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March 31, 2012: Cartoonist Chad Carpenter

Last night we went to the Mat-Su College Phi Theta Kappa gathering. I was reluctant to go. I was not asked to join this organization when I was a student because my grades were not good enough. But I went as a show of support – it’s a notable achievement to have a consistently high grade average.

Chris Wetzler, the current Mat Su College Phi Theta Kappa president, talked about asking important life questions, the gist being that those who are members of Phi Theta Kappa should consider this to be an important part of their life’s work. Intense scrutiny (as it should) brings societal values into question.

The guest speaker, Chad Carpenter, is an example of someone who brings

important questions to the forefront of everyday conversations. Oddly enough, he’s a cartoonist. He draws the very popular Tundra Comic strip. Knowing he was to speak was a draw for me, because I enjoy this art form.

Chad immediately came across to me as having the look of a cartoonist. 40-ish, relaxed, on the verge of slovenly dress. Wore a loose fitting cotton shirt, baggy pants, had slightly tousled hair – a wide forehead. He also had the mannerisms of a successful cartoonist. His head was in the clouds, but his feet were firmly on the floor. I got the sense that he’s a private person who would have preferred to be home, doing what he likes to do best – drawing cartoons. This, as opposed to his having to stand before a group of people and talking about his life’s work.

I took note of the fact that much of his life’s work involves self-promotion, He had a Tundra logo on his shirt, and brought Tundra books and calendars along for those who wished to purchase them. And he also came with another tool of his trade, a carefully-crafted slideshow.

Chad said a great deal that was of interest to me. My ears perked up when he talked about his composing process. Others must ask this question, because it was one of the subjects of his slide show. He told us all that he’s often asked where he gets his ideas – he said when he was in the zone, in that state between sleeping and waking. And too, from experience. All laughed when he then showed a slide of a cat in a litter box, reaching for a roll of empty toilet paper.

The question that perhaps the Phi Theta Kappa-ites might have been asking themselves was, well, what, if any, big questions are being addressed here? I suspect that for many, the question very well might be what is the cartoonist’s societal role? Chad definitely alluded to the fact that it’s to get people to think. Hence, his brief talk about the subject of hate mail. He used a few examples from his work to make his point – that malcontents are taking his “comic” ideas too seriously.

I’m not a Phi Theta Kappa-ite – rather, I’m a writer/artist. So I asked a little question which first lead to an insight, and later, to a medium sized question. After his talk, during the question and answer, I asked Chad if he had any dry spells, and he said yes, this happens, and furthermore the thought of having to come up with 365 cartoons a year is a daunting task. Chad added that coming up with ideas is hard, but drawing the cartoon is easier.

This got me to thinking – the idea, or impetus for the cartoon provides a mental framework for the image – the rest is sort of like filling in the blanks. Could it be that in such instances that the left brain does the heavy conceptualizing and organizing, and that the right brain brings this to fruition? I dunno.

Next: 114. 4/01/12: Beating the Odds