A brain wave. (Image courtesy Marcus Alexander)

A brain wave. (Image courtesy Marcus Alexander)

The Viking and the Weather Man

How the Observer got its own island cartoons

A cryptic message was tucked deep in the Observer personals after Halloween.

Several, actually.

But below the one to “Pants-in-out” about a trampoline, someone left the Observer office number and a message for the Masset Weather Man.

The message? “We will talk comics.”

Marcus Alexander knows north-end weather — on Halloween he wore a cheap suit with his hair gelled sideways and a tie wired to blow in the wind.

The 26-year-old Tow Hillian is also a serial doodler who loves to draw cartoons.

So when a friend showed him the message in November, Alexander quickly remembered his Halloween chat with a Viking named Chris Williams — a Viking who worked at the Observer, had no cell phone, and used the personals to ask if he might like to do a weekly editorial cartoon for $25.

“The real reason I got into cartooning is for the money,” says Alexander.

“Twenty-five bucks a week? Whoop! Now that’s living.”

Most newspapers go all-politics on the editorial page, that’s not really Alexander’s style.

“It’s more so having fun,” he says, drawing at his living room table with some bossa nova music and a plate full of orange slices.

“That’s what I try to do in all other aspects of my life anyway,” he adds.

“If someone has a good chuckle, that’s good enough for me.”

For Alexander, cartooning started mainly as a way to avoid doing school work in class.

“I’m not causing problems, and it also looks like I’m taking vigorous notes,” he explains.

Growing up in Toronto, Alexander also tried his hand at graffiti, but didn’t want to get charged — some graffiti writers got hit with several fines after police recognized their ‘tag’ all over the city.

Instead of a word, he drew characters.

“That’s where this style came from,” he said, showing an early drawing of a guy with a pencil through his head. The heavy lines are easy to do in spray paint.

Once he moved to paper and more finished pieces, Alexander did some research into cartoon history.

“I started reading the New Yorker,” he said.

“Well, I started leafing through my parents’ New Yorkers and exclusively reading the cartoons.”

Famous for its covers and cartoons, the New Yorker magazine also runs a weekly cartoon caption contest that Alexander has yet to win.

But Observer readers have already landed funny lines on a couple of his, which started running in December — an orca eying a wet-suited surfer, and a beachcomber standing by a misplaced atomic bomb on North Beach.

Alexander admires the late, great Peter Arno, who gave the New Yorker its style in the 1920s by lampooning America’s captains of industry as skirt-chasers and oglers of showgirls.

Especially on Haida Gwaii, Alexander takes more of a marine theme, often poking fun at a ship captain loosely based on Jacques Cousteau.

“He’s just the ultimate waterman,” he said of Costeau, a personal hero.

Jacques Tosseau is basically the opposite, said Alexander, leafing through drawings of the cartoon captain trading his crew’s First Aid kits for wine or abandoning them to a tsunami.

Cedars and slugs are also favourites, drawn from deep experience planting trees and trying to grow a garden on Haida Gwaii.

When he spoke with the Observer, Alexander was busy drawing his friend Scout, an accomplished gardener, scoring his backyard greens.

“We’re always looking for approval, and she’s always less than impressed,” he said.

His friend Will Murphy notes that he often gifts people cartoon portraits for thank-yous and birthdays — when Meredith Adams recently gave him a hard-to-find MacBook charger, she got a drawing of her partner playing a solar-powered electric guitar naked on the North Beach sand dunes.

But Alexander’s favourite subject is probably surfing — it’s what first brought him to Haida Gwaii two years ago, and largely why he stayed.

Taking out a drawing of a balding, eggplant-shaped man poised on a long purple surfboard, Alexander says no matter how they look, all his surfer cartoons are kind of self-portraits.

“It’s probably what I look like going out and surfing tiny wave that nobody else thinks are worth getting in the water for,” he says.

“I’m still happy.”

The Happy Clam

 

Surfers regularly show up in Alexander’s cartoons, including this gentleman, a trio of wet-suited surfers in silhouette, and one of George Mercer Dawson wrangling a barrel on top of his ship’s door.                                Curiously, a now departed road sign showing a street-crossing pedestrian along Tow Hill Road also got a surfing makeover. “Someone, I can’t say who, but someone had been drawing surf fins and a leash on the road underneath the pedestrian,” said Alexander. “As a matter of fact, right at the end of my driveway.” (Image courtesy Marcus Alexander)

Surfers regularly show up in Alexander’s cartoons, including this gentleman, a trio of wet-suited surfers in silhouette, and one of George Mercer Dawson wrangling a barrel on top of his ship’s door. Curiously, a now departed road sign showing a street-crossing pedestrian along Tow Hill Road also got a surfing makeover. “Someone, I can’t say who, but someone had been drawing surf fins and a leash on the road underneath the pedestrian,” said Alexander. “As a matter of fact, right at the end of my driveway.” (Image courtesy Marcus Alexander)