If the truth be told I never met the guy, barely knew what he looked like and had no idea he was living in Saanich for the last little while.
Still, the death of Jim Unger hit me because I’ve always appreciated his work. Admired it actually.
The first time I saw a Herman cartoon was in an article in Maclean’s magazine and I was hooked. I still remember the first panel……the quote underneath said something like “The sporting goods store called, you left your hat on the counter.”
The wife was speaking as she was washing the dishes without looking up, meanwhile coming down the hallway was her husband with a duck decoy on his head.
Very funny stuff.
Especially when you think of the husband making his way home oblivious to it all. And you imagine what happens next.
In Herman’s world, nobody was good looking, nobody was real bright and the husband-wife (not to mention the boss-employee) dynamic wasn’t real sweet – in other words it was pretty well bang on. But it was also done with affection for the human condition and if you can’t relate to its snapshots of life, you aren’t trying hard enough.
I also remember one time back in the late ‘70s a buddy and I were Christmas shopping at the mall and he was looking for something for his sister. Never having had one of those I’m not sure I was any help but we soon found a treasury of Herman cartoons book and problem solved.
Not only did we spend the rest of the day looking at the collection of single-panel cartoons and laughing uproariously, we went on to spend the next several weeks quoting punchlines to each other as we passed each other in school (I’m sure with people wondering what the heck was so funny, because without seeing the comic, well…..)
I bet I could phone him up today and say something like – “I think you’ll find nature is a great compensator, for instance you’re probably a great mountain climber,” (doctor to patient with ram’s horns growing out of his head) – and we’d both be on the floor.
I never did find out if his sister appreciated the gift but as far as I’m concerned it was an investment that paid huge dividends.
I eventually got the treasury too, although I couldn’t find the damn thing when I went to look for it to research this column, but I do remember a bit of the introductory piece.
Unger talked about how he moved to Jamaica to practise his craft (it was difficult not to be jealous of the man, especially when you have no drawing talent yourself whatsoever) and how he eventually ended up on his career path that included Herman appearing in hundreds of newspapers around the world.
The one thing he said that stood out for me was a quote that, paraphrased because I can’t find it, was how a sense of humour is nothing more or less than the ability to laugh at oneself.
That point of view was reflected so well in his cartoons as we laughed along with Herman and his fellow cohabitants because they were so much like us in our everyday life.
And whether you think life is a comedy or a tragedy, it’s both by the way, you have to appreciate that a sense of humour and not taking ourselves too seriously goes a long way in the category of coping with the curveballs of life.
So thanks Jim. You did good.
And in his honour a few more punchlines to savour as Herman bids adieu:
“Yeah, well you’re not exactly an oil painting yourself first thing in the morning.” (wife to husband);
“How many guys do you know with a solar powered wristwatch?” (guy with a huge battery pack strapped to his back to his buddy).
—Glenn Mitchell is the managing editor for The Morning Star