Cartoonist's body slowing, but his drawings can move.
Diagnosed at 43
Parkinson's disease caught up with me in 2002, when I was 43. Shortly after my initial diagnosis I got a visit from an old friend. A person of warmth and intelligence, he is someone whose judgment I trust. He predicted a fruitful, if difficult time, based on experience with others who had faced severe illness. I appreciated the comfort offered, but deep down I filed this under "Yeah, right."
Six years down the road my friend is looking clairvoyant. Since my diagnosis, I have been surfing my strongest creative roll, period.
But first, I had to slam into a wall. Pain began to hedge me in. Repetitive strain problems that I have no doubt were Parkinson's driven arrived at the point where my resourceful and bright ergonomics doctor ran out of ideas that would keep me drawing.
This was a double blow, first because drawing has been a large part of my self identity since I was a second-grader. And second, as editorial cartoonist at the time for the Anchorage Daily News and now as a freelance cartoonist, it's been my living for 25 years. I wasn't ready to give it up to PD.
I had one last reed to grasp. At work we are badgered to sit in an ergonomically correct wayâ€”something that I slid by as the rare bird who didn't sit at a keyboard. I knew that there were electronic drawing pads that would enable me to approximate this platonic ideal of posture while drawing. Using the pad, I can keep my elbows in a natural comfortable angle while holding my head level to look a computer screen, where drawings unfold in a way that is magical.
When I pitched this idea to my doctor, a look of relief crossed his face. He smiled, and replied that the idea would work. And so far, it does.
Drawing while watching the screen, instead of your hands, is no big trick. When you take classes, you are taught to draw while looking elsewhere. Mastering the program that allows you to draw on the screen (I use Photoshop) was a different story. But that is where I really got lucky. My wife is not only a Photoshop ace, she is also a patient teacher.
Whenever I got stuck, bewildered, frustrated or exhausted, Pam would sort things out. Eventually I arrived at my goal of being able to produce work on the computer that was indistinguishable from my pre-computer cartoons.
When I arrived at that lofty peak, that dearly bought goal, that ultimate moment when I finally was able to reproduce the old style, I was rewarded with a moment of clarity. I realized that recreating my old look was a stupid idea.
Take a two thousand dollar machine, equip it with some of the most sophisticated software available, and turn it into a fifty cent pen. Brilliant, wouldn't you agree?
Since then I have been on a full-scale creative bender, exploiting the color, texture and effects that the computer makes possible. In the past year I have even been able to add in sound and motion, thanks to the animation program, Flash.
The world is accelerating while my body is braking. But at least my drawings can move.
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