwork. But the single- panel cartoons I usually create are blunt instruments. They are great for pointing out hypocrisy and holding politicians accountable. They are not as adept at having a quiet and productive conversation about our wonderful community.
My hope and goal is that Mendota Marsh will give me the opportunity to laugh at Madison’s silliness and celebrate its greatness. Madison is a unique place that deserves to have its story told. With some humor and a little bit of silly art, I’d like to keep adding to that story.