May 5th, NATIONAL CARTOONIST DAY (be sure to worship them as gods for the next 24 hours)

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I drew a comic strip off and on for about 20 years. It’s a pretty exacting medium. Every line, every word, has to be exactly in the right place in order to convey the punchline. And it doesn’t take much to throw off the timing and ruin the gag. Plus, you have to be able to conceive a worthy punchline out of your head, out of thin air, in the first place. It requires an odd combination of skills that really can’t be taught. You can either do it or you can’t.

Drawing a comic strip is like doing sketch comedy. Only you do everything. You write it, you draw it, you create the characters, you act out all the characters, you design the set, you design the costumes. You’re actor, writer, director, set designer, everything. And you have to be skilled in all these things to pull it off.

One thing it really requires is the ability to be concise. You have to pack all of this information into 3 or 4 little panels. So you can’t waste a single word. Doing a comic strip taught me how to express myself directly and forcefully. It is an in-your-face medium. You are reaching out and grabbing the reader by the collar and demanding: LOOK AT ME!!

It also teaches you how to package your thoughts and present them to others in an easily-digestible format. It’s like being an advertising executive, except instead of selling a product you’re selling your ideas.

A cop was once detaining me and grilling me about a possible offense I might have committed. In the course of the conversation he asked me about my employment history.
“I was a cartoonist for 20 years,” I said.
“Why’d you quit?” said the cop.
“I ran out of punchlines,” I said.

The cop laughed and let me go. . . I still know how to deliver a punchline if I need to.

A Telegraph Avenue hallucination

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I was just hallucinating about classic Telegraph Avenue.

Moe was at the cash register at Moe’s Books, smoking a big fat cigar, as he nonchalantly rang up customers.

Across the street Julia Vinograd was at the Caffe Med, strolling up to the various tables, hawking her latest book. “Would you like to check out my latest book of poetry?”

Down the street at Cody’s Books, Andy Ross — the Woody Allen of Telegraph Avenue — was nervously fidgeting back and forth as a world-famous author gave a talk to a large crowd of people. Later, a long line of people would wait on line to get their books signed by the great man.

Around the corner Food Not Bombs has just served a delicious free meal in Peoples Park — it’s “Tasty Tuesday” by Judy the cook — and now all the street people are happily lolling on the grass under the sun, strumming on guitars and smoking pot.

Up the street in front of Cafe Botega, the Naked Guy is sitting on the sidewalk, buck naked of course, selling bumperstickers that say “IT’S JUST A DICK.” And the Rare Man is shirtless and doing chin ups and roaring: “HOW DO YOU LIKE IT?? RAAAARRRREEEE!!!”

Across the street St. Paul — the world’s most fanatical and brain-damaged Deadhead — in his brightly colored tye-dye t-shirt is flashing peace signs and shouting at the bewildered pedestrians over and over “JERRY GARCIA GRATEFUL DEAD!! JERRY GARCIA GRATEFUL DEAD!!”

On the Berkeley campus Rick Starr is crooning out his oldies into his fake plastic microphone. And Hate Man is hanging out at Bench One with Jaguar, Warpo, Krash and the rest of the Hate Camp crazies, getting into loud arguments, cursing at each other, pushing shoulders, and smoking many cigarettes. Until it’s time to bring out the drums for the drum circle and the nightly tribal stomp.

Meanwhile, Backwords and Duncan are hanging out at their vending table selling weird underground shit in between drinking many 24 ounce cans of Olde English.

Its ten o’clock and the Campanile Tower rings out ten times — that haunting, melancholy sound — and it’s one more weird and magical night in Berkeley. . .

Popular misconceptions about “the homeless”

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Its funny, the stereotypes — and misconceptions — that so many people have about “the homeless.

My friend B.N. Duncan was a fairly eccentric-looking guy. He had a long, bushy beard down to his chest, and wild, unruly hair. And his clothes were often ragged and stained, and pitted with cigarette hole burns.

While I was fairly bland and clean-cut looking (at least compared to Duncan, ha ha).

And we’d be walking down the street together, and on many occasions, strangers would assume Duncan (who had never spent a day of his life homeless) was homeless, and offer him food or money or clean socks or etc.

While I (who had spent 13 years, and counting, homeless) rarely, if ever, received such largesse from the general public.

It’s a funny world, ain’t it??

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When my friend Moby was filming a movie about the street scene, he cast Duncan as “the homeless guy.” Unfortunately, I didn’t look “homeless” enough to get the role.