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  • Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

    "Rabbi” Moore:
    Cowboy Cartoonist

    by Mike Cox
    Mike Cox

    On a typical Sunday, Roger Todd Moore arrives at his friend’s 1875-vintage stone ranch house in southwestern Travis County by 8:30 a.m. and puts on the coffee.

    By 9 or a few minutes after, once everyone has gotten about as attentive as they will get, he clears his throat and in his deep, West Texas voice starts reading. Today, it’s from the Tao Te Ching.

    The contrast is hard to escape: A tall man in an Old West-style collarless shirt, buckskin-colored vest, faded jeans and well-broken in boots under a sweat-stained cowboy hat, the very image of Texan-ness, reading ancient Eastern philosophy to a bunch of fellow male Texans. Huh?

    “Preacher, give us some of the old time Tao,” one class member cracks as Moore looks up from his reading, peering over the narrow-lens glasses on the end of his Roman numeral size XX nose.

    Whether it’s the Tao or any one of a score or more books the group has studied over the last two decades, the weekly routine is the same. Moore reads selected passages and discusses the material, often interrupted by his often irreverent students, until shortly before 10 a.m. By that time, sometimes joking that they should get at least a 25 cent rebate on that day’s “sermon,” everyone pitches in the required $1 contribution. (Which Moore donates to charity.)

    Paraphrasing his favorite Tao passage, Moore offers, “It doesn't matter whether you go up the ladder or down it, your position is shaky."

    In other words, he continues, “If the ladder is your focus you’re gonna fail. Where's the top? Where do you stop? Which rung makes you a success or failure?”

    Then, having sat still just about as long as he’s capable, he’s off to real church with his wife Martha and son Jack.

    Regulars at his Cowboy Sunday School class call him Rabbi Moore. He is no more Jewish than Luciano Pavarotti hailed from Ireland, but he’s a rabbi in the original meaning of the Hebrew word, which is “teacher.”

    The weekly discussion of things philosophical, spiritual and theological began two decades ago. Of the 10 regulars, counting Moore, three are original class members.

    Roger T. Moore
    Roger Todd Moore
    Beyond his rabbinical role, Moore’s a cartoonist with a cowboy bent, a successful Austin advertising executive, an absentee West Texas cotton farmer, a cowboy lacking cows or horses, a former high school and college track star and coach and a good friend. These days, thanks to his Bona Fide Original Real Texas Calendar, a wall-hanging collection of Texas history highlights and oddities in which New Year’s Day is March 2 (Texas Independence Day), he’s well on his way toward being Texas’ next Ace Reid, the celebrated cowboy cartoonist whose work is still being published years after his death.

    For such a Texan’s Texan, Moore came dangerously close to being born in Louisiana. Though his dad grew up in West Texas, World War II saw him working at a shipyard in Beaumont, where Roger increased the population of the Jefferson County seat by one on June 10, 1945.

    But when the war ended, the Moore family returned to Taylor County, where his dad bought from his siblings the Moore "home place" at the mouth of Mulberry Canyon six miles south of Merkel, 13 miles west of Abilene.

    Like many a Texas teenager in the 1950s, helping his father raise cotton convinced Moore he could find easier ways to make a living. A star athlete throughout high school, Moore attended Cisco Junior College for two years before transferring to McMurray College in Abilene.

    Trained in physical education, he took his first coaching-teaching job in Sterling City in 1967. After a year on the faculty of that small high school, he moved to
    Hamlin, where he spent another year as a track coach and assistant football/basketball coach.

    Though Moore liked working with kids, he also enjoyed being able to pay his bills. In 1969 he joined Texas Instruments in Dallas as a line foreman. A year later, he got laid off. Not having relished the widget-building lifestyle to start with, Moore soon landed a job as a textbook salesman for Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

    Never lacking for an opinion, Moore started drawing editorial cartoons for the Allen American in Collin County. After working a year in Dallas, he got transferred to Austin and discontinued his cartooning. Soon he became a registered lobbyist to represent the textbook industry before the Legislature.

    While Moore made his living trying to convince the Texas Education Agency to adopt his company’s school books, he found more satisfaction in the occasional pen and ink drawings he did after work than he did in peddling social studies texts and painfully politically correct histories.

    “I started drawing before I could walk…about 16,” he deadpans. “Seriously, I was in pre-school.”

    Encouraged by his mother, who told him it was OK for a country boy to draw, as an only child it helped keep him occupied until he was old enough to work with his dad in the fields. Later, as an adult, he started doing cartoons for fun and giving them to family and friends.

    In 1974, Moore drove to the offices of the Austin Citizen, a weekly in competition with the Austin American-Statesman.

    “Y’all need a cartoonist?” Moore asked editor Wray Weddell.

    “Are you one?” Weddell replied.

    Moore handed Weddell a stack of cartoons lampooning state and local politicians and issues and left with an agreement that the Citizen would pay him $25 for a weekly editorial cartoon. The Citizen stayed in business through the early ‘80s and Moore did a cartoon a week until the end, occasionally selling a signed original to the politicians he poked fun at.

    Tired of working for someone else, in 1976 Moore started his own advertising agency, Moore & more. Despite its uppercase-lowercase name, the firm included no Moore other than him. But he thought the name sounded impressive. He stayed as busy as he wanted to be, still his personal business model.

    “I’ll fire a client as quick as some have fired me,” Moore laughs. “Life’s too short to work with some of the people you run into in this business.”

    Nor is he particularly caught up in his successes. "Almost every personal downfall begins with believing your own BS,” he says.

    In drawing ads for clients, Moore periodically worked in the caricatures that have become his trade mark. In his cartoons, at least one of his characters, usually the one offering the punch line, has a pronounced proboscis.

    “Most think it’s a little of me in each caricature,” he says.

    There’s certainly a lot of Moore in his weekly Cowboy Sunday School class. He had been teaching it for five years when he had a horseback epiphany in the fall of 1993 in the Big Bend.

    In the rugged grandeur of Texas’ last frontier it came to him that A) spirituality is different than organized religion and B) he needed to truly embrace his inner Texan.

    “After that experience in the Big Bend is when I started exploring works like the Tao de Ching,” he says. “It’s also when I gave up coat and ties and low-cut shoes for jeans, boots and a hat – the real me. I won’t even wear a coat and tie for a funeral, just my black dress hat.”

    His second Zen moment came three years later.

    In 1996, behind the wheel of his pickup driving back to Austin from Merkel, an idea rolled tumbleweed-like into Moore’s consciousness: Texas needed its own calendar. After all, he reasoned, the Chinese, Aztecs and Gregorians all had their calendar. Why not Texas? And why not use his cartoons to make it a fun calendar?

    Sharing the idea with 95-year-old Opal Hunt, an antique collector who had preserved the little town of Bradshaw in Taylor County by buying most everything in it and storing it in an old store called Audra Mercantile, he got a to-the-point response: “Do the things you want to do…Don’t wait until you’re 95.”

    Moore built a collection of interesting Texas history tidbits, drew a cartoon for each month, and produced his first “Bona Fide Original Real Texas Calendar.” He dedicated his 1997 calendar to Ms. Hunt, who had died not long after enjoining Moore to follow his bliss while he could.

    For the first several years, he gave away most of his stock. But as the uniqueness of the calendar began to attract a little publicity, he began selling them. He also draws a Texas history cartoon published by numerous weeklies across the state.
    Roger T. Moore cartoon

    His ad business, calendar work and weekly cartoons keep him busy, but about once a month he strikes out for his old home place in Mulberry Canyon. Spending about three days there, he does whatever needs doing, drinks coffee every morning at the Merkel drug store, and draws cartoons.

    “I may not be very good,” he likes to say, “but I’m fast.”

    Moore does his cartoons in pen and ink on a heavy-bonded 8 ˝ by 11 paper.

    His cartoons are simplistic, call it “Cowboy minimalism.”

    “I like to draw people, not things,” he says. “I like to give my characters movement and odd postures and put a lot into their faces, giving them interesting expressions.”

    Like many people who have finally figured life out, Moore didn’t gain his insight sitting inside a monastery in quiet contemplation of spirituality.

    “I’ve been divorced and have gone broke a couple of times,” he says. “But sooner or later, a man’s got to figure out what’s really important in life. To me, it’s having a loving family like I have now and doing what you want to do, not what someone else wants you to do.”

    Now easing into retirement age, Moore tries to draw a balance between his advertising business and his cartooning.

    “Success is spending more time with the people you wanna be with than people you have to be with,” he says.

    Order Texas Calendars Roger T. Moore's
    Texas Calendars
    © Mike Cox - June 27, 2012
    See Roger T. Moore Texas History Cartoons
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