Thursday, July 2, 2009

Sharing an earlier moment

Found this at the newspaper's website and thought I'd share it with all of you.

The Grand Life Originally published January 17, 2008

Photo by Graham Cullen
Tom Holloway, creator of The Grand Life, works on a panel in his home in Frederick Wednesday afternoon.

It’s difficult to imagine an artist finding a silver lining in losing his sight, but Tom Holloway has. Forty years ago, shortly after graduating from high school, Holloway started his commercial career as a paste-up artist for Amoco's chemical plastic products division, creating logos for things like McDonald's first plastic cups.
After a stint in the service and several semesters studying art at community colleges in Nevada and California, Holloway landed a job as an art director for advertising company in Las Vegas.
"That's when I started losing my sight," he said. He was 34.
Following back surgery after an accident near the company printing press, and for reasons still not clear, Holloway's vision began to blur. He had eye surgery for cataracts. Then doctors diagnosed him with a serious condition typically affecting older people called wet macular degeneration. Later, he was re-diagnosed with cone dystrophy, a disease of the cones, the light-sensitive photoreceptors in the retina of the eye, that provide sharp central vision and color vision.
By 1987 or 1988, he was unable to work any longer. He was sent by the Veterans Administration to a clinic in Palo Alto, "to learn how to deal with losing my vision."
While he is severally impaired visually, legally blind and unable to see color, he's not entirely without vision. He has adapted.
"All my life I was drawing," said Holloway. "I can recall to this day watching my mother draw when I was 6 years old and wondering how she did the things she did, and drawing murals in elementary school for the school.
"So, instead of drawing what the boss wanted me to draw, I got to draw what I wanted to draw again," the 57-year-old said recently from his Frederick apartment and bedroom studio.
What he likes to illustrate now is cartoons.
And starting today, The Frederick News-Post will begin running his four-panel strip, "The Grand Life," in Thursday's Home & Family section. The main characters, include George Grand, a 57-year-old retired grandfather, Sheri, his second wife, 22 years his junior, their 13-year old daughter Breanna -- and, naturally, George's mother-in-law.
Any resemblance to Holloway's actual life is purely intentional.
The cartoonist's real spouse happens to be named Sheri and she's 35. Their real-life daughter is named Breanna, "13 going on 40", Holloway said, jokingly.
"It's hard to run out of material," Sheri Holloway admitted. "Breanna has the same sense of humor he does, too -- sarcastic."
Only the mother-in-law character, named Violet Brudel, is a genuine composite.
"Violet's from my first wife, my first mother-in-law, and Sheri's mother," Holloway said. "I've discussed it with them already. I don't have to worry about getting smacked with a skillet.
"Actually, Sheri's mother, Myrtiss, is my best critic. Even if she's the butt of the joke, her only comments are about making the cartoon better."
Other cartoon characters include Connor and Allie, George and Sheri's grandchildren; Scooter, Breanna's boyfriend; and Gizmo, the family Chihuahua, "with the heart of a Doberman trapped in the body of a mouse."
Holloway began "The Grand Life" a year ago, sending the strip to relatives and friends around the country via the Internet, partly as a means to stay in touch, partly to hone his creation, and always hoping for a chuckle.
He's the first to say the strip's aim isn't high-brow, rather simply to bring a cheerful moment to readers as everyday life filters through the lens of his own experience and sense of humor.
"It's exciting for family and friends," Holloway said. "It's not like it's syndicated nationally and running all over the country,."
Holloway considers it a start.
"I think it's really cool," Breanna said.
In the past, Holloway has done single panel cartoons for T-shirts and other items; this is the first strip picked up by a daily newspaper. He also working to get another cartoon, a single panel, Far Side-type piece called Outside the Box, picked up by a newspaper or magazine. Outside the Box, with demented ducks and strange humans, is a much different animal than The Grand Life.
However, it's not like his real life is run of the mill. He's older than his wife's parents and he's raising a teenager after all.
"We'd give Jerry Springer a run for his money," Holloway said, with a smile. "Just for laughs -- not tragedy."
The Grand Life comedy comes from typical family grist, generation gaps, holidays and car trips. George, Holloway's alter ego, isn't blind, just cantankerous.
"He can dish it out and he can take it," Holloway said. "But he'd rather dish it out."
His own blindness, however, is source of some weird misunderstandings and perceptions, at which Holloway himself is quick to laugh at it. His wife and daughter aren't shy about the sharing the black comedy -- for example, conversations with store mannequins.
"I thought the reason they weren't responding was because they were acting like a snob or something and just ignoring me," Holloway said, shaking his head at the memory.
He also once mistook a colorfully-painted fire hydrant for an abandoned small child.
His cartoon character's general stubbornness, Holloway acknowledged, is connected to his own character. He says he uses his stubbornness to cope with his blindness and it drives his work.
"Basically what I'm trying to do is show people that because someone is visually impaired, that doesn't mean there is anything wrong with their mind or heart," he said. "They can do anything they set their mind to."
That does not mean that drawing comes easily anymore.
Atop his drawing desk, a thick magnifying glass sits encircled in an enormously bright desk lamp. Still, he must also wear what he calls his "Mr. Magoo" glasses, high-powered reading tools directly ordered from the manufacturer, when he's drawing. He draws his panels at 200 percent the size they will appear in the newspaper and then they're scanned and reduced on the computer.
He uses his wife Sheri as "quality control." She checks spelling and straight lines for Holloway, who only sees curves. Breanna occassionally helps him complete other artwork outside from his cartoon strips.
Scissors, pens and ink, masking tape, pencils, colored pencils, brushes, rulers, wheels, triangles, cloth wipes, Exact-o knives and white out are all carefully organized. His wife has numbered his colored pencils because of his lack of color vision. He can only distinguish odd shapes, and black, white and shades of gray, but it's hard to believe from his output.
"I just want to make people laugh," Holloway said. "I want to go bed at night and thinking that people got a chuckle out of the cartoon.
"Life can be difficult and stressful, and I've learned that even something a little comical can change someone's mood in an instant," he continued. "It calms them down. If I can get even one person to smile or laugh a little bit, that's all I'm trying to do."

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