Monday, November 5, 2018

My tribute to Erkki Alanen, cartoonist

Anyone who has been to my office has seen my ten cartoons hanging on the wall. People often compliment me on my artistic talents but, although I was the gag writer, I did not draw them. The wonderful artist was Erkki Alanen, someone I met on the Internet, collaborated with, but never met face to face. Unfortunately, Erkki died a few years ago. Originally from Finland, he was a big guy with a big heart. I will miss his genius and knack for interpreting and developing my raw ideas.


I posted this article on October 4, 2008 and today, March 11, 2009, I received the following email from Erkki’s wife, Cathy. It's interesting how the Internet can bring people together from across the globe.

Dear Randy,

Thank you so much for your kind words and the many illustrations by Erkki Alanen, my late husband. Erkki's brother, Juhani, brought the article to my attention and I was thrilled to see it in a sweet, sad kind of way. Glad that he is remembered, sad that he has passed away.

You may be interested to know we married in Helsinki in 1979 and have three children. Erkki lived the last 20 years here in El Paso. I was a journalist and the cartoon editor of the National Enquirer when I met Erkki. I grabbed onto him and wouldn't let go and so he finally married me. He was the star of the family and always made us laugh. He has a son, Mayo Alanen, who is now a famous ballroom dancer. Google him and you'll find out all about him. We didn't name him after his dad as we didn't want to stick an American boy with an unpronounceable name. His youngest son followed in Dad's footsteps and is now an architectural intern in Dallas. I live here in El Paso with our disabled daughter, Mia. She has Angelman's Syndrome.

Erkki was such a talented person and such a huge part of the family. It was a terrible shock when we lost him to a stroke in 2005. My eye sight went from being nearsighted to farsighted and has stayed that way. I thought that was weird, but after all he had been the center of my world for 25 years. His passing changed much more than my eye sight.

Thanks again for the great article.

Cathy Alanen


The idea of creating cartoons started with my eldest son, Dan, who came home one afternoon from middle school announcing that he had joined the school newspaper staff.

"That's terrific," I said. "Are you going to be a reporter?"

"No," he replied. "I'm going to be the cartoonist."

"Really? When is your first cartoon due?"


Anyone with kids knows that this is par for the course. Whether it's two dozen cookies that your young scholar promised his classmates or the lava mountain that needs to be completed for the science fair, the answer to the 64 million dollar question is always tomorrow.

So we set out to come up with a clever cartoon, something school related and G-rated. What we came up with was a gag about report card day as it might have played out in the caveman days.
 I'm still looking for my son's original cartoon. If I ever find it, I'll post it here, but I do enjoy Erkki's version of this gag, which depicts the joy that must have highlighted every report card day until someone finally invented the rest of the alphabet (or at least the letters B through F).

I made the connection with Erkki Alanen shortly after this emergency cartooning session while surfing the Internet. I found his website and discovered that he was living in the same city as I, although it wouldn't have mattered if he was still hanging out in Finland. That's the beauty of collaborating via the Internet. For the next several years, I would periodically send Erkki a gag and he would develop the idea into a cartoon.

Some of my gags were inspired by everyday things. Some by things I heard, or misheard. And some by random, silly notions like the following one that attempts to draw a parallel between a dog and a geyser.
Erkki's reduction of Old Faithful to a 100 square foot spectacle is part of his genius. It makes the cartoon work.

You'll see that several of my gag ideas came from word plays. In the following cartoon, one simple letter has an odd effect on the Ruler of the Undersea.
In another word play, I wondered what the abominable snowman would look like if I had the "stomach" to change a few letters.
This next one has its genesis with a news story that came from the west coast of Florida. Beaches were forced to close because of the large number of sharks that were congregating nearby. One Florida city banned sightseeing excursions that several boat operators ran, chumming the waters to attract sharks for photo ops and entertainment of their clients.

One of these tour operators, with a heavy Cuban accent, was interviewed by a local TV news reporter. So you understand, in Spanish there are no words that start with the letters "sc" or "sp." Instead, those words start with the letters "esc" or "esp," such as escala (scale) and espirito (spirit). Well, this guy claimed that the city was making "escape goats" out of the tour operators.

That was enough for me to start imagining what an escape goat would look like and Erkki hatched the following depiction.
 I had a similar experience while listening to the radio on my way home from work one time, except that the mispronunciation was in my head, not with the speaker. I misheard someone saying NBA, which gave rise to the next cartoon.

For much of my adult life, I have avoided life-threatening places like steep, ice-covered roads, cars with their engines running in enclosed garages, and grocery stores. This is me trying to negotiate the confusion of our local supermarket.

I've seen stories about people thinking that their PC's CD ROM tray is a cupholder or the one about the blonde using whiteout on a computer screen to correct an error, but the following dialog actually occurred and I was there to hear it. The confused person was my youngest son, Jeff, but I had Erkki substitute my wife for the comedic effect.
Let it be known that I have all the respect in the world for paramedics. That said, I have run into other "paras" that I thought took their credentials just a little bit too seriously—namely paralegals. A few of them seem to believe that they've earned the title of attorney through some bizarre process of osmosis, skipping over the inconvenient steps of completing law school and taking the bar exam. After a run in with one of these self-annointed Oliver Wendell Holmes types, I pondered how ridiculous it could get if this attitude spread to other disciplines.

Finally, in my over-the-top, most politically incorrect gag, I wondered what might have happened if L.A.-style drive-by shootings had been thought of 150 years ago. Realizing that Smokey The Bear and spray paint are 20th century inventions, the cartoon incorporates these anachronisms to make it that much more ridiculous.

If any of these cartoons made you chuckle or groan, then that is a fit tribute to my friend Erkki Alanen. May he rest in peace.

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