Thursday, August 12, 2010

Flag Boy" (1994)

Each year around this time, when I see groups of guys in dress whites staggering through the streets of Manhattan, I realize, It's Fleet Week!, and it gives me a happy, familiar feeling of continuity, a contented sense of the cycle of life. It means I've spent another year in New York City. It's one of those annual events whose date you never remember until it comes around again, like when The Wizard of Oz used to air on TV once a year.

Similarly, each year on June 14th I get emails and voice mail messages from far-flung friends all around the world. One of them is always from my friend Jenny Boylan. At first, there is silence. Then I hear that unmistakable, high-pitched, querulous voice asking: "Is it-- is it really here?" And then begins the crazed and hysterical medley of patriotic songs: "It's a Grand Old Flag," "I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy," etc. And I know that it is Flag Day.

Flag Boy was conceived one day over sixteen years ago when my friend John Quinn and I were wandering through the streets of Philadelphia, horribly hung over as always, in search of grapefruit. We came across a scene of festive commotion: a little brick courtyard filled with schoolchildren all waving little American flags. A man in uniform stood to one side, prepared to address them. John and I approached a woman who seemed to be there in some official capacity, a guide or chaperone. "What's going on?" we asked her. "Something in honor of the flag," she explained. "In honor of the flag?" we asked. She just looked at us. "It's Flag Day," she said.

Flag Day. It was one of those childhood holidays you forget about as an adult, like Arbor Day. And then we realized that not only was it Flag Day but that the little courtyard we were looking at was the courtyard of Betsy Ross's House. We were at the Ground Zero of Flag Day. We were like two clueless tourists stumbling into Times Square at 11:43 on December 31st asking folks, Hey what's the big to-do?

What happened next is kind of hard to explain now that I don't drink so much anymore. Basically, I was possessed by the spirit of Flag Boy. I ran through the streets frantically waving my little flag (the Betsy Ross House lady was handing them out), weeping with laughter and screaming, "It's Flag Day! Happy Flag Day, everybody! Let every day be Flag Day in your hearts! O, happy, happy Flag Daaaaay!" The cartoon appeared shortly thereafter.

For some unknown reason this cartoon took on a life of its own. Everyone loved F[l]ag Boy. He was the Waminals© of his day. I did a few follow-up doodles, like "Flag Boy: The Day After":

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