A Valentine for my husband Mr. B, in contentious times.
In late 1841, after the international success of novels such as The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, and The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, and after a deluge of fan mail from American admirers, Charles Dickens decided to visit America.
Dickens wanted to tour major American cities and give readings & lectures, but he also wanted to make observations and take notes about America and American life, which he hoped to turn into a book.
Dickens, accompanied by his wife and his wife’s maid, arrived in Boston in January, 1842. He liked Boston, and Bostonians reciprocated.
But the trip went downhill from there. During his appearances, Dickens began to encourage the adoption of an international copyright law; American publishers had been pirating his works for years, without paying Dickens a dime.
Additionally, Dickens was irritated by the number of unauthorized Dickens-related souvenirs of his tour. In New York, Tiffany’s sold copies of his bust, and a barber even attempted to sell the hair clippings left over from Dickens’s haircut.
The American press was vociferously appalled at what they viewed as the sheer crassness and avarice Dickens displayed by having the gall to demand payment for his work and image.
As Dickens headed west, his irritation only increased. Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock observed in his 1934 Dickens biography that American Notes, the book which resulted from Dickens’s experiences on the tour, sounded like the “work of a peevish cockney traveling without his breakfast.”
And it’s true. In his letters to a friend back in England, as well as in American Notes, Dickens complains about his every experience of America: food, accommodations, the dullness of American conversation, the unattractiveness of American women, the vulgarity of American men (the amount of spitting he encountered in America particularly repulsed him). At one point, he even complains about the quality of the ink he’s using to write his letters and notes.
(However, it’s important to note that not all of Dickens’s complaints are so petty: he devotes an entire chapter in American Notes to a passionate denunciation of slavery, based on his observations of slaves’ lives in Richmond, Virginia. He also lists vivid and horrific details of descriptions of fugitive slaves–that is, accounts of the permanent injuries and scars inflicted by slaveowners– he read in American newspapers.)
But most frustrating to Dickens was the reality that wherever Dickens went, fans mobbed him.
leave him alone.
Not for one minute.
For all these reasons, he was already surly when he arrived in Sandusky, Ohio, and became surlier still when, by chance, he picked up a copy of the Cleveland Plain Dealer and read an insulting, jingoistic editorial gleefully advocating war with England over some recent minor disputes, and furthermore boasting that America would certainly triumph in such a war.
Not realizing the editorial had been reprinted from a Washington, DC newspaper, Dickens took an instant dislike to Cleveland. But he was also curious to see the town that –he believed — could produce such a belligerent editorial.
On its way across Lake Erie from Sandusky to Buffalo, the steamship Constitution, with Dickens on board, stopped in Cleveland around midnight on April 25, 1842.
The Cleveland Herald reported that a few hours later, Dickens, accompanied by his traveling secretary, took a short stroll around Cleveland, then returned to the ship, where a crowd had gathered.
Dickens described what happened next in a letter to a friend:
“The people poured on board, in crowds, by six on Monday morning, to see me; and a party of ‘gentlemen’ actually planted themselves before our little cabin, and stared in at the door and windows while I was washing, and Kate lay in bed. I was so incensed at this…that when the mayor came on board to present himself to me, according to custom, I refused to see him, and bade Mr. Q—- [Dickens’s traveling secretary] tell him why and wherefore. His honour took it very coolly, and retired to the top of the wharf, with a big stick and a whittling knife, with which he worked so lustily (staring at the closed door of our cabin all the time) that long before the boat left the big stick was no bigger than a cribbage peg!”
Dickens had had enough.
He did not emerge to greet or engage with the crowd of his admirers.
He refused to meet the mayor of Cleveland, Dr. Joshua Mills.
At nine o’clock that same morning, the Constitution left Cleveland and steamed on to Buffalo, New York.
In American Notes, Cleveland earns a single paragraph, consisting of three sentences. Dickens does admit that he “found it a pretty town,” but spends the rest of the paragraph describing the offending editorial which appeared in the Plain Dealer. (In an early example of faith in the old adage “There’s no such thing as bad publicity,” when American Notes was published in the fall of 1842, the Plain Dealer crowed that, thanks to Dickens’s criticism, their newspaper was now being talked about by some of the most important men in England.)
Dickens’s 1842 trip soured him on America, although that wasn’t entirely Cleveland’s fault.
Nonetheless, Dickens returned to the United States in 1867, because, frankly, he needed the money. (After all, at that point, he had nine children to support, not to mention an estranged wife and a mistress.)
But this time, he found America, and Americans, much more welcoming and considerate, and his previous feelings of irritation and indignation softened.
Even before this, however, he had included Cleveland on the itinerary of his lecture and reading tour. Not just a pause between cities this time — an actual appearance.
Unfortunately, ill health forced Dickens to cancel the western leg of his tour to return to England, where he died two years later.
There is something about this story that to me just ineffably says “Cleveland”:
The expectations that never quite come to fruition.
The plans which don’t quite work.
The love of learning and reading, exemplified by everything from the magnificent Cleveland Public Library and Cuyahoga County Public Library systems to Case Western Reserve University’s “Living Room Learning” program (now called “Off-Campus Studies”) to the city’s legendary independent bookstores & booksellers.
The faith and hope it takes to keep waiting.
If he could visit Cleveland now, Charles Dickens might well be proud of us.
Adrian, Arthur A. “Dickens in Cleveland, Ohio,” The Dickensian: A Magazine for Dickens Lovers, edited by Leslie C. Staples, London: The Dickens Fellowship, 1948 (Volume 44), pp. 48-50.
Allingham, Philip V. “Dickens’s 1842 Reading Tour: Launching the Copyright Question in Tempestuous Seas,” victorianweb.org/authors/dickens/pva/pva75.html
BBC News, “When Charles Dickens fell out with America,” bbc.com/news/magazine-1701779
Dickens, Charles, American Notes for General Circulation, e-text: gutenberg.org/files/675/675-h/675-h.htm
The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, “Charles Dickens’s Visit to Cleveland,” ech.case.edu/cgi/article.pl?id=CDVTC
Forster, John. The Life of Charles Dickens, London: Cecil Palmer, 1872-74, online via The Dickens Fellowship: Japan Branch: lang.nagoya-u.ac.jp/~matsuoka/CD-Forster.html
Perdue, David, “Dickens in America,” David Perdue’s Charles Dickens page: charlesdickenspage.com/america.html
Shaw, Archer H. “Charles Dickens Comes to Town,” Chapter IV, The Plain Dealer: One Hundred Years in Cleveland, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1942, pp. 43-50. https://archive.org/details/plaindealeronehu009353mbp
“Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today.” –Bill Murray as Phil Connors in 1993’s Groundhog Day
To be fair, the days comprising the Trump administration so far aren’t all exactly the same.
No, there’s a new kind of crazy every day.
It would be kind of exhilarating if it weren’t so terrifying.
I strive very hard to not be the kind of artist who feels compelled to annotate her work.
Naturally, the only reason I bring this up now is because I’m about to do just that.
I knew as long ago as last summer that I wanted my design for my holiday card to relate somehow to the presidential election; I reasoned that the campaign would only have been over for 4-6 weeks by the time cards should be in the mail, and given this election’s ubiquity in public life for the preceding 12-plus months, I felt sure it would likely still be hovering over the American psyche.
A light-hearted design, I was thinking. Maybe classic broadside campaign posters, pitting classic holiday characters against one another? I didn’t know. I had time.
Then came the early morning hours of November 9th, and suddenly nothing seemed light-hearted any more. There was anger, panic, horror, shock, anxiety, fear, a sense of helplessness– and that’s just what I felt.
Seriously, many people I know on both sides of the political spectrum were feeling some combination of those emotions. One thing about a charismatic, mercurial leader of any political stripe: s/he, for good and/or ill, can foster of lot of uncertainty in the body politic.
All those states of mind are exhausting by themselves. All together, they’re crushing. More exhausting and crushing still if you have a chronic illness, and you’re afraid you’re about to lose your health insurance. Or if you don’t fit someone else’s image of what an “American” “should” look like, or if … well, doubtless you can fill in your own examples.
So I said to myself, “Okay, we’ve got anger, fear, uncertainty … what do we have left that’s good?” and started scribbling nouns on a piece of paper.
And since I already had campaign ephemera on my mind, I just combined that with the nouns, and as they say in the orchestra, viola!
The inspirations for each piece of memorabilia may be found on this Pinterest board. (Oddly enough, the “Faith” button is a bipartisan combination: it’s mainly an homage to a button from George McGovern’s 1972 campaign, but that decisive period at the end comes from a button from his opponent’s successful re-election campaign.)
The color scheme for this year’s cards was inspired by science fiction author Emmie Mears’ lovely map “These Purple States of America.” The reds and blues I used are a little-to-a-lot closer to pinks and purples than the typical campaign colorway. (As I pored over campaign buttons from the past, I discovered that only one major presidential candidate deviated from the red, white, and blue: much of Jimmy Carter’s campaign swag was green and white.)
The pinks, red-violets, blue-violets, and purples were important to me — not because I wanted to suggest an old, tired cliché like “see, we really aren’t so different from one another.” (I think this most recent election demonstrated just the opposite.)
Emmie Mears says their map demonstrates that
“This country is divided like the grains of sand on the beach are divided. Sure, some might be remnants of shells and others of quartz and others of garnet and others of slate but good luck to anybody trying to claim one of those bits doesn’t exist in any given handful.”
This struck me. To me, the pinks, violets and purples serve as a reminder that we are not alone. Somebody, somewhere — possibly quite nearby — feels the same way you do, and values the same concepts you do.
Over the next several years, we should try to find one another. We’re going to have to take care of one another, in both a spiritual sense and a physical sense. There’s a lot of work to be done. Whatever peaceful, non-destructive, beneficial means you can undertake to effect change — or in some cases, prevent change — do it.
To that end, I’ll endeavor to make more comics and art –and make them even more relevant. I thank everyone from the bottom of my heart for their comments and encouragement over the life of this blog. You keep me going.
Happy holidays. Happy New Year. Hang on to the good things, and — as the original lyrics to the Christmas classic have it — we’ll muddle through somehow.
Breaking news has compelled me to revise my earlier Ameri-cats design.
If you have questions, or need information about, voting in your state, please visit Vote.gov!
In college, I drew a weekly comic for the campus newspaper. It wasn’t exactly a diary comic, but it was heavily autobiographical; on occasion it also drew pretty blatant inspiration from other cartoonists and comics I admired — Peanuts, Doonesbury, Bloom County. (Once, after completing a summer internship in Washington, DC with a focus on the history of American political cartoons — and smugly impressed with myself the way only 20-year olds heady with esoteric knowledge can be — I did an homage to early 20th-century cartoonist Ding Darling, which I’m sure most people failed to appreciate, and who can blame them, really?)
The comic above appeared in March of my senior year, and was probably the most popular comic I ever created.
Bloomingdale’s, the storied luxury retailer, often came to campus to interview students for their management program; many of my classmates longed to land a job there. I was not then, nor am now, a particularly Bloomingdale’s kind of person, hence the sign.
May 25th, of course, was graduation day. My graduating class, to my surprise and delight, chose to put this comic on a t-shirt, which they distributed to seniors during graduation weekend. My college roommate still has hers. It still fits her. I am jealous.
Some notes on process, and materials: the campus newspaper deadline was ca. 7PM on Monday nights. I usually had an early afternoon class on Mondays; I’d get back to my room around 4PM, toss down my stuff, spread out on the floor with a piece of paper — Bristol, a sheet of dot-matrix paper, whatever was handy — and a pen, and start drawing. Sometimes I’d have an idea in mind, sometimes not. I’d finish the comic by dinnertime at 6PM–5:30PM if I was scheduled to work in the dorm kitchen that day–then run it over to the newspaper offices after dinner. That was the ideal schedule, anyway; I seem to recall some panicked phone calls from The Mount Holyoke News at 8PM (and later) asking me if the cartoon was finished yet.
My cavalier attitude towards the whole process horrifies me now. I look at this comic and think … did I not have access to a ruler? (Though it occurs to me I still have trouble drawing a straight line even with a ruler, so I might let my past self off the hook here.) Something about much of the bold lettering makes me think that I must have only had a calligraphy pen on hand to letter with. (How? Why?) And of course, because I pushed up against the deadline so hard, I would never have had time to do a comic over again.
Pfffft. Drafts, schmafts.
As I say, my process then horrifies me. And yet, I sometimes regret that I, and my drawings, now lack that kind of spontaneity.
I’d sometimes use screentone (as seen on the shirt Comics-Kelly is wearing, and her hair), when I’d had a chance to get to the bookstore at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst to get some. I applied it artlessly, randomly, with little finesse–but the fact I’d used it made me feel like a “real” cartoonist. Also, because I was clumsy with craft knives, little bits of screentone would stick to various parts of me for about a day and a half. I wore them like badges of honor.
Screentone is gone now, mercifully replaced by Photoshop and other programs. I’d now be able to send my comic via email instead of running across campus. “Long distance call” is a phrase without meaning in a world of unlimited calls. (Seems amazing now that we tried to wait for nights and weekends in order to make long distance calls, because calls were cheaper then.)
However, there is still one constant, thirty years on: I still have no idea what I’m doing with my life.
Every year, my farmer friends Heather and Ken have a party for their friends to celebrate the fact that baby goats are the Cutest Animals In The Universe. (It’s true.) It’s called, logically enough, “Goat Day,” and each year for the last five years, I’ve created some sort of culturally relevant design for the event.
Well, there really was only one possible design for this year.
There are two variations — one features Slimer, the ancient green pickup which has been a legendary, stationery, monument on the grounds of Brandywine Farm ever since its owner left it there to roam the world.
You can even see Slimer from space! (See Fig. 3, below.)
The goats love Slimer — he serves as their personal jungle gym/climbing wall — and, well, with a name like that, there was no way he could not appear on any Goatbusters-themed design.
The other design is Slimer-free, for those who aren’t inclined to explain the in-joke to others.
Incidentally, the film which inspired this design has caused a stir in certain quarters, and I sincerely hope that this parody doesn’t, you know, ruin anyone’s childhood. Although on this point, I agree with Melissa McCarthy’s assessment: “I think their childhood was pretty much ruined already. If this broke it, it was pretty fragile to begin with.”
My new All-American designs are now available on a variety of items in my Zazzle store, including t-shirts (for dogs and people), mugs, pet tags, pet beds, pet dishes, and more!
I was trying to think of something profound to say about these drawings, or the inspiration behind them, or “the process.”
But there’s not that much to say.
I love cats. I love dogs. I love America.
That’s all. 🙂
Good news and bad news. Good news: car magnets and nightshirts are now available in my new store over at Cafe Press. (My Zazzle store still exists — but Zazzle doesn’t offer oval car magnets or nightshirts, so…)
Thanks to my friend and classmate Mary for the nightshirt suggestion!
Bad news: the phoenix class animal design is delayed until sometime next week, which means the design featuring all five class animals will also be delayed. (Long story short: I’m awaiting the arrival of necessary materials & there’s been a shipping delay. #CartoonistProblems.)
Again, these designs/products have no official connection to, and were not designed/created with the approval of, Mount Holyoke College, the Mount Holyoke Alumnae Association, and/or any MHC class or organization.