How I Became A Cartoonist
By Sydney Gay
I am an artist who paints what makes me laugh and what inspires me began in New York City where I worked in a medical center treating injured patients in serious pain. Not a laughing matter. However, one evening at a doctor’s party I met a wild sexy Jewish musician from Vienna Austria, He had been a child prodigy playing Bach and Beethoven and by age 8 was introduced to Carnegie Hall. More amazing than this he was blind and could not read musical notes.
He needed a work partner, someone to become his eyes which were destroyed the day Hitler marched into Vienna. I’ll explain briefly. His mother fled the hospital hiding her baby under a doll blanket inside a flimsy toy carriage that belonged to his six-year-old sister; thumping over the cobble stoned streets rattled his tiny head and the retinas of his eyes detached.
Blind or not he grew into a brilliant adult and I fell in love, he didn’t love me as much as I loved him. Nevertheless we got married. Our honeymoon began in Vienna; where papers had to be signed to re-establish ownership of the home Hitler confiscated from his family, after which we took a train to Mauthausen to examine the gas chambers which had destroyed so many friends and family. I cannot explain how that felt. The two of us became quietly numb, unable to express feelings.
For relief we went to Switzerland, a country that refuses to partake in war. In Zurich my husband decides he wants to climb the Matterhorn. This is the first cartoon of my married life. I am from Louisiana. I have never seen a mountain higher than an ant hill and I didn’t know muscle training is needed to mountain climb. The Matterhorn is one of the deadliest peaks within the Alps, there is a lot of snow and ice and it takes us many hours to reach base camp. As we approach the base my husband is the first to hear a helicopter. I look up, the copter is hovering over a four-thousand-foot straight wall peak attempting to rescue two frozen dead bodies. We turn around and climb down, the pain in my body, head to toe, screams so loudly I have to be packed in ice.
The next stop is Amsterdam where it is legal to smoke marijuana. After quite a bit of smoking my husband gets a musical idea that takes flight. When we return to New York he receives permission to bring never-before-heard-of multi-media productions into Carnegie Hall. The concerts sell out earning enough money for us to buy a chicken farm in Connecticut.
The year is 1969. Many artists come to visit the farm, one of them a man who looks exactly like Eddie Murphy but claims to be Finniest T Quatlabaum. He has a sketch book, his drawings are wonderful, “Oh, Mr. Quatlabaum, I wish I could draw the way you do.” And he says to me “anyone can do it, let me show you how.”
Finniest put a bunch of colored pencils into my fist, “Hold all of them tightly together, don’t think about anything, just let them make whatever shapes they want to on the paper.” I squiggle the pencils up and down and all around, nothing appears but lines and circles. He says, “Keep doing it.”
Weeks go by and a professor from Harvard comes to our farm telling my husband and me we will not know what life really is until we try LSD. He gives us tiny squares of paper to put under our tongues. Within 30 minutes my world explodes into color, every sound has a color, cartoons pop out of the clouds, trees are playing Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. It is a glorious day.
That night I sit down with my fist full of pencils and cartoons suddenly appear. Gradually my confidence grows from notebook size images into large paintings.
A few months later a lady professor from Duke University, who I had not met before, comes to the farm with four business friends looking for a safe place to try LSD. They get high, take off all their clothes and spread themselves naked on my living room floor. Not knowing what to do with all those arms and legs, I went outside and started to pray, Dear God, please show me the way to live without this drug.
As they say God works in strange ways. I divorced my husband and began seeing the many tragedies of life as cartoons. I am not making fun of tragedy, but a Godly spirit was showing me happiness inside the sorrow. One day, just for the fun of it, I hung two cartoons in a medical center bathroom; a girl dancing with a dog above the toilet for men to see when they pee and on the opposite wall a cat eating watermelon for women who sit down to pee. Injured patients in terrible pain began staying in the bathroom a bit longer than usual. When they came out most of them were smiling.
For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com