Beware of the Ash Men

As a writer, I am always in search of inspiration.  I stay on the alert for people, places, and events that I can draw inspiration and creativity from.  Sometimes inspiration comes to me like a thunderbolt from Zeus himself and sometimes, I need to dig deep for that inspiration.  Thankfully for those times when an Olympian God is nowhere to be found and I need to dig deep, I have a letter from my art teacher.

When I was 9, I created the Ash Men.  Born from my youthful mind, the Ash Men were a direct result of the superheroes I loved to read about and pretended to be like.  They were powerful, full of personality I injected in to them, and to my eyes, artistic masterpieces.  In reality, the Ash Men were mere pencil scribbles which somewhat resembled human figures shooting ray beams from their faces and hands.  But I took great pride in not only creating the ‘Ash Men’ but great pleasure drawing them.

I not only created stories about them but drew them everywhere.  On the backs of restaurant paper place mats, napkins, walls in the house (that was before my mom saw it…let’s just say that was the last time I did that), and on every piece of paper I could find.

My mom, who was a teacher, had asked me if it would be ok with me if she took my Ash Men in to school with her to show the high school art teacher.  Had I known who Arthur Danto was at the time, I would have surely made some sort of analogy to him and his work as an art critic.  As a 9 year old, I am fairly certain I instead went with a, ‘that would be awesome’. My mom took the Ash Men in for Mr. Minter, the art teacher, to look at.  I waited all day trying to anticipate what he would say about them.

My mom came home from school that night with a letter.  In was in a white envelope with my name on it was a letter from Mr. Minter.  I tore in to the envelope anxious to read what a real life art teacher thought of the Ash Men. Although the letter has been lost to antiquity, the last lines written in it have been permanently etched in to my mind…

“Keep drawing and beware of the ASH MEN!”

An Ash Man circa 1984.

That letter became my holy grail.  I would soon leave behind the notion of growing up to be a fireman, astronaut, and Captain America to focus on becoming an artist.  The words Mr. Minter wrote to me would ring in my ears for years to come, “Keep drawing and beware of the ASH MEN!”

I told my mom; one day I wanted Mr. Minter to be my art teacher.

I would eventually make my way to the high school and find myself in Mr. Minter’s class (by my senior year, I had 3 art classes a day and he was my homeroom teacher).  He was honest, critical, supportive, and pushed me to be a better artist every day I had the privilege to sit at the art tables in his classroom.

After almost 20 years removed from graduation, I still remain close to my art teacher.  We have worked on projects together and I have sought his opinion about work I have done even though it now longer needs to be graded.  I honor him the only way I know how, by continuing to address him as Mr. Minter.  In my own way, I believe this lets him know the respect I had for him as my teacher has not faded since the last time I sat in his classroom.  I consider him to be an occasional collaborative partner, my friend, and a mentor.

I did eventually stop drawing the Ash Men.  I also never became the artist I thought I would be (to be fair, I never ended up as an astronaut, fireman, or Cap either).  Life stepped in, priorities changed, I had spent a few hazy semesters at college and chose another path but I never put down a pencil. I still draw on the backs of restaurant’s paper place mats, napkins, with my kids, and on the walls (but just in the garage).  His influence and guidance have been on every artistic endeavor I’ve embarked on for 3 decades.

My drawing. Mr Minter’s coloring.

I don’t know if Mr. Minter remembers the letter he wrote to a 9 year old boy 28 years ago much less the affect it had on that 9 year old but I know that when I am in search of inspiration or a spark of creativity, sometimes my mind goes back to being a 9 year old boy reading a letter with my name on it.  A letter from my art teacher who told me to keep drawing…and most of all, Beware of the Ash Men!


13 responses to “Beware of the Ash Men

  1. What a great tribute to your mentor. It really is amazing how a person can impact another so profoundly with such a simple action. A great reminder of how a bit of encouragement at the right time can be so powerful.
    Thanks for that post, and thanks to all the Mr. Minters out there!


  2. I have two boys and both are “artists” of one kind or another. One is a musician and the other does “real” artwork, and used to draw my comic strip until I had to fire him for missing deadlines and being a PAIN…lol, but true.

    You were SO lucky to have both a mom like yours AND Mr. Minter.

    I think it may be time for The Ash Men to return! I know Stan Lee – maybe we can get you a deal with Marvel!


    • If Stan Lee contacts me, I’m flying out to California to give you a kiss Bruce.
      And I was really lucky to have people in my life that pushed me and inspired me.


  3. Wow – what a great thing! Such a good reminder of how we can all have a great positive impact if we just make a little effort!
    Great post!


    • There is a select group of individuals (outside of my family) that had a huge impact on my life. I’m so lucky I had them because they helped to make me who I am today. Thanks Gina!


  4. What a great story! As I was reading, I was totally picturing my 6yo son who loves to draw and make up stories and is currently obsessed with superheroes. He loves to draw with his dad, who is quite the decent artist, despite never having studied art seriously. Even if you (or my son) don’t end up drawing professionally, it’s still an amazing talent to have. I, for one, will thoroughly enjoy my original Jimmy Ettele drawing that I won in your car-naming contest!


  5. good stuff, my friend.

    life is always stepping in, isn’t it?

    mentors are hard to come by. remember what yoda says…”pass on what you have learned.” 🙂


  6. I love this! My husband is an artist and spent many days behind the art tables in HS. Amazing that you are still close to your teacher! My husbands art teacher had a big influence on him too!
    Check out his stuff if you are interested!


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