11 Wheelie Willie Cartoons
From 1967 to 1972, I was in grad school at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, getting a Ph.D. in mathematics.
I was in love with the then-new medium of underground comix, and I started drawing some of my own. Most these appeared in the Rutgers campus newspaper, called the The Daily TARGUM or, more colloquially, The Rutgum.
“Wheelie Willie Wins Out” was more or less my first Wheelie Wheelie comic. I wasn’t very good at drawing arms, so I drew Wheelie Willie as a head on a flexible stalk connected to a wheel. I had my hair very long around then, and this strip is based on a conversation I had in a bar.
“Wheelie Willie Wins Out,” Unpublished, March, 1970. Click for larger version.
“Dork Bites Man” was the first of my Wheelie Willie strips to appear in the Targum, and from then on all of them got published. I think I didn’t invent the pimple joke, I think I saw it in some novel, perhaps Powdered Eggs by Charles Simmons or maybe in a tale by Julio Cortazar. The title is a riff on the old newsman line, “Dog bites man, that’s not news—man bites dog, that’s news!” I was starting to wonder about the effects of LSD here, I knew some younger people who’d taken it, but maybe I hadn’t yet done so. It’s hard to be sure, as I can’t quite pinpoint the date of this strip.
Wheelie Willie in “Dork Bites Man,” Rutgers Daily TARGUM, 1970(?). Click for larger version.
“Laryngitis” is a kind of vaudeville routine, a series of corny jokes. I think I really did hear the one about “Call the pigs,” on Laugh-In, or maybe my father told it to me. I was having fun with the little eyeball kicks here, too.
Wheelie Willie in “Laryngitis,” Rutgers Daily TARGUM, Nov 24, 1970. Click for larger version.
At this point, I wanted to get a narrative adventure going. So I had a monster kidnap Wheelie Willie. I liked to draw monsters. And note those “shrigs,” pig in front, shrimp in back. Nineteen years later, these critters would fly through the pages of my novel, The Hollow Earth.
Wheelie Willie in “The Time of His Life ” Rutgers Daily TARGUM, April 7, 1971. Click for larger version.
Like any other hippie/grad-student in those times, I considered the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover to be a powerful force of evil. So Wheelie Willie ends up in his office.
Wheelie Willie in “Jonah and the Pig,” Rutgers Daily TARGUM, mid-April, 1971. Click for larger version.
I had fun with a flip-out strip here. The line about heroin is quote from William Burroughs’s Junkie, and “Meanwhile I was thinkin’…” stems from the Chuck Berry song, “Queenie,” which had recently been covered by the Rolling Stones.
Wheelie Willie in “Permanent Brain Damage,” Rutgers Daily TARGUM, April 15, 1971. Click for larger version.
So here’s the pay-off, J. Edgar Hoover has kidnapped cool Wheelie Willie to be Trisha Nixon’s date.
Wheelie Willie in “Life’s Delicate Child,” Rutgers Daily TARGUM, April 22, 1971. Click for larger version.
It was six months later before I got around to the promised follow-up strip, “At the Prom,” and by then I’d lost interest in any continuity with the earlier strips. To some extent “At the Prom” is based on my memories of high-school dances at St. X, in Louisville. I was developing a smoother style here, maybe using a brush as well as Rapidograph pens.
Wheelie Willie in “At the Prom,” Rutgers Daily TARGUM, Nov 16, 1971. Click for larger version.
I never got around to penning my sequel to “At the Prom.” At this point my work on my Ph. D. thesis, and the impending birth of our second child had terminally distracted me from cartooning for the campus paper. My next Wheelie Wheelie strip took the form of a letter to my friend Don Marritz.
Wheelie Willie in “Dear Don,” Unpublished, 1972(?) Click for larger version.
Two more Wheelie Willie strips appear in my non-fiction book, Infinity and the Mind. As Willie predicted, these are about math!
I drew the first one, “Take a Deep Breath” in Geneseo, New York, around March, 1978, right when I was finding out that, thanks to budget cuts and academic politics, I was going to fired from my first teaching job. I’m Wheelie Willie here, sadly but contemplatively leaning against a tree. I have my vision of an infinite set of possible thoughts about nothing, and when I’m done, an ant has crawled onto my tire.
Wheelie Willie in “Take a Deep Breath,” drawn March, 1978, appeared in Infinity and the Mind, 1982, p. 46. Click for larger version.
I drew one more Wheelie Willie, “Minds and Machines,” in Heidelberg, Germany in the spring of 1980, when I was simultaneously working on the “Towards Robot Consciousness” section of Infinity and the Mind and on my “live robots” novel, Software.
Wheelie Willie in “Minds and Machines,” drawn Spring, 1980, appeared in Infinity and the Mind, 1982, p. 321. Click for larger version.
Maybe I’ll do a painting of my old pal someday soon.