The great baseball writer Roger Angell passed away today. He had lived an impressive 101 years. You can read his obituary in the New York Times. This is a slightly edited letter I wrote to him in 2002 (back before my beloved San Francisco Giants won three World Series in five years). I think it still makes a nice testimonial to his work and what it meant to me during my life…
Dear Mr. Angell,
Your books have given me so much joy over the years. They seem to be about so much more than just baseball. For years now I’ve been meaning to send you a “thank you” letter, but I always feel as if I have so much to say that I’ve intimidated myself! So I figure the best thing to do is just start, and see where it takes me. First off, I’m a 34-year-old cartoonist living in Brooklyn. When I first came across your work, I was a 12-year-old pipsqueak living with my mom in San Francisco. So that’s over twenty years ago!
My parents were divorced, and my dad lived in New York, and in the summer of 1977, he introduced me to baseball, by playing catch with me every day after work, taking me to a couple of Yankee games (and teaching me to keep score!), and watching the Yanks with me on TV. By the time I returned home to San Francisco and my mom, I had fallen hard for the game. I started out as a Yankee supporter, but I evolved into a huge Giants fan. Sure, the Yanks were great, with their two recent world championships and all, but they were 3,000 miles away. And who could resist the Giants’ magnificent trio of Willie McCovey, Vida Blue, and Jack Clark? I remain a Giants fan to this day. I still root for the Yankees, too (since the two teams are in different leagues), but when push comes to shove, I favor the Giants by a broad margin.
It was tough being a Giants fan in the early 1980s, when I moved with my mother back to my birthplace of New York. For one thing, in those pre-Internet, pre-sports radio days, it was nearly impossible to get the West Coast scores until late the next day. So frustrating! Secondly, all my friends were Mets fans, and despite both teams being pretty awful, my “pals” found nothing more enjoyable than razzing me about every Giants loss—especially when it came at the hands of their beloved Mets. But, what can I say? I’ve always been an underdog sort of guy, and given the Giants’ perennial also-ran status, that makes them pretty irresistible.
Baseball seemed to answer so many questions for me during that period of my life. Back in San Francisco, I spent more time than was healthy parked in front of the radio (we didn’t own a television), listening to Hank Greenwald and Lindsey Nelson give the play-by-play, as I kept pace, keeping score on my own custom-made scorecards. I got endless satisfaction from the stats, the computing of averages, and the comparisons of players from one era to another. There was comforting reliability to baseball statistics: the whole world fit into these little boxes, everything had a scoring symbol or a slot to fit into, and in my itinerant youth (my mom, a college professor and artist, took me with her to jobs in San Diego, San Francisco, Halifax, Vancouver, and finally, in the summer of 1980, back to New York), this dependability meant a lot.
I always loved playing baseball, too, although I never got very good at it. In San Francisco, the neighborhood kids and I were crazy about our version of stickball (with a wooden bat and an old tennis ball). And even my two or three years of Little League ball were fun, although I wasn’t much of a hitter (and not much better as a pitcher).
Until I came across The Summer Game,my exposure to baseball writing had been confined to juvenile fiction and simplified biographies of stars such as Hank Aaron, Jackie Robinson, and Joe DiMaggio. You know the kinds of books I mean: bland histories where every chapter offers a life lesson. Or the fictional stories, which always seemed to be about that terrible Little League team that over the course of a long summer comes together, bonds, and goes on to win the championship against incredible odds.
Well, stumbling across The Summer Game (sometime in 1978, I believe) was like opening my eyes to a whole new world. You brought the lyricism of the game to my attention. Even though I was far too young to really appreciate the beauty of your prose, your easy, colloquial style, your love of the quiet moments between the actions, your appreciation of the weather, the stadium, the fans around you: all of this was captivating to me. I’ve re-read your books many times over the years, from my adolescence in New York, to my college years in Ohio, and during even a stint in Prague, the Czech Republic! Since then, I’ve lived in Chicago, back in San Francisco, and now am back “home” in Brooklyn, always with your books in tow.
When I first read your books, I was absorbed by the inside-baseball; the quotes from the stars, the feeling I was vicariously getting to know these superstars (and benchwarmers too). Even at age 12, I was an avid reader of the sports pages, and it seemed to me that the players quoted in there didn’t have the ability to form complete sentences, rarely anything other than the typical clichés about giving “one hundred and ten percent,” taking it one day at a time, etc., etc. But when you spoke to those guys, they seemed real: thoughtful, opinionated, humorous, human.
And of course I loved the way you brought the big games to life, your annual recap of the pennant races, the playoffs and the World Series. It didn’t matter if I had followed every game myself. Somehow you brought those moments back, capturing the drama, the tension, the whole atmosphere. I realize now that it wasn’t the suspense of the unknown that I craved, but the sense that during those moments, this game was the content of my entire world.
Over the years, as I’ve re-read The Summer Game, Five Seasons, Late Innings, and Season Ticket, I’ve come to appreciate your abiding humanism, the way you continually embrace the changing playing field of major league baseball. In the face of greedy players & owners, astronomical salaries, stadium scandals, contraction, and the nearly endless postseason, your love of the game and its participants has never waned. Somehow you’re able to express your concerns, to plainly state why you think the most recent “innovation” does the game a disservice, and yet maintain the generosity of spirit and perennial optimism to know that baseball—the game itself—will persevere. Nay, triumph!
I feel like I’m just going on and on, so I’ll cut this short. I hope this letter brings you some satisfaction—It’s the least I can do to repay you for all the wonderful hours of enjoyment and education you’ve provided me all these years.
Thank you again; as always I look forward to your next baseball piece in The New Yorker.
I recently unearthed an old art project of mine from 30+ years in storage, and it’s a fascinating time capsule, both of the late 1980s and of myself from that period.
The object in question is a large 36″ x 48″ collage I painstakingly crafted out of images cut from magazines, postcards, and my own art and photographs. Made during my senior year of college at Oberlin — on the cusp of charting my own path as a so-called adult — I see now that the collage reflects my desires, and fears, about the future.
Why did I make this thing? I believe I got the idea from a birthday present I had received a few years before: a wall calendar that encouraged the owner to decorate the page above each month of the year. For some of the months, I drew something, and for some of them, I made little collages.
It must also be acknowledged that my mother, the artist Martha Rosler, had created a series of feminist collages when I was a child for which she became quite well known. (One of those series, Body Beautiful, or Beauty Knows No Pain, featured images of nude women paired with kitchen appliances!) I actually got to study my own mother’s work in college — I was an art history major with a focus on contemporary art — and while I was there she was invited to visit the school in an official capacity. So, I’m sure my mom’s work was hovering in the back of my mind as well.
Either way, I got in my head to make my own giant-size “Josh Collage.”
At first glance, the collage appears to be a straightforward catalog of my interests/obsessions from that period. My tastes back then were pretty mainstream — they still are — but what I was into, I was REALLY into. (And it’s funny: only in going through this collage in such detail do I truly appreciate how many of my interests and tastes — in music, in art, in politics — were informed by my mother. Thanks, mom — for bringing me into the world and shaping who I am in it.)
So WHY did I make this collage? I believe it was a form of “art therapy” for my insecure 21-year-old self, a way of proclaiming, “Hey, I exist!” And if so, it was a fun coping mechanism, like solving a puzzle, fitting all the images together in various pleasing (and occasionally clever) ways.
That said, it’s interesting to see what I chose to reveal about myself. Surprisingly there are virtually no images from popular movies or TV — no stills from Vietnam films (my obsession at that time), or Taxi Driver or The Godfather, or Woody Allen movies (probably for the best, that last one). No Star Wars. By the same token, there’s virtually nothing from the world of comics — other than my own artwork of the time. Clearly, I was trying to project an idea of myself, and even though I was still an avid reader of mainstream superhero comics at that point, I must have felt self-conscious about advertising it to whoever walked into my room. (This was all before I “discovered” the world of alternative comics — Harvey Pekar, Joe Sacco, et al.)
And, in poring over the collage again, I see that there was actually a larger concept behind it. The collage is roughly divided into sections — about me and my friends, about pop culture, about sports, about art, about city life, and about politics (with a fair amount of overlap). Looking at it now, though, from the vantage point of 30+ years, it seems to actually be a reflection of my anxieties and desires about the next stage of life in the “real world”: the big city, career, relationships… family?
So, here’s the full collage and my thoughts on its various elements. Prepare yourself for a trip back to 1988 — and the contents of my unformed brain…
Just in case you don’t instantly recognize these icons of the late 1980s (and in the spirit of the cover of Superman vs. Muhammad Ali), I’ve created a legend that identifies the various images that make up the collage. Let’s go through it, section by section, shall we?
This first section focuses on 21-year-old me: self-portraits, my own art, my friends, and my sense of humor. In retrospect, it also reveals some preliminary anxiety I might have had about one day becoming a father…
Self-portrait in pen-and-ink — It’s only appropriate that this self-portrait collage should start with a literal self-portrait. Like most teenagers, I spent countless hours staring (unhappily) at my face in a mirror. I drew this “soulful” chiaroscuro self-portrait in 1985, at the start of my freshman year at Oberlin. Is there any significance to the fact that I cut off the left (dark) side of my face from the original portrait? You tell me!
2. Slash vs. Blade — a panel from “Battle,” a jam comic I did with Dean Haspiel also during my freshman year, in the period 1985–1986. (Back then, pre-Internet, we would draw a page of the strip, fold it up and mail it via the post office to the other guy so he could continue the story. I was in Ohio; Dino was back in NYC.) Dean and I have known each other since freshman year of high school; this may have been our first true collaboration, predating our two-man anthology Keyhole, the jam comic Lionel’s Lament, and of course our podcast Scene by Scene with Josh and Dean. Slash was Dean’s character (inspired by Star Wars‘ Boba Fett) and Blade was mine (inspired by the Teen Titans villain Deathstroke the Terminator). In this panel, my character Blade is torturing Dino’s character Slash by stretching his mask to its fullest extent so it will snap back on his face in an extremely painful manner. (Later on in “Battle,” the two characters wind up naked and then have sex with each other.)
3. Blade as drawn by Dean Haspiel — I always loved/envied this drawing of Blade, which I felt looked cooler than any image of my own character that I had ever drawn. (Did I imagine that Dean was a better version of myself? No, that can’t be…)
4. Self-portrait reflected in a car window — my mom (also a renowned photographer) had given me a Minolta X-7A 35 millimeter camera, and I loved it. And it presented new opportunities to make “interesting” and “dramatic” self-portraits. Deep!
5. Josh & Jake — a candid shot of me and my college BFF Jake Elsas up to our usual hijinks. I’m not sure where this photo was taken, but I don’t think it was at Oberlin. Possibly one of our family homes on a spring break visit? A few years later, after Jake spent a year in the Soviet Union, he and I were roommates in a couple of too-small NYC apartments. Then, my girlfriend (and future wife) Sari moved in and Jake moved to Portland, Oregon.
6. Nikon 35mm camera — As mentioned before, I was really in love with my Minolta camera (remember, this was before everyone had a high-quality camera in their pocket). I guess I couldn’t find an image of my exact camera, but this Nikon looked pretty similar.
7. Earl the Dead Cat — “Earl the Dead Cat(TM) means farewell to smelly cat food and messy litter boxes. Earl is a cuddly, under-stuffed and very dead toy cat complete with his own death certificate. The brand new L’IL EARL also has suction cups on his paws to stick on car windows. Earl the Dead Cat(TM). The last cat you’ll ever need.” Apparently, this toy was introduced in 1985, and was featured on The Tonight Show and Weekly World News. A typical example of the “ironic” humor from that period. True, I was never much of a cat fancier, but this seems to clearly reveal anxieties I may have had about taking care of a real living thing…
8. Residents of Dascomb second-floor men’s wing — my first two years at Oberlin, I had the weird fortune of living in the same dorm room (with a different roommate each year) on the second floor of Dascomb Hall. Freshman year I drew a series of pen-and-ink portraits of roommates on that hall; sophomore year I saved time by just drawing a whole group of guys at once. (It was a fun bunch — we all had a lot of good times together despite them being so much younger than me LOL.) This is that illustration, which was probably originally drawn in 1987.
9. Sammy Safesex sez… “Slip It On Before You Slip It In!” Another example of what I found HILARIOUS back then. Anyway, note how Sammy Safesex is strategically placed over my self-portrait’s crotch from no. 8. Safe!
10. Life in Hell cartoon by Matt Groening — two panels from “Childhood is Hell: Chapter 2: How to be a Wily 1-Year-Old,” probably from 1988. I loved the Life in Hell strip, which ran weekly in alternative papers (and at that point was the closest thing I got to so-called “alternative comics”). Matt Groening, right around this time, was creating The Simpsons, an animated show that changed American humor forever. But I can’t help but find it significant that I chose and placed this strip, focused on childhood, in the vicinity of the above condom cartoon…
11. The Ocelot — When I was still in high school, I hooked up with an APA (amateur press association) called The Chain that was set up to help wannabes like myself get work in the comics industry. I met writer Gene Phillips through The Chain. He and I collaborated on a number of stories in the late 1980s — none of which ever saw print. This image, drawn in the late summer 1988, was of our superhero The Ocelot, whose powers derived from her allegiance to the Aztec god Itztlacoliuhqui. Following every sexist superhero comics trope of the time, I designed her as a scary/sexy cat-woman. Tsk. Hiss!
12. Frisbee — my dad is the one who first taught me to throw a frisbee, and I’ve loved tossing one around ever since. (There’s nothing more “Oberlin” than a frisbee.) While I was still at Oberlin, a pal from another school commissioned me to draw a T-shirt for his Ultimate team, Dasein.
This next section — the biggest part of the collage — focuses on what were my pop culture interests: music, TV, and sports. (I still find it odd that I left movies out of the collage. Maybe there was just too much for me to condense down to a few images?) Again, many of my musical interests back then reveal what was foremost on my mind (hint: it’s spelled S-E-X)…
14. Prince — I was a HUGE Prince fan during this period (I still am), buying every single, every 12-inch, every bootleg, and of course every album he released. (To this day, my favorite Prince song is the album version of “Purple Rain.“) I also tracked down every article I could find about Prince in every magazine. Prince’s whole image and much of his music were centered around sexuality and its taboos. This photo looks like it’s from the Controversy period (circa 1981).
16. The Beatles — my first musical obsession, dating back to when my mom introduced me to their music when I was about ten years old. I still have my vinyl LPs of all their American albums and a few imports. According to Discogs, this image is from the Swedish edition of the “Hey Jude” single, released in 1968 with “Revolution” on the B side. (Since you didn’t ask, I would say my favorite Beatles songs are “A Day In the Life,” “I Am the Walrus,” “I Want You [She’s So Heavy],” and “Ticket to Ride.”)
17. David Letterman — from the get-go I loved Late Night with David Lettermanand Dave’s send-up of the traditional stodgy talk-show format. Late Night‘s combination of absurdist humor, wacky segments, and awkward celebrity interviews — sprinkled with huge heaps of irony — really spoke to me and my ilk. Back then, it seemed like a big deal that a late-night host wore sneakers with his suit!
18. Michael Jackson — It wasn’t exactly cool to like Michael Jackson during this period (which is probably why I chose this image), but I really did love his music, beginning with Thriller and continuing on with Bad. (I retroactively came to love Off the Wall as well.) But one couldn’t help but be fascinated with how odd Michael was — little knowing how much more bizarre he would become (tragically). This was from a British tabloid image of him walking the streets in “disguise,” coming off a bit like a skinny Reggie Jackson — no relation — from the 1970s. It looks like Michael put in fake teeth too? Oh, Jacko!
19. Terence Trent D’Arby? — It’s small and blurry, but I’m 85% sure that this photo is of Terence Trent D’Arby, because the cap and leather jacket are extremely similar to what the singer wore in the video to “Sign Your Name Across My Heart.” I’ve also seen a live rendition of “Wishing Well” where he wore a coat even more like the one in this photo. See no. 16 for more on the singer now known as Sananda Maitreya.)
20. Madonna — Is it a shock that I was really into Madonna (oh, and her music too)? This photo was taken in New York City on September 11 (!), 1988, when Madonna ran the 5k event Sport Aid 88: The Race Against Time, which was held simultaneously in cities all over the world. Madonna is shown here holding up her running bib number 1,000,001 (fellow pop stars like Sting, Steve Winwood, and Eurythmics took part in Sport Aid 88 as well). Sponsored by CARE, the race was part of a slew of charity events all inspired by Bob Geldof and Live Aid.
21. Prince — yep, him again, looking quite fetching. This iconic androgynous photo is from the cover of Lovesexy (1988).
22. Terence Trent D’Arby — As soon as I heard the music from his 1987 debut album, Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby (this image is from the cover), I was in love. And how could I not have been, given how evocative of Prince he was in both his music, his stage presence, and his general vibe? Though D’Arby’s follow-up albums had some good stuff, I wasn’t as into Neither Fish Nor Flesh (1989) or Symphony or Damn (1993), and I lost touch with him after that. I wasn’t even aware that he had changed his name to Sananda Maitreya until I looked him up again recently.
23. The cast of M*A*S*H— My favorite TV show for many, many years, a show that artfully combined humor and pathos (“dramedy”). I identified with the character of Hawkeye Pierce to an extreme degree, and I think my personality was greatly formed by that admiration. (I became equally obsessed with Alan Alda for similar reasons.) A shared love of M*A*S*H in high school and college lead me to a number of lasting friendships. Even though the show had gone off the air some years earlier, while at college I watched daily reruns on a tiny black-and-white TV in my dorm room. This postcard shows the latter group of cast members, including B.J. Hunnicutt, Colonel Potter, and Charles Winchester; but no Radar, Trapper John, Frank Burns, or Colonel Blake.
24. The Death of Rhythm & Blues — I never read this book by Nelson George, but I loved the cover art, which to me evoked cubism and art deco. I periodically read George’s column, “Native Son,” which ran in the Village Voice around this time, and I remember his work as being passionate and challenging. I’ve read that in this book, George partially blames Michael Jackson and Prince for bringing R&B to the white mainstream, which helped “kill” it as an art form. And now they’re both dead too — RIP.
25. Sam Cooke(“Shake”) — After she got me into The Beatles, my mom introduced me to the music of Sam Cooke, and I still get a thrill when I hear his distinctive, heartfelt voice, especially on songs like “A Change is Gonna Come” and “Frankie and Johnny“. My mom has good taste in music! This album, Shake, was released in 1965, one year after Cooke’s untimely death (murder?).
26. Sheila E. and Cat — Two of Prince’s sexy protegés from the Lovesexy era. Sheila E. is an awesome percussionist who was associated with Prince for much of the second half of the 1980s — as well as heading her own band — and Cat Glover (“Woman”) is a dancer, singer, and choreographer who performed with Prince in the late ’80s.
27. Prince — Mr. Rogers Nelson looking cool as can be; this image is from the cover of the “When Doves Cry” single (1984). When I first heard the song, I hated it — I think it scared me. After I saw the Purple Rain film, and came to appreciate Prince for the genius he was, I came to accept “When Doves Cry”… and now I rank it as one of my favorite Prince songs.
28. Porky Pig — he’s a funny little cartoon pig with a stutter. (He also looks like a baby, which is probably why I glued this pic down next to nos. 8, 9, and 10 of the previous section.) It’s crazy to think that many people today are unfamiliar with Porky, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and their Looney Tunes friends.
29. Jack Clark — My dad taught me to play baseball when I was about 11 or 12, and I soon became obsessed with the game. Right around that time, I moved to San Francisco, becoming a Giants fan, a team I have stayed loyal to ever since. Jack Clark was the team’s indisputable star, and I was obsessed with him — even after he left the Giants I followed his career with great interest. (I still have pretty much all his baseball cards from every stop along the way.) I took this photo when I went to see him play in person in mid-September 1988, when the Yankees visited Cleveland Municipal Stadium to play the then-Indians. (Clark only played one year for the Yanks.)
As I’ve mentioned, I was an art history major at Oberlin, and this section features reproductions of European fine art, mostly of paintings I had seen in person when I spent a month traveling around France, Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands on a Eurail Pass in the winter of 1987–1988. That trip followed a fall semester I had spent at University College, London. Oberlin’s study abroad program was extremely expensive, so to get to London, I temporarily transferred to Beaver College, which ran a much more affordable study abroad program in the U.K. (I never actually set foot in Beaver College, which was located in Glenside, Pennsylvania.) And, yes, before you make any dumb jokes, Beaver College changed its name in 2001 to Arcadia University (in large part because its name was being filtered out of Internet searches due to the “other” meaning of “beaver” LOL).
31. Le Déjeuner sur l’herbeby Édouard Manet (1862–1863) — I was an art history major at Oberlin, and really came to love French 19th Century painting; this originally infamous image of a luncheon on the grass is one of my favorite works from the period. (I’m sure the fact that it features a nude woman sitting with two fully dressed men has nothing to do with that.) It hangs in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
32. Nude with Coral Necklace by Amedeo Modigliani (1917) — My dad had a pair of Modigliani reproductions — of a clothed man and a nude woman (there’s that theme again) — hanging in our apartment for many years, and I studied them intently. This particular Modigliani painting hangs in Oberlin’s very own Allen Memorial Art Museum, which is where I got the postcard for my collage.
33. Still Life with Red Onions by Paul Cézanne (1896–1898) — Cézanne was an artist I had to be taught to appreciate; when I first saw his work I was put off by the angularity of his work. When I later studied him in art history class (thank you, Pat Mathews!), I came to love Cézanne: the vibratory tension, the geometry of forms, his beautiful understanding of color — and that brushstroke! This painting also hangs in the Musée d’Orsay.
34. The Charging Chasseur by Théodore Géricault (1812) — Géricault is another favorite artist of mine. When I first visited England and France, as a high school teenager, my mother was dragging me through the Louvre Museum when I caught sight of Géricault’s epic history paintingThe Raft of the Medusa (1818–1819). According to my mom, I audibly gasped, and stood there for ten minutes just taking it all in. That may have been the moment that led to me eventually majoring in art history. The Charging Chasseur also hangs in the Louvre, which is where I got the postcard.
35. The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci (1503–1506) — as beautiful and mysterious as everyone says. Also hangs in the Louvre.
36. Peter Slips Under the Fence by Beatrix Potter (c. 1902) — my mom was a huge fan of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit, and she read me the stories when I was kid, pointing out how beautiful Potter’s illustrations were. I grew to love them as well; I picked up this postcard when I was studying in England.
37. Bedroom in Arles (3rd version) by Vincent Van Gogh (1889) — What’s there to say about Van Gogh‘s work that hasn’t already been said by people way more articulate than me? This painting also hangs in the Musée d’Orsay.
38. Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michelangelo (1508–1512) — I got to visit the Vatican during my 1987-1988 Eurail adventure, an experience I will never forget. Being in the actual Sistine Chapel, staring up at the ceiling Michelangelo painted was as close to a religious experience as I’ve ever had. I bought this postcard in the Vatican gift shop.
This section focuses on city life — featuring monuments, crowds, deserted streets, and images of implied violence. Living through the 1980s in New York felt like an achievement, and though I wore that experience like a badge of honor, I was clearly a bit apprehensive about my imminent return to the Big Apple! But I think that after spending the better part of four years in the quiet corn fields of Ohio, I felt the need to reclaim my urban origins.
39. Big Ben in London — The “city section” is bookended by two towers; this famous clock being one of them. My semester in London was foundational for me. I made some good friends, I had a lot of adventures, and I learned a lot — about history, art, and myself. I also spent a lot of time involved in an ill-advised long-distance love triangle, which entailed various periods of panicked phone calls and letters back to the U.S. Oy!
40. Empire State Building — I’ve long had an appreciation for the Empire State Building, which to me always represented the essence of New York City. Looking back, it’s probably a good thing I didn’t have the same affinity for the Twin Towers. *Sigh*
41. Penciled Panel from The Ocelot — this panel from The Ocelot #2 ostensibly takes place in Houston, Texas, but I didn’t have much photo reference for Houston, so I drew my version of a neglected NYC street instead. This page was penciled in August 1988; I finally finished the 8-page story in February of 1989 (probably working on the bulk of it during Oberlin’s Winter Term).
42. Batmanby George Pérez — this is the only example of professional comics in this whole collage, and I couldn’t resist adding an image by one of my original artistic heroes, George Pérez. (Batman stands here atop a Gotham building; Gotham was a comics analog for New York City.) My early attempts at superhero comics were greatly influenced by Pérez and John Byrne. Pérez recently announced that he has inoperable cancer; his last wish is to share his final months with his family, friends, and fans. What a brave and generous spirit.
43. Cleveland, Ohio (Michael Dukakisrally) — In September of 1988, I went with a busload of Oberlin students to nearby Cleveland for a Dukakis presidential rally, which is where I took this photo. See nos. 52–55.
44. V13 Gang Members — Despite being a typical Oberlin peacenik, I was (not so) secretly obsessed with images of guns and portrayals of gun violence. The photo, by Merrick Morton, of a baby-faced Venice 13 gang member pointing his gun right at the camera, was irresistible. It accompanied Mike Sager‘s Rolling Stone article, “Death in Venice: The Effect of Crack on Gangs in Venice, California,” (September 22, 1988), which helped open my eyes to the “hardness” of life in American cities other than New York.
45. Surgeon General’s Warning: “Quitting smoking now greatly reduces serious risks to your health” — I was really anti-smoking! I didn’t even like my friends to smoke around me (which is probably why I didn’t have any friends who were poets or intellectuals). Smoking is certainly not confined to urbanites, but back then the image of cigarettes and tough city streets really went together.
46. Sidewalk? — Hard to tell, but this looks like one of my own photographs, maybe a bird’s eye view of city sidewalks, shot out of a window from the second or third floor.
47. Blade from Slash vs. Blade — “Yo, man!” Blade is very upset with Slash because in the previous episode of “Battle,” Slash cut him in half. From what I recall, this scene took place in the city where Slash and Blade were having their battle. (It also probably just fit really well in that particular spot of the collage.)
The final section of the collage features politics and the world around me in 1988. A big focus is the 1988 election for U.S. President (already alluded to in no. 43), which pitted Democrat Michael Dukakis against George H. W. Bush. Spoiler: Bush won. By a lot. It was a depressing time.
48. Unknown Civil Rights Pioneer — The best I can tell, this is a photo from the Civil Rights era, of a lone Black woman escorted by FBI agents and flanked by National Guard soldiers — possibly bravely desegregating a Southern school? Like many college students during this time, I felt very engaged with the anti-Apartheid movement during this period, so the connections between what was then going on in South Africa and the American South during the 1950s were very clear. My guess is that this photo was from a Rolling Stone article about the Civil Rights era. If anyone can identify the woman in the image, I would be most grateful.
49. Sean Tucker — Sean was on my hall in Dascomb during my freshman year, and this image is from the drawings I did of various sets of roommates. He had this inherent gravitas, and this great deep voice, and it always seemed to us that he was destined to become a politician, which is why I drew him speechifying at a podium! Sean was from Cleveland and I went to visit his family once. I also once flew with him and another Oberlin couple in a tiny 4-seater prop plane; they flew the plane to an island on Lake Erie, we ate dinner at a restaurant and then flew back to a local airfield outside of Oberlin. Sean and I went back to our respective cities after college, and we fell out of touch. I don’t know if he ended up pursuing public service.
50. Anthony Lewis — My mom got me a subscription to the New York Timeswhile I was at college, and I actually read it — well, at least the sports pages and the op-ed page. Lewis was one of my favorite columnists — his At Home Abroad column always helped me see the alternative point of view during that period of conservative Reaganism.
51. William Greider — I was an avid reader of Rolling Stonemagazine during this period, and I loved Greider‘s columns. He wrote powerfully about finance and income inequality in ways I could actually understand. (I had never taken an economics class.)
52. Jesse Jackson — Jackson’s name artfully placed over the eyes of the eventual Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis (see 53). It’s hard to overstate now how exciting was Jackson’s run for the Democratic nomination in the spring of 1988. A civil rights leader who had worked with Martin Luther King Jr., Jesse Jackson was leader of the National Rainbow Coalition, and an inspiring public speaker. At that time, 20 years before Obama’s election, it was so thrilling to imagine the possibility of a Black president. By the time Obama won in 2008, it felt like most people had forgotten how far Jackson got in ’88 — winning 13 state primaries and caucuses, and accumulating over 1,000 delegates to the convention. I voted for him in the primaries and always thought he would’ve been a far better candidate than was Dukakis. After college, I applied for a job with the Rainbow Coalition, though I never heard back from them 🙁
53. Michael Dukakis — I always think of that video of him riding around in a tank. Meant to make him look tough and “presidential,” it instead made him look like a silly little kid.
54. BU ll SH itin 88— get it? Summarized my thoughts on the guy who beat Dukakis — in large part due to Lee Atwater’s infamous “Willie Horton” strategy.
55. Oberlin students at the Dukakis rally, Cleveland, Ohio — I clambered up a lamppost or a stanchion to take this shot of a bunch of Obies in the crowd.
56. Spuds MacKenzie — the cute bull terrier from those Bud Light commercials. Spuds was attacked by politicians because he (actually she) supposedly made beer seem attractive to kids. Big industries like beer and tobacco would never stoop so low as to target underage consumers, right, Joe Camel?
Phew! So there you have it: thanks for taking that trip back in time with me.
The collage itself, once I finished it, was obviously very important to me, because I ended up framing it for wall display. I think I actually did hang it on the wall of my first New York City apartment, but by the time I moved in with Sari, barely a year and a half after graduation, it had been put away, never to be displayed again. Like I said, a time capsule.
And you know — I shouldn’t have been so anxious about the future… Life since college has been pretty good: I’ve discovered my calling as a nonfiction cartoonist, had the opportunity to travel widely (pre-pandemic), and have gotten to share my knowledge with later generations. And best of all, I’ve been able to spend 30+ years married to my best friend, and together we have a wonderful daughter.
Makes me wonder what a contemporary version of this collage would look like. Well, that’s a project for another day. (And then I can revisit that collage when I’m in my 80s and analyze it to death as well!)
This is a week for giving thanks, so I’m penning a little shout-out to my Atlantic Center for the Art associates. They were a great group: so talented, dedicated, and inspiring! And after 20+ years of working solo in my home/studio, I have to say the experience of sharing a studio with them has made me rethink my aversion to studio environments. We shall see…
In the meantime, I wanted to show off the beautiful hand-made card my associates presented me at the end of our residency. Cliodhna Lyons fabricated the card (which measures 4″ x 5-1/2″) as an accordian-style pamphlet. It is now one of my most prized possessions. Check it out:
First, the cover, with a very snazzy French flap! “Team Bogota[s]” refers to a slight miscommunication between Neil O’Driscoll and Sara Woolley and the subject of her project:
So in their recently completed Division Series the Giants hit .222 as a team, with a sum total of six extra-base hits. They were thrown out stealing more times than they were successful. They scored nine runs in the entire four-game series. And yet they beat the powerful Washington Nationals three games to one. How they did it was that the Nats were even more pathetic offensively than the Giants, hitting .164 as a team. I’m not even sure if the Giants’ pitching was so great (a 1.60 team ERA ain’t bad) or that offense just disappeared for both teams—other than Bryce Harper and his three moonshot home runs.
The Giants won every game by a single run, and other than Brandon Belt’s 18th-inning blast in game 2, many of the runs they did score were gifts: bases-loaded walks, wild pitches, fielder’s choices… They won passive-aggressively! What a strange series. Which matches the Giants’ strange season: dominance in April & May, June & July swoon, and enough resurgence in August & September to squeeze into the 2nd wildcard slot.
But, hey, I’ll take it! On to the N.L. Championship Series and the St. Louis Cardinals (who dispatched the favored Dodgers in four games as well). My big trepidation, moving forward, though, is the absence of leadoff hitter Angel Pagan. You wouldn’t know it from his stats, but he is the Giants’ catalyst. Their record the last two years is directly related to his presence in the lineup: a winning team when’s he in there, and a losing one when he isn’t. And he’s out for the rest of the year after back surgery. But… enough pessimism. Bring on the Redbirds!
There are “bucket lists” and then there are bucket list items you don’t even think about because they are so far beyond the realm of possibility. One of those for me has always been getting to see my team, the San Francisco Giants, win the World Series—in person. And yet, yesterday that’s exactly what happened.
First of all, what are the odds that the one year I’m living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, both the Giants and the Detroit Tigers make the playoffs? And then each survive two rounds of postseason play to make the World Series? And then, when the Giants come to Detroit, they go up 3-games-to-0—thereby depressing ticket prices to the point that I can actually afford to buy one? Like I said, beyond the realm of possibility.
Well, along about 3 p.m. Sunday I checked StubHub and found an affordable ticket—prices had dropped from $400 for standing room to $100 for an upper deck seat. I made the purchase, jumped in a Zipcar, and sped excitedly out to Detroit and Comerica Park.
I found parking, strolled to the stadium, and took in my first-ever World Series game. (I had been to a first-round Yankees playoff games a few years back, but the stakes were not nearly as high.) The stadium was packed, the lights were bright, and hopeful Tigers fans (and a few hardy Giants rooters) were streaming in. For me it was like a dream.
Climbing up to my seats (section 211, in right field), it was freezing cold, with the wind howling and shaking the stands. But I was cozy as a cat. As opposed to my normal anxiety and resignation that the Giants would probably lose, up to that point the whole World Series had been going so well that I was in a completely different frame of mind. It was like the Giants beating the Cardinals in the NLCS, after trailing 3-games-to-1, had completely wiped the slate clean. No more sweet torture. The Giants’ pitching, timely hitting—and the obvious rust the Tigers had after waiting so long between their own league championship and the beginning of the World Series—made them the superior team. New emotions!
Now, seeing as how I was sporting my Giants cap and bright orange jacket, I came in prepared to be heckled, jeered, pushed around, and spat on. I shudder to think how I would’ve been treated back in New York—in either Yankee Stadium or Citi Field—but the Tigers fans were totally sweet, everyone just enjoying the vibe of World Series baseball and communal huddling against the cold. (I also think in many ways the fans had already accepted that they weren’t going to prevail in the end; after all, no team has ever come from back down 3-games-to-0 to win the Series.)
The rest of the evening unfolded like a dream. The Giants went up 1-0, fell behind 2-1, went up 3-2, were tied at 3-3, and won the game in 10 innings. And suddenly there I was, hugging two total strangers (fellow S.F. rooters a few seats down from me in my row), watching the Giants pile on each other near the pitcher’s mound! Shortly afterward, as I was wandering around in a happy daze, a young Tigers fan of about 17 years old actually came up to me and shook my hand in congratulations. Now that’s a boy whose parents raised him to be a good sport!
I eventually made my way down to field level—kudos to Comerica management for allowing riff-raff like me down there—to get close to the on-field celebration. All the San Francisco fans who’d made it to the game—a few hundred of us—had gathered above the Giants dugout to savor the moment. I had to keep pinching myself because it was so hard to believe I was actually there in person for the celebration. It was an amazing scene, converging with all these other fans who’d traveled from far and wide. Two guys I talked to had also purchased their tickets that day, had driven six hours from upstate New York, and were preparing to drive back following the celebration. (By this time it was already long past midnight.) Another guy had also bought his ticket same-day and driven four hours from Cincinnati. He was also going back that night/early morning. Given that I had paid less than any of them for my ticket, and only had a 40-minute drive home to worry about, I felt like I was sacrificing very little for the privilege of being there.
I discovered when I lived back in San Francisco in the late 1990s that Giants fans really are a special breed. They are as devoted and dedicated as any East Coast fans, but without the caveman edge. For one thing, there are lots of rabid female fans, and they all have a good sense of humor. And Giants fans wear all sorts of ridiculous outfits: panda hats, Brian Wilson beards, orange and black Rasta wigs, you name it. And pins! Giants fans love to wear pins. All this “character” was in evidence among the assembled throngs, and it really made it feel like some beautiful Bay Area weirdness had settled down for the night in the middle of the Great Lakes.
The crowning moment was when Giants GM Brian Sabean emerged from the dugout with the distinctive silver World Series trophy, which he held up in triumph for the adoring crowd. That was truly special—a tribal chief exulting with the spoils of victory.
Finally satisfied, I left my clansmen (and clanswomen), headed back to my car, and made the drive back to Ann Arbor. It was 2 a.m., I was exhausted, and I was as happy as I could ever be.
Is it possible to have too much of a good thing? When the Giants won the World Series in 2010, it changed my life as a fan forever. I had always been the underdog, the guy whose team never won. Now all of a sudden I was a winner! That moment was like a release valve for a pipe that had been clogged for 32 years. Before that, I had almost literally lived and died with each Giants’ win and loss. Since then I’ve had a much more… balanced… relationship to my fandom—the stakes just don’t seem as high. No matter what happens in the future, I’ll always have the memories of that great 2010 run.
Yet now here it is a scant two years later, and improbably—almost impossibly—the Giants are back the World Series! My mind is having trouble processing that. If the 2010 Giants were all about Fear the Beard, the 2012 team is about playing one more day for each other. They’ve had six wins in the current post-season where their backs were against the wall—win or go home. Talk about “sweet torture!” If the 2010 team was about Aubrey Huff’s rally thong, the 2012 team is about Hunter Pence’s pregame football-type hypefests. And if the 2010 team was about Brian Wilson’s beard, the 2012 team is about Brian Wilson’s even bigger beard (and his painted fingernails)! It’s about karma! And Pence’s broken bat triple-hit double. And the ultimate “player to be named later,” Marco Scutaro. (And—update post-game 1—Panda Power! And—update post-game 2—Mad Bum Power!)
I don’t want to get ahead of myself here, but 2012 is shaping up to be very 2010. The key difference for me as a fan—in addition to my more Zen-like approach to watching the games—is that I’m actually here in the States to witness it. Back in 2010, I was tooling around the Middle East for most of the postseason, unable to catch any of the games due to the time difference—and the general indifference to baseball in those countries. I made it back just in time for games 2-5 of the World Series, which of course was great. But getting to see this whole postseason unfold, in real time, has been a thrilling, once-of-a-kind experience.
When I left San Francisco and moved out East in 1980, it was like being forced to move away from my first love. I had devoted myself to the Giants for two years in 1978-1979, listening to most of their games on the radio (we didn’t have a TV), keeping score of many of them, keeping track of the player’s stats, collecting all their baseball cards. (Remember, I was twelve years old.)
But I stayed true to my team. Out in Brooklyn, I was relegated to seeing them twice a year—if I was lucky—when they came to New York to play the Mets. (If I tuned in the radio really well, I could sometimes catch their games on WPHT when they played the Philadelphia Phillies.) And the Giants being a West Coast team, most of their games took place long after I had gone to sleep; their box scores never even made it into the sports pages of the New York Times.(I’m sure I don’t have to remind you that this was long before the Internet, or even the late-night scores published each morning in USA Today.) In New York the San Francisco Giants were completely irrelevant.
Until their 2010 championship, the Giants were very much under the radar. Of course there was all the hype about Barry Bonds, but for the most part that was about celebrating individual achievements (achievements that now seem very tainted). Despite it all, through those teenage years in New York, then college in Ohio, traveling and living abroad, and four years in Chicago, I kept the faith. Fate would have it that I was able to return to my team in the late 1990s, when Sari & lived in San Francisco. Those were special years, though the team didn’t fare particularly well then either. But then it was on the road again, and the last dozen years in New York again (and now a year in Ann Arbor).
Essentially, the Giants have mostly seemed like my own little secret. That’s why, even now, it’s especially weird to see the team being covered by the national media, the Times, etc.
I never in a million years expected the Giants to win the World Series last year.
The fact is, in my 32 years of avidly following the team, I never expected them to win the World Series any year. They’ve been such a mediocre team for most of those years that I am usually thrilled if they simply have a winning record. The years that the Giants actually made the playoffs always seemed like they were too good to be true — like the cliché, I was just happy to be there.
So last year’s Giants’ World Championship run was even more surreal for me because, for the majority of the playoffs, I was traveling through the Middle East, literally on the other side of the world from where their exploits were taking place. I tried my best to follow the action with iPhone and laptop updates, but that region isn’t exactly known for its interest in baseball, and the time difference kept me from monitoring the games as they happened. Sitting in my Jerusalem hotel and reading of the Giants dispatching the Phillies in the International Herald Tribune made me feel like I was in a time machine — it was exactly as it had been almost 25 years earlier when I spent a fall semester in London following a rare Giants playoff appearance (they lost that year in the National League Championship to the Cardinals).
Fortunately, I made it back to the States in time to catch the last four games of the World Series, as the Giants almost anticlimactically made short work of the fearsome Texas Rangers.
My most treasured holiday gift from this past December is a deluxe DVD set of the Giants’ path to victory (thank you, Sari!), and I’ve been gearing up for MLB 2011 by watching it. So, seeing as how today is opening day, and the beginning of the Giants defense of their title, here are some key happy memories of 2011:
It’s become a cliché but it’s still true: the 2011 Giants were a team of misfits. Brian Wilson’s dyed beard. Aubrey Huff’s lucky thong. Pat “The Bat” Burrell’s resurgence. Castoff Cody Ross and his playoff slugging heroics. Tim Lincecum’s awful August followed by his awesome September. The fact that the Giants almost blew a three-game lead with three games to go. (Remember, torture is the theme here.) Fear the Beard!
And then the World Series itself:
Game 1: Crazy opening to the Series, with aces Lincecum and Cliff Lee both off their games. Giants win 11-7 in a slugfest, including Freddy Sanchez’s three doubles.
Game 2: Matt Cain’s dominant performance — seven shutout innings, and the team’s breakout of five runs in the ninth inning. This was the Giants team that was supposed to win games 2-1 or 3-2, not 11-7 and 9-0!
Game 4: Rookie Madison Bumgarner’s poise and calm, as he mowed down the Rangers with eight shutout innings
Game 5: Lincecum’s amazing pitching performance, one run in eight innings, including ten strikeouts. Aubrey Huff, who had never had a sacrifice bunt in his entire career, laying down a perfect one to set up the key runs of the game! And let us not forget (the dear departed) Edgar Renteria’s “called shot”!
Because of the Giants, I’ve always felt like an underdog — in just about anything I’ve done. So for this whole last off-season it’s been really strange — and, I have to admit, very pleasant — to be a “winner.” (Apologies to Charlie Sheen.)
After some mix-ups with shipping, I finally received my X-mas gift from Sari, a set of curio cabinets for the small collection of toys, models, and action figures that I’ve acquired over the years. (Yes, like every other cartoonist on earth, I am at least part geek.)
So with a small amount of fanfare, I mounted one of the cabinets on the wall, and finally was able to create a home for (from top left. reading like a comic) Klinger, Hot Lips, Hawkeye, and B.J., Will Clark and Willie Mays; Boba Fett; Willie McCovey; Jack Clark; some cool Tintin chocolates; super-deformed Wolverine and Superman; the Giants Pontiac Firebird; Tintin, Snowy, and Captain Haddock; and Tintin, Snowy, and the Thompson Twins.
They all seem to be adjusting well to their new home.
Sari & I couldn’t get out of town fast enough when we left San Francisco in September of 1999. It was the height of the high-tech bubble, and the whole town seemed obsessed with stock options. We lived in a dark, wall-to-wall carpeted railroad-flat on a sleazy, crack-ridden back alley. Our pleurisy-ridden upstairs neighbor woke us up every morning with vomiting sounds from the airshaft. We had endured two years of El Nino weather (one stretch of 55 days featured 50 days of rain) We missed our own (East) coast and were looking forward to heading back home to friends and family. I didn’t expect to think much about SF after we were gone.
That was mostly true for a long time, but in the last year or so, I found myself reminiscing a bit, mostly about the food and my beloved baseball team, the San Francisco Giants. So when I considered going to APE this year to promote A Few Perfect Hours, I convinced Sari to come along for a mini-vacation. I also saw the Giants would be in town, and I vowed to see a game. I’ve already talked about APE, but I want to recap the good times we had on our return to the place I had spent two previous two-year stays, in the late 70s and late 90s. People always say that cities like Frisco and the Big Apple are better places to visit than live there, and I wanted to see if that was true. Plus, as New Yorkers, Sari & I love walking, and San Francisco is a great walking city.