Sunday, January 22, 2012

Cartoonists in the House - McMaster Children's Hospital RMH Family Room Visit by NCS Canada Members

This past Friday, fellow members of the Canadian Chapter of the National Cartoonists Society (NCS) and I visited the Ronald McDonald Family Room at McMaster Children's Hospital in Hamilton, Ontario. It was a truly fun, inspiring, and rewarding experience for all of us.

Planning for this event began in early November. Shortly after I accepted the acting role of Chair for our chapter, newest Canuck member, Jonathan Mahood (Bleeker the Rechargeable Dog, King Features), suggested the wonderful idea that we organize some visits to local children's hospitals, acknowledging that he was inspired by similar events held by other NCS chapters from the United States.

My first instinct was to try McMaster Children's Hospital (part of Hamilton Health Sciences) where my son was born last year. McMaster University Medical Centre has previously specialized in children's medicine, but transitioned to a kids-only ER in April 2011. And so, I contacted the friendly and amazing staff at the Ronald McDonald House Hamilton (RMHH), and they immediately loved the idea of cartoonists drawing for the kids and their families.

Currently, the official "House" that accommodates families requiring extended stays is closed for renovations (expanding from 15 rooms to 40!). Nevertheless, the Ronald McDonald Family Room that operates within the hospital is still open daily. Due to the room's size, we were limited to only 3 participating cartoonists for this first visit; however, even before the event, the RMHH staff were inquiring if we could return when the newly renovated House reopens this summer.

Participating cartoonists were Jonathan Mahood, myself, and the talented children's author & illustrator, Patricia Storms.

ABOVE: NCS Canada Members Jonathan Mahood, Mike Cope, and Patricia Storms share a smile with Marc (thanks to Mom for taking the photo!).

We didn't know how many kids to expect, since it all depended on patient medical conditions. A two hour visit was originally planned, but let's just say, time definitely flies when you're having fun.

Despite being in a hospital, the most infectious thing in the air was the positive spirit of the kids, who smiled as they watched cartoon characters come to life, and enthusiastically drew along with us if they could. As one mother observed to her sons, who were into creating superheroes and villains with Patricia, "I've never seen you guys so excited about drawing before." The secret behind that was Patricia's magical ability to draw them in.

ABOVE: Cartooning apprentices practice their magic with Patricia Storms.

ABOVE: Travis proudly shows his own cartooning talents.

For those kids who were unfortunately isolated to their rooms, we drew cartoons for their parents who stopped by to say hello. And when a bedridden boy named Anthony couldn't fit through the door, Jonathan and I spent time drawing for him out in the hall. Even though Anthony couldn't verbally communicate, there was no denying the smile on his face, as well as his mother's and social worker's.

My RMHH contact was their lovely Family Services co-ordinator, Linda Pordham, who helped promote our visit to various wards in the days leading up by posting and distributing copies of an invitation flyer I had prepared. I also contacted the local newspaper, The Hamilton Spectator, who graciously sent a photographer to snap some shots of the kids. Since closing the adult ER, McMaster University Medical Centre has faced considerable criticism, and so, it was wonderful to see a photo with the beaming smile of a young patient named Patrick, sitting on his mother's lap, filling half of page 3 in Saturday's newspaper—a wonderful reminder that both the hospital, and events such as ours, are focused on the kids.

CLICK TO ENLARGE: "Cartoon Fun" in The Hamilton Spectator (page A3, January 21, 2012).

Three artists from the National Cartoonists Society visited with children at Hamilton's Ronald McDonald House Friday to entertain them with caricatures and other requested drawings. Patrick Lelievre, 5, waits with mom Greta Sullivan as artist Mike Cope makes Patrick's request of a "really fast airplane" come to lifeRon Albertson, The Hamilton Spectator.
Jonathan later wrote to me, "It's kind of shocking how just a simple drawing can brighten up someone's face."

I think that's what makes a children's hospital visit so special. To us cartoonists, the drawings may come easy, but smiles can be difficult for kids (and their families) after being in hospital for several months. And so, plans are already underway for our NCS Canada chapter's return visit, which promises to be an even bigger success thanks to the sincere interest of our fellow members and the wonderful staff at Ronald McDonald House Hamilton.

Special thanks Linda @ RMHH for helping us plan this event. And to my cartooning friends, Jonathan and Patricia ... Can't wait to do this again with you!

Stay TOONed!

- Mike Cope

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