The invitation was the kind one doesn't say no to.
It arrived as an email from former Free Press colleague and National Newspaper Award-winning cartoonist Dale Cummings -- now retired -- and it went like this: "I'm working on a cartoon book, You Might be From Manitoba If... about the uniqueness and peculiarities of Manitoba. I was wondering if you'd be interested in writing a back cover blurb for it. Nothing much, just a sentence or two would do it..."
Dale went on to say we could have lunch and he would show me what he has created to date. So, last Tuesday we met downtown at the Yellow Dog Tavern -- his suggestion -- where he pulled out a stack of water-colour drawings he's been working on for several months. The book's subtitle could be The Art of Laughing at Ourselves. Dale's been exploring who we are at the request of John MacIntyre of MacIntyre Purcell Publishing, which has produced two other cartoon collections such as the one Dale is working on; one for Nova Scotia, and a second for Saskatchewan, and all with similar titles.
It was obvious from the proposed cover art these cartoons are a different challenge for a guy who has been accustomed to being in the faces of Free Press readers in a pointedly political way.
"I'm trying to be non-political," Dale explained of his new venture.
"I'm trying to entertain people. I'm not trying to piss them off, just make them happy, which is unusual for me."
I can tell you he made me happy when he pushed the pile of cartoons across the table and I began paging through them, beginning with an offering that will probably end up as the back cover.
It depicts a winter scene with a burly bison, parked and plugged into a battery-charger, like a frozen Ford F-150 in need of a boost from CAA.
I laughed and Dale smiled.
"If someone laughs," Dale said, "It's got to be working."
I laughed again and again. Out loud. Or sometimes, I just nodded and smiled because I am from Manitoba and I was not only tickled, at times I was touched by how Dale Cummings' cartoons capture the icons, myths and the magic of who we are as Manitobans. He might be from Ontario, originally, but after more than 30 years of living with and becoming one of us, he knows enough to call a jelly doughnut a jambuster. He gets us. Although, he would still like a little help from Free Press readers because he needs more cartoon ideas.
What's he done so far?
Well, besides the plugged-in bison, there's a smiling Burton Cummings enjoyed a Salisbury House treat while a little dog takes a small bite of his leg, accompanied by the caption: "You might be from Manitoba if... you know what a Nip is."
There was another -- kind of a deeper one -- featuring a boy reaching into a hole in the ground full of slithering reptiles at Narcisse. Yes, you guessed it, you might be from Manitoba if... "you think a snakepit is a good idea."
The one that came easiest to Dale -- a tandem, actually -- featured the Winnipeg Jets and two emotional fans, with the captions: "You cried when the Jets left... You cried when they came back."
Since we met last week, Dale has added this one: "You might be from Manitoba if... every lump on the landscape is called a mountain." And there's a drawing of a guy standing on a cow.
When I had finished paging through the cartoons I noticed there was one obvious omission. There isn't one featuring what's really funny about summer in Manitoba.
"Don't worry," Dale advised. "You can't do it without mosquitoes.
"The mosquitoes will be coming,"
Guess he's been so busy drawing, he hasn't noticed.
"The mosquitoes are already here, Dale. But speaking of 'you can't do it without...,' Dale can't do the rest of the book without your help. Well, he could, but it wouldn't be as much fun. So please complete the title sentence: "You might be from Manitoba if..." and email your suggestions to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'll pass your ideas along to Dale. In the meantime, Dale thanks you, I thank you, and so does the battery-charged Bison, who, like the rest of us Manitobans, is only now just starting to warm up.