Cartoonist father creates lunch bags with a little bit of character

By Mike Jenkins

Cartoonist Mike Jenkins drew scenes on his daughter Maggy's lunch bags; they became a lunchroom phenomenon. Photo / Mike Jenkins via Washington Post
Cartoonist Mike Jenkins drew scenes on his daughter Maggy's lunch bags; they became a lunchroom phenomenon. Photo / Mike Jenkins via Washington Post

My wife, Tish, and I have three kids, and making their school lunches fell to me. I'm a cartoonist, and I wanted to do something fancier than just write their names on the bags. But time didn't permit; all each child got was a bag full of predictable food, with their name written on it and a fancy swoosh after it.

When our two older children moved on to college, I had time to play with our middle-school daughter Maggy's lunch bag. She loved times like Halloween, so occasionally I would draw a holiday picture on her bag. I would do the same for Thanksgiving and winter break.

Each bag was posted on Facebook. Photo / Mike Jenkins via Washington Post
Each bag was posted on Facebook. Photo / Mike Jenkins via Washington Post

That year, we were in a prolonged winter cold snap, and even Maggy said she was tired of snow. I drew her walking along, thinking "Spring is just around the corner." She was approaching a corner, but it was a corner in a vast, icy maze. When she came home from school, she said, "All these kids run over to see my lunch every day."

My wife said, "Wait, what?" She hadn't known about the drawings. Maggy showed her the maze bag, and Tish posted it on her Facebook page. A lot of people liked it, so she said, "Okay, get busy." I was now "dadicated" to drawing every weekday. So far, we've posted 421 bags.

I managed to keep it up through the rest of that year, and each bag was posted on Facebook. One day during the summer, a neighbor told me she was having trouble remembering what day of the week it was: She was so used to knowing by what the bag drawing was about. I hadn't realised that was such a regular theme, but I decided to work it up the following school year.

The Monday bag would poke fun at how Monday was no fun. The Tuesday bag would lighten it up with a cute gag featuring a little lunch bag character. The Wednesday bag would take note of the middle of the week, a "glass half-full or half-empty" sort of thing. Thursday would be something to make Maggy think, and Friday would be something fun. The turns from each month to the next would be drawn, and fun made of each holiday, season or break. We made it through the whole school year that way, and the next.

The lunch bags became a hit at school. Photo / Mike Jenkins via Washington Post
The lunch bags became a hit at school. Photo / Mike Jenkins via Washington Post

The bags I use are your standard 6-by-12-inch brown paper, from the grocery store, and my illustrations are roughly 6 by 9 inches. I use Copic brush tip pens for line work, mostly, and Chartpak watercolor markers in Cool Gray tones (Nos. 2 and 5), with a blender for fading the colors. It takes me about four hours to finish a bag, including idea and drawing time; I usually start on them before dinner, but I have been known to run a bag to the school office before lunchtime.

Now Maggy is a sophomore in high school. She's grown a lot but still loves the lunch bag drawings and saves them all. Now that it's September, it's time to break out my pens and buy more bags.

Former political cartoonist Mike Jenkins is a caricaturist (CapitalArtworks.com) and full-time dad in North Arlington.

- Washington Post

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