The Rise of ALDER-MAN: Just how far can a cartoonist take things? Years after establishing a reputation as an “activist” political cartoonist, I kinda sorta took things above and beyond by donning cape and tights to become ALDER-MAN, defender of truth, justice and my hometown’s way. I even had my own “Batmobile” to match!
“ALDER-MAN” was not planned. Teaching a two-week “whiz kids” cartooning course at a local college, I rented a super hero costume to model for a figure-drawing lesson, adding a stick-on “A” for “artist.”
These kids were too young for nude models, so a super hero presented the perfect solution. This worked like a charm, but after the class and still in costume, I dropped by city hall, my hangout as an alderman (or selectman, or councilman, as some call it). There I’d encounter my camera-carrying newspaper editor pal — a Humphrey Bogart sound-a-like — and the rest, as they say, became history. “ALDER-MAN” was officially born when photographs appeared in the local paper a week later.
I’d unwittingly merged reality with fantasy, becoming the ultimate “living cartoon.” This presented an ideal solution to a troublesome issue: conflict between artist and politician. “Surely when my constituents see this,” I reasoned, “my days as an elected official will be ended.”
The problem? I was increasingly defined by politics, rather than art. My artistic development was skewing through a barrage of stuffed shirt committee meetings, and something had to give. Back then I drew via sight rather than anatomical foundation, and that required some effort.
Unexpectedly, my self-destruct button backfired. Most folks (read: voters) embraced ALDER-MAN, so much so that four years later he’d sail to a surprise upset victory in a much bigger county board election as “COUNTY-MAN!” Plus, I finally accomplished something else, a goal long forgotten: I now could — and did — draw super hero-oriented comic strips for local newspaper publication. After years of favoring political cartoons over super hero adventure strips, Ye olde editor was finally INTERESTED and I was too, even if some compromise was involved.
ALDER-MAN was for real — complete with his own super power: a God-given ability to draw!
Contrary to popular belief, ALDER-MAN made few appearances in costume — perhaps once a year at city hall meetings — and usually around Halloween, to the chagrin of some. After delivering a sewer plug to a needy citizen, he expressed disappointment that I wasn’t wearing my cape. But aside from crashing a parade or two (uninvited), the spandex-clad avenger also appeared in the local “police vs businessmen annual short track race,” running a donated race car jalopy — in full costume — during the heats and grand finale demolition derby.
Firing up the main event, ALDER-MAN lept from race car to race car, landing on hoods prior to its start. During racing and special events he endured collisions, flipped his car and even snuffed out occasional fires.
This beat being chained to an ink-splattered drawing board in some dank basement, and very few comics artists can claim to know the actual sensation of a cape flapping through headwinds in life or death situations.
Racing on a NASCAR-sanctioned short track was governed by the same laws of physics pro NASCAR drivers faced, with similar adrenalin rushes, and I believed I felt how an actual super hero might feel at the time. I wore the cloth and flew the fly!
Other politicians soon saw themselves in my drawings as super heroes, with the local mayor portrayed as “Mighty Mayor.” Illinois Governor Jim Thompson appeared as a super hero in the “Race for Saturn” comic book series promoting my hometown’s bid for the GM Saturn plant. Years later my city’s “extraordinary” economic development posturing — largely nonexistent until the Saturn comic book emerged — was written up in USA Today.
By then a county board member and no longer on city council, I charged the city $950 to produce the second 4-page edition (after donating the first.) That book eventually generated $950 THOUSAND in a revolving loan jobs grant program courtesy of the state of Illinois — a 1,000% return.
“ALDER-MAN” worked for a number of reasons. Normal folks (non-comic book fanatics) saw superheroes as pure good-deed doers in the spirit of the 1960s Superman. Plus, I was known in my community, with a ten year record of cartoon/political credibility. Thirdly, I kept those costumes simple, conservative and to the point. One might inquire “If given the chance, would you do this again?” I actually tried ten years ago, as “Captain CRACKED.” This generated attention, but in all honesty…I was never that keen on tights. Wearing that stuff was a means to an end, like many actors think today. But it worked great at a bar as I’d power up with a Coors.
Nowadays I’m too d*mned old for these stunts, having since embraced the sport coat “old man” sea captain look. As a caricature artist, that’s an image I’m totally comfortable with. More importantly, Captain Cartoon works, and that’s the bottom line.
For any instructor thinking of wearing super hero tights to figure drawing art classes, a word of caution: With kids, it’s not an issue, but if you’re teaching an adult-education class and you’ve struck an action pose, then suddenly realized how pretty some of those 20-something gal students really are, that could become a problem. This being a blog and not a book, I wish I had more space to post more ALDER-MAN graphics. Stay tuned, the best is yet to come as all cartoon H— breaks loose!
Next: Part 5: Dick Kulpa’s Greatest Cartoon