Saturday Morning Muse — “C minus”

photo 1A nine-foot set of maple bookshelves holds up one wall of the little hallway that leads from our house to my studio. Each shelf is stuffed with cartoon books, art books, cartoon character figurines, and old MAD Magazines.

The little hallway makes up nearly half of my 27-foot morning commute.

On “the way into work,” I often pull a favorite cartoon or art book to flip through while sipping my morning iced-coffee on our back porch. I find this little ritual kickstarts my sleep-and-red-wine-addled brain into trying to somehow at least pretend to resemble a creative mind for a couple of hours during the day.

Most of these books on my studio shelves I’ve had forever, and when I bring home something new, there’s no place to put it.  So every once in awhile, I’ll sort through the lesser perused titles and relocate a handful to an out of the way corner of the studio (read: the big ol’ pile next to the sofa).

I really need to get some additional shelving, or curtail my book buying addiction…

One little book that has been a muse to me as much as it has been amusing, will never be relocated from the main shelves. It’s a postcard-sized volume of nearly 100 gag cartoons chronicling the life of a character named “C minus.” Well, that’s the name of the book anyhow, and we’ve always assumed it’s the name of the protagonist too.

Through one-liner cartoons, we find C minus is a broke, highly un-motivated college student who doesn’t have much luck with the ladies and would rather go surfing than study. Remarkably very Dustin-like.

I think one of my brothers saved up his milk money to purchase “C minus” in 1969 for, like, 45¢ from one of those monthly Scholastic Book order forms the nuns used to hand out in school. The book became an instant favorite of my brothers, sister and my Mom and Dad too (my Dad particularly loved the gags about C’s jalopy that appears to be a 1936 Plymouth).

But for my ten-year-old self, “C minus” was an inspiration.

“C minus” taught me about how effective simplicity is to a great cartoon. Trying to draw my own cartoons similar to “C minus” as a kid in those days, I also learned how extremely difficult this is to achieve.

Drawing simple, spare cartoons isn’t as simple as it looks.

“C minus” helped teach me how to compose a scene; how a good visual gag is enhanced by a perfectly written punch line; and how to set up the reader to imagine what has transpired or is about to transpire — which is really where the joke resides in many cartoons.

As for the art, “C minus” cartoons were drawn with a loose, spare line that perfectly matched the humor. The characters don’t have any facial features other than a nose.

That sort of expressionless type of humor has always evaded me. Though Steve is a master of the style. Just Google his editorial cartoons sometime and you’ll see what I mean.

I’ve always found it easier to get a laugh using very broad Tex Avery-like eyes-agog and jaws dropped to the floor. Steve often has to pull me back when I sketch out a “Dustin” strip too broadly.

Getting back to the little book — I’ve gone to the web many times in the past to find out more about “C minus” and his creator, cartoonist John R. Holm. Nothing. Except for a few used book sellers listing yellowed copies of the same book.

As far as I know, it’s the only collection of John R. Holm’s cartoons anywhere, which truly amazes me. Mr. Holms is/was an obvious master cartoonist.

I did find a cartoonist named John H. Holm, who drew a feature called “Woody’s World” in the 60s. I suspect he must have been related to C minus’ creator in some way.

If I find out more, I’ll pass it along here.

Until then, you’ll find a few “C minus” cartoons below for your reading pleasure (click to enlarge)…


One of many cartoons featuring C’s long-suffering girlfriend, Mary Ann…photo 2

As a fledgling surfer at the time, I especially loved the surfing 3 One of us kids took the liberty of coloring a lot of the gags (wasn’t me)… not a bad job, really… and there’s that old 4


Continuity Incongruity

The other day, Steve sent me a closeup photo of a panel from another comic strip (which will remain nameless), where the main character had his right foot at the end of his left leg.

Every cartoonist has made a similar mistake or twelve during their career — left hand on right arm, right-handed character suddenly writing with her left, leaving off a pair of reading glasses in the last panel.

Well, after smugly chuckling under my breath at the sight of the wrong foot on the wrong leg, it was later pointed out by more than a few readers (and Steve) that I committed a lame-brained mistake of my own in our 4/6 Sunday cartoon.

Steve had penned a funny cartoon series chronicling Dustin’s adventures at the DMV two weeks back. The series ran into the next week, requiring a Sunday cartoon at the DMV as well, so Steve came up with a single panel gag of Dustin shooting a selfie to submit as his driver’s license photo.

Here’s where I screwed up. During the entire series of dailies, Dustin is attired in a tie and jacket, but on the follow-up Sunday, he is suddenly wearing his regular banded rugby shirt.



Don’t worry. I’ve given myself a good “dressing down” for it…


More Green Pie, Please?

Dorothy and Toto may not be in Kansas anymore, but hey, “Dustin” is!

Survey results are in, and “Dustin” can now be found lounging around The Topeka Capital-Journal comics lineup. Thank you, Topeka!

The C-J held a comics survey and has published the results in an interesting way — pie charts showing slices of green “Like It,” red “Don’t Like It,” and blue “Take It or Leave It.”

Steve and I hope our new readers in Topeka enjoy “Dustin,” and we’d love it if we might even earn some more green pie as time goes on.