Tue, 17 Nov 2009 01:13:00 +0000

I was looking through my old school notes the other day when I noticed a trend: An inordinate amount of them have doodles on the margins.

At some point, it became second nature. When a teacher or a professor started talking, my pen immediately went to the top of the page and started drawing a cartoon. In fact, my first timeout in kindergarten came when I drew a cartoon of my dad on my math homework:

At that point, I didn't understand the concept of a body and head. I thought it was all one thing, so all my cartoons turned out like Humpty Dumpty. Also, all my people were colored yellow because I never had peach colored crayons. So I chose yellow -- my grandparents said it was the color of Asian skin.

When I think back to these first drawings, I am convinced some sneaky adult stole the idea for "SpongeBob SquarePants" from me.

Soon, I got a new box of crayons with the color peach. I also began to understand that the head and body were separate -- I just didn't know what separated them, which is why my drawings never had necks. But my cartoons always had suits and ties, because I was taught that important people wore suits and ties.

The neck problem was soon solved, around second grade. But by that time, I became obsessed with another part of my body: my teeth. Why? Because I had just gotten my braces taken off. (Yes, I had braces in first grade.)

In fourth grade, I started to learn about the Civil War. I became obsessed with Abraham Lincoln, because all the history books made him out to be the most heroic person who ever lived.

I perfected the Lincoln doodle. But by fifth grade, I realized that he needed an enemy. We were learning about World War II, so I decided the best villain would be...

Yup, Adolf Hitler. He is, after all, the ultimate real-life villain. My obsession with history and current events was evident by my doodles. I decided Hitler needed a co-conspirator, so I drew him one.

Now, I had no idea who Fidel Castro was. I just knew that when the people on the news talked about him, they did so with such a disgusted tone that I knew he was the bad guy.

Since Hitler had a partner, I decided Lincoln needed a partner, too. So why not give him the quintessential smart guy to help him out?
I read everything I could about Albert Einstein. I even learned what E=MC^2 represented. I was a nerd.

I remember once I drew a picture of Einstein on my science test because I got done early. When I got the test back, my teacher, Mr. Trompeter, wrote, "75%. Next time, spend more time on the test and less time on drawing."

You'll notice by now that some of these characters have their eye lids halfway down. Well, I borrowed these eyes from the genius of Jim Davis.

As middle school rolled around, I learned about Elvis. Did I like Elvis' music? Nope. But my sixth grade social studies teacher did. I wonder how many extra credit points I got for this doodle.

When I was in middle school, the only thing people talked about was Bill Clinton. I remember watching the press conference: "I did not have sexual relations with that woman." I had no idea what this meant, but I did know he had a little smirk that made him easy to draw.

I was very sensitive to racial stereotypes growing up because I was an Asian boy in Kansas. That meant that 99 percent of people around me did not look like me. I paid attention to the smallest details of Asian faces -- the eyes, of course, but also the facial structure.

For the longest time, I wanted to be a basketball player. Even in middle school, when it was clear I was a poor basketball player, I hoped -- I knew -- I would have a growth spurt and I would play professional basketball. In the meantime, I drew hundreds of pictures of my favorite basketball players.
And, yes, my athlete doodles always had Popeye-like arms.

By the time I got to high school, I started doodling adorable things to try to get girls to pay attention. They did.

And from this, uh, venture, my favorite cartoon was born. It's my elephant.

This elephant actually carries a lot of meaning. It was inspired by the Disney cartoon "Dumbo." That was the only movie I had as a kid growing up because my parents were poor and couldn't afford to get me anything else. So for two years, I watched "Dumbo" every day before my nap.

I watched it again last summer. It's a much sadder movie than I remember.

If you think the shape of the elephant's head is familiar, it's because a Nickelodeon cartoon shared a similar head structure.

When I got to college, doodling was the only thing that kept me awake in several of my classes. But sometimes, I fell asleep anyway.
I'd wake up and my notes would consist of illegible letters, scary-looking eyes and an ear attached to something that vaguely looks like a head. Once, a professor called me out in a 400-person lecture and said, "Hey you in the back, if you're going to sleep in my class, then just leave."

So I did.

I was angry with him for calling me out, so I drew a picture of him.

...then I skipped the class for the rest of the semester.

I got an A-minus. Still, I was a spoiled idiot.

Sometimes I would go to the park with a notepad and tell myself I was going to write. I told myself it'd be a nice way to relax. But I worked 60 hours a week at a newspaper while going to school full-time. I was tired of writing. So I drew picture of the people in the park.

My senior year of college, I decided to take an art class. I was horrified because my professor used big words to talk about art. Then he'd say, "The conversion has yet to take place." I had no idea what he was talking about.

One day in art class, a male model came to class. He was nude. I didn't know how to deal with his, uh, manly part so I found a solution to avoid the dilemma.

My professor said, "Alvin, you must convert the source. You must filter it through you, the artist, and put it on the paper."

This allowed me to avoid my dilemma another way.

He loved it, and displayed it in a gallery somewhere.

I have a theory: Once a human being no longer attends classes, his doodling skill drop significantly. The other day, I was in a meeting and doodling when I noticed that my doodles had reverted to stick figures.

I think there's something beautiful about a doodle. Because it's such a mindless action, yet it often leads to such lasting creations.
I am 22 now, but I can still draw my doodles from first grade the exact same way as I did the first time. I remember why I put a certain line in a specific place.

The world usually tells us that the most important part of our lives is between the lines of the loose-leaf piece of paper. But I'm starting to think the margins say a lot more about who we are.