Ashland cartoonist recognized for his work
Longtime Ashland cartoonist Jack Wiens, an illustrator of many children’s books, has won the grand prize in the prestigious Homer C. Davenport International Cartoon Contest by depicting two small boys, one Black and one white, in a sandbox discussing the mysterious (to them) subject of racial hatred.
His cartoon, which came with a $750 award, shows boys saying how scary it was to learn about slavery, with the white boy apologizing for what his ancestors did — and noting that Abraham Lincoln did free the slaves. The Black lad says, “Yeah, but then he got shot, just like Dr. King.”
Wiens earlier won first prize for a cartoon of the same sandbox kids, where the white boy says his dad hates Black people. The other kid asks if his dad knows any Blacks. The white kid says “no,” and it’s left hanging there, a truth for millions to identify with and ponder.
The point of the cartoons, says Wiens, 75, is that, “If you boil it down to the simplest equation, which is the color of our skins, the kids don’t know about it. I learned it as a kid, from a bigoted family, and it amazes me that I still have bigoted thoughts and ask myself, ‘Where did that come from?’”
Wiens is self-taught, having learned as a child from watching Disney and Warner Brothers cartoons and imitating Donald Duck and Pluto, he says.
“I practiced it a lot and went on to illustrate children’s books, working for publishing companies for 30 years and doing a lot of serious illustration. I can’t look at anything without seeing how the light is hitting it, especially faces. They are my favorite things to draw, and I’m always learning and practicing in new ways.”
Three years ago, Wiens also won the Davenport grand prize — a picture of Lady Liberty weeping in a tiny cage like the ones used to house immigrant children on the Southern Border.
Another cartoon shows Black and white kids as best friends in grade school. They are bombarded with racist messages, so they prick their fingers and see the blood is the same, and they become blood brothers. But with indoctrination, he says, they won’t even speak to each other in high school.
“It’s been a theme in my heart a long time,” he says, and has come to the fore now with Black Lives Matter. “I want to use whatever gift I have to get the problem out there. It’s something we can address if we can be honest and, like little kids, not see color.”
Wiens is an old-fashioned artist who eschews digital art and does everything in watercolor and pen-and-ink — and, like many gifted artists and writers, he can’t market himself.
“I don’t have the patience to learn digital art either. Ninety-five percent of art is digital now. I honor those who can do it, but I’m just not willing.”
Wiens was born in Lakeview and grew up in Los Angeles and Ashland. He adored Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd and would eagerly study the Sunday funnies for material, he says, and fill his notebooks with drawings.
Because of Ashland’s abundance of art, community and “gorgeous environment,” he “re-fell in love” with it in later life and moved back here in 2012. A few years ago, Wiens got a Lloyd Matthew Haines grant to illustrate a book on grief and how to move through it.
Wiens was raised in the church and for a while was a youth pastor, moving eventually into the “loving kindness” teachings of the Dalai Lama, where “you treat your neighbor as yourself” and stop seeing colors.
“Some members of my family still hate Black people and don’t see them as human, but it’s just a lifetime of conditioning. We all have red blood and the same hopes and fears.”