Excerpt: 'Inklings,' a Memoir by Jeffrey Koterba

Cartoons in space

Following is an excerpt from "INKLINGS," a memoir by cartoonist Jeffrey Koterba. Two of his cartoons, drawn at the request of astronaut Clayton Anderson, are being carried on board the space shuttle Discovery, scheduled for a mission to the International Space Station this month.

On the dusty wood floor of my room, I devour Peanuts, Dennis the Menace, The Wizard of Id.

I'm convinced I'm a time traveler, reading tomorrow's funny pages. As I scan Prince Valiant and the strips that remind me of my mother's soap operas, I dislodge a nugget of gravel that became embedded in my right palm while I was crawling on the floor.

From my dresser I retrieve a black Flair pen and a handful of typing paper. In the other room, TVs are blaring. The music and laughter make me wish we're throwing a party, but we never have visitors. It's back to the floor, on my stomach.

I position Peanuts to my left, a sheet of paper to my right. Often, the early-edition comics are blurry, the black outlines and colors not quite in register. Tonight everything is aligned as perfectly as in a comic book.

Charlie Brown.

His eyes are two black dots bracketed by parentheses.

I always start with the eyes.

Back and forth I go, shaking my head in slow motion, studying, sketching. Left. Right. I'm in a trance.

There's a spot of blood next to my Charlie Brown. It's from picking out the gravel. I ignore the blood and keep going. The paper is smooth, its surface soothing, healing.

After a quick scribble of hair, I'm ready for the mouth. Even when the Charlie Brown in the newspaper comes with a wavy line, I change it to a smile. This time I want my Charlie Brown to look exactly like the Charlie Brown in the newspaper.

I lick my lips. I make the wavy line.

I move on to Snoopy, then to the King and Spook from The Wizard of Id. When I'm drawing, time stands still.

I finish and come up for air. On my elbows, I study my efforts.

Silence.

When did the house get quiet? I can't hear my father's TVs. I want to show my mother what I've drawn, but I'm paralyzed by the utter lack of sound. If not for my lamp casting an orange glow through its tasseled shade, our house might've blown another fuse. I can hear nothing but my own breathing.

Jeffrey Koterba is an award-winning syndicated political cartoonist. The above is excerpted from his book "INKLINGS." Copyright © 2009 by Jeffrey Koterba. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

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