Monday, September 19, 2011

R.I.P Tom Wilson Sr.

I came across this article today where beloved, and sometimes hated, cartoonist Tom Wilson Sr. of Ziggy fame passed away.

I say sometimes hated because I know more people that hated Ziggy than loved him. However, from my point of view, any guy who can figure out a way to make it in the cartoon world, and make money at it, deserves some sort credit.

Despite how crappy the cartoons are perceived in some circles, the man gets my respect.

Wilson, who was a creative director at American Greetings for more than 30 years, first got his break at the age of 38 (which is good to read since I'm 39) when Ziggy first appeared in 1969 in a cartoon collection called When You're not Around .

Two years later and Ziggy was syndicated and, well, the rest is history.

When I worked as a copywriter for the Dispatch Marketing Deptartment in 2003, our VP of marketing had this brilliant idea to bring a local, award-winning cartoonist to speak at an account function hosted by the Columbus Dispatch.

Two or three months prior to this fantastic idea, we had the opportunity of seeing Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist and Mother Goose & Grimm creator Mike Peters speak at a separate Dispatch function.

Peters, a very great speaker and entertainer, took us through a number of his personal political cartoons and added a couple fun quips about each cartoon. He had the entire crowd laughing. I noticed a couple of Dispatch execs (who will not be named at this time) spit up coffee while laughing at Peter's on-stage antics.

So, our VP thought he could capture that lightning in a bottle once again by asking Tom Wilson Sr.'s son, Tom Wilson Jr. to come up and speak. Wilson Jr. took over the reigns of the popular comic strip in 1987 after his father Wilson Sr. couldn't complete the daily demands of writing and drawing Ziggy.

So, we made the phone calls, set up the times and sent out the invitations and three months later, Wilson Jr. was driving up from Cincinnati to give a speech in Columbus.

I first met Wilson at the Dispatch Marketing Building. To be honest, I was expecting an old man with gray hair, thick glasses and a humpback from drawing over his cartoon table for years and years. Of course, I was thinking about the original Tom Wilson Sr. and forgot that we invited Tom Wilson Jr. - the current Ziggy cartoonist over.

Tom Jr. was a tall, thin, fit-looking man. He had all of his hair and, surprisingly, it wasn't even white. We shook hands and proceeded to take a small tour of the facilities.

Then, Wilson Jr., the VP of marketing and myself hopped into a car and headed out to the Wolfe's private lodge where they conduct a number of private Dispatch functions. Think, the Eyes Wide Shut mansion without the hard-core sex and you get an idea of the place.

We talked about cartoons, the ever-declining newspaper industry, his new company Character Matters and - of course - his father.  When we arrived at the Lodge, a number of account reps and other people greeted him warmly at the door. We proceeded to eat a decent lunch and then it was Wilson's time to shine.

As nicely as I can possibly say this, Tom Jr. was no Mike Peters. He stormed out of the gates like Barbaro at the Preakness Stakes...awkward and clumsy. He wheeled out this pretty big overhead projector and drew one picture of Ziggy. That's it just one picture of Ziggy smelling a flower. Then he talked - more like mumbled - a little bit about the philosophy of Ziggy and the cartoon industry.

Put it this way, no one was spitting up any coffee by insane laughter.

However, noticing a lapse in the excitement factor of Wilson Jr. and his non-crazy shenanigans, our fearless VP of Marketing (or was it our fearless Marketing Director?) leaped into action and asked the crowd if there were any questions for Mr. Wilson.

I rose my hand and asked a question about the newspaper industry. Pretty much, it was the same thing we talked about on the car ride over. And he responded eloquently. The crowd perked up and started paying more attention. And some other people started to wave their hands to ask questions. And a couple more. And a couple more.

About 15-20 different people asked Wilson Jr. questions, to which Wilson responded in a lively, congenial and actually pretty funny manner. People actually laughed at his remarks - with the beginning of the presentation a distant speck on the horizon in the rear-view mirror.

At the end of the Q&A, Wilson Jr. received a healthy appluase and proceeded to draw customized Ziggy drawings for everyone willing to stand in line. The event ended on a high note and everyone in attendance was pleasantly surprised.

So, although I didn't meet Tom Wilson Sr. I did get a chance taste of cartoon royalty by meeting his son.

Which, I guess you can either respect me or pity me depending on what you feel about the cartoon.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Money, Inflation and Mo' Money

By no means am I well versed in economics.

Here's what I know. Things cost money. In order to buy things, you must make money. In order to make money, you need to do some sort of job. Then, after you get your first paycheck, you realize the stuff you really want costs more money than you have.

So you want more money. So you work harder for more money. But things get more expensive, so the more money you make, the more money you spend on the same things that are increasing exponentially in price every single year, every single month.

Which brings me to Giant Eagle. Doesn't it seem like every item at Giant Eagle costs about $4.00. I know I'm being facetious, but maybe I'm not. To add to that thought, Why does a cart of groceries at Giant Eagle cost about $300, but you can go down the street to Marc's (or whatever your local cheap-o grocery mart is called) and get the exact same groceries, and more, for about $150?

But, I digress.

This past weekend I sat down with my Dad to discuss money, inflation and well, mo' money. Not the movie, the idea.

But first a little history lesson. I grew up in Martins Ferry, Ohio, which is a small little town near Wheeling, W.Va. The economy started to go belly up when the steel industry went kaput in the early 80's. As the steel and coal money dried up, so did the once-prosperous towns and villages along the Ohio River. Although a beautiful area with lots of rolling hils and historic landmarks, the area hasn't really been the same since.

"Dad," I asked my Dad. "How much were you making in the 80's."

My dad, who retired after 35 years as a delivery dude for United Parcel Service, gave me a number between $40,000 and $70,000. For that particular time, it was pretty decent money. In fact, I would consider my Dad's annual payload during the 80's above average for Belmont County.

We weren't starving, we could afford nice clothes, we could afford the latest video game systems (e.g. Colecovision, Atari 2600, Intellivision) and we could even afford a nice pair of $100 Air Jordans every time back-to-school season came around.

"So, you had two cars, two kids in school and a wife that was a homemaker, correct?" I continued.

My Dad nodded.

"You also had credit card payments, a mortgage, utility payments, gas to fill up both cars and cable bills, right?"

"We didn't have cable," he said.

"Oh, yeah, I almost forgot," I said, duly noting my faux paus. "Well, despite all of these payments and a one-income family, did you ever have any money left over after you paid the bills?"

"Oh yeah," My dad exclaimed. Then he thought about this for a moment and said, "We probably had an extra $100 to $200 to spare."

"Every month?" I asked.

"No," he said. "Every week."

I did a spittake of beer, which sprayed all over my mortgage, my utitity bills, my car payments and my gas payments...and my dad.

My dad's story just goes to prove my point...a little bit.

Back in the 80's, and even possibly the early 90's, money went a long way. And 'by a long way' I mean you could pay for all of your bills and even have some scratch left over to do something fun - like say going to the movies, or even heading out to Cedar Point....WORRY FREE!

Nowadays, more or less, we're making the same amount of money that people made back in the 80's and early 90's. However, we're paying out much, much more to the government, the gas station man, the utility man and, sadly,  the credit card man.

Okay, maybe we're making a teeny-tiny bit more. But, it doesn't make any difference. Show me a married couple with kids that's making $100,000 a year or less, and I'll show you a couple that's struggling to make ends meet.

Seriously. It's fucking expensive to live.

Check this out, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual report on Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States, real median household income in 2010 was $49,445, a 2.3 percent drop from 2009. Since 2007, real median household income has dropped 6.4 percent.

Forty-nine thousand four hundred and forty-five dollars? That's about $4,120 a month. About $950 a week. AND THAT'S BEFORE TAXES!!!!!!

Let me be the first to say, "That fucking sucks!"

I shared this newfound knowledge with my wife the other day. She took it in, thought about it for a couple minutes, than simply said

"That's terrible," she said. "How would you live? How could you live?"

She's right. Obviously people are living. They're eating and scraping by. Some may even be living relatively comfortable by budgeting the money that comes in, and working a second job.

But, there are many families living below that median income as well, which is scary.

Gone are the days when the wife (or husband) stays at home to raise the kids - all the while not making some sort of money (In-House Day Care perhaps?). It seems nowadays you need a two-person income to simply make ends meet in this high-inflation world.

And, speaking of inflation, if we're going by this article in the New York Times, food and gasoline prices are continuously on the rise in the United States, it ain't going to get any easier to pay for these things.

And I'm not going to even talk about peak oil or paying for my kids' college education or my (shudder) 401K.

Those are three little jokes that I'll have to save for another entry.

I'm not sure why I decided to write about this topic. Maybe it's been on my mind for a couple weeks, a couple years, a couple decades. No matter how hard you try to get out of 'owing the man', the man keeps pushing you back down.

Well, gotta go.

How to Make it In America is on HBO.

It's time to get schooled.