Editorial cartoonists have a special bond forged by our quirky career choices, a commonness of purpose and devotion to this esoteric craft that not even ego clashes, political bent, nor artistic insecurities can override.
I remember when Rex Babin first showed up at an Association of American Editorial Cartoonists convention, and I well recall being impressed by his early work. He possessed striking artistic talent, not like most of us who fake it, getting by on mere snarkiness and sarcasm. Some readers may be surprised that Rex, a California surfer kid, was a registered Republican back then. So much for the liberal media conspiracy.
I remained a big fan for the rest of his career. I was on the Pulitzer jury in 2003 which nominated him as a finalist and was hugely disappointed when he didn't win. He surely should have. When Rex took on the tasks of hosting a convention for editorial cartoonists in Sacramento and of being AAEC president and organizing another convention in Portland I got to know him much better.
This past year, as he battled his mystifying, excruciating disease, he became one of my closest and most admired friends. He tried to teach me things, big, important things about life's priorities, the utter foolishness of wasting energy on, well, the things we all waste it on.
I last saw him three weeks ago at his home. He was in agonizing discomfort, but we walked in the park, watched NCAA hoops, read The Bee and sat in his hot tub. It was in that hot tub that I got a final, poignant look at how bravely he confronted what was clearly by then a losing battle. Groaning in pain to hoist himself in, he settled back with a twisted grimace etched on his face. In a few seconds, the grimace gave way to a soft smile, and Rex opened his eyes, looked at me and said softly: "Life is sweet."
Sweet indeed, and too damned short, sometimes cruelly so. I miss Rex terribly, and I know The Bee readers do, too. I was fortunate to have known him, and since I can't inherit his talent, I can at least try not to waste energy on, well, the things we all waste it on. Thanks, buddy.
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