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'Tooned in to his artistic side Richard Peña | Sat, Feb 18 2012 12:00 PM

Joe Schmidt and I were colleagues of sorts. That is, we worked for the same establishment in the same era for a good period of time. I wrote a column and he was the cartoonist at The Star-News back in the '90s. Oddly, enough, though we saw each other’s offerings each week in the paper we had never met in person.

We took care of this oversight the other day when we met at the Bonita Museum. Schmidt would qualify as one of those “most interesting people” of whom we occasionally write about. He is a local product—a Southern Californian, attended most of his schools in the Los Angeles area that included Long Beach State and then finished up at San Diego State. His wife, Sue, is also home-grown, having attended Hilltop High School.  Schmidt retired from the Sweetwater School District where he was an art instructor for many years.

Schmidt will tell you right up front that he is a cartoonist.  But in the next sentence he will also state that he is an artist. I suppose that this comes around because of the many discussions fine arts aficionados have had arguing the subject. He states that almost any cartoonist is an artist but few artists are cartoonists. This is, of course, an arguable point. It takes us back to the “beans or no beans” as an ingredient in chili.  The choice has never been determined.

In retrospect on examining the various subjects one can see Schmidt’s point.  A cartoonist can, with one line, change the entire expression of an individual and in doing so alter the meaning of the strip or picture.  He cites, as an example, the work of Charles Schulz, the Charlie Brown creator who was an expert at it.  With a few quick strokes Snoopy can be transposed from the beagle that he is to a WWI aviator, shot down behind enemy lines and looking for solace in a glass of root beer.

Schmidt also is quick to mention that the cartoonist has something else, something that might—and very often, is—missing from the fine artist: humor.  Humor in the cartoonist can take on many forms.  In political cartoons, for example, the humor is generally satire whereas in comics it is just plain funny. I think what the political cartoonist is trying to say is, “Hey, loosen up; don’t take yourself too seriously.”  The early cartoons, those attributed to the English satirist, William Hogarth, were examples of this. He poked fun at contemporary politics and customs and this style is often referred to as “Hogarthian.”

The Joe Schmidt exhibit at the Bonita Museum is huge. The four walls in the main exhibit room are filled with his images.  He told me that he had more than 3,000 examples from which to choose. They range in size from ordinary comic strip to large color examples. They are not only cartoons. He has others that could be hung in a regular art show. One, in particular, was brought to my attention. This was a large, colorful one, about 15’ by 20’ that on first glance appears as a color design.  On closer examination one can see small figures of people scattered about the offering.  Schmidt insists that it is only the artist having a little fun.

The bulk of the exhibit is cartoons that have appeared in The Star-News and in other newspapers.  He also was an illustrator for travel-type periodicals, those specializing in camping.  There are also those images, large, color paintings that most artists will, from time to time, undertake mostly just for fun, but to satisfy something that is within them.

The show must be seen to be appreciated. For this uneducated eye the humor is there. And there is little doubt that the art is there. It is truly an exhibit that is worth while.

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