Roy Carling captured the family farm right on the cusp of extinction. Roy was born in 1918 and lived to 2009. I purchased some 100 of his original cartoon drawings recently at a flea market and am just getting around to reading them. Roy lived and worked in Howard City, Michigan.
Family farm. A term which evokes pleasant memories even if you never worked on one.
You won't see any gags by Roy about Listeria or E. coli outbreaks from somewhere affecting folks ten states over. There are no jokes about recalls or "lot numbers" to watch out for. Back when Roy was doing his farm gags, crops traveled to the market down the road, not across the country. Each cow had an affectionate name, and when she gave birth the calves got names too...(they sometimes even talked!) Property was bought and sold by the acre, not the million hectacres.
Monsanto, patent owner of the genetically modified seeds everyone has been forced into relying on today evokes no pleasant memories, nor do any of the other "agri-business" companies now holding us and our elected officials by the turnips.
In Roy's work you will see chickens strolling freely and stopping to peck at a feeder. You see they had beaks then, they weren't clipped off to prevent fights in the factory. Today, Roy's chickens would be known as "free-range" as if that is something strange.
You will see a farmer trying to figure out how to use his new combine, or getting his tractor repaired, or discussing the new "hired man". One man...who negotiates his monthly wage while the farm owner rolls in the dirt laughing.
Junior is asked to open his piggybank for the next tractor payment. A farmer marvels at his new "six-row" tools. The big day is when the "poultry buyer" drives up while the wife gathers eggs and junior receives his allowance. One farmer here brags that he has doubled his flock size from 40 to 80 birds.
Roy depicted the world he knew, and that world had neighbors loaning their barbwire stretcher to each other. The "milk tank" springs a leak and the barn cats have a feast. A local eccentric stacks his chicken cages in piles of four. FOUR. Have you seen a chicken factory of late? Chicken skyscrapers. In fact they don't WANT you to see them. Long buildings back from the road with no signs...just enormous fans to remove the smell and warnings from a distant conglomerate to keep away. I can remember an elementary school with a visit to a farm. Not anymore.
Roy didn't know he was capturing the death of the family farm. In his work you see the silos getting bigger, the owners worried about being bought out, the first experience with breeders and traveling seed salesmen and putting up a barn sign as it changes ownership. The hardworking family imagines a bright future with "atomic" powered tractors. The availability of "new crop varieties" gives the wife a chance to argue for a new hat. After all, if corn comes in varieties, why shouldn't her wardrobe?
Roy Carling numbered each cartoon and saved a few of the publications they appeared in. The newsletter of the Central Ohio Breeders Association runs Roy's gag with a farmer holding his hat out for donations while leaving the local IRS office. The New York Breeders Cooperative runs his "cow a minute" gag. Roy saved a letter from Land O Lakes asking for a turkey cartoon for the thanksgiving issue.
Farms are not funny anymore.
Original, hand-drawn gag cartoons by Roy Carling, circa 1960-1975 Collection Jim Linderman
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