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A Disturbance in the Force
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A Disturbance in the Force

By Perfesser Cosmo Fishhawk,
TreetopsTattler.com

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Chris Cassatt was born in 1946 under the sign of the (Sal A.) Mander.

Artist, cartoonist, writer, photographer, Chris Cassatt was sane….pretty much. He reached the milestone of helming the nationally syndicated comic strip “SHOE” for one thousand weeks (almost 13 years) in February of 2012, and at that time mental health professionals declared Cassatt to still be in possession of several of his marbles. His physician announced, “I feel completely comfortable in using the term, “sane-ish” to describe Mr. Cassatt’s psychological condition.”

For some time people had thrown around the phrase “idiot savant” when Cassatt’s name came up, something many felt was a reckless and unfair characterization as few could figure out where the “savant” part fit in. Thanks to extensive studies conducted at some very prestigious institutions, researchers were able to determine that “savant” referred to Cassatt’s ability to earn a living by being an idiot. “It was a real breakthrough gushed the doctors. It gave hope to idiots everywhere.”

Since then, jubilant idiots and comic strip fans across the U.S. and beyond have demanded some kind of recognition for the veteran scribbler. A “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the IDIOT HALL OF FAME had been suggested, and perhaps a bobble head.

Cassatt’s early years are shrouded in mystery. It’s known that he spent some time at Windham College in Putney Vt. to avoid becoming cannon fodder in Viet Nam. That ended abruptly when a draft lottery number was drawn that was high enough to ensure he couldn’t have gotten into the Mexican Army if he wanted to.

Leaving academia in his wake, he migrated to the Rocky Mountains to make skis created out of real barrel staves, an idea whose time had not yet come. Industry professionals now say that if he’d been willing to stick it out for several more decades this might have been the year he turned a profit!

Ultimately Chris landed a job as flyboy at The Aspen Times. He quickly rose through the ranks to become head photographer and in-house cartoonist, producing a series of toons including “Protonabus,” “Cosmo,” “Downe and Dirty,” about a man and his untidy dog, “Pizza Bones,” and “Ute Toot.” In 1976 he created his iconic character Sal A. Mander who ran for office in Aspen several times, always with the support of Hunter S. Thompson.

It was in the thin air of the high Rockies that Chris met Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist and “Mother Goose & Grimm” creator Mike Peters. Apparently clear air and clear thinking are not the same thing as they quickly became close friends. Then in 1992 Peters introduced Cassatt to the great visionary genius, editorial cartoonist, Pulitzer Prize winner and SHOE creator Jeff MacNelly, who was tiring of the grind of a daily strip and recognized both the idiot and the savant in Chris.
MacNelly brought Cassatt into the SHOE family in an effort to avoid becoming the kind of drooling nitwit that Mrs. Cassatt woke up to every morning for the next 20 years. While the gambit worked for Jeff, who remained vital and creative until his untimely passing in 2000, MacNelly’s own worst fears sadly seem to be manifest in Chris.

After Jeff’s passing, Jeff’s wife Susie MacNelly along with Chris and Gary Brookins kept “Shoe” alive. Pooling their own strange talents and a collective sense of humor that surely has Jeff laughing to this day, they have carried on a tradition that brings a moment’s respite to fans across the globe.

Chris met his beautiful wife Lauren MacDonald in the early years at the Times where she was business manager and they wed in 1974. During their 40 years together they produced two spectacular children, son Alex and daughter Hayley. Alex is a sound engineer who inherited Chris’ technological genius while Hayley is a professional artist, thus divvying up all that the Cassatt gene pool had to offer. For several years now Alex and Hayley, have been working on the technical end of “Shoe” with Chris.

“Shoe,” Lauren, Alex, Hayley and the world lost Chris on January 16 after an intense battle with lymphoma. His family was by his side constantly during the last weeks of his life.

Michael Cleverly fabricated the above buffet of half-truths and innuendo. Cleverly has been writing as Cosmo Fishhawk, creating bi-weekly packs of lies for The Tattler for the last year and a half. He attended Windham College with Chris where he was witness to many things he couldn’t include in this appreciation of his oldest friend.

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