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I Owe My Cartooning to the Moon

This column is by the brilliant cartoonist for the Omaha World-Herald, Jeff Koterba –Daryl

As a kid growing up in the 1960s I loved drawing and the idea of space travel. My earliest memory—at age two or three—is of me holding a blue, Bic pen and scribbling away on sheets of paper. I also recall pretending that my drawing instruments were rockets, my hand guiding them through our house, orbiting the furniture

All throughout grade school, I had two goals: I wanted to become an artist and an astronaut. But was I that unusual? Don’t most kids love to draw until they’re told that doing something creative is no way to make a living? Likewise, in the years leading up to the first Moon landing, weren’t lots of kids excited by the space program? After all, coverage of the space program was everywhere.

In those days, the three networks would break into programming to show live coverage of the various rocket launches. My dad would stay home from work and call me in sick to school so we could watch together.

Watching those massive Saturn V rockets roar from the Earth with such grace was, in itself, a work of art, their contrails on the sky like drawings.

At school I was shy, lacking confidence. I loved to draw, and occasionally my sketches of rockets landed on the bulletin board of my grade school classrooms. But mostly, I kept my art to myself, drawings hidden away on sheets of paper tucked into textbooks and under my bed.

I also grew up with stories of my Uncle Ed. A syndicated columnist for Scripps Howard and later, the Washington Post, my uncle covered the early days of the space program and the Kennedy administration.

Sadly, he was killed in a plane crash shortly after I was born so I never got to meet him. Mourned by Kennedy during a televised press conference, my dad kept the memory of his brother’s journalism alive with stories of his globetrotting adventures and his love of space. Including how my uncle once interviewed Wernher von Braun, father of the Saturn V rocket.

I can only imagine what Uncle Ed might have written that fateful day when Neil Armstrong first dipped his boot into the lunar dust.

Throughout childhood and beyond, I kept sketching rockets and astronauts. I wouldn’t realize it until many years later, but my pens and pencils carried a heavy payload. Those early drawings were an outpouring of my deep desire to follow my heart—whether artist or astronaut—and also in some way, to keep my uncle’s memory alive.

Anything worth doing, anything new and different and daring, begins with a dream, a spark of inspiration. President Kennedy’ famous “We choose to go to the Moon” speech was just the spark needed to send humans to the lunar surface.

At the time, the concept of sending humans to the Moon was beyond the scope of anything anyone had ever done. It seemed to be the biggest challenge ever suggested in the history of the world. The concept was utterly breathtaking.

If not for that speech, it’s difficult to imagine that the U.S. would have landed Apollo 11 on the lunar surface 50 years ago this month.

I’m also convinced that Kennedy’s speech, and NASA’s space program, ignited within me the confidence to purse my dreams. If an idea so daring, so impossible, as landing humans on the Moon could become reality, was it so far-fetched that I, too, could pursue my love of cartoons?

Over time, I would realize that becoming an astronaut wasn’t for me. Becoming a cartoonist, however, was truly what I was meant to do on this earth.

Just as I did that summer fifty years ago, I now continue to gaze into the night sky, the Moon and stars reminding me that I was called to explore blank sheets of paper, the contrails of my pencils and pens making images that I hope engage readers. Maybe even sparking a new way of seeing the world.

Jeffrey Koterba’s award-winning cartoons are distributed by Cagle Cartoons. In 2010, two of his original drawings flew aboard space shuttle Discovery. Jeff wrote a memoir titled Inklings.  In his TEDx talk Jeff discusses the link between Tourette Syndrome, vulnerability, and creativity.  E-mail Jeff.

Read more by Jeff on our site:

Why Does the New York Times Keep Breaking My Heart?

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By Daryl Cagle

Daryl Cagle is the founder and owner of Cagle Cartoons, Inc. He is one of the most widely published editorial cartoonists and is also the editor of The Cagle Post. For the past 35 years, Daryl has been one of America’s most prolific cartoonists.