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Terns of Endearment: Fairbanks cartoonist Jamie Smith is going to the birds

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Posted: Friday, November 29, 2013 12:00 am

FAIRBANKS — Fairbanks cartoonist Jamie Smith likes to peck fun at birds, but he has even more fun belittling bird watchers.

“Birds are funny, but birders are funnier,” Smith confided. “They’re a unique species.”

Truth be told, though, Smith is an amateur bird watcher himself. Watching how they act and behave generates ideas for cartoons and helps when it comes to drawing them, Smith said. He also likes just watching them for the enjoyment.

“We’ve got a half dozen feeders,” Smith said. “We keep our cats indoors. We’re even having ham for Thanksgiving.”

On  Monday, Smith will be presenting a program for the Arctic Audubon Society called “Terns of Endearment” in the Noel Wien Library auditorium beginning at 7 p.m. Smith will show several of his favorite bird cartoons that he has drawn over the past 25 years for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner and other publications in Alaska. He will also talk about how he comes up with ideas for bird cartoons that he draws.

“I’m just basically showing a bunch of cartoons that have birds in them,” Smith said in his typical dead-pan manner.

While Smith is well known for his cartoon strips involving beaver, his trademark critter, he said he was surprised to see how many cartoons he has drawn over the years featuring birds as he was picking out cartoons for his Arctic Audubon program.

“It surprised me to troll through the archives and see how often they pop up and are used as subject matter,” he said.

Smith said he gets ideas for his bird cartoons by watching birds and relating them to people as well as watching people and relating them to birds.

“It is a subject matter where there’s a big overlap of obsessive people that geek out on their passion,” he said, referring to the bird watching crowd. “Any time you have a group of people geeking out on their specific obsession, them’s good picking for funnies.”

Smith pretty much uses only local birds in his cartoons, though a penguin has been known to make it into his strips on occasion.

Ravens, the favorite bird of many Fairbanksans, are probably the bird that find their way into his cartoons more than any other, which Smith attributes to his and the birds’ affinity for Dumpsters.

“All that time I spend Dumpster diving, I’m watching ravens,” he said. “Ravens are an endless source of entertainment.”

Owls are another bird that make it into Smith’s strips on a semi-regular basis. In fact, Smith said he is working on a children’s book involving owls. He is also working on a graphic novel about Roger Tory Peterson, a famous naturalist, ornithologist and artist who wrote “A Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern and Central North America.”

Smith said he will talk a little bit about both projects in his presentation, as well as one of his artistic heroes, J.N. “Ding” Darling, a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist and conservationist from Iowa who helped initiate the Federal Duck Stamp program and designed the first federal duck stamp. The J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island in Florida is named after him.

 It was Melissa Sikes who came up with the idea to have Smith put on a bird program for Arctic Audubon. The group was having a meeting in the cafe of Gulliver’s book store on College Road and Smith happened to be there drawing cartoons.

“I just went over and said, ‘Hey, what would you think of doing a program for us?’” Sikes said. “I knew he had done a bunch of cartoons with birds.”

Getting Smith to host an Arctic Audubon program is a coup, as in coup, not coop.

“We look for dynamic speakers and I know he’s a fun speaker,” Sikes said. “It’s something a little different.”

Terns of Endearment 

What: An Arctic Audubon Society presentation by Fairbanks cartoonist Jamie Smith featuring some of his flightiest work with birds.

When:  7 p.m. Monday

Where: Noel Wien Library auditorium

 Contact outdoors editor Tim Mowry at 459-7587. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors.

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