Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Cartoonist's Tale

Word reaches us that Bill Burke, noted cartoonist for the Cape Cod Times and freelancer for Mad Magazine among many others, died last week following a brief illness. He was too young and full of laughter for this to happen.

Burke was a close friend of a relative of ours on Cape Cod. While we didn't know him personally, over the years we certainly heard a lot about him and followed his career with great interest.

In fact, we were privileged to receive as a Christmas present an incidental doodle tossed off by Bill Burke just a few years ago. It was typical Burke: profane, a little obscene, hilarious, and yet thought-provoking.

The story is brief. Our relative, as was his frequent habit, stopped by Burke's Cape Cod home one morning for coffee. On a side table he happened to spy a copy of The Watchtower, that ubiquitous publication of Jehovah's Witnesses that clutters many a doorway. Whether you are religious or not, all of us should agree that Jehovah's Witnesses is a courageous sect that, as Wikipedia notes, has "had a major influence on U.S. constitutional law concerning civil liberties and conscientious objection to military service."

Our relative glanced at The Watchtower and at first didn't think much of it. Knowing Billy's agnostic predilections, he assumed, as anyone might, that Billy had found the handout inside his door and just tossed it on a table.

Then he did a double-take. At some point, Burke must have been idly doodling on the cover; probably as he was contemplating the phenomenon of hypocrisy -- that vast gulf between what people say and what they really think. It's a common theme for many of the better cartoonists of our era, and certainly was a favorite of Burke's.

Lucky for us, when he saw how heartily our relative was laughing at the unconscious doodle, he happily handed over his Watchtower to our relative, who later packaged it as a Christmas present for us. We consider it one of the more memorable holiday gifts we have ever received:

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