RDA was interested in humor both professionally and personally. Following are a sample of his cartoons– sketches whose main function is amusement. But humor was never simply amusing for RDA. Once the cat is out of the bag as to what humor is for, it’s never going back in again.
These cartoons are in three series (click to jump to them): So-So Biology, The Equine Comedian, and Notes on the Faculty. Below are low-resolution images for online viewing; click on them for full-size scans to download. All images are copyright Richard D. Alexander, for personal or educational use only.
Punning on E. O. Wilson’s term for an evolutionary analysis of social behavior (“sociobiology”), RDA’s cartoons in this series focus especially on the evolutionary basis of our actions and the frailty of our self-awareness. Selections of these cartoons were also frequently included in RDA’s coursepacks for his course BIO494, Evolution and Human Behavior.
The above cartoon could just as well go under the Notes on the Faculty series, below, and appears in RDA’s book by that name.
The original of the above cartoon has been lost, and this photocopy has cut off the bottom of the caption. The rest is hardly necessary, though.
The version of the cartoon above that was scanned was a photocopy of the original. RDA had written the comment beneath it in pencil as an afterthought– one that arguably rivals the cartoon itself.
The caption for the cartoon above (from an earlier draft here) is: “Professor Futzenfelder knew perfectly well that lecturing to large numbers of students who were unrelated to him was not the way to maximize his inclusive fitness. Because he was an Intelligent Being, however, he continued to do it anyway.”
This is a study for a cartoon that may never have been completed. The caption reads “Mary Sue had been more content with life since her decision to remain childless to alleviate the problem of world overpopulation.”
RDA drew horses just as often as he drew people (see the horse section under Folk Art). His humorous sketches usually highlighted human ignorance about horses, or the mischief with which a horse can sometimes treat a rider.
Caption for the above picture: “Rosie tried everything she knew to get little Orville to lighten up on the lead change cue.”
A draft of the above cartoon had two alternative captions: “Your call, Boss!” and “No cue, no turn. What now, boss?”. This is also the (only) cartoon bearing the label “The Equine Comedian”. RDA’s daughter Nancy gives the story behind this picture: “That is a cartoon Dad made from a story I told him about my new Icelandic gelding. I took him up into a 6000 acre park across from my house – and I wanted to see if he could find his way home on his own – in case Lydia ever rode him there alone. Anyway long story short – he was irritated that I just let the reins go and would not direct him. He first made a turn on a trail we never went on before, and tried to go under a fallen tree that he would fit under – but I wouldn’t. After turning his head around and staring at me multiple times – it was as if he was decided he wasn’t going to play my game anymore. When we got to a ‘T’ in the trail he just walked straight up to the sign post, without slowing his pace, and smashed his forehead against the post as if to say if I was too lazy to rein him, then he was not going to change course and would continue straight on!”
The “Harley Davidson reining horse”. This became the cover image for RDA’s 1997/2006 book Playin’ Cowboy. Here is an earlier black and white version, which appeared with a poem in the February 1996 issue of the National Reining Horse Association’s publication Reiner, p. 115.
Most of these spoofs on college life and particular professors are in RDA’s book Notes on the Faculty.