Before we had this fancy schmancy Internet and the attendant websites, we had letters to the editor. Not “comments.” Letters. Signed, with addresses. Or not.
Like comments, letters to the editor were/are either crazy, brilliant, bloviating, abusive, accurate, scolding, badly written, scrawled, neatly typed, appearing on letterhead, napkins, prison mailers, scented stationery, or ripped from the newspaper. Anything that wasn’t signed with a real name and a verifiable address did not appear in the paper. Period.
Of course, we read all of them, name and address or not. One of the most amusing letters I ever got was from a woman who said she most certainly would be interested in Dating Me after I had so brilliantly caricatured her at the bar the other night.
The thing is, it didn’t happen. There was some guy at a bar, pretending to be me, who was indeed a very good artist and seemed to have a good line of patter. The late cartoonist Jeff MacNelly told me he also had a bar cartoonist Lothario doppelganger as well, and he did very well indeed. Another man in the Portland metro area, a local NRA organizer, wrote me numerous times, vaguely threatening to shoot me.
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I sent the letters to the police.
A few years later, I heard the same NRA guy happily chatting away on the radio in an NPR story.
He was a Gingrich presidential campaign organizer.
Forgive and forget, right?
Another time, a poor elderly woman in Oregon became obsessed with her certain knowledge that I was her long-lost son from the 1940s (I was born in 1960). She sent me many letters and presents. It was heart-breaking.
Most of my personal communications (letters, e-mails, and comments) from Bee readers is very positive, but there are many that do not fit that description. I’d say it breaks down 80-20 positive to negative.
1. I liked your cartoon.
2. Can you come talk to my Rotary Club/high school class/Soroptimist/California Association of People Who Meet Regularly group?
3. I have a cartoon idea, and it’s about __________________. (Sometimes, this is accompanied by a request for a small honoraria).
4. I like your work, but is your hair really like that?
a. a communist.
b. a Nazi.
c. a Democrat.
d. a Republican.
e. a liberal.
f. a fascist.
g. a liar.
h. the Anti-Christ.
i. an Oregonian.
j. (some form of mental illness or intellectual debility)
k. a bad artist.
l. clearly not a Californian.
m. clearly not human.
2. I think that about covers it.
As newspapers entered the digital age, we noted that many of the commenters on our stories and cartoons were, shall we say, tart. Sometimes pungent. And mostly anonymous. After all, it’s a lot easier to insult people when you are behind a curtain.
Unlike me, or anyone else here.
We sign our stuff.
That doesn’t necessarily mean I care if you do or you don’t. It’s cool. It’s just that, like you, I would take your comments more to heart if they were signed with your real name, not a handle. But, again, I put my name on it, I own it, and I am willing to take what comes in.
And, if you’re impersonating me at the bar, I would appreciate it if you were polite.