A few years before I met the incredible Crawfords, I was already fortunate enough to have certain of my adventures enhanced and illustrated in cartoon form by John Goodrich, a schoolmate at Northwestern University in Evanston.
In the fall of 1978, John and I were cast in what would ultimately become …But is it Art?, the ’79 Mee-Show. John was a precocious, gangly, and quick-witted freshman, the youngest in a cast that included a senior, Winnie Freedman, my fellow juniors Rush Pearson, Dana Olsen and Bill Aiken, plus sophomores Barb Guarino, Althea Haropulos, and the incomparable Larry Shanker on the piano.
It was my second Mee-Ow show, and I was already behaving (insufferably, no doubt) like a sagacious old veteran, so a young newcomer like John was under my microscope. I liked John right away, but I’m sure I was tough on him.
C’mon! The kid was a freshman. He was two years younger than me.
Even now, it’s strange how, among the friends you meet in college, those who were a year or two ahead of you in school still appear far older and more experienced than you – and will for the rest of your life. Likewise, those who were a grade or two behind you always remain much younger in your mind. And somehow this applies even when we’re all in our early 50’s! I may be nearing 52, but that nearly 50-year old guy who was a freshman when I was a junior still seems much younger than me.
John made unique contributions to …But is it Art? In addition to his role as “The Incredible Dork” and his all-important portrayal of an unsuspecting young man who slips on a banana peel – John drew the poster for the show, created flyers and ads for us — and also began to turn his funny friends into cartoons. As a frustrated cartoonist myself, I was very impressed that John was the real deal.
During my senior year in 1980, John and Dana Olsen got together and created a comic strip called “No Dumping” which appeared in The Daily Northwestern. The strip portrayed the adventures of four brain-addled 20-something slackers. Man, I thought that was cool. But then John did something even cooler: he turned us all into cartoon superheroes.
The title of the 1980 Mee-Ow Show was Ten Against The Empire. We were doubtless inspired by the second Stars Wars film, The Empire Strikes Back, which was being heavily promoted at the time, and set to be released in May, three months after our 3-week February run.
John launched our own promo efforts into a whole new galaxy by drawing a series of comic strip advertisements that ran in The Daily Northwestern during the week leading up to the show’s opening.
In the promotional strips, John transformed the cast of Ten Against the Empire — me, John, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Rod McLachlan, Mike Markowitz, Kenny Marks, Dana Olsen, Rush Pearson, Judy Pruitt and piano virtuoso Larry Shanker – into a team of oddball heroes battling a humorless super-villain.
Even before he graduated from NU, John became very involved with the Practical Theatre Company as an actor and artist. He performed in our first production of Subnormal and our first improvisational comedy revue, Bag O’ Fun. He also did great graphic work for our third improv comedy show, Scubba Hey (’81) and a silly Shakespearean send-up I wrote called, Song of the Snells (’82).
John would contribute to many more PTC projects between ’82 and ’84, both onstage and with his brilliant pencils in hand. I’ll save some of those details for the next two installments of my PTC history – but for The Merry Guys Who Windsurf, the comedy revue we staged at The Gooodman Theatre Studio in the summer of 1984, John not only performed – but he once again turned his fellow cast members into cartoons.
John’s still doing his cartoon thing, only now he’s a pro. He’s got his own company, which you can check out by clicking here. He specializes in custom cartoon graphics, graphic design and desktop publishing services.
Check out this funny blog post I found, written by one of John’s satisfied customers.
Since then, it’s always a pleasure to get John’s annual Groundhog Day card. For one thing, it’s fun to see how John’s going to work the cartoon groundhog into the photo. And, of course, it’s great to see his lovely family grow lovelier each year. It looks like John has done really, really well in the family business.
The last bit of art John drew for one of the PTC family was the announcement he did for Tom “Wolf” Larson’s big Twin Cities performing arts center opening last year. Of course, Wolf recently left the snowy tundra for the sunny climes of Spain. But before he left, Wolf got the chance to have John Goodrich turn him into a cartoon hero, too.