An 8-page article about the last small commercial pineapple farm in the continental U.S., plus the history of pineapples in Florida and around the world. CLICK HERE to read (from the June 2021 issue of Vero Beach Magazine).
This year’s calendar focuses on an issue from the past year (hint: virus). But for the first time ever, you get three choices: a looking-back version, a looking-forward version, or — maybe you’ve had enough of all this — neither!
• CLICK on nothing
Read/download a four-page PDF of an article I wrote and photographed for the May issue of Vero Beach Magazine: [CLICK HERE]
Kids draw what they know — themselves, their family, maybe a house with the sun shining above it. When it comes to drawing people, boys mostly draw boys and girls mostly draw girls. That goes for race as well. There are exceptions, of course, but the basic idea is that children’s drawings reflect who they are and the world around them.
When I became a professional illustrator, I got a crash course in moving beyond that. It came in the mid-to-late 1980s, when I started getting a lot of work drawing illustrations for grade school textbooks.
Right around that time, the major publishers had developed a new editorial approach. It required the content of their books to include a broad mix of people — all races, sexes, body types, hair styles, ages, physical abilities, and so on. Also, professional stereotypes were out the window. A black man could be a professor, a Hispanic woman could be a doctor, a white man could be a nurse. The goal: to have every kid represented in the books and to present any profession as a possibility to anyone.
There weren’t quotas. Each illustrator just had to remember to mix it up. If you hadn’t drawn an American Indian girl in a while, draw one. About the only rule was to avoid exaggerated features than reinforced racial stereotypes. On the flip side, you didn’t want to draw the same face over and over, just coloring it a different shade of brown or peach.
Work would be assigned in batches, like 20, 50, or 100 illustrations at a time. The repetitiveness of the work made that “mix-it-up mindset” stick, and it crossed over into my other work. Illustration assignments outside of textbooks wouldn’t often specify race or sex. So I consciously varied it on my own.
I remember one gratifying moment about 10 years later, when the approach paid off. I was talking to a high school art class about being an illustrator, and I’d brought along six of my illustrated maze books to show as examples.
At the end of my talk, a girl came up to me and asked, “I bet you don’t draw any women characters?” It was the kind of “gotcha” moment I’d heard of, because a lot of media at the time wasn’t very inclusive. But she didn’t get the answer she expected.
I opened Mastermind Mazes and showed her the main character, a woman scientist named Sara Bellum. Next to her was her male assistant, Sir Rebral. The girl was surprised, but even more so when I opened another book, Double-Cross Mazes. The main character in that one was Avery Waverly, an African-American TV host. The girl who’d asked me was also African-American.
Thanks to the experience of working for the textbook publishers, I wasn’t guilty of what she expected. And I’d like to think it offered that girl a ray of hope that she wasn’t always going to be ignored as a woman or as an African-American. I don’t really know because she didn’t say another word. I got the feeling she’d asked that question before, but it was the first time she’d gotten that response.
The fact is, we’re a very diverse country. It’s nice when we can accept and embrace that — and not just in the media. It’s even more important in our personal interactions and in public forums, because … we’re all here bobbing about in the same boat.
Tens of people look forward to my mouse calendar each year. If you’re here to download the 2020 installment, count yourself among the discerning few.
As with last year’s effort, I aimed to keep the rodent infestation from getting out of hand (it takes less time to draw). Hence, the mouse count is below my 30-something-year average … although with a count of 22, it doubles last year’s puny total!
Without further ado, here are the PDFs of this year’s mousterpiece:
The mouse calendar tradition continues, this year setting a record for the fewest number of mice ever: 11. That’s not even one mouse per month.
Feel free to download and print this useful item in either refrigerator and bread box size. As always, it’s color-free to spare your printer.
Check out Patrick Merrell’s new website, ORTS, a collection of new, never-used, and repurposed material from his 38 years as a freelance illustrator, graphic designer, writer, and puzzlemaker.
You’ll find a new post every day Monday through Friday, plus interesting tidbits in the sidebar column, Orts Shorts.
Patrick Blindauer, fellow Patrick and crossword constructor, is offering up a great new Kickstarter project. Watch his video and read all the details HERE. But hurry — there are only a few days left to make it happen!
Back by scattered demand — the 20-somethingth annual mouse calendar, this year performing ZEP in the Curse of the Evil Dr. Sumac Who Lives Next Door (follow along with the book!):
To celebrate 35 years of professional puzzlemaking, I’ve put together PDF versions of two books I created in 2005 (for St. Martin’s Press and Random House). Punchline Puzzles contains 50 crosswords with an original cartoon in the center of each grid. AHA! is 125 pages of “clever crossword clue” puzzles. $10 each, both for $18. CLICK HERE for more info and to download samples.
It was a beautiful setting in a large room on the top floor of the Vaughn Center at the University of Tampa. Twenty-foot-high floor-to-ceiling windows along two walls provided sweeping views of the surrounding area … as much as you could see given the rainy weather, which was torrential at times.
People mingled from 5:00 to 6:00, munching on hors d’oeuvres while Liz Hollister and John Minor played guitar and sang songs in the background. A slide show of Merl tidbits played in a continuous loop on a large screen at the front of the hall. From 7:00 until 9:00, a fittingly eclectic mix of friends shared reminiscences about Merl. There were many laughs and a few tears.
Robert Miles, an international keynote speaker, served as master of ceremonies. Six others followed: Al Scudieri, a former FBI special agent; Jeffrey Walters, whose wife Merl had made a special puzzle for; Vic Fleming, a district judge and crossword constructor; Patrick Creadon, the director of Wordplay; myself, with a notebook filled with 400 writings collected from the crossword community; and Bill Duryea, an editor at politico.com. Marie Haley finished things up with some poignant thoughts.
About a dozen of us, including Marie, had dinner together afterwards at a nearby hotel, Le Méridien, telling more stories. Toward the end, Judge Vic pulled out his guitar and serenaded us into the night with a rendition of “If You Don’t Come Across.”
A video of the speeches, taken by Nancy Shack, can be seen HERE.
In this week’s People magazine, I’ve got a crossword puzzle with a “star of Everest” as its theme. I’ll have additional puzzles appearing every three weeks.
In the October issue of MAD magazine, I’ve got a Donald Trump poem (a sound bite-friendly four lines long). I also put together many of the articles, as part of a summer stint working there, and managed to sneak one of my mice onto a page. Can you find it?