TOO NICE HERE: Just what is it with these I-love-four-seasons people? Santa Barbara weather’s just too darn nice for them.
Take prize-winning cartoonist Wiley (Non Sequitur) Miller. You’d think he’d be happy as a New England clam in comfy San Roque, taking his four Jack Russells for walks between cranking out cartoons that run in about 800 newspapers.
But no. One day a few years ago, Wiley picked up his pen and decamped with his writer wife, Victoria Coviello, and dogs to Kennebunkport, Maine. Why? Because our days are just too perfect.
Santa Barbara had a frost warning last winter, but one frost doesn’t make a winter and wouldn’t be near enough to stimulate Wiley. Apparently it takes a howling gale and a nor’easter to get his creative juices flowing.
I checked and learned that on one typical evening in Kennebunkport earlier this year, the temperature was 14 above, heading toward 5 below for the night. Must have been a delightful night for Wiley and Victoria.
“Part of the attraction for both of us is in a creative sense,” Wiley told Stephanie Bouchard of the Maine Sunday Telegram. “Santa Barbara is beautiful. As far as year-round climate, it’s perfect, but there’s no real change.”
Wiley’s brilliant cartoons deal with the absurdity of everyday life. New England’s “dramatic changes really spark the creative nature because it’s change,” he explained. “It gives you a fresh look at the world. It’s invigorating. Santa Barbara is too nice; hard to get work done.
“We spent eight years in Iowa. Iowa is always overcast; it’s awful. Here, in winter, we don’t go out much so we get more work done.”
Right, Wiley, I understand the appeal: the snowed-over car, the dead battery, the struggle to drag the dogs out into bitter cold, the fear of frostbite.
“I created a series of characters that came from our visits to Maine,” he said. “I wanted to capture the essence of Maine people’s genuineness — down-to-earth, good-natured people — and work in the accent.
“I heard from displaced New Englanders. I got emails from people who said how dead-on the accent was and how dead wrong. It’s tricky working phonetically because you still have to be legible, finding the balance of how far to take it.
“It’s set in Whatchacallit, Maine. I realized there had never been this setting in comics. I hate following. More fun blazing a new trail. Nobody’s ever been to Maine in the comics.”
Wiley, I grew up in four-seasons Chicago. Unless you have the luxury of sitting at a drawing board in a warm room, the idea of having to go out into icy winds, blowing sleet, with slush plunging down your shoes into your socks, and digging your car out of a snowdrift is not stimulating.
I wondered if the real reason he left Santa Barbara is that it’s boring. We do not have the kind of colorful New England accent Wiley tacks onto his characters, like Offshore Flo and Captain Eddie. We don’t have any accent at all.
We may be boring, but one 12-month, 75-degree season is good enough for me. I got to wondering if Wiley has had enough of killer blizzards and was thinking of coming back. I called but couldn’t get through. Maybe the phone lines were frozen.
MONTECITO MONEY: If you’re wondering where the Republican presidential hopefuls have been getting campaign bucks, look no further than Montecito. At last report, part-time Montecitan Harold Simmons had reportedly shelled out about $18 million to a variety of GOP super PACs. The Dallas investor also donated $100,000 to two groups backing GOP nominee-apparent Mitt Romney. His wife, Annette Simmons, however, tossed in a million to Romney rival Rick Santorum before he dropped out of the race. Wonder if Harold and Annette are still speaking.
MY FAVORITE MUSICAL: I’ve often discovered theatrical gold at Santa Barbara, San Marcos, and Dos Pueblos high schools, the latest on the horizon being Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate. San Marcos musical director David Holmes is staging my fave show on May 3-5 and 10-12.
RIDE TO THE CIRCLE: It’s a beautiful drive, west on Highway 101, then up scenic Refugio Road to the Circle Bar B Ranch. There you can ride horseback, stay overnight, and/or take in one of the dinner-theater comedies. The latest show is Wally’s Café, a touching story about three people and their dreams at a desert burger joint. Susie and David Couch produce. It shows through May 20.