A Loving Dedication to Mr Strauss
I sometimes wonder if he's still alive... that wonderful old coot. Mr Myron (Mike) Strauss was my cartooning teacher at the High School of Art and Design back in the late 70s. His voice never rose above a whispery squeak, and his unassuming, laid-back demeanor gave off the impression that his class was going to be one of the easy ones - which pretty much it was. Certainly not because Strauss was any sort of push-over, but because his approach to his own curriculum was more of a requirement he did begrudgingly, and clearly not his preferred method of teaching. What was, seemed more or less not to teach at all - but to let you draw whatever you wanted. "Draw, draw and draw" he used to say, and to the delight of his students that was pretty much his only real assignment.
Sure, he went through all the usual projects - lessons in lettering, the three panel comic strip, the full page color spread and my first introduction to zip-a-tone, the now out-dated method of comic-art screen tone application. But he knew that if he let his students draw as much as they wanted, whatever they wanted, that they'd eventually find their own signature styles - and when he saw something you did that he particularly liked he'd look you in the eye and say "...you're a genius." When someone else within earshot asked "what about me, Strauss?" he'd say "You, I'm not so sure." He was one funny guy.
On occasion he'd bring in something he did during his days as an advertising illustrator, and you'd be reminded quickly that despite his apparent lackadaisical attitude toward his somewhat of a sham teaching job, that he was once a man whose talents could quickly put most swarmy-assed art students back in their place. He knew his stuff. But more than that, Strauss showed through daily example that a sense of humor was everything. Without it you might as well just call it a day and go home.
I can recall one time in the late 80s, for one reason or the other, I revisited Strauss in his classroom. He was still there, wearing his cowboy boots and thumbing through a magazine as his students sat drawing. I was wondering if he was going to remember me. I'm not really sure if he did, although after I introduced myself he said "yes" and then kept repeating my last name like a mantra. He might've just been trying to be polite, I'm not certain.
Anyway, just to give you an idea of what kind of funny and influential man he was - here are a few of my favorite Mr Strauss memories... Enjoy....
One day Mr. Strauss gave a drawing assignment that had the class pretty deep in thought - so it was very quiet while everyone's heads were down, drawing attentively. Christian de Mesones (a fellow classmate who others might remember as the guy who dressed up as Gene Simmons of KISS at Halloween) was sitting right in front of Strauss. Strauss put him there as a punishment of some type or so that he could keep a closer eye on him. Anyway, Strauss always liked to suck on sucking candies and he must've accidentally swallowed one - or it went down his windpipe... so he began to suffocate. However, he calmly passed a note to Chris which read "I'M CHOKING!" and Chris read it, said "Oh shit!" and jumped up. Then he grabbed Strauss from behind and gave him one of those Heimlich maneuvers and the candy came shooting out across the room. After that life-saving incident Chris felt Strauss owed him and he could goof off as much as possible and still not get a failing mark. A few weeks later, the test results were handed out from some recent art test Strauss had given - and Chris saw he failed it. He said to Strauss "Hey man, you can't fail me! I saved your LIFE!" and Strauss said, "That's why I failed you - WHO WANTS TO LIVE?" - - True story!!
Mr Strauss memory #2...
Strauss would often sing or hum during class - and on occasion he would say things (to no one in particular, just any recipient within earshot)... one thing he did cracked me up during another quiet moment. He said (again to no one in particular) "You know when you know YOU'VE MADE IT?" Most of us looked up as if to say, "no, ...when?" Then he swung his legs up over the desk and let them land on top of it with a loud THUD THUD!!! and said "When you can afford to buy boots like THESE!!!!
Big lug saves man with big heart
Incidentally, as a follow-up story to that first Strauss memory... another A&D classmate of mine, Guy Gonzales remembers, "Chris couldn't draw to save his life, but the way he tells it, Strauss did pass him, but they kept it secret, since Chris failed miserably. I heard that candy incident so many times form Chris himself, and he always emerges the hero, the big lug (he's a phenomenal bass player though; he even played with Roberta Flack)."
Well, now the secret is out, Strauss, wherever you are. God bless you and THANKS for the memories...
Got Strauss? Send any rememberances and photographs to Jzero's Sketchbook.