Wednesday, July 10, 2013

500th

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Readers- Today marks the 500th Johnny Optimism cartoon...and there are many more to come! For those of you who are relatively new to the scene, or those longtimers who would like some new insights, I'd like to take a few moments to share Johnny's backstory.

In May 2010, I was having lunch with my wife and a good friend (an author) who complained that children's books these days all seemed to need a heavy-handed social message in order to sell. I joked that he should do a book about a terminally ill boy in a wheelchair named "Johnny Optimism."  And  that night, just to take the joke a step farther, I quickly roughed out this book cover and sent it to him:

Johnny optimism, johnnyoptimism, stilton jarlsberg, lance the dog, medical humor, wheelchair, origin


The next day, my mother died. And for reasons I can't logically explain, I spent the following weeks grieving by obsessively creating Johnny Optimism cartoons - lots of them - trying to somehow rediscover joy, laughter, or just a little relief in the very blackest of circumstances. And it helped me to laugh at life's pain (not at its victims) and realize that we're all like Johnny - just doing our best to cope with the odds stacked against us.

Happily, Lance the dog made it into the strip without blindness or a bad cough. In fact, he's the bestest, most loyalest dog in the whole world and nothing bad will ever happen to him (my daughter made me promise).

I've never really explained Johnny's living arrangements, and in my own mind they've evolved over time. Currently, I see him living in a hospital environment where he's surrounded by other kids with interesting maladies, and inept or downright insane medical caregivers and guests.

During the day, he is mainstreamed at a regular school (which is why the school nurse is always calling to report the disaster du jour).

Early on, Johnny would sometimes mention his parents in the strips - but that element has largely disappeared. It seems to me that by freeing Johnny from traditional family structure and putting him at the mercy of a senseless bureaucracy, he becomes more of a symbol for all of us.

All of that being said, might Johnny's parents ever be referred to in the future - or even appear in the strip? I honestly don't know.

Johnny is near and dear to my heart. He has more courage than I do, he has bigger challenges than I do, and he faces them all with more grace and optimism than I could ever do.

And he serves as a gentle reminder that none of us is truly alone in feeling like the universe sometimes goes out of its way to throw pain and suffering our way...as well as a reminder that it's always okay to laugh, even if we're sometimes laughing at our own vulnerability. It's quite possibly the strongest thing we can do.

-Stilton Jarlsberg



15 comments:

John Robert Mallernee said...

CONGRATULATIONS ! ! !

And today's historic comic strip has been copied, posted, and duly credited.

Way to go!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Mr. Jarlsberg, for your insightful background information.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the strip, your insight, creativity, wisdom, sense of humor, and this explanation. You have been given talent that is being put to good use.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations!

Stan da Man said...

Congrats, Stilt, on an impressive milestone!

Stilton Jarlsberg said...

@John Robert Mallernee- Thank you, sir! At this point, I hate to think of how many reams of copy paper the two of us have used (grin).

@Anonymous 1, 2, & 3 (Sounds like Dr. Seuss characters...)- First off, thank you for the nice sentiments. And I'm glad you appreciate the background information. It would be easy (and entirely understandable) for people to look at the cartoons and think of them only as sick jokes. But the reality, to me at least, is something quite different. Sort of sweet, sort of sad, but also funny and (in an odd way) hopeful. Johnny Optimism isn't about suffering - it's about coping. And Johnny does a good job of it.

@Stan da Man- I think that upon reaching 500 cartoons, I've officially gone past the definition of "hobbyist" and been promoted to "obsessive compulsive."

rickn8or said...

I salute you sir; I barely have enough creativity for ONE Johnny Optimism strip, let alone 500!

Stilton Jarlsberg said...

@rickn8or- It's not about having enough creativity, it's about having enough pessimism and whiskey. Which is why the cartoons just keep on coming...

SC said...

Stilt, Congrats! Wow 500 cartoons; good for you.. and us. Nothing wrong with a little OCD when you use it creatively to amuse & entertain others. I love Johnny. Looking forward to more.

Gladorn said...

Happy 500th strip! And here's to 500 more... At the least!

Bobo said...

A 500 candle salute to you, sir!

Chuck said...

Awesome Milestone. Thank you, from the depths of my heart.

Stilton Jarlsberg said...

@Readers- Thanks for all of the kind words, but also let me THANK YOU for being here and sharing Johnny's world with me. Johnny is usually contagious but he's never "gone viral." So we've really got a pretty exclusive little club going on here - and I value everyone who stops by to read or comment.

Incidentally, when I get some other life matters cleared away, I hope to create some book compilations of the Johnny cartoons (in print and ebook form) to spread them around a little more. I like to think there should be a copy in every doctor's waiting room...

Glenn B said...

You sir, have done one hell of a job to brighten my days (and probably those of many others). As I am pretty sure I have told you before, I had stage 4 throat cancer right around or just before when I discovered you and Johnny. I have not looked back much since. Even though I am probably much more the pessimist than optimist, I have found myself pleasantly surprised each time I have read one of your Johnny Optimism pieces. They are brilliant. I also love your promise to your daughter about the dog. You sir are a beacon of hope; if I am really lucky, then someday we will meet over a good dram or three of whiskey. By the way - part of me wants to say fuck the clown - but I must admit - he is excellent in his own way.

All the best,
Glenn B

Stilton Jarlsberg said...

@Glenn B- Delighted to hear from you again! You are exactly the sort of person who can understand the underlying meaning of Johnny Optimism, and the fact that it's given you some laughs during the hardest of circumstances delights and humbles me.

As you note, you don't have to be an optimist to enjoy Johnny - it's perfectly fine to be a pessimist who has enough of a sense of humor left to say "NOW what?!" when things go from bad to worse - and chuckle just a bit. It's like giving the finger to the grim reaper.

I'll happily take you up on that whiskey offer if we ever get the opportunity. And regarding Tickles the clown, he really is a despicable and horrible fellow - but he serves a role in warning about the bad things that can come in (relatively) innocent packages. Also, quite a few of the jokes reveal that life hasn't been a picnic for Tickles, either. He frequently gets his comeuppance.

Thanks again for the kind words, and best wishes for your health and happiness!