I am worse at drawing than pretty much anyone in the world. I draw at about the level of a pre-schooler, but I’m 57. I have no sense of perspective, I can’t draw to match reality, I can’t do anything. But once, when I was a teenager, I realized I could draw a fly. I’d first draw two tear-shaped wings with one stroke … they looked like a heart with a line down the middle. Then I’d fill in a little dot at the point of the heart … that was the fly’s body. Finally, I’d toss a few short straight lines above the wings to indicate the action of the wings moving. It looked something like this … understand, I’m using Paint here, and I’m even worse with that software than I am drawing by hand:
We would draw these on anything … I remember when Robin and I went on our first “date” for her 15th birthday, she made herself a cake and put a fly on the frosting.
One day I came up with an idea for a comic strip. It had four panels … this was because unless I drew a rectangle and cut it into fours, I wouldn’t know where to draw. I had to draw a man, which was a bit hard for me … I’ll try to do it with Paint:
The cartoon had a plot. It went something like this (one last time, I suck at Paint, but the original versions did not look any better, I promise):
That was it. Rather existential, don’t you think? I came up with plenty of sequels … in one, a pair of scissors appeared and cut off Man’s tongue, in another, the final panel showed only Fly, who apparently had won that round.
This was more than 40 years ago.
Well, not long ago, one of my partners in crime from those formative years, Dub Debrie, mailed me a page from a New Yorker of a few months back. It was by Arnie Levin, and it was a professional job, much like the drawings you see in the New Yorker … Levin has drawn for them for a long time. There were five panels. In the first, a man was reading a book while a fly buzzed in front of him. In the second and third panels, the man tried to brush away the fly with his hand. And then, in the fourth panel, we see the fly, still buzzing, and the man, whose tongue is outstretched so the fly now sits on the tip of the man’s tongue.
The final panel showed the man once again reading his book. The fly is nowhere to be seen.
You can understand why Dub thought I should see this.
I hunted down the cartoon’s creator and sent him a message, explaining why we were so delighted at the confluence of his drawing and mine, separated by several decades and many, many levels of artistic ability. I asked him if he remembered his inspiration for the cartoon. This morning, he replied. He said that he was watching Once Upon a Time in the West, and at one point during the legendary opening, Jack Elam catches an annoying fly in his gun barrel. Elam listens to the fly, trapped in his gun, and Levin said that to him, Elam looked like an iguana and that he should therefore catch the fly with his tongue. Thus, a comic was born!
This goes into the My Day Is Made Dept.
Here is that opening scene.