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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 12/22/2008

Favorite Fan Anecdotes: 'Speed Bump' and 'Sherman's Lagoon'

By Michael Cavna


I was both intrigued and a little alarmed by the return address on the letter. It was early 1991, the United States was at war, I was in college -- and the letter had been sent by someone in the U.S. Army. What could the Army possibly want with red-blooded, able-bodied me?

To my relief, I soon discovered that it was a fan letter. A young man half a world away in Iraq was a sports fan, and a San Diego relative of his routinely mailed him my sports editorial cartoons cut from the hometown newspaper. Now this soldier -- who, judging by the letter, seemed to be about my age -- sought an autographed cartoon from "Mr. Cavna." Amid a war, my cartoons had made him laugh. It was that simple. And that humbling.

When you're scribbling lines, it can be hard to fathom that your cartoons -- which so easily can seem so insignificant -- might genuinely touch someone, somewhere. Yet even the most basic of comic observations can be just what some reader out there wants -- or needs. Even the court jester, sometimes, strikes a poignant note.

In the spirit of the holiday season, I've asked 10 other cartoonists to share their most memorable, and moving, fan anecdotes. Each day this week, Comic Riffs will run a couple. I enjoyed hearing these stories from my colleagues; I hope you do, too.

Happy holidays.

--Michael Cavna

Today, Dave Coverly and Jim Toomey share their stories, in their own words:

DAVE COVERLY, creator, "Speed Bump":

(Creators)Enlarge Comic

The day after this cartoon appeared in The Washington Post, I received a note from an elderly woman. She told me that her husband of many years had passed away just a few months before. She was devastated. He had been very close to their dog, and shortly
thereafter, the dog also began to fade. Sadly, he too passed away.

It was only a few days later when my cartoon appeared. This lovely lady told me the cartoon actually gave her comfort, as she imagined her husband and their dog together in the hereafter. So while I was after a simple pantomime gag, my visual actually had
an unintended - and sweet - impact on someone.

Another consequence of this story was that it made me highly sensitive to the personal nature of what we publish. I've tried much harder not to offend since then, which I think sometimes makes it more difficult to come up with good jokes, but also makes it much more worthwhile when I do.

JIM TOOMEY, creator, "Sherman's Lagoon":

Back in April, I did a series that took a rare dive into politics, or at least, it seemed political to some people. It was a series about marine conservation, specifically shark fishing practices, which in my opinion should be neither a blue or a red issue.

I was expecting a lot of negative feedback, but I received very little. I did receive a lot more positive feedback than I expected. The series culminated with a Sunday cartoon that compelled readers to draw their own shark and mail it to the director of the Marine Fisheries Service at NOAA.

My favorite fan anecdote from that series took the form of an e-mail from a
fifth-grade teacher in California, who used the Sunday cartoon as an
opportunity to teacher her students about both marine conservation and democracy. She had everyone in her class contribute to one big mailing to NOAA.

For me, it seemed like a win-win, because the kids learned something, and the folks at NOAA were no doubt impressed by this big effort. This fall, shark fishing regulations were tightened up, thanks to the efforts of many, many people. I like to think the cartoon mail-in campaign contributed a little.

By Michael Cavna  | December 22, 2008; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Interviews With Cartoonists  
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I might be wrong but I always felt that cartoonists were the last people to get fan mail so I made it a point to write to my favs. My ex-husband was a rescue helicopter pilot in Southeast Asia during the VN war. Jeff McNalley (and sorry if I spelled the last name wrong) used a lot of aircraft in his political cartoons. He sent me an autographed helicopter cartoon for my husband. The second reply I got was from Watterson of Calvin and Hobbs fame. (again, I'm at work, did I get the last name right??) Both of these replies are in my hope chest now for the future.

Posted by: judyohr | December 22, 2008 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Nice stories, all. Michael, let's here more about your sports cartooning days! Youngsters probably don't even realize it used to be a major field.

And for the first comment - Bill Watterson! Wow, cool.

Posted by: Mrhode | December 22, 2008 5:55 PM | Report abuse

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