Artist’s work may have inadvertantly dredged up heartbreak for some
By Dan McConnell
I grew up in Quincy. Our family came to Quincy in 1955 after a move from Chelan, where I was born. It was a near perfect childhood, especially when they built the public swimming pool two blocks from my house on H Street.
I’ve been exhibiting 20 pieces of my cartoon art at the Quincy Public Library since April. I was excited to put up the show for several reasons; it was a chance to revisit my childhood town and an opportunity to show my Quincy friends what I’ve been up to since graduating from Quincy High School in 1966. (Our class will have its 50th reunion this June.) And I was about to have one of my cartoons published in Reader’s Digest magazine. It’s in the May issue now.
Another reason for my excitement was that the library has a wing where they hang the art, which is called the Mary Kazda Wing. Kazda was not only a fine librarian, a wonderful person and a talented pipe organist at the Quincy Catholic Church, but she also was a close family friend. She and Matt, her husband, were like godparents to me. Matt and Mary were a part of hundreds of our family gatherings for holidays and life celebrations.
So the chance to show my work at the Quincy Public Library was a heartfelt cause for celebration for me.
I picked out what I believed was a nice variety of my work in several media – watercolor, pen and ink, brush and ink, colored pencil and mixed media. The subject matter consisted of caricatures, single-panel cartoons, some original pages of my “Then & NOW” comic strip, which appears monthly in the Good Life magazine and some comic book pages.
One comic book page is from a project I’m currently working on with a group of MAD magazine artists (I’m pretty thrilled to be in their company), and three other pages are from a self-published autobiographical work I did in 2001 about hunting jackrabbits in Quincy.
In the 1960s, there were jackrabbits all over the place. There would be roadkill rabbits on the highways around Quincy, and the farmers had problems with the rabbits eating their crops. One farmer, Russ Kulm, was a close friend of our family and our neighbor from two houses down. Kulm told my dad that he would like me to go out and hunt rabbits at his farm about 3 miles south of Quincy on the highway to George.
I hunted rabbits several times and I’m sure my story was pretty typical of what many boys in Quincy did. I remember several stories told to me by friends about their own rifle experiences from that era. But the story depicted in my comic book was about the last time I went out to hunt. I put my .22 away for good after killing a rabbit and then being flooded with guilt over taking the life of a small, defenseless animal. It’s my story and, in sharing the story, I’m simply sharing my personal experience in the medium I’ve trained myself in.
I talked with some people at the opening about the possibility of showing the original pages of the entire book at the Quincy museum, so there’s a possibility of that happening at some future time. The Museum bought a copy of my comic book, “Quincy Jackrabbit Hunt.”
But there was a problem at the Quincy library; some people didn’t like the depiction of a gun and what they considered “gun smoke,” which was not actually smoke but a depiction of me blowing on the barrel of the rifle after I’d finished cleaning it. When you clean the rifle correctly, it’s a careful step-by-step process, and I tried to depict that in my comic book page – no bullets in the chamber, the bolt back and open so that it can’t be fired, etc.
After talking with the librarian, I discovered the reason that the comic book pages upset some people who came into the library was because of a teen suicide in Quincy. I did not know that had happened and so was not aware that my depictions of a gun in the hands of a kid could have any other meaning than what I intended for my story. It’s ironic that my story about using my rifle for the last time could be construed in such a way; however, I understand that a parent, friend or sibling of someone who took his own life would have sensitivity to images and it might cause them grief.
My story depicts how a kid can correctly use a gun. And shows that guns at that time in the ‘60s played a big part for some of us in our formative years, whether it was target practice with beer cans, hunting pheasants or helping farmers get rid of pests that were damaging their crops.
But my personal story was one of using a gun and finally deciding not to use it again because I felt that the life of an animal was not something I personally could bring myself to destroy. And although I would like all of my work to be exhibited at the Quincy Public Library, I will acquiesce to the requests that the pictures not be displayed because the images may possibly dredge up memories of heartbreak. Maybe this occurrence can start a conversation about suicide in the Quincy community.
I’ll be taking my show down on May 27. I’ll try to get there by 3 p.m. I’ll have some Good Life magazines to give away to anyone who stops by, and if anyone has a Reader’s Digest they want me to scribble on, I’d be happy to do that.
Artist Dan McConnell was raised in Quincy and now lives in Leavenworth. The Chuck McConnell Auditorium at Quincy High School is named for his father, a teacher from 1955 to 1970. McConnell started cartooning for the Cashmere Valley Record in 1980 and now does gag cartoons for magazines.