May the Force be with you …

KC3PO ham radio cartoon QSL by N2ESTAs a rule, I normally won’t create a QSL featuring a well-know copyrighted character — but there’s an exception to every rule.

Over the years I’ve drawn dozens of licensed characters, and I’ve found that most of their owners are protective, often litigious, over their property. Why court trouble by drawing one without their permission? I say as much on my website.

That’s why Gary, KC3PO, practically apologized to me when he wrote to request a custom QSL. “After reading your FAQ, I fear my dreams may be crushed,” he wrote.

What did he want on his QSL? Well, look at his call sign.

I deliberated over this one. I even asked professional colleagues for their take on it. Several suggested I draw a parody of Star Wars, something that called it to mind without actually duplicating it.

Problem was, Star Wars was tough to parody without coming so close to the source material that I may as well just draw it outright. I found it impossible to draw something that looks enough like C-3PO to be identifiable without actually being C-3PO.

But then I thought about what artists typically do at comics conventions: They draw favorite characters for fans. Representatives of the rights holders are usually in the same building, and they don’t care — as long as it’s for a fan. And who could be more of a Star Wars fan than somebody who manages to work “C3PO” into his call sign?

Once I relaxed about it, this one was fun. Gary likes to operate from parks, so he wanted C-3PO operating from a picnic table. I drew a few walkers in the distance. The font was obvious. And after tweaking the background colors into a warm-to-cool gradation, Gary was happy with the results. May the Force be with you, indeed.

 

Riding the RF waves

N4BDO cartoon QSL by N2ESTArt, N4BDO, knew almost exactly what he wanted when he wrote me: “a cartoon character riding a surfboard.” The surfer should be “old, but not fat,” and he should “have a big grin.” Also, “the wave he is riding is cresting and about to overtake him.” Above it all should be the caption “Riding the RF Waves.” Past that, Art wrote, I was on my own.

Cartooning up the elements Art wanted was easy. My own touch was incorporating his call sign into the wave itself. This one was a lot of fun to draw.

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Run, Bella, run!

K4WBF carton QSL by N2ESTCraig, K4WBF, likes to mix up his QSLs a little, changing them up periodically. He also loves his Italian greyhound Bella, who he says is his official DX spotter.

I wanted to do something different from earlier cards. A previous, excellent QSL by Jeff, K1NSS, showed Bella at the operating position, literally spotting DX like a running rabbit on the rig’s digital read-out. Funny stuff.

Me, I had a more direct connection with greyhounds: I used to keep them and even lure-course them. (That’s running a greyhound in a broken pattern, much the way a real rabbit would run, in an open field.) A sight hound running is truly a thing of beauty, so that’s what I wanted to illustrate on K4WBF’s QSL. That, and headphones on a greyhound, of course.

If you’re interested in having your own custom QSL, drop me a line at N2EST@hamtoons.net. If you’re interested in adopting a retired racing greyhound — the full-size version of Bella, an Italian greyhound — visit this website.

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Now Roasting 3 Pigs

NR3P cartoon QSL by N2ESTHave funny phonetics for your call sign? Paul, NR3P, does. He goes by “Now Roasting 3 Pigs” on the air and wanted it visualized on his QSL.

His idea was to have three Angry Birds-style porkers on a spit, being rotated over simmering vacuum tubes. It’s the kind of image we cartoonists love to draw. I was only too happy to oblige.

One part of his QSL commission puzzled me, though: Paul wanted an alligator dressed to the nines doing the cooking.

So I asked him: Why a gator?

Paul explained that because hams benefit from propagation, he wanted the cooking done by a “proper gator.”

I’ll let you supply the rimshot.

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Radio at the Rainbow Bridge

N7AGF cartoon QSL by N2ESTAlex, N7AGF, had recently moved to La Conner, Washington, and wanted a QSL that reflected the mountains around him. I took it one better and made the Rainbow Bridge — a reddish-orange arch that crosses Swinomish Channel — the card’s centerpiece. Alex’s call sign arches to match the bridge below it.

This QSL is one of relatively few cards where I played it straight and kept it less cartoony. The one reference to radio is near the bottom edge (hint: look for the boat with the antenna).

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Blue Ridge: mountains, trains and trout

KW4ZQ cartoon QSL by N2ESTI put Hamtoons on hiatus a few months ago to take a full-time job editing a newspaper in the north Georgia mountains. Sadly, the job didn’t work out — that’s why Hamtoons is back — but the move from Atlanta did. The people here are wonderful, the scenery is beautiful, the air is clean and the traffic is almost non-existent. I seldom miss Atlanta these days.

I eventually started attending meetings of the Fannin County Amateur Radio Group in Blue Ridge, Ga., a start-up club devoted primarily to emergency communications. That’s where I met Chuck, KW4ZQ, a new ham who went straight for his Extra and got it in one test session.

Chuck wanted a QSL that reflected everything good about Fannin County, which has turned into a major tourist destination over the last few decades. That meant the card had to have mountains, lots of mountains. The area also is known for its fishing — Fannin County bills itself as the Trout Capital of Georgia — and the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, which carries visitors from downtown Blue Ridge to nearby McCaysville, where I live. Chuck sketched out his idea, and with a few tweaks I managed to incorporate all three elements into his QSL card.

Blue Ridge and Fannin County are great places to live or vacation. Feel free to visit us — or, at the very least, give KW4ZQ a shout if you hear him on the air. I’m sure he’ll be glad to send you a QSL.

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BAM!

WA7BAM ham radio cartoon QSL by N2ESTBruce, WA7BAM, wanted a cartoon QSL, and the approach was obvious: Emphasize the suffix, which looked like something out of the old Batman TV show. (They’re actually his initials.)

This was an easy one. I’d hand-lettered comic books for about a decade for publishers including Marvel, Dark Horse, and others, so I knew the look. The font I used for “BAM!” was drawn in the style of the original “Mad” logo from the 1950s before “Mad” became a magazine. Bruce’s name and QTH info are also hand-lettered.

At this point in my life, it’s almost impossible for me to write in anything but those block-style letters seen in comic-book word balloons. It’s good to know that all those years of nuns rapping my knuckles to improve my handwriting did some good.

What did the fox say?

WX2S cartoon QSL by N2ESTSteve, WX2S, is into radio direction finding — that is, fox hunting — and prefers being the fox to being the hunter. That’s why he wanted a QSL that shows a fox at the operating position, with trophy plaques of all the “hounds” he’s eluded. You get extra points if you notice that framed picture near the bottom of the card that shows a hound with his rig on fire.

About the line on the bottom for Tom Floryck, the original WX2S … Steve says he never knew Tom but thought it only appropriate that he tip his hat to him with the new QSL. I couldn’t agree more.

The American Radio Relay League has an excellent online selection of articles about fox hunting here. Check ’em out!

 

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The return of Jeeves

KL7AJ Jeeves cartoon QSL by N2ESTThis QSL has a long history — several decades’ worth of  history, in fact.

It started in the 1980s when I illustrated one of the first of many QST articles written by technical whiz Eric Nichols, KL7AJ. That cartoon must have made an impression, because a few years ago when Eric wrote his book “The Opus of Amateur Radio Knowledge and Lore,” he asked me to illustrate it. I was honored to do so. Eric has been a friend and advocate ever since. (“Opus” is a great book, by the way. If you love ham radio and you like Dave Barry-style humor, you’ll like this book.)

One cartoon — illustrating several generations of ham radio — must have particularly caught Eric’s eye because I snuck Jeeves into it.

Ham radio history

Jeeves in the “Opus” cartoon

Who’s Jeeves, you may ask?

Jeeves, every ham’s fantasy assistant, was a recurring character in cartoons drawn by Phil Gildersleeve, W1CJD, for QST. Gildersleeve — or “Gil,” as he signed his cartoons — drew thousands of cartoons for League publications from the 1930s until shortly before his death in 1966. His work helped define the look of League publications for many years, and it was as good as or better than the work of any other professional cartoonist of his day, ham or not.  In my opinion, Gil was the greatest ham-radio cartoonist of all time, bar none.

Jeeves’ rise from the dead gave Eric an idea: Why not create some new Jeeves cartoons, casting the butler as a Rip Van Winkle character? In other words, the hobby had changed but Jeeves hadn’t, and therein would lie the humor. And with the ARRL’s 100th anniversary fast approaching, surely QST would be interested in printing some new Jeeves cartoons.

Jeeves filling out QSLs

the QST submission

I agreed, so I set about creating a new Jeeves cartoon very much in Gil’s style from one of a stack of ideas Eric sent me. I pored over dozens of old Gil cartoons, doing my best to make the illustration look as if he’d drawn and lettered it himself. Even though I was working with regular markers and brush markers  (Gil likely used pen and India ink), I think I came pretty close.

Unfortunately, QST wasn’t interested.

In a short reply to Eric, QST managing editor Becky Schoenfeld, W1BXY, wrote “While it is well executed, its ‘throwback’ style is something we try to minimize in QST, as we really need to be looking ahead and not behind us.” She later answered me personally with a longer email, emphasizing that “(QST editor) Steve Ford and I have been mandated by upper management to keep the magazine’s focus as current as possible.”

I was terribly disappointed. Still, I could understand League management’s logic even if I didn’t agree with it. If you were licensed before the mid-1970s as both Eric and I were and read League publications, Gil’s cartoons were inextricably tied to your earliest experiences of the hobby. But if you were licensed after the mid-1970s — about the time QST’s format changed and Gil’s work disappeared from print almost entirely  — you’d likely have no idea who Gil or Jeeves were. You may not even have cared. And there are a lot of hams who’ve gotten their licenses since the mid-1970s.

Problem was, I had this beautiful cartoon without a home — that is, until Eric asked me a few months ago to create a QSL for him. I suggested using the Gil cartoon. Eric agreed. The cartoon had finally found a home.

How to Become a Radio Amateur

A League book, circa 1972

I decided to design the card as a love letter to the League publications we both remembered, right down to the red-and-black color scheme, the draftsman-style hand-lettered call sign and the Futura typography. That it looks like the League book I studied to earn my Novice ticket is no coincidence.

There was one final touch that not even Eric noticed until last week. The call sign on those QSLs that Jeeves is frantically filling out? That’s Gil’s call sign.

For sentimental reasons, this is one of my favorite QSLs.

 

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Ask the Builder — he’s a ham!

W3ATB ham radio cartoon QSL by N2ESTTim, W3ATB, lives in beautiful New Hampshire and loves to operate outdoors, sometimes accompanied by his German Shepherd Lady. He wanted all those elements worked into his QSL card — along with New England’s colorful fall foliage (it’s his favorite season). Here’s the result. Tim liked it. So did I. I really enjoyed drawing this QSL; Tim was a pleasure to work with.

About that call sign: W3ATB is a vanity call that refers to his Ask the Builder website, devoted entirely to do-it-yourself home improvement and maintenance. If you like building things, using tools and saving money — and what ham doesn’t?— you’ll love this website. I highly recommend it.

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