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Sometimes An Illustrator Has To Fiddle Around

March 8, 2013

Today’s Pressing Question: Does being an illustrator have any perks? Besides fame and fortune, I mean… : )

Well, yes. I can think of one: Every so often you get to sneak an inside joke into a drawing. I have a good example, but I need to give you some information first.

I do a cartoon forΒ Fiddler Magazine. It’s a quarterly. Being a niche publication, their budget is very small. I receive a token payment and two copies of every issue. I like the editor, I like the magazine. It’s a labor of love for me. Do I play the fiddle myself? No.

The first time they asked me for a cartoon, I was busy. They needed something right away. It occurred to me that I had hundreds of old cartoons that I did on speculation back in the 1980s and 90s. Most had never been published. I dragged some out of storage, and rewrote some of the captions. They were a big hit, and I’ve done the same thing ever since: write a new caption for an old cartoon.

For example: here’s an old original. Three flamingo lawn ornaments. I thought it would
be funny if one had a broken leg.
cartoon showing three lawn ornaments pink flamingos and one has his leg in a cast no caption

Here’s the rewrite. I had to change some facial expressions as well. I also reduced the size of my signature and made it more discreet. Nothing like a big showy distracting signature to mark you as an insecure amateur!Β cartoon showing three lawn ornaments pink flamingos one has his leg in a cast how did it happen he went to fiddle festival and just had to dance broke his leg

Here’s an old one involving virtual reality. Yes, I used to draw some pretty big noses. Check out the ancient computer monitor. I used to have one like that back in the mid-90s.cartoon with older guy sitting at computer wearing hi-tech goggles and special gloves wife says to friend, Harold's taking spin in his virtual BMW

And the rewrite, with smaller noses and signature:cartoon with older guy sitting at computer wearing hi-tech goggles and special gloves wife says to friend, program called Virtual Fiddler thinks he is playing hot solo in front of 20,000 screaming fans

This one still makes me laugh. It should have sold! Good old supermarket tabloids, with their trashy celebrity gossip and ridiculous headlines. The cartoon dates back to 1996. “Fergie” is a reference to Sarah, Duchess of York, and “Roseanne” is comedienne Roseanne Barr.cartoon showing guy in supermarket checkout line with grocery cart space alien behind him in line rack displaying tabloid newspapers with celebrity gossip and scandal one headline President Confers With Alien who dreams this stuff up

And here’s the rewrite, with updated celebrity names. The presence of the alien in the checkout line has to be explained somehow. Giving him his own tabloid headline neatly solves that problem.cartoon showing guy in supermarket checkout line with grocery cart space alien behind him in line rack displaying tabloid newspapers with celebrity gossip and scandal headlines Alien Seen In Local Supermarket, President Confers With Fiddler who dreams this stuff up

OK, we’re getting close to the inside joke. Here’s another old original:cartoon showing wealthy affluent older couple attending a lecture by cardiologist on dangers of sedentary they're glad they got there early to get good seat

Here’s the rewrite. The couple is now headed into a fiddlefest (fiddle festival or concert), and the poster lists the names of the featured performers. Can you spot the inside joke?cartoon showing wealthy affluent older couple attending fiddle concert poster listing performers Grascals, Liberty Pike, Steeldrivers, Natalie MacMaster, they don't complain when audience throws money

No? Don’t feel bad. The joke is so far inside, there are only two people in the world who would get it: me and Harvey Tolman.

All of the performers listed are real people. The Grascals are a bluegrass band. Becky Buller is a bluegrass fiddler and songwriter. Liberty Pike and the Steeldrivers are bands which combine bluegrass with country and other musical genres. The three bands all have fiddlers. Natalie MacMaster is one of the most famous Cape Breton style fiddlers in the world.

Harvey Tolman is my electrician. He lives about four miles from me. He is also an excellent fiddler, and has been honored at the state level for his contribution to New Hampshire’s folk heritage. Like Ms. MacMaster, Harvey plays Cape Breton style fiddle. Putting his name above hers on the sign was part of the joke. Since he’s a good fiddler,
my little joke was also a tribute.

Did I really sneak the joke in without the editor’s knowledge? No. I told her about it when I submitted the cartoon, and she just published it in the latest issue. I’d love to see the magazine do a story about Harvey someday. Speaking of which, here’s the man himself:

Harvey Tolman, Cape Breton fiddler from Nelson, New Hampshire, winner 2007 Governor's Arts Award, New Hampshire Folk Heritage Award, plays at Nelson's Monday Night Contra Dance

Ever heard of contra dancing? It’s a form of folk dancing that remains popular here in New England, USA. The town of Nelson, NH, is famous for its contra dances, and Mr. Tolman has been playing at them for over 30 years. You can see him in action in this short YouTube clip. Looking for an aerobic workout that will put a big smile on your face? Try contra dancing!blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

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What do you think? Do you like fiddle music? Ever done any contra or folk dancing? Have you ever entered a cartoon caption contest, where you have to write a caption for a given cartoon drawing? Hope you’ll leave a comment.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

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Other Posts You Might Enjoy:

About Face: Some Thoughts On Redesigning My About Page

Hey, Bertie Bott– Time To Brighten Up Your Beans!!

Ring Around The Rosary, We All Stand Together

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31 Comments leave one →
  1. SingingTuna permalink
    March 8, 2013 3:40 PM

    LOVELOVELOVE this! Your creative process is always a joy to see, Mark.
    And “recycling” (repurposing?) work is GREAT, when it turns out this well. LOL…Harold looks like he’s having a blast!!!

    The video is very cool; your fiddler friend, Harvey, is fabulous. I’ve never seen contra dancing before. NEAT!!!!! A toe-tapper!!!!

    Me? I’d be running the video or standing around outside directing people into the room –not dancing. That should be left to to the folks who know what they’re doing…LOL!!

    Another fiddle-dandy post!!!


    • March 8, 2013 4:41 PM

      Ha! Many thanks, you sweet Chick Of The Sea! Repurposing… what a great word! I like it. Makes me sound enterprising instead of, well, cheap… : P

      FWIW: I’ve tried contra dancing a few times, and even tho I’m always the most confused person on the floor– seriously!!– I’ve always enjoyed myself tremendously. That’s because regular contra dancers– the people who know what they’re doing– are some of the nicest folks in the world. They get you back on track with a smile, and make you feel welcome at all times. You really can’t go wrong, no matter how many mistakes you make. You come away thinking: that’s the way the world should be. So if you ever get a chance, jump in. Remember: no matter what happens, you can’t possibly get more confused than I do!!

      Thanks for your great comment and all your cheerful support!! : )


  2. March 9, 2013 5:51 PM

    Hi there Mark,
    I liked what you presented here very much and re-purposing is an excellent term for it. Yes I do like fiddle music but no I have not done any contra dancing.


    • March 9, 2013 7:08 PM

      Yes, indeed: fiddles and Canada– there seems to be a natural association there… : )

      I’m thinking contra dancing would be good for you: after a hard day at the keyboard disseminating knowledge, you need to move around. You’d probably win a dance trophy, too. Well, just an idea… : P

      Many thanks for your kind comment, TT! : )


  3. March 9, 2013 8:21 PM

    Loved the alien cartoon Mark, and I agree. That should have been snatched up earlier.

    And……OMG I can’t believe you mentioned Nelson! My family used to go Contra Dancing there all the time (if I remember right) and I wrote about the dance as well a while ago. I assume you did so as well? It is great fun and interesting history behind that style of dance.


    • March 27, 2013 5:59 PM

      Thanks for that lovely comment, Amelie, and please do excuse my tardy reply here.

      I’d forgotten about your New Hampshire connection!! And the fact that you’ve actually made the scene at the Nelson Town Dance boggles the mind!! I checked out your post, and man, you were way ahead of me, blogging about the joys of contra dancing way back in 2010!

      A Tough Mudder and a Contra Dancer– if you get any cooler, we’re gonna hafta dream up a new category for you!! Dance on, and thanks as always for your cheery support! : )


      • March 27, 2013 7:20 PM

        Well I’m taking 1 point off for tardiness young man but you get 3 points for style. πŸ™‚ Yeah, Nelson. I’m reminded on a daily basis of how lucky I was to grow up in rural New Hampshire. It was a great place for kids to grow up. Tolerant, but with good old fashioned values. The best of both worlds. Now I feel like visiting Nelson again, in hopes that it maintained its character. I bet it has.


        • April 2, 2013 7:55 AM

          One point off, three points on?– Deal!! On behalf of the great state of New Hampshuh, thank you for helping to build up our reputation as a cool place, that’s also a little weird… : )

          Nelson has been unchanged for the past 200 years, with the possible exception of telephones and indoor plumbing! I think you’ll find it to your satisfaction. They were going to put up a sign on the Town Hall saying “Amelie Danced Here,” but decided it would be architecturally incorrect– so they’re just going to brag about you as part of their heritage… : )


      • March 27, 2013 7:21 PM

        ps Thanks for the kind words, they were much needed this week.


  4. March 9, 2013 8:57 PM

    Now, this is music to my ears – a green approach to old material and humor (I’ve done this myself). Wonderful, Mark.


    • March 27, 2013 4:35 PM

      And your kind comments are always music to my ears– thank you, Judy!! A green approach– say, I think I like that even better than “repurposing”!! I’m not just recycling old jokes, I’m helping the environment!! I shall pass this along to all my leprechaun friends who are always up for green approaches, especially when it helps them get out of doing any work!! : )


  5. March 10, 2013 4:08 PM

    So much fun here, Mark; it’s hard to know where to start… Oh yes, the beginning is always best… πŸ˜‰

    The ‘Fiddle Magazine’ must be overjoyed with your illustrations; I love the Flamingos; that’ll teach him..! Isn’t it wonderful that you are able to ‘put to good use’ your work of old… Better to have them where they can be seen rather than hidden away dying from lack of appreciation.

    I love your tribute to your electrician friend; and what a great video. The dancing reminds me of ‘square dancing’ with lots of movement and a number of dancers participating. I agree with you, Mark; certainly a heart pacer is this style of dancing. What fabulous fun it looks..


    • March 20, 2013 2:56 PM

      Thank you, dear Carolyn! Must say I thought of you when I posted that video, your being The Dancing Queen of Oz, and all… : )

      Yes, contra dancing and square dancing are very similar. I think contra dances tend to involve a larger number of couples; you dance thru these elaborate routines, changing partners as you go; finally, you end up back with your original partner, and the dance concludes. I haven’t done a lot of contra dancing, but I once found myself in one that must have included nearly a hundred people. We danced around this enormous room in a big circle, then reversed direction and I was missing for three days… : P

      Thanks for waltzing in with your usual charm! : )


      • March 20, 2013 3:35 PM

        Oh, I’m exceedingly envious, Mark; that sounds absolutely delightful; I would love to join in…!

        You are indeed a man of many talents…. πŸ™‚


  6. March 10, 2013 7:49 PM

    Well, Mark, I’m sure you’ve figured out what others have: that repurposing and recycling content is good– well, at least, people are usually happiest when derivative work is your own.

    I’ve done a bit of folk dancing but don’t think I’ve done any contra. Right now, I think, most of the active local dancing is with the Hispanic community, and I’m not sure if we’ve got much of a local group folk scene. I’m sure something could be figured out as some Mexican music genres use chromatic accordions… yeah, I guess I’m more partial to accordions than fiddles.


    • March 22, 2013 8:49 AM

      “Repurposing content”– it’s a great expression. I’m going to use it the next time someone accuses me of stealing a joke… : )

      You’re an accordion guy, eh? Why do I suddenly hear polka music?? That just might be the most aerobic dance music of all!

      Dance on, Jak, and many thanks for your comment!


      • March 23, 2013 12:43 AM

        Haha, when I told Jack Yan a joke he wanted to use but that I wanted credit for, he said “If only I can figure out how to reverse-engineer a joke…!” And well, “Weird” Al Yankovic plays the accordion, so of course I’m biased!


  7. March 11, 2013 11:47 AM

    I find all of these repurposed illustrations so funny! and of course Brilliant πŸ™‚
    Also I enjoyed watching the contra dancing, it’s the first time I have ever watched that kind of dancing. It’s very interesting.
    So cool! 😎
    Thanks Mark πŸ˜›


    • March 27, 2013 2:59 PM

      Brilliant? Hm. Why does that word always seem to come up when people talk about me?? : P

      Yes, you must try contra dancing. It’s great exercise for the teeth and gums, and of course the best part is taking a break and going over to the refreshment table to eat donuts. Then you’ll have the energy to do more dancing, so you can eat more donuts. It’s a very healthy lifestyle… : P

      Thank you, Dear Dolly the Delightful Dancing Dentist!! : )


  8. March 11, 2013 1:11 PM

    My mother was a bluegrass music fan, so I still hear those songs in my head from my childhood. (Haven’t tried dancing to them … I get weird enough looks already.)

    Loved seeing your work process. And it goes to prove that its best to save all your old drawings, just in case you need one later.


    • March 27, 2013 2:52 PM

      Thanks, Steven! Your comment really helped me, because I intend to use that “No thanks, I get enough weird looks already” line in future. It’s sure to help me get out of lots of embarrassing situations. The line sums up my own experience perfectly, I’ve just never thought to use it– thanks!! : )

      And yes, save those old drawings– you never know when you might get a birdcage for Christmas, and of course one has to line the bottom of same… : P


  9. March 12, 2013 2:32 PM

    Can’t say I’m quite into fiddle music, but I love your alien (does he or she eat the froot loops that seem to about his or her person?) And I misread ‘confers’ as ‘conifers’… so that took me on a whole different voyage!


    • March 22, 2013 8:36 AM

      No fiddle music? I can’t believe it! I can easily picture you kicking up your heels at a contra dance and winning the dance trophy, or perhaps even a big box of Froot Loops… : )

      Conifers as a verb– I like it! I guess it would mean to pine away for someone… : P

      Always good to see you, Val, thanks so much for dancing by!


  10. March 19, 2013 5:30 PM

    These are fantastic, Mark! The changes you made are perfect, and the shout-out to your fiddle friend is so cool. I put a couple of bloggers in my last book. I love that we have the freedom to do pretty much whatever we want. You friend is a very good fiddler, and look how happy everyone is while they dance! My mother loves bluegrass and there are fiddles a-plenty in that music!


    • March 20, 2013 11:56 AM

      Ah, dear Maddie, your words are music to my ears, which explains why I’m dancing a jig here… : )

      Yes, shout-outs to friends are great fun. For example: are you familiar with the Susan Hunter mystery series? They’re excellent, I can’t recommend them highly enough, I want you to order all the books today, you won’t be disappointed… : )

      See you at the next contra dance, bring your mom!!


  11. March 20, 2013 5:48 PM

    LOL!! Mark!! HA! I’m attaching the catch phrase nobody but me and Harvey Tolman to the end of every sentence I speak today in honor of this post! Unfortunately nobody will get it but you, me and Harvey Tolman!! I love the way you changed each cartoon. It’s amazing the way you were about to change the one with the alien!! HA! Who knew jokes that involved aliens at the grocery store could be so flexible humor-wise!! HA! And I love the updated headlines too. So well done, Mark! I mean the flamingo and the broken leg was just sitting there in the archives patiently waiting for the fiddlers. Life is stranger than fiction!! πŸ˜€


    • March 27, 2013 2:39 PM

      Wow! This wunnaful comment was so spritely, it’s better’n a fiddle tune– and that ain’t no crinkle from a Funyuns bag, neither– nosuh!! : P

      You’ve really helped me put things in perspective: Instead of waving at dusty towering piles of paper and saying, “That’s my old junk,” I shall henceforth intone: “Those are my archives, where works of genius patiently wait to be ‘repurposed.'” Yes, yes… I think that’s a big improvement… : P

      Thank you, dear Linda!! : )


  12. March 31, 2015 6:37 AM

    So lovely to see this peek into your process!! πŸ™‚


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