'Toothpaste' tickles fancy
The Michigan Daily - Wednesday, November 2, 2005 - 9
By Alexandra Jones
Daily Arts Editor
There's a certain little webcom-
ic called "Toothpaste for Dinner"
gets about 20 million hits per month.
Slate Magazine said, "In terms of
clickability, Toothpaste for Dinner is
Two-hundred of the drawings, some
already posted on the website and
some never-before-seen, have recently
been published in the mainline-able
collection called "Toothpaste for Din-
ner: Hipsters, Hamsters and Other
Pressing Issues." So what does the
creator of this highly addictive, subtly
subversive single-panel Internet phe-
nomenon have to say about it?
"It's two eyes and a mouth," Drew
- who chooses to, reveal only his
first name to readers - explained.
"It's a 21st-century version of the
everyman that the reader imposes his
own views and ideas upon."
In 2001, Drew, who has been
drawing and making jokes "forever,"
decided to add a few of his humorous
doodles to a website that had been
dedicated to his short stories. (Since
2002, he has held a columnist posi-
tion for the online magazine .net.)
Often, the drawings featured nothing
more than a lumpy-headed stick fig-
ure making a barely legible yet hilar-
ious comment about everyday life.
"It was something different,"
Drew said. "I enjoyed doing com-
ics-oriented things more than short
stories, although it could be argued
that a lot of my drawings are really
writing-oriented rather than visually
In 2002, Drew got his own domain
name, and "Toothpaste for Dinner"
was born. "(The site) looks exactly
the same today; (it has) the same
gray background and everything," he
"I don't think it lends an air of
(commercialization) to the website,"
Drew said. He's intent on keeping
toothpastefordinner.com exactly the
way he wants it: "I've gotten e-mails
from advertisers saying, 'You could
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The Betye Saar exhibit at the UMMA on Tuesday.
Courtesy of HOW books
make money if you advertised on
this,' but basically from day one, (the
site) doesn't really mean anything to
me unless it looks the way I want it to
look and has exactly what I want to
have on it."
a new cartoon for every day of the
week. It also includes links to natalie-
dee.com, another daily drawings site
that features offbeat, subtly subver-
sive color drawings made by Natalie,
Drew's wife, and an online store where
fans can purchase messenger bags and
T-shirts featuring some of the more
popular Toothpaste drawings.
Drew had received multiple offers
from different publishers to put out
a book of "Toothpaste for Dinner"
drawings, but it wasn't until F&W
publications approached him that he
found a good match for his work.
"(The book) is designed really
well. I was really pleased ... my big-
gest fear was that it would end up
really cheesy or trivialize what I was
doing, (but) it ended up being very
well designed and (provided) a very
good context for all the things that
UMMA features African culture
are in the book."
"Toothpaste for Dinner: Hipsters,
Hamsters and Other Pressing Issues"
contains comics with titles like
"Grandpa in a Starter Jacket" and
While Drew's comics run the
gamut in subject matter from crappy
office jobs to indie music to absurd
fancy, he agrees that the brevity and
compact nature of each is part of the
appeal. "They're like one-liners ... I
would say that a lot of my drawings
are sort of like maxims."
Drew admits that his drawings in
the book and on the website can have
an addictive quality. "The drawings
themselves are so infectious - sort
of viral - because there's not a lot
going on," he said. "There's some
guy with a lopsided head standing
there, and he's saying, like, 12 words.
It takes you, like, two seconds (to
read) if you're slow ... So you can go
through three or four of these draw-
ings before your attention span runs
out, and chances are, even if you only
like one of them, you get some kind
By Andrew Klein
Daily Arts Writer
FINE A RTSR EVIEW
Although the Betye Saar and Congolese exhibits were inde-
pendently planned, their juxtaposition couldn't offer a more
intriguing view of African art both inside
and outside of Africa. Visitors have a
unique opportunity to examine culture's
indelible role in the history and develop-
ment of African art.
Helmut F. Stern, a long-standing bene-
factor of the University of Michigan
Museum of Art, donated the entirety of the
Congolese exhibit. According to UMMA,
the collection is considered one of the most
important compilations of African art in
the United States. To head curator Jim
Wyman, the 23 piece Congolese exhibit,
"The Art of
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Michigan Museum of Art
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running through June 2006, is meant to "celebrate a tremendous
gift." A larger exhibit of 90 pieces will be displayed when the
museum's renovation project is completed.
The Betye Saar exhibit, running until Jan. 8, is the culmina-
tion of nearly five years of planning. Saar is considered one of
the foremost contemporary black artists, and has been producing
critical work since her emergence in the 1960s. This extensively
planned exhibition focuses primarily on her use of photography
in "assemblage" art, which is constructed with the use of several
mediums, including sculpture and painting.
The Art of the Congo exhibit provides a fascinating look at
the art of various cultures from Western and Central Africa, with
iconic representations of religious figures as well as various cer-
emonial objects. The displayed works barely scratch the surface
of the region's diversity and serve well as a teaser for the future
exhibition. The first piece of the exhibit, an untitled standing
figure from the Songye culture, consists of wood, copper, metal
tacks, snakeskin, fiber and cloth. The statue promotes fertility
and provides protection against mortal and spiritual enemies and
is a testament to the multiple functions of religious art.
The themes of ancestral devotion and the spiritual empow-
erment of figures remain strong throughout the shortexhibit
and lay a crucial base for the Saar gallery. The object entitled
"Figure (Nkisi Nduda)," from the Yombe culture, is a powerful
link to the Saar exhibit. The figure's midsection holds a mirror
that UMMA describes as serving as a "medium through which
diviners can seek answers to problematic question(s)." Saar's
art can be viewed in this same way. The artist explained in her
own words that she is "intrigued with combining the remnants
of memories, fragments of relics." Her assemblages of found
objects immediately recall the viewer to the Congolese sculp-
tures constructed from various materials.
Wyman clarified that Saar's interest is in the "combination of
culture and the forming of African American identity," clearly
reflected in her racially charged "Black Crows in the White Sec-
tion Only." The piece passionately links cultural metaphors with
simplistic visual representations, one of many such pieces in the
exhibit. In Saar's words, "My purpose in creating these works is
to remind us about the struggles of African Americans ... I feel
that, however painful, there is honor in re-presenting the past."
Wyman described Saar's work as addressing "current issues
of race and race relations." But some of her work goes beyond
that, such as "I'll Bend but I will not Break." This sculpture refer-
ences issues of race as well as gender in a raw and emotive way.
It consists of a vintage ironing board and iron connected by a
manacle. Saar uses a newly laundered white sheet with a neatly
embroidered "KKK" as a startling backdrop. Imprinted across
the board is the infamous diagram of the slave ship Brookes
as well as a photo of a black woman self-confidently engaging
the viewer with her stare. Saar's attunement to cultural identity
also extends to other minorities. "The Occidental Tourist" and
"La Bonita" portray a sentimental understanding of Asian and
Hispanic cultures respectively. Saar explains that "as an Afri-
can American, I have always been interested in so-called Third
World cultures - African and Latin American as well as Asian
... I do it as a kind of cultural layering ... I am trying to make
work that opens up cultural referents and connotations, not
something that closes them."
The combination of these two exhibits provides a critical view-
point of African art and it's influence on black artists and is one
of the most poignant exhibitions that has been put on by UMMA.
Visitors of any background or race can thoroughly enjoy either of
these exhibits and leave with a greater understanding and appre-
ciation of African and black-American culture.
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Courtesy of HOW books
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