Sierra Aspirants: A Cartoon Story

Posted on: September 6, 2007

My stepfather owned an orange orchard near the foothills of the western Sierra. He was an advocate of the puritanical work ethic. [Illustration] Michael McMillan

Loose rock! Dangerous steep chutes at almost 14,000 feet—but what do the naive upstarts know? The story depicted in these cartoons, one likely familiar to so many aspirant mountain climbers, really happened. I took some expressionistic liberties here as far as an exact profile and name of the mountain in question, but the essence of the experience remains accurate as far as I can remember.

The originals are woodcut block prints. I use laminated cherry oil-based inks and do my own cutting and printing. A contributor to many "underground comix" in the 1970s, I sidestepped from my industrial design and fine arts backgrounds into the "bottom feeder" world of cartooning and animated films. For a while I taught drawing and printmaking, then eventually bought my own press and started full-scale production of multi-colored block prints. I prefer the hands-on labor intensity to the passivity of sitting in front of a computer.


My print "stories" generally involve subjects other than climbing, but this one has been on my mind for a very long time. It had to be done. From the beginnings shown here, I went to school in southern California and connected with the Sierra Club Rock Climbing Section. (And yes, the legendary names were on the scene.) I became a proficient piton pounder. Mountains, crags and boulders became an important feature of my life on a regular basis. My obsession took a dip in the 70s, but by the late 1980s, at the age of fifty-five, I began lifting weights and re-entered the picture as a boulderer and a rope-solo advocate. This reached a finale in 2003, when I re-broke my leg falling off a highball. Now it's the printing press and memory lane.

—Michael McMillan, San Francisco, 2007

My pals were all involved with their family farms or slaving away in fruit packing houses to support their cars or girlfriends. [Illustration] Michael McMillan

In high school track was my only sport. I often trained in the foothills emulating my role model Gundar Hagg, who held the mile and 5000-meter records at the time. Nobody just ran in those days. [Illustration] Michael McMillan

Saved from the flatlands by finagling a job for the summer at the Giant Forest Concession in Sequoia National Park. [Illustration] Michael McMillan

Assigned to be in charge of the fruit stand at the Market. [Illustration] Michael McMillan

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