Davis conveys ideas through humor, cartoons

Published Friday, September 14, 2007

A wry sense of humor does not beget a man immersed in the worldly business of finance.

Or does it?

Milton Davis, the financial guru in this instance, dotes on humor, wry or otherwise, in the cartoons he creates when the spirit embraces him, and it does with some regularity.

His stylistic cartoons are seen in the Log Cabin Democrat and other media outlets, and in larger doses in his new book, "The Toad and I From Toad Suck Country Part II."

"I didn't start out to be a famous cartoonist, and my friends tell me I've succeeded," he says in the self-effacing manner that has always ruled his persona.

This is Milton Davis as he is, an upfront kind of guy. What you see is what you get. There's no guile in this man who works as an investment broker for the Edward Jones national confederation of investment branches out of his precinct at the corner of Toad Suck Square which, he says with more than a modicum of truth, is a place he named.

The engaging fellow knows full well that he has shortcomings as artist. His art is suspect. So what? His cartoons have a certain "je ne sais quoi" about them. And that may be the key to their approval. Art plays a secondary part to the captions, wherein lies the vastness of his creativity.

He says the idea of naming his cartoon book "The Toad and I from Toad Suck Country" developed from his realization that what is different about Faulkner County is "Toad Suck."

"Sure, it doesn't have any class, but it is unique, That's what my friends say about my cartoons," he laughs.

The part 2 of his book, as he calls it, is big hearted and generous to light heartedness. There's humor in it, gobs of it, and intelligence and even virtuosity in the endearing labels, which Davis calls "verbiage."

There's no pretense to his art. What you see are cartoons that are delightful and provocative - comic drawings of outrageous figures that elicit a smile, a laugh and even a loud guffaw. It's the Davis wit at work. Never bombastic or offensive. He simply wants the reader to enjoy.

The late artist Jerry Poole, a former head of the art department at the University of Central Arkansas, had this to say about Davis' work: "His highly creative characters represent everyone and no oneThey are proverbial statements reflecting truths known by all but confessed by few. To read Davis cartoons is to say, if only under your breath, 'He's absolutely right. I like that.'"

It was providential his first meeting in 1979 with Poole and his conferee Foy Lisenby, another artist. When they asked to see Davis' cartoons, Davis was horrified. "The last thing I wanted to do was to show them my art," he chuckled at the recollection. "I figured they would tell me to go take some art lessons. But they didn't. They actually liked my stuff."

With that knowledge in hand, Davis dropped by the newspaper offices in the five towns that were on his work itinerary for Edward Jones and asked the editors if they would publish his cartoons. To a man and to his surprise they agreed, and Davis became a published cartoonist. His fame grew among local papers, and before long his art was being carried in 20 newspapers in central Arkansas, including the Log Cabin Democrat

Even the old Arkansas Gazette succumbed to the Davis wit by publishing his cartoons.

"They paid me $3 for a cartoon," he said almost doubling up with laughter at the remembrance.

So he's not any great shakes as a cartoonist, yet his endeavor gives him a big kick. "It's an ego trip for me," he said. "I get a lot of comment from people who say they like my cartoons. But which one? They can't remember but that doesn't make any difference."

The measure of his success in cartooning is in the comment and not the art, he is wont to say. He never took an art class. "I had mechanical drawing in high school and that helps me in printing the verbiage."

People read and like his cartoons for many reasons: They are a slice of life, containing wry humor with a sense of immediacy about them and a pleasurable stop at every drawing, And always that inimitable Davis "verbiage."

"The Toad and I from Toad Suck Country Part II" is available at Davis's office and no place else. "They are $25 each and $20 if they are signed," he cracked deadpan before giving out with that patented Davis chortle. "They are a limited edition because I ran out of money," he joked.

Today 31 years after the fact, Davis can look back at his tenure as a cartoonist and enjoy the scenery. He's made people laugh which was exactly what he intended to do with his skill.

"And when I met 'The Toad,' he inspired me to name my cartoon book Toad Suck Country. What a motivator," Davis said.

Somebody once described a piece of writing as "revelation at play." That might well be the Davis mantra.

(Fred Petrucelli can be reached by phone at 327-1148 or e-mail at lpetru@cyberback.com.)

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