It was a warm October day in 1962. I was a sophomore at South Side High School in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, excelling in art class, in other subjects, not so much. I was on the staff of the school newspaper as a cartoonist and illustrator. My goals in life were to be an illustrator like Norman Rockwell, or have my own commercial art studio in my hometown, or to be an advertising agency art director and make $10,000 a year. This was 1962. Ten grand was big money.
I would get married, buy a house, have two children and a beautiful wife, drive a new car and, with any luck, be a millionaire by the time I was forty. Everything was going my way. Then, President John F. Kennedy told the nation that Russia had put nuclear armed ballistic missiles in Cuba and we’d have a nuclear war if they didn’t remove them. What?
I was completely blindsided. My parents subscribed to two newspapers, the Democratic morning one and the evening Republican. I read them both, but I only read the comics page and the sports page. I wasn’t even sure of the name of the Russian leader. Nikita who? The only Russians I knew of were Boris and Natasha on “Rocky and Bullwinkle.” Suddenly, my world went up in a ball of radioactive fire.
I was glued to TV news and the newspapers and when I wasn’t, I was painting apocalyptic paintings of skeletons running through a burning landscape of mushroom clouds. All my hopes and dreams were going up in radioactive smoke. A ship was steaming to Cuba loaded with more missiles. Kennedy told Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev to turn around or they would be blown out of the water. The Russians were not backing down and were making threats. I was frantic. My school had been having air raid drills since I was in Kindergarten. There was a huge air raid siren behind my house that went off every Wednesday at noon, so loud it shook the floor. This is what we’d been training for –this crisis.
Then, on the thirteenth day of the confrontation, the ships turned around and headed back to Russia, after Kennedy made a secret deal, but from that day forward I vowed never to be blindsided again. I started reading the news pages. I learned the names of the leaders at home and abroad. I learned the countries, the issues and the threats. I read the political cartoons, mostly those by Bill Mauldin, who I understood. Herblock and a local cartoonist were regulars in the papers but they didn’t inspire me. Their cartoons were too serious and preachy. Walt Kelly’s “Pogo” made more sense to me than most of the art on the editorial page. Then, when I was in art school, Pat Oliphant came along and made political cartooning look fun.
I saw a way that I could do my very small part to defeat the Communist Soviet Union threat and be paid for my effort. I started drawing freelance political cartoons for the morning paper, found a job as a full-time political cartoonist in Dayton, Ohio and after five years there, moved to Hartford, Connecticut and The Courant.
In November of 1989, the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union collapsed. I told the president of the L. A. Times News Service that I’d accomplished my goal, that Russia had been defeated and that I was going to leave political cartooning. He talked me out of it, saying there will be more demons to vanquish. He was right, of course. All I have to do is read today’s news, but I’d accomplished what I wanted in the beginning. Everything since then is a bonus.
Here’s are Bob’s most recent cartoons on Cagle.com …