Cuba, A Concerto in C-Sharpie, and Major Mo’jo

By Jeremy Meltingtallow

The blog version of the Charming-Yet-Infrequent Newsletter

In this installment:

-My trip to Cuba, and who manned the pen while I was gone

-The Concerto in C-Sharpie

-Better than the First Robin of Spring


My trip to Cuba, and who manned the pen while I was gone:

So while I was in Cuba last month with a group of dynamic cartoonists, I had an

equally dynamic guest cartoonist take over my strip.

Since there is a month lag time between drawing the strips and when their appearance

in the newspaper, this coming Monday will be the BIG DEBUT.

So, who filled my sized-nine shoes? (Which happen to be a whopping size 40 by

European standards…)

None other than the Caldecott-winning, Emmy-winning, Oversized-Panda-At-The-Carnival-winning… Mo Willems!!

Mr. Don’t-Let-The-Pidgeon-Drive-The-Bus branched away from his characters to create

seven funny stand-alone strips, and a I pleased as punch with them.

Check Mo out here.

Mo's creations


But wait, there’s more.  Onto the Cuba trip itself…

There were six of us, and we were in Havana for the week.  Wait, you say, what

about the embargo?  Americans can’t go to Cuba!  Fear not, we were there legally, as

part of a cultural exchange spearheaded by the dynamic Jeannie Schulz, widow of

Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schulz.

We mingled with talented cartoonists, toured Havana, drank Cuban rum, smoked

Cuban cigars and took in a city with a complicated rich history.

Here are some photos:

The group-- Justin Thompson, Brian Narelle, Tom Richmond, Alexis (Lex) Fajardo, Hilary Price and Jeannie Schulz.

Some of the restored Spanish colonial architecture in one of the plazas of Old Havana.

A shot of old Havana from the Malecon, which is the sea-side walkway. There are many, many old American from the 50s cars still running in Havana. There are a couple of reasons why: After the US embargo in 1962, no new American autos could be sold to this island, which is 90 miles away from Florida. When Fidel Castro nationalized everything, Cubans couldn't buy new cars for themselves, but were allowed to keep what they already had. There are more modern "foreign" cars on the road, but most of them are at least twenty years old. Today, the fact that Cubans need government's permission to own a car, as well as the fact that they are well out of the average Cuban's financial reach, make for a very different set-up than the one we have in the States. Many use the bus, bicycles and taxis to get around.

This bicycle taxi is used by both natives and tourists to get around.

A "before" shot of a Spanish Colonial. Cuba's economy was hit hard when the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1990s, as all of the subsidies the USSR provided disappeared. Since Castro opened up Cuba to more tourism at the start of this millenium, there is a little more money to restore these buildings. Still, Cuba is a poor country and there are many dilapidated structures all over the city.

Che Guevara's iconic image was all over the city, much more so than Fidel. In the same was the US has its revered founding fathers, Che is Cuba's symbol of an ideal where people are more important than money.

Jeannie Schulz in front of an old hearse at the city's cemetery. In Havana, everyone get a chance to be entombed in the beautiful old cemetery for two years. After that, your body is exhumed, cremated, and put in an urn. A novel approach!

A portrait of Mikhail Gorbachev by Adan, an editorial cartoonists at the newspaper Juventud Rebelde. Coca-cola and Mickey Mouse rivaled Uncle Sam as the most commonly used symbols of Westernization that I was in Cuba.

Tom Richmond, Lex and I sample the mojitos and cigars. Tom's blog on Cuba talk about or fascinating tour of the factory. What struck me as so non-American is how we got to touch everything in the factory. There were no velvet ropes or animatronic robots depicting people working.

We visited the mosaic sculpture garden/house of artist Jose Fuster. He has not only "mocaiced" his entire home, but the ones across the street and down the block. I loved it the cartoony quality. When I was in Italy in 2001, I saw the mosaic sculpture garden of Niki de Saint Phalle. You must check them both out!


Tom Richmond's wife Anna packed tummy meds for the trip, and she didn't mess around with drug names. The Ex-Lax was simply labelled "ON" and the Imodium was labelled "OFF."

For more takes on the adventure, I’m going to ride on the blogging coat tails of

two other cartoonists in the group, Lex Fajardo and Tom Richmond.

There’s also an informative (as well as critical) take on the US/Cuba embargo here.

(Fidel is no peach, so I’m sure there are more hawkish articles out there as to why the embargo should remain.  Further study is up to you.)


Concerto in C-Sharpie

This fall, awesome cartoonist Dave Coverly celebrated his 15th year drawing

Speedbump by performing with the Kalamazoo Orchestra, playing the Sharpie!  And

now it’s finally on YouTube!

Dave writes, “Generally, I have music on in the background when I draw. Generally, I do not have a live band behind me, 1,200 people in front of me, and 4 minutes to finish an entire cartoon.”

What’s cool for me is that I was in Michigan this summer and held the stop watch while Dave drew on copy paper to see if he could get a whole cartoon done in the time it took for the orchestra to play that piece.  Very impressive.


Better than the First Robin of Spring

Seltzer the Cat

We can almost smell it… Spring is coming.  My fluffy white cat Seltzer reminds me of Spring in several ways.  First, based on the millions of tufts of hair I find all over the house, I believe he is half cat, half milkweed.   (You will see that thought in cartoon form the second week of March.)  And while he is fluffy and white and cute, don’t be fooled by his girly facade– if a song described him, it would be Johnny Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue.”

So when I need a Spring fix, I often think of last season’s harbinger:  Seltzer walks through the cat door with dirt over one eye and twigs stuck in his fur. This is nothing unusual.  What is unusual is when we brush out his belly and… off falls an earthworm.  Welcome Spring!