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Mind Over Miller: A lifetime of cartooning


When I meet a colleague for the first time, the question I am asked most commonly is "When did you start cartooning?"

When I meet a colleague for the first time, the question I am asked most commonly is "When did you start cartooning?"

My answer: "When I was in a highchair." I really do remember cartooning in a highchair. It may be my earliest memory. What was I drawing? Animals, of course!

I cartooned in every class I ever attended, from the time I started kindergarten until I received my DVM degree. I lampooned the teachers and what they were discussing, and I would pass the cartoon around the class, trying to make my classmates laugh. Amazingly, I never got in trouble.

I drew a cartoon as a third-year veterinary student that I regretted. Dr. O.R. Adams was the chief of staff at Colorado State University (CSU). He was both respected and feared. He was a weightlifter and bodybuilder, and his coverall sleeves were cut off at the shoulders to display his mighty arms. All CSU graduates of my era have amazing anecdotes about Dr. Adams and the incredible displays of strength he delighted in demonstrating. For example, three of us students and a farmer were trying to lead a recalcitrant Holstein cow into a horse trailer when Dr. Adams passed by and told us to move aside. He got down behind the cow, seized a flank in each hand, lifted her hindlimbs off the ground, and pushed her into the trailer like a wheelbarrow. Anyway, in one class (not one of his classes), I drew a cartoon of an intern telling a client, "Oh! Here comes the professor now." Down the hallway, swinging on ceiling pipes, came a gorilla.

Now, my cartoons always disappeared. Either my classmates would take them or a teacher would confiscate them. (Years after I graduated, Dr. Robert Pearson invited me into his office to see the many cartoons he had hanging on his walls.) This cartoon was no exception. It disappeared, and I didn't know what had become of it.

One day I took a shortcut through an empty student locker room. As I came around the lockers, there was Dr. Adams, with his back to me, looking at the bulletin board. To my horror, the gorilla cartoon was pinned to the board. I ducked behind the lockers. The adrenaline rush had my heart pounding. "I'm dead!" I thought. Not hearing anything after a while, I peeked around the lockers. Dr. Adams was still standing there, hands on hips, looking at the cartoon. I could have wept, but then I noticed something—his mighty shoulders were shaking. He was laughing! Nevertheless, I hid until I heard him leave, and then I tore down the cartoon and shredded it.

It didn't occur to me to sell my cartoons until 1949. I had a summer job on a Colorado ranch, and as usual, it inspired cartoons ridiculing the daily events, my boss, and my fellow ranch hands. My boss encouraged me to visit the Western Horseman magazine office in Colorado Springs and show them my cartoons. I showed a couple of dozen cartoons to the editor and publisher, Dick Spencer, who was a cartoonist himself. He bought all of them—for $3 each.

Thus, began my career as a cartoonist. I cartooned for various livestock publications as Bob Miller. During veterinary school, my cartooning income helped pay things my G.I. bill didn't. After I graduated, it was several years before I earned more than $400 a month. To supplement my income, I started cartooning for Modern Veterinary Practice. I didn't want to be identified as a cartoonist now that I was a veterinarian, so I signed my cartoons as RMM. After a while, the journal—without my permission—revealed my identity. My secret was out!

I was correct in trying to remain anonymous. I still meet colleagues who ask me if I ever practiced medicine. I tell them that I did have some practice experience but never more than 90 hours a week.

Although I planned to abandon cartooning once my practice was successful, I didn't do so because every day in this unique and wonderful profession sparked more cartoon ideas. I still have a drawer filled with hundreds of notes on cartoon themes. It has been a joy to be able to bring smiles to my colleagues all over the world.

Robert M. Miller, DVM, is an author and a cartoonist, speaker, and Veterinary Medicine Practitioner Advisory Board member from Thousand Oaks, Calif. His thoughts in "Mind Over Miller" are drawn from 32 years as a mixed-animal practitioner. Visit his Web site at www.robertmmiller.com.

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