The Commuter Challenge

1 July 2014

The July 2014 Challenge

by CC @ 23:34

The July 2014 Commuter Challenge is to make an original historical cartoon in the spirit of Kate Beaton or Larry Gonick. The cartoon may be as long or as short as you like – a one-panel cartoon would be fine, as would an entire graphic novel. The cartoon must include at least one famous historical figure and refer to event(s) and/or trait(s) associated with that person. A well-drawn cartoon is not necessary; stick figures or clip art would be acceptable. No amount of historical accuracy is required.

The Results

Brian Raiter

Ryan Finholm


  1. I copied Kate Beaton’s style as much as I could for this challenge. Trying to emulate her style fell apart at the last frame because I couldn’t find examples where she had characters facing away from the reader, probably because I limited my Beaton reference material to her excellent book “Hark! A Vagrant” [go to your local independent bookstore and buy it right now] instead of poring through her wonderful website []. Extra special thanks to Kate Beaton for showing me (through her work) that tousled bangs = male adolescence, and flared sleeves and trousers = adult female. Just kidding. Maybe just half-kidding.

    I wanted to make the 12 year old Ptolemy V as scrawny as possible to undercut the hubris of his pronouncements. I realize that Ptolemy V was almost certainly not a pasty-white blonde, but my shading attempts were disastrous and probably offensive so I left him as is.

    The three chisellers in the third panel are speaking in ancient Egyptian, ancient Greek, and Farsi respectively, to represent the three languages written on the Rosetta Stone. The ancient Egyptian “zeet” is a phonetic approximation per some website, and I suspect that it is probably inaccurate. The “yessir” in ancient Greek should be about right. The Rosetta Stone’s other language is actually Demotic Egyptian, but I used “yes” in Farsi instead because I couldn’t find Demotic script translations anywhere, and Farsi looked closest. I realize that is like equating the Russian and English alphabets and vocabularies because they sort of look similar, but hey, I tried.

    Fun fact: the text of Rosetta Stone is about the coronation/immortalization of Ptolemy V, but it actually does have a couple mentions of grain. An approximate translation of the Rosetta Stone’s Demotic Egyptian text is available at , but I’d like to officially concur with the lady in the last frame: The content of the text was the least significant historical contribution of the Rosetta Stone.

    by RyanF — 1 August 2014 @ 09:43

  2. Brian’s entry is great. Turing was on my ‘long list’ of possibilities for this challenge, but I couldn’t see past the tragedy – Winston Churchill said that Turing made the single biggest contribution to Allied victory in the war against Nazi Germany, so why didn’t Churchill lift a finger when Turing was prosecuted for homosexuality in 1952? [Churchill was Prime Minister at the time.] It is all too disturbing and sad, I could go on for pages.

    Is that the lewd pun that I think it is?

    by RyanF — 1 August 2014 @ 10:21

  3. My entry illustrates an actual event (well, minus all the back-and-forth in the middle between Alan Turing and Tony Brooker) as briefly described in Hodges’s biography. This, mind you, took place after Turing’s arrest and sentencing, which is part of what made it so memorable. (Well, that plus his annoyance at the student’s rejection). Despite having the typical English reserve, Turing never seemed to show much interest in concealing his homosexuality. I don’t mean to pretend to know his thoughts, but — stubbornly refusing to acknowledge the parts of greater society that you think should change is such an archetypal geek behaviorism. It was easy to imagine him defending his attitude with some typical geek-style logic.

    (In so many ways, Turing’s story is of a man born 50 years too early. Openly gay in 1950s England, a computer geek born before computers existed, theorizing about artificial intelligence back when programs were measured in kilobytes. Tony Brooker is in his eighties now. It’s heartbreaking to think that Alan Turing could still be alive today, to witness the computer revolution and the advances in gay rights, had his life only taken a slightly different route.)

    I’m a big fan of Kate Beaton as well, and I really wished that I could channel her when I drew this. In my mind’s eye I could see how this cartoon might look if she drew it. I really wanted this to look better, but alas, I’m no Kate Beaton. My rendering of Turing doesn’t much look like him, I’m afraid. (Though I at least managed to keep him relatively consistent across eight panels, which is an accomplishment for me.) On the web I found exactly one photograph of Tony Brooker from his youth, but I actually think I did a pretty good job of rendering him.

    Also, of course, too many words and some talking heads — always a bad sign in cartoons. I know, I know, but my attempts to edit the text enough to make a difference didn’t pan out. Maybe if I were a better cartoonist I would have tried harder, but as it is, I figured less drawing wasn’t really a huge loss.

    by Brian — 1 August 2014 @ 11:30

  4. PS: I didn’t intend to make a lewd pun, and in fact I have no idea what you’re referring to. But if the pun is clever, then the answer is yes.

    by Brian — 1 August 2014 @ 11:38

  5. I absolutely love Ryan’s entry. Unlike me, he’s got the drawing chops to do a real cartoon. Plus, Rosetta stone, so already I’m on board. I love the shading and the details, the background figure in the first panel (I assume that’s Cleopatra I), the facial expressions in general, the full Egyptian name, and of course the yessirs in the third panel. We should do more cartoons for the CC.

    by Brian — 1 August 2014 @ 11:49

  6. Okay I notice this each time I look at the cartoon so I’m going to say it: I think the “student up from London” in Brian’s cartoon looks just like George W. Bush.

    by RyanF — 15 August 2014 @ 22:16

  7. And again: Special thanks to my talented and patient hand model Andrei (for the hands in the second panel).

    by RyanF — 15 August 2014 @ 22:22