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How The Arts Brought People Together After 9/11

Jan 30, 2008
Creator Rick London is a master of humor. The first time I met this comic wit, who launched Londons Times Cartoons out of thin air with no backing other than his brains, he was not yet a cartoonist, but a successful entrepreneur who had founded an interesting bus tour business in 1988. I was a freelance writer at the time, and he was getting major media coverage worldwide so I stood in line for an interview. I enjoyed this humble soul.

Rick isa writer as well so we had that bond and it kept us in touch for most of th eyears. But around 1994 or so, we lost touch, but found him again on the net about ten years later. I discovered him by accident. I was just about to complete a story on "humor on the Internet" when I stumbled across his massive site featuring over 8000 cartoons. I could not believe what I was seeing. It was and is more than a labor of love.

I contacted Rick in the summer of 2001, at his Arkansas home of Hot Springs. I asked him if we might conduct an interview and he agreed but was not feeling well and also was busy with his website. He begged to put it off until he could finish up some work he was doing and check on his medical condition. I agreed there was no proble with that.

Suddenly it was as if he had dropped off the planet. I tried several more times and still no answer and finally gave up, figuring he was way too busy to take time with a freelance journalist when he was continuing to get so much media and Internet attention. As it turned out, that was not why he did not respond. On September 10th, he emailed me and asked me to contact him by phone which I did. His voice sounded weak and words a bit slurred. As it turned out, he had just been released from the hospital after suffering a major heart attack. I told him the interview could wait, rest was more important. He felt like he could do the interview if we did it over a period of time in short intervals and I agreed that would not be a problem.

The following day, around noon EST, he called me and sounded very disturbed. He said he was watching the news and felt he might be having a bad side effect from the medicines given to him because he was hallucinating and feeling that planes were crashing into buildings in Washington and New York. Of course, living in Northern Va., right outside of D.C. I knew were right in the middle of 9/11. At first I hesitated to explain to him what I felt was happening, but knowing him, I also figured he would figure it out sooner or later, so I told him America was under attack, but not to worry, it was not happening where he lived. He said that was not the point, that his only family and friends were still in the D.C area and he needed to contact them. I told him I would do that for him, to rest. By the end of the conversation it was clear he was very upset, and I was worried that his heart may fail again. I told him to please not worry, but was crying slightly on the phone and I could tell he was too. We hung up. I called him back several days later and he was more lucid and had been watching the news. Though we both were still in shock, we understood we were under attack. Rick said he, as a person working in the arts had to do something.

Though I always admired his tenacity and "fighter's mentality", I explained to him there really wasn't much he could do at this point. We went on with a series of short interviews, of which he would occasionally interrupt telling me there had to be something he could do.

It would not be too long before I received an email from Rick. It simply had the following link; http://www.londonstimes.us/cat/cat.html .While the Interview was in progress, and he was recovering from a near-fatal heart attack, Rick founded Cartoonists Against Terrorism.

I have seen a lot, but I must say I was surprised at his labor. He had convinced cartoonists from around the world, to contribute cartoons they had published on the topic of September 11, 2001. It was project so large and imaginative in scope, I could hardly believe a man with perfect health and all his cognitive functions could have pulled this off, and he didn't even know if he would live or die while in the process.

His strategy was to numerous contributions to publish a book that would benefit the widows and families of the firefighters who perished on 9/11. He would do so through the Salvation Army. The problem was the cartoons were 90% in four color, and color is expensive to reproduce, plus, most of the major publishers who could pull it off, were in downtown New York. Many were not even up to full-speed with their presses yet; some were not back to work yet. He tried many other angles but nobody would bite. So he decided simply to leave the CAT site up as a permanent monument, and, that perhaps one day, someone would see it, not in his lifetime, and publish the book to help the descendants of the lost firefighters and police of 9/11.

It did not take long before the firefighters union to notice it and awarded it the prestigious "Hot Site" Award, which remains on the CAT site. In addition, one of the cartoons rendered by Johann Wessels hung in the Museum Of Illustrative Art in New York for three months, and then was donated to a station on Long Island that lost more firefighters that day than any other, percentage wise. It still is showcased on their wall as a memorial. It is simply called "Hoses" and it portrays a red, white, and blue, American flag made of fire hoses. Cartoonists from as far away as Japan to Pakistan and as close as Peoria contributed. It was quite a feat, an incredible project that remains a major icon on the Internet in memory of those we lost on that tragic day, developed by a humble man, Rick London who was fighting for his own life at the time. He still felt there was something he had to do, he told me, to leave the world a better place than the shape it was in now. And though it was only a contribution, it was such a positive one, it should not go unnoticed.

As if the story were not amazing enough, Rick was contacted by Arab Times Cartoonist Mahmood Kahlil, who has since passed away, who asked Rick if he could donate cartoons to the site. Rick is Jewish. Mahmood was Muslim. Rick gave it the okay, but many on his cartoon team were not in agreement. Rick's explanation was that even though we may philosophically disagree with the cartoons, it is important to show the world what freedom of speech is all about. The message being sent out was far more important than whether we agreed or disagreed with this cartoonists point of view. In my opinion, that takes a very open and humble mind to transcend what had happened, and Rick did not censor the man because of his religion or creed, during a time when many others were doing so. In fact, the two became friendly, and chatted often, even though their major disagreement, of course, concerned Israel, they both agreed to disagree and ended each conversation with laughter and a joke or two. Rick was visibly upset upon hearing of Mahmood's untimely death while in his mid-40's. Mahmood's cartoons remain on the CAT site.

I have visited both sites, the CAT site and Rick's main Londons Times Cartoons site. When asked what the funniest cartoon I've seen is, it would not be fair not to mention Rick's cartoons. The site has about 8000 or more of his original concepts (his creative illustrative team render them) and many of them are classics. I put them in the same league with The Far Side. They are tremendously funny and worth the visit to his site.
About the Author
Cartoonist Rick London is just becoming what might be a "household word" his work is far better known, Rick's Cartoon site, Londons Times By Far My Favorite Cartoon Site is Rick's Cartoon site, Londons Times
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