Being new to the Carmel Pine Cone several readers have asked me to tell them something about my background. Before becoming a journalist I was … well there is no getting around it … I was a cartoon character living in a colorful world of Toon Characters who met once a week. You may have known me as Billy Batson, the youthful radio news reporter. When I spoke the powerful word “Shazam” I was struck by a lightning bolt that turned me into Captain Marvel, superhero and champion of all that is good.
It happened to me every Tuesday, or Toonsday. At exactly 11 a.m., I would Sally Forth to a secret meeting place down a (Gasoline) Alley in a wonderful cartoon town called Carmel-by-the-Sea. I strolled down the alley and shouted “Shazam.” Suddenly I was transported to the bif, bam, pow, sock world of nimble-fingered bubble writers, more commonly known as cartoonists. Then It’s Laugh Time as I Lockhorns with these former Katzenjammer Kids. Cartoon is a late 16th century word but, Believe It Or Not, a couple of these panel-pushing punsters have been around before BC.
Some say the formation of the group goes back to when Joe Palooka was sparring with Popeye, but you must understand that exaggeration is the very essence of cartooning. A more modern version is that a documentary-photographer (1) and a novelist (2) telephoned Gordo’s father (3) to meet for coffee at this bat-cave-like hiding place in the aforementioned city by the sea. Subsequently they were joined by a Playboy-New Yorker cartoonist (4) and by Dennis the Menace’s Dad. (5)
Then a bike-riding political cartoonist from Sacramento (6) was drawn into the group, along with an artist (7), a golfer-philanthropist (8), the first Plastic Surgeon in Monterey (9), a sartorially splendid former bomber pilot (10), an author-historian (11), a photographer (12), a globe-trotting cartoonist (13 who baits us with humor), a designer-architect (14), a speaker-comedian (15) , an orator-humorist (16) a poet/philosopher-troubador (17) and, finally, a devilishly handsome newspaper columnist(18).
Not every member showed up each Toonsday, which is really the reason why this Family Circus was formed. Miss two weeks in a row and the other members might think you’ve gone over to the Far Side. What did such an august group talk about? Everything, of course, because these captains of ink can think, and solve most of the world’s problems, and if they can’t solve them they certainly know how to make fun of them with a few lightning-quick pen strokes. In truth, though, the conversation was Mostly Marlarky.
Decorum dictated certain rules were in effect and that proper Etta Kett was observed. For instance, no more than four members could speak at one time. Authors can read from their published works — but only if the material falls into the category of “best-seller.” Obviously, that’s the part of the meeting we call “quiet time.” Meetings cannot run one minute more than the ascribed time of one hour because then they leave the realm of sitcoms and become documentaries.
Sad Sacks aren’t allowed. We keep The Laugh Parade rolling along with little talk of our diminishing shelf life and the slow, inevitable slide down the pecking order, while we plea bargain our infirmities down to misdemeanors. Jokes and clever repartee come at you faster than the spread of Kudzu. If you become the target of someone’s one-liner it was best not to be a Timid Soul, rather simply Grin and Bear It. There Oughta Be A Law against the intense defamation of character that went on at these coffee klatches.
Admission into the group was by invitation only. Don’t be fooled by that last sentence. Pop for a round of coffee and you became a charter member faster than Superman could find a phone booth. Was there an entry fee? Yes, but it Peanuts.
Those Toondsay mornings were a magical hour. I dare say the members of New York’s Algonquin Hotel’s Round Table would have had difficulty breaking into the group. The Toonsday meetings would have continued had not Father Time stepped in to take several of the members to that great drawing board in the sky. Occasionally, when alone, I whisper “Shazam,” and everyone is there – but only for a moment – as the ink slowly fades from the page.
Key to characters:
(1)Bob Blasidell; ( 2) Roy Gilligan; (3) Gus Arriola; (4) Eldon Dedini; (5) Hank Ketcham; (6) Dennis Renault; (7) Caldie Whitman; (8) Ed Haber; (9) Ted Hooker; (10) Howard Brunn; (11) Randy Reinstedt; (12) Roger Friemier; (13) Bill Bates; (14) Kipp Stewart; (15) Larry Wilde; (16) Taelen Thomas; (17) Ric Masten; (18) A nameless columnist, still championing all that is good.
Pictured: l to r: Bill Bates, Ric Masten, Kipp Stewart, Talen Thomas, Eldon Dedini, Dennis Renault, Gus Arriola, Ted Hooker