East Arlington cartoonist lets you pause for a rueful smile

Arlington-inspired cartoon by Adam J. B. Lane.Lane's panel inspired by Arlington. Too see a larger version. click the cartoon.

UPDATED, May 3: Adam J. B. Lane usually works alone, drawing cartoons and illustrations for children's books from his home in East Arlington. But as with many of us these days, more people than usual are in his house: He is surrounded by two kids, a puppy, an older dog and his wife, also working at home.

“Fortunately,” he says, in a light British accent, “the kids get on well,” adding with a slightly mocking tone, “There’s no open warfare.”

Lane’s dry humor figures into the cartoons he draws for The Boston Globe, which most recently have focused on the pandemic. During Passover, he drew a multi-panel cartoon in which the Pharaoh speaks to an audience resembling the daily briefings given by President Trump. After bragging about how well he's doing at beating back plagues, the Pharaoh suggests some cures: “pigeon droppings and camel hair,” he tells an assembly of people sitting several seats apart from each other. Try it, he says. “What have you got to lose?”

Adam J. B. Lane. / Corey Flint Photography.Corey Flint Photography

“Oh, my god, I couldn’t live without Play Time."

-- Adam J. B. Lane

Taking Liberty

In another, an immigrant on board a ship looks up at the Statue of Liberty, who is wearing a protective mask. Instead of Lady Liberty asking for “your tired, your poor,” she asks for gowns, face shields and masks. “Send these essentials express delivery to me, Mr. President, please do more!”

Lane has lived in Arlington with his family for 11 years. His wife, Rebecca, is an education policy consultant, and his two children go to the Thompson School. He lived in England until the age of 7, when his family moved to Pittsburgh. After majoring in art history at Harvard, where he was a writer and illustrator for the Harvard Lampoon, he studied art at the California Institute for the Arts.

His quiet demeanor in a recent telephone call belied a zany sense of humor that he puts to use in his work. Go to a web page about him at Roaring Brook Press, the children’s division of Macmillan Publishers, which published his book Stop Thief! It reads, “Adam J. B. Lane is a writer, an illustrator, and a fugitive from a chain gang.” The book is about Randall, whose favorite stuffed animal, Mr. Piggelsworth, is stolen.

Joining Randall

In a series of lively cartoons, Randall chases the thief, yelling throughout the cartoon panels, “Stop Thief!” Parents report their children love joining Randall in the refrain, some even memorizing the book, knowing when to shout at the robber. Lane is working on a series of books with writer David Slavin called Odd Gods, about some unusual Greek gods at Mt. Olympus Middle School, including one named Gaseous. The gods at this middle school are misfits with powers that are not especially useful.

Living in Arlington has provided Lane with access to one of his favorite stores, as well as some material for his cartoons. “Oh, my god, I couldn’t live without Play Time, which is amazing,” he says. “They have just so much great stuff. All the families with kids use it to get their crafty things done.”

Lane also uses it for his own work. As the pandemic began making its way around the globe, he says, “I was afraid something was going to happen, so I made a run there before they shut everything down.”

Arlington also provided him with an idea for one of his cartoons. He attended a program on coyotes at Town Hall offered by Diane Welch, the town’s animal-control officer. The result was a cartoon in The Globe called “Fur and loathing in the suburbs.”

Focus on children 

But most of his work revolves around children's books. They caught his interest while he was living in California, where he was working for Disney as an animator. The company encouraged employees to volunteer, and he began reading books to foster children. He enjoyed their reaction. “It was really very moving and uplifting and meaningful, and it got me thinking about doing children's books.” The result was “Monsters Party All Night Long,” in which Count Dracula has no friends so decides to hold a party to try to solve that problem.

He began drawing cartoons for The Globe in 2017, rotating with two other local cartoonists in the Ideas section, on Sundays. “It’s tempting to draw cartoons about Trump because the president gives you so much material and is so provocative,” he says. “I try not to fixate on that gentleman so much, but if I have a strength as an artist, it’s making funny connections. It seemed to me that as awful as the virus outbreak is, the ancient Egyptians had plagues and things would hit them the same way. At that point it, was easy to imagine what the pharaoh would say.” At the same time, he says, “while I’d like to provide a diversion, I don’t want to be flip. It’s hard to know where to land with that.”

Clearly, Lane relates well to kids. He once told an interviewer that his success communicating with children comes from a strong case of arrested development. His web page backs him up as his author’s photo is apparently of him as a child

See more of Lane's cartoons on his website >>

This news feature by YourArlington freelancer Marjorie Howard was published Friday, May 1, 2020, and updated May 3, to add a link to a Passover cartoon, as well as to include a larger version of the main image (activated by clicking that cartoon). This latter change was suggested by another area cartoonist.