As I was wrapping up my career as a toy inventor, I drew a newspaper comic called “TRUE!” and I got a call from the editor of a newspaper in Hawaii who was a fan of my TRUE! cartoons that he ran in his newspaper, The MIDWEEK. The editor asked me if I would like to be a local, editorial cartoonist in Hawaii. I said, “Of-course!”
This was my first experience as an editorial cartoonist. The newspaper was unusual, it was a free weekly paper, and it was very popular. The paper had wrested the grocery store and automotive ads from the two dailies; these ads used to run on Wednesdays, so the Midweek came out on Wednesdays, stuffed full of grocery store advertising and coupons. It was delivered free to every address in Hawaii, so everyone read the paper, and I was the local cartoonist on page two for about five years from 1995 through 1999.
I was still living in California, and I worked remotely, pretending to be local. My wife went to high school and college in Hawaii and she helped me with the details. She translated many of my cartoons into Pidgin, and made lots of changes to the clothes the characters wore. We didn’t want the cartoons to look like they came from some crass, mainland Haole. It was great fun drawing local cartoons, and we traveled to Hawaii frequently to visit the in-laws. I love Hawaii – still, I was a mainland Haole. I was a “local” cartoonist with a secret.
Hawaii was the first state to have a vote to legalize gay marriage; it was a hard fought battle and I drew a bunch of cartoons on the subject. One cartoon caused a big fuss; it involved Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street moving to Hawaii to get married. I had worked with the Muppets for nearly twenty years and I knew Bert and Ernie well. Here’s the cartoon …
There was a group of loud, angry Baptists in Hawaii that was spearheading the fight against the gay marriage proposition and my cartoon threw them into a frenzy. They were outraged that I would draw a cartoon that innocent children would see, featuring beloved children’s characters, promoting the terrible sin of homosexuality. (There are a lot of Baptists in Hawaii, and lots of Mormons too.)
The Baptists took their protest to The Midweek’s office building in Kaneohe. They surrounded the newspaper’s building with a loud and angry picket line.
My editor at The Midweek was Don Chapman; he was a great guy. Don called me when the protest was happening. He opened his window and held his phone outside so I could hear the protesters chanting, “SEND OUT THE CARTOONIST! SEND OUT THE CARTOONIST!” If I had been in the building, they might have sent me out, but I was secretly safe at my house in Los Angeles. I had been successful in fooling the angry Baptists into thinking I was local.
The Baptists were pretty nasty. I remember the leader of their group made some misogynistic statements about women, and how wives should be subservient to their husbands, so I drew the cartoon below about the local Baptists, which also made them furious.
The sad end to the story is that the Baptists won, and the first gay marriage vote went down to defeat. Fortunately, it was a the first of many such votes and the tide turned, slowly, until the Supreme Court codified gay marriage.
Every so often I would flirt with someone finding out that I wasn’t really local. Hawaii’s now-Senator Mazie Hirono was the Lieutenant Governor when I was drawing for The Midweek. Her thing at that time was that she was going to cut Hawaii’s infamous “red tape” with an initiative she called “SWAT,” “Slicing Waste And Tape.” Hawaii is over-regulated and getting anything done involves a maze of entrenched bureaucracy. Mazie didn’t make much progress moving this bureaucratic mountain, but she thought she did, so I drew this cartoon …
Mazie was plenty mad at me! She called The Midweek to get my phone number then she called me up. She was ranting, in a heavy local accent, about how I had gotten everything wrong and how she was making great progress in cutting red-tape. Then she paused. I was in California with area code (818). Hawaii has area code (808). In the middle of her rant, Mazie says, “What’s wrong with your phone number?!” I could hear the wheels were turning in her mind. “Should be 808! Not 818!” she blurted. The call didn’t last much longer.
Mazie never called me again. I think she was the only one who figured out my secret.