Creator Rick London is a master of humor. The first time I met this comic wit, who launched Londons Times Cartoons out of thin air with no backing other than his brains, he was not yet a cartoonist, but a successful entrepreneur who had founded an interesting bus tour business in 1988. I was a freelance writer at the time, and he was getting major media coverage worldwide so I stood in line for an interview. I enjoyed this humble soul.
As it turned out, in addition to being in business, he was a writer as well and we stayed friends. Around 1994 or so, we lost touch, but found him on the Internet in 2005. I discovered him by accident, looking at various offbeat cartoon websites, and found he had one of the largest, most visited, and funniest.
I emailed him in late August 2001, and he was living in Hot Springs, Ar. I asked him if I could do an interview and he agreed but was not feeling well and also was busy with his website, and wondered if we could delay it a week or two. I waited and continued writing the article.
A week later I called him and there was no answer. I tried several more times and still no answer and finally gave up, figuring he was way too busy to take time with a freelance journalist when he was continuing to get so much media and Internet attention. As it turned out, that was not why he did not respond. On September 10th, he emailed me and asked me to contact him by phone which I did. His voice sounded weak and words a bit slurred. As it turned out, he had just been released from the hospital after suffering a major heart attack. I told him the interview could wait, rest was more important. We spoke a little more, he was lucid and coherent, and explained we could do the interview by phone and email but to only do a few minutes, ten at most, per day, and we could wrap it up in a few weeks. That worked for me.
He called me the next day at the end of the morning. He said he was watching the cable tv and felt he might be having a negative side effect from the drugs given to him because he was hallucinating and feeling that planes were crashing into buildings in Washington and New York. Of course, living in Northern Va., right outside of D.C. I knew were right in the middle of 9/11. At first I hesitated to explain to him what I felt was happening, but knowing him, I also figured he would figure it out sooner or later, so I told him America was under attack, but not to worry, it was not happening where he lived. He said that was not the point, that his only family and friends were still in the D.C area and he needed to contact them. I told him I would do that for him, to rest. By the end of the conversation it was clear he was very upset, and I was worried that his heart may fail again. I told him to please not worry, but was crying slightly on the phone and I could tell he was too. We hung up. I called him back several days later and he was more lucid and had been watching the news. Rick, who usually has a strong, firm voice, was shaking, and he was sobbing and said he had to do something, he didn’t know what, but as a person working in the arts, he had to make some kind of contribution. He was not sure at the time the chances of his own survival from his health condition, however.
“A fighter” would probably be the best way to describe this creative man. I explained to him there really wasn’t much he could do at this point. We went on with a series of intermittent conversations, of which he would occasionally pause, change the subject, and tell me something about “a cat” or it sounded like that. I didn’t know what he meant, but I jotted it down on a pad.
It would not be too long before I received an email from Rick. It simply had the following link; http://www.londonstimes.us/cat/cat.html .While the Interview was in progress, and he was recovering from a near-fatal heart attack, Rick founded Cartoonists Against Terrorism.
I was astounded. He had brought together cartoonists from around the world, to contribute cartoons they had published on the topic of September 11, 2001. It was project so large and imaginative in scope, I could hardly believe a man with perfect health and all his cognitive functions could have put it together, much less a 45 year old man who was struggling for his life.
And that is not the end of a most interesting story. His strategy was to gather enough contributions to publish a book that would benefit the widows and families of the firefighters who perished on 9/11. He would do so through the Salvation Army. The problem was the cartoons were 90% in four color, and color is expensive to reproduce, plus, most of the major publishers who could pull it off, were in downtown New York. Many were not even up to full-speed with their presses yet; some were not back to work yet. The obstacles remained too monumental, so Rick simply left it as a website.
His work did not go unnoticed by the firefighting community. They awarded Rick’s site with the prestigious “Hot Site” Award, which is still showcased on the CAT site. In addition, one of the cartoons rendered by Johann Wessels hung in the Museum Of Illustrative Art in New York for three months, and then was donated to a station on Long Island that lost more firefighters that day than any other, percentage wise. It still is showcased on their wall as a memorial. It is simply called “Hoses” and it portrays a red, white, and blue, American flag made of fire hoses. Cartoonists from as far away as China to France and as close as Little Rock, Ar. contributed. It was quite a feat, an incredible project that remains a major icon on the Internet in memory of those we lost on that tragic day, developed by a humble man, Rick London who was fighting for his own life at the time. And all he wanted to do was leave the world a better place, he told me “for his brother and cousin’s children, and all the young people of the world, who, he said, would “inherit this mess one day”.
As if the story were not amazing enough, Rick was contacted by Arab Times Cartoonist Mahmood Kahlil, who has since passed away, who asked Rick if he could donate cartoons to the site. Rick is Jewish. Mahmood was Muslim. Rick gave it the okay, but many on his cartoon team were not in agreement. Rick’s explanation was that even though we may philosophically disagree with the cartoons, it is important to show the world what freedom of speech is all about. The message being sent out was far more important than whether we agreed or disagreed with this cartoonists point of view. In my opinion, that takes a very open and humble mind to transcend what had happened, and Rick did not censor the man because of his religion or creed, during a time when many others were doing so. In fact, the two became friendly, and chatted often, even though their major disagreement, of course, concerned Israel, they both agreed to disagree and ended each conversation with laughter and a joke or two. Rick was visibly upset upon hearing of Mahmood’s untimely death while in his mid-40’s. Mahmood’s cartoons remain on the CAT site.
I surf to both websites regularly now. Though the CAT site is no longer updated, Rick’s main cartoon site is. I am often asked my favorite cartoon ever. I love the Far Side, but it is now retired, so it has to be Londons Times. The site has about 8000 or more of his original concepts (his creative illustrative team render them) and many of them are classics. I put them in the same league with The Far Side. I have never seen such a large and witty body of work.