While most kids were riding bikes Terry Spearman was writing jokes.
Most kids draw dogs and bunnies, airplanes and cars: Terry Spearman drew politicians. Actually, he was probably past the bunny stage when he began doing political cartoons for the Durant Daily Democrat, but it seems unlikely that bunnies ever came off his pencil, even when he started.
“About the time I was born, my dad got one of those ‘Draw Winky’ things,” said Spearman. “One of my earliest memories is of my dad sitting there drawing, while he took the cartoon course.”
Winky was a cartoon character a fawn in an ad for Famous Artists Schools. (OK, Winky’s actual species was sort of up in the air, but fawn is pretty close. We are talking art here, not zoology.) The copy challenged you to draw Winky and demonstrate that you possessed the talent to enroll in the school’s correspondence course. Two lines and a dot would probably have earned an invitation to study by mail with the FAS, but nevertheless, quite a few artists of note got their start by drawing Winky.
In time, Spearman the elder turned the course, books and lessons over to Terry, and there was no holding the little boy back. “I just lived to draw out of those books,” he said. In short order, Terry was turning jokes into cartoons, “gags about fishing and things like that,” he said.
He was about 11 when he took some of his drawings to the editor of the Madill Record. Jim Pate called them “Terry’s Ticklers” and paid Terry a dollar for each cartoon.
Working a couple of days on a cartoon that brought in a dollar did not bother the blooming artist, but after a couple of years, he succumbed to the siren call that beckons most teenage boys, started a rock ‘n’ roll band, and stopped drawing.. “In 1976, we moved to Durant, and I decided I wanted to take it up again.” Bob Peterson was running the Daily Democrat at the time, and he not only took the cartoons, he raised the rate of pay to $10 a piece.
Older now, Spearman began tackling political subjects. The drawings were still humorous, but for a kid in high school the drawings had considerable insight. And let’s face it, politicians are naturally funny, even if they do not intend to be.
One cartoon was particularly timeless, and could have been run during the previous national administration with out loosing a beat. The congressman, Senator Somebody the sign on the door reads, is sitting across the desk from a curvaceous blonde. “So you can’t type or take shorthand,” he says, “I’m sure we can find a place for you.” In another, a coach with a hulking football player in tow, is asking if the dean can find his star easier courses like finger painting or locker.
Spearman was an art education major at Southeastern Oklahoma and was bent on becoming an artist, but then, “I ran out of money after a couple of years and quit.”
He met a girl on a trip to Colorado, and so he went to Southeastern to see about getting her scholarship transferred. He came out of the office with a scholarship of his own, and was able to finish school.
“I wanted to be an illustrator,” he said, but that was easier planned than done. “You can’t make a living doing that. The art world is a lot like the entertainment world —who you know, who you meet, more than what you can do.”
Nevertheless, Spearman gave it a shot, picking up a few jobs here and there, and then he noticed the photographers he hired to shoot pictures for his illustrations were doing nothing he couldn’t do just as well if not better. So he put down the pencils and brushes and picked up a camera. Then came another of those “but thens,” a good one this time. “The family struck oil, and we had a little extra money.”
Spearman’s father offered to pay his rent for six months so he could get started in the photography business. “That’s all he could do, he said, and I didn’t want to waste his money.” So photography it was, and still is. Terry Spearman, with a studio in Pottsboro is the only nationally certified “Master Photographer” between Dallas and Oklahoma City.
Maybe he should have stayed with the political cartooning. After all there more things to poke fun at these days than there ever were before, even if some of them are little scary.
This article appeared in the Winter 2006 issue of Texoma Living!.