Second grade was over. Summer claimed us. Endless days of sunshine, running wild across the golf course shoeless--ouch! ouch! stickers! hop! hop!--and running for supper as the sun set. They've been called wonder days. Yet there I lay in bed sick. A fever kept me inside under the covers. I could hear the chatter of my cousins and friends through the open window drifting along with the wavering simmer air. I couldn't join in. I had the mumps.
Beneath my right ear and along my jaw line was a swelling that shot pain through my head. I thought my jaw would rupture. The pain was overwhelming at times. It seemed to go on forever, but it didn't. Eventually the swelling subsided. The pain eased and I began to smile again. It wouldn't last though. The left side of my face began to swell and the fever slipped back. I was in that bed for some time. When my face returned to its natural size, the fever left me and the pain was gone I needed to recuperate. It had left me weak and I wasn't able to join the kids outside.
I had read all my funny books. In those days TV had nothing to offer a kid til late in the afternoon or on Saturday mornings. I sharpened my pencil. I ripped some lined paper from my school notebook. I started to draw. The pictures coming from my pencil included people drawn like balloon animals. No stick figures under a blue line of sky with a yellow radiating circle for me. I gave my figures substance, girth, a rolly polly presence.
Soon I gave them character also. I put a cape on one. Then ears, whiskers and a tail. Mighty Mouse was my favorite comic. It was time for him to have a companion. Someone to help fight the crime in Terrytoon land. I gave him a lasso attached to his side. Then I drew a cape on his shoulders tha formed a V down his chest. Next I gave him a logo embroidered in the V formed by the cape. He boldly stepped forth from my pencil to the blue lined page. Power Mouse was born. Defender of the goofy gopher. Hero to the chattering chipmunk. Nemesis to the stinky skunk and cackling crow. A mighty--oops--powerful foe to all creatures in his universe. Hmmm, universe? He didn't have a universe. It was up to me to provide that universe with the sliding graphite of my magic pencil.
So, to help Power Mouse, Wonder Rabbit burst forth onto the blue lined universe in the making. Dopey Dog and Cobey Cow came to graphite life. PM lassoed CC from passing through the pink line on the left. WR flew to the rescue of DD. Page after page of drawings were caught by the breeze from the open window like the calender leaves in a movie. I drew the entire summer.
When summer was over I returned to RTS--Riverland Terrac School--and the third grade. My new found ability I shared. I would attach my panel of antics on blue lined paper to the bulletin board at the start of class. The world I had created I wanted to share. My teacher removed them and handed them back to me. "We don't have a place for this, Rickey. Please don't put any more up."
I was dumb founded. I made my little world just like in the funny papers. Three squares on a rectangular piece of paper, each square filled with characters and talk balloons. My career as a cartoonist ended with a fizzle.
I continued to draw, but kept them to myself. Power Mouse and his friends faded into memory. He was replaced by meager attempts at likenesses in magazines. I still drew cartoons for fun but they were mine.
Some time in the late 50's a man by the name of Sheldon Mayer began to draw a cartoon called Sugar and Spike. It was premised on babies speaking their own language in goos and burbles. They understood each other though grown ups had no clue. It struck a chord with me. For some reason I thought the creator of this comic would understand. I wrote him a letter filled with my drawings of long neglected mice and rabbits. A few months later I received a letter in the mail. Sheldon Leonard had taken the time to answer a querie from a child. I was overwhelmed. His advice, after telling me how good my drawings were, was to draw constantly and attend college, if possible, to further my knowledge of art. His short answer meant the world to a child with a meager talent. I saved those two pages for years. Sadly, they are gone now.
I did continue. I added paint to that budding career. I bought self-help art books. I bought the John Gnagy Learn to Draw kit. How much I learned was debatable. Then it came. A book of matches. On the cover was a picture of a girl and the words DRAW ME!
I think I can do that, I thought to myself. Taking an unlined sheet of paper I drew it over and over until it was an exact duplicate. The inside of the cover was the promise of the career of a commercial artist. Norman Rockwell was one of the artists who taught through the mail. I could learn from the king of commercial artists by sending this in. It said that if the drawing showed talent I would be accepted by this prestigious correspondence course. Normal Rockwell teaching me. Wow! I sent it in without saying anything to my parents. A couple of days after I promptly forgot it.
Two months later late in the evening the phone rang. I jumped up and answered it.
"Hello. I'd like to speak to Rickey please."
"Well, hello, sir. I'd like to welcome you as a student to our fine Correspondence course."
"The Famous Artists Correspondence Course. You sent in your drawing from our advertisement a couple of months ago."
"Well, it showed real talent. So much so that we enrolled you in our course. If you can send us the first payment of $100 we will send you the first lesson."
"I don't have $100, mister."
"Well you signed a contract."
"You signed a contract. That match book cover has your signiture on the dotted line. It's a valid contract. So if you would send your first payment."
"Uh, I don't have $100. I don't even know how to get $100."
"It's a contract. We need that first payment in the next 30 days. The fist lesson will be mailed out.'
"DAD!!" I yelled. The man was beginning to scare me.
Dad walked into the room. "What's wrong son?" he asked. Tears were forming in my eyes.
"This man says I owe him $100."
"What?! Give us the phone. Hello."
"Hello. To whom am I speaking?"
"This is Rickey's dad."
"I was just telling Rickey that we need the $100 so we cn send the first lesson."
"$100? What are you talking about?" The man on the other end explained to my dad about the match book cover and all the rest. He looked at me as he listened.
"Well, you do know you are talking to a 12 year old don't you?"
"You can't expect my boy to be bound to a contract he signed since he is only twelve now can you?"
"I don't think we have anything else to discuss, do you?"
"I didn't think so. Good bye." He dropped the phone in its cradle.
"Don't worry about it anymore, son. He can't collect from you. That contract isn't legal since you are under age. Maybe you could tell us next time you send in an application?"
"Yes sir," I said.
And my art career flew into the sunset with that phone call.
(As a side note: After that when I saw the ad for the Famous Artist Course there was an addendum--applicant must be 18 or older. I don't think it was that phone call but...)