On Saturday, December 5, animation legend Art Leonardi recruited thirty cartoonists to come to the Warner Bros. Ranch property in Burbank, CA, to draw for a Ronald McDonald House holiday party. Artists from The Simpsons, from DC & Marvel comic books, from Disney, from Warner Bros., and everything in between heeded the call spending several hours during the cold, overcast Saturday afternoon putting smiles on the faces of families who have been through quite a bit.
Art Leonardi himself drew for the folks as well, who were all too happy to accept a drawing from this master, probably little realizing the legend that sat before them. He is one of the last animators from the Warner Bros. golden age, having worked quite a bit under the direction of Friz Freleng, and on The Incredible Mr. Limpett and some of the first Pink Panthers.
The event was quite a production. The Ronald McDonald House exists to give families a place to stay when they have to travel to deal with the physical needs of children who suffer from major health issues. From what some of the kids were saying, the House even provides summer camps for the kids who are healthy enough to get away from it all. Each year the local LA area Ronald McDonald House invites those families who needed their services during the year to a big holiday party at the Warner Bros. Ranch. The families come to the backlot where they can see The Partridge Family home, or the fountain from Friends and enjoy carnival rides, live music, hot dogs, hamburgers, cotton candy, cookies, cakes, bounce houses, toys, and so much more ALL FOR FREE.
One of the more popular attractions for them at this event is to come meet live cartoonists and walk away with a free drawing. This is why I was there for the first time this year. What an amazing three hours it was, indeed! I entered the property not fully knowing what the day had in store. Art had said something about drawing for kids with cancer, so I came with pencils and paper in hand. It was so much more than that.
When I first entered the property, a white-gloved bell choir was enthusiastically playing Christmas carols in their matching robes to welcome the guest families who were just arriving. I stood there for awhile listening to the perfect renditions coming from this group that looked as though it was primarily comprised of Down’s Syndrome folks. Soon after, the guests passed under the Red & Green (Gold was on holiday that day) Arches made of balloons to experience all that lay before them.
As I sat there trying to eat a cheeseburger before the crowds discovered us, I noticed that some families must have been there before, because they had brought chairs and blankets to sit and watch the band play Christmas songs and old classic pop tunes. It made me realize that these families are in it for the long haul with their ill children. My being there wasn’t going to matter tomorrow, or the next day, but that one day I could maybe help them forget just a little bit with a sketch of Mickey Mouse, or Winnie the Pooh.
When things got underway, it was non-stop. I drew a Mickey here, a Goofy there, Eeyore, Pooh, Piglet – I even drew a Joker and an Invader Zim by request for some kids despite my protests that those weren’t characters I’ve done before. Some guys got numerous requests for Spider-man, Batman, Tom & Jerry, Fred Flintstone, dragons, Wonder Woman, and I believe Mr. Leonardi was down at his end of the table cranking out Pink Panthers. It was so much fun, and the guests seemed to really enjoy themselves.
While it was my intention to be there for them, one family in particular reached out to me. I had just drawn a picture for their eldest son, and then one for the little one who was clearly very ill, when their father gave me a softcover book that he had self-published. It was a tale he had written about his sons that expressed gratitude for their situation in life, focusing on the unselfish things we should do for each other. It was very touching, and opened my eyes to the struggle that they and others must experience on a daily level. It actually reminded me of the two verses from Scripture in Proverbs 3 that I keep tucked away in my heart at all times as I traverse the path of life: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.”
The holiday party ended at three, but while the ferris wheel was being dismantled, the balloon arch was popped, and the popcorn was being swept up, many artists were still sketching away at 3:45 for those that were lingering. It was a tremendous day, and I hope I can do it again next year.