The Way It Was – The Cartoonist


The Way It Was

“The Cartoonist”
October 14, 1988
Joe Morgan – Columnist

Can’t remember how long ago that I started doodling instead of paying attention in class. It must have been pretty early on as I was constantly standing in the corner doing extra homework…and even occasionally had a paddle applied to my seat of knowledge for those artistic endeavors.

Back in them “golden” days they didn’t have art courses in high school, much less at the elementary level. Hence, my dubious talents were kind of like Topsy. “They just growed.”

1938 wasn’t exactly in the years of affluence, so our school paper was mimeographed. Since I had somehow become the school cartoonist laureate my junior and senior years, I had to become proficient with the stylus and screen blocks as all pics and headlines were laboriously hand cut on the mimeograph stencils.

Happily Charlie Lewis, no mean painter himself in his latter years, encouraged me in an art career, including furnishing plenty of art paper and pencils. A very thoughtful gift to a poor kid, but his words of wisdom were even more thoughtful:

“Nobody will give you any stuff about being an artist if you just keep running that football up and down the field.”

Later when my roommate at M.U., the editor of the Show-Me humor magazine, asked me to do cartoons for him, I asked, “Where’s the stylus and light table?” Smiling patiently, he brought me some India ink and a crow-quill pen so I could make something they could reproduce.

My senior year at Warrensburg I even took some art courses, which opened up a new world of brushes, grease pencils and all sorts of things that I’d never heard of before.

Reporting to Naval pre-flight training at St. Mary’s College, the call went out the first day for an artist with mimeograph training. I wasn’t too big on volunteering, but there were some veiled hints about getting to miss some marches and other noxious details. That sounded good to me and I was soon sitting right back in front of the old A.B. Dick light table again.

Soon we were producing weekly eight-pagers (four of which were cartoons) and I did get to miss a few of the crap details. I was allowed a big of minor glory and loved every minute of it.

When I reported for duty in the Aleutians my journalism career seemed finished, as we didn’t have an indoor toilet, much less a newspaper. However, it did seem like a good idea to draw a cartoon on the envelope of my daily letter to my wife to keep my cartooning hand in shape.

Several months later I began to receive complaints from the home front that my letters were arriving about a month late. Finally it was determined that my envelopes were taking a circuitous route up and down the chain so everybody could sneak a peek before they were delivered on to the States.

In a fit of pique I started drawing them inside. Some complaints later from up and down the chain, we finally compromised on letting everybody look but moving things right along so I wasn’t in trouble back home. After all, I didn’t want to deprive the world of my “magnificent humor.”

Soon I even received some fan letters from the girls at the fleet post office in Seattle. Flattery worked it’s charm on me and in no time I was sending them autographed cartoons.

My golden moment finally came when I returned home for good. The postman at my wife’s parent’s house in K.C. came by one morning and asked to see me.

“I knew that you couldn’t look like those cartoons, but you do have red hair.”

In any event, he tendered a luncheon invitation to my wife and myself from the postmaster himself. We spent a delightful afternoon at lunch and being introduced around the main post office as that cartoonist.

This was my last moment of glory. Soon I was working at an advertising agency doing it for money. Just didn’t seem the same when I wasn’t cartooning for love. Besides, I didn’t get to do aviators anymore. I was now doing cartoon chickens and hogs for a feed company. I bought every Walt Disney comic book in town to figure out how to make chicken wings and pig forefeet into hands.

Oh well, old cartoonists never die. Their India ink just dries up and their brushes get limp.

The Way It Was…First Solo

When my Grandpa Joe was the publisher of the Excelsior Springs Standard and Town & Country Leader, he used to submit a series of writings titled “The Way It Was…” just about each week in the paper. He would tell old stories that our family has come to love over the years. I always enjoyed it because not only did I learn more about things that happened, but I learned more about my grandfather, who was a friend to everyone. Here’s one of my favorites, “First Solo”:  


The Way It Was…
“First Solo”
Joe Morgan
As Spun by the Old Publisher

There’s just something about an unnatural thing like flying an airplane by your self for the first time that brings out a crowd. My dad drove down to Warrensburg for the occasion, my girlfriend, Patty (later my dear Missus) was there as well as other assorted friends. It gave me a rather uneasy feeling somewhat like a Christian at his first lion gathering. However, everything went reasonably well. I got back in one piece. My dad presented me with my first real wristwatch and the real prize was a big hug from Patty.

The more eventful “first” solo was my maiden Naval flight while stationed at the Olathe primary base. They had several breeds of training planes there, all painted a bright yellow and appropriately dubbed yellow perils. For my big event I drew an ancient NP-1. It was told that one could cut the throttle at 500 feet directly over a circle and land right in the middle of it. To make up for this critical lack of ability to glide, they had large loops on the wings, somewhat like a W.W.I. Jennie. This did help keep yellow paint off of the runway, of course.

I had brashly told my dad, Tom, that I would fly down to Excelsior on this first trip and sneaked him a call shortly before takeoff to announce my E.T.A. for this historic flight.

My troubles began when I couldn’t fly straight down Highway 69. I’d burned that road up in the old cleaning truck so much that I probably could have made it blindfolded. But Fairfax was still a Naval base too and it was very verboten for cadet types to pollute the sacred airways around there. I thought about sneaking south and then coming back to the river, but somehow an end run around by Kansas and back by Parkville seemed a better idea. Somehow things don’t look quite the same from above and I almost made it to Cameron before I got started back in the right direction.

If you’ve ever flown over Excelsior in a small plan you’re sure to remember that the valley creates lots of convection currents and makes for pretty bumpy riding. This combined with my inexperience, not to mention my streak that matched the plane, made my two passes over the old hometown rather traumatic.

It was all worthwhile…and patriotic too! I finally spotted my dad behind the cleaning shop mightily waving his giant American flag. Normally reserved for Armistice Day and the Fourth, it was now being unfurled for a fledgling son.


With a trembling, but jaunty, salute…I headed back to the barn. I was already five minutes late and it was no time for any more “short” cuts. I firewalled it right on down 69, over Fairfax and back to Olathe as fast as my archaic machine would take me.

All of the other sheep were long in the fold as lonesome me came in for my approach. At the end of the runway was the “Blue Goose” (a C-54 that took all of the instructors into K.C. for their nightly opportunity to forget cadets). I knew that I was in for real trouble if I held them back from their revelry. In panic I kept hitting the throttle until finally I was clean past the main runway and was actually landing on the parking apron. The area was still under construction and suddenly looming ahead of me was a double row of workers’ cars. At the last moment with a might braking…and a loud ping as the prop grazed the cement, I stopped just short of disaster. I had homed in on a spot with a single row of cars so that I actually had cars parked on both sides of me.

As I started my prayer of thanksgiving it was quickly drowned out by the roar of the Blue Goose overhead as it was finally able to take off.

In a state of stupor, I could only sit there until the lineman came out and pulled me backward until I could taxi in on my own for almost certain retribution. What happened? The duty officer was down drinking coffee and didn’t see my fiasco. The crew just shook their heads as they witnessed another dumb cadet miracle. Remember I never said I was good…just lucky.

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