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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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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Meet Hamlet

Hamlet ham radio comic strip for Jan. 2017Meet Hamlet. He’s a small ham.

I’ve long wanted to create a ham-radio comic strip but for years couldn’t find a hook. After all, there’s nothing intrinsically funny about electronics. Electronics do what they do.

But people? That’s another story.

Over the years I’ve found some of the funniest stuff in the culture of ham-radio clubs. Why? People run them — and people are funny.

I’ve been carrying the Hamlet character around in my back pocket for the last few decades. Originally created for a radio textbook that I ended up not being able to illustrate because of scheduling problems, Hamlet has been waiting for the right outlet. I hope this strip is it.

If you like what you see — if it makes you laugh because it looks like your club — drop me a line and let me know. There are more where this came from.

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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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How fast is your CW?

N2EST cartoon for Gordon West Extra class study guideHere’s another cartoon I drew for Gordon West’s latest Extra-class license guide, shared for the CW enthusiasts among us.

Maybe 10 percent of my QSOs are CW these days (the rest are PSK31), and I can cruise along at up to 20 wpm as long as copy is good and I don’t have to write everything down. (Tip: You can speed up your CW if you read more in your head and learn to listen as if it were just another person talking.)

I thought I was fast — and compared to a lot of licensees, I suppose I am — but realized just how slow I really was when I worked Field Day with the CW old timers at the Alford Memorial Radio Club. Those guys copy 35-wpm-plus like it was nothing. I tried to help log and was left in the dust every time.

My goal for next year: Work enough CW that I can keep up with the Old Timers. What’s yours?

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Chasing waterfalls

Gordon West illustration 05Here’s yet another cartoon I drew for Gordon West’s latest Extra-class license guide. This one with a bare-bones PSK31 set-up is near to my heart, because that’s basically my station. My shack is in the living room, where PSK31 and other digital modes are perfect because they make no noise. My XYL Gail, N2ART, can watch TV while I’m on the air.

When I returned to the air a few years ago, I took the budget route: a used Icom IC-718 transceiver paired with a new SignaLink USB interface and a ground-mounted Hustler 6BTV vertical antenna. The monitor in the cartoon is actually nicer than what I really use, an old Windows laptop headed for the junk heap because the keyboard and mousepad had given out. All I had to spend was $10 for a cheap USB keyboard and mouse. With a particle-board platform to support the laptop above the rig, I was in business. Total cost, including coax and a few other doodads, was well less than $1,000. (My actual station is pictured here.)

While this set-up won’t dominate any pile-ups, I still have fun with it, talking all over the country and all over the world. Who says ham radio has to be obscenely expensive? Not me.

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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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