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Family shares memories of longtime Texas A&M professor and cartoonist Jim Earle

Family shares memories of longtime Texas A&M professor and cartoonist Jim Earle

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As a member of the Corps of Cadets — which wasn’t optional when he attended Texas A&M University in the early 1950s — James “Jim” Earle was required to march into Kyle Field for football games. At some point, however, he would slip out and head back to his dorm to sleep.

Though he loved A&M, his daughters said, Earle was never a “rah-rah” Aggie. Still, Earle had a knack for capturing the spirit of the university, commenting on campus life through his popular Cadet Slouch cartoon that ran in The Battalion for three decades. Earle, Class of ‘54, died Feb. 4 at the age of 86.

Earle’s Cadet Slouch first appeared in the campus newspaper in 1953, when Earle was earning a degree in architecture. After two years of active duty in the Air Force, Earle returned to Texas A&M in 1957 and began his career teaching mechanical drafting to first-year engineering students. Earle continued to publish Cadet Slouch throughout much of his teaching career, with his last cartoon appearing in 1985.

Nicknamed “the Aggie’s Aggie,” Earle depicted Slouch as an undergraduate cadet attempting to navigate campus life alongside his friends Simp, Cedric, Squirt and Fish Jethro. Topics included class assignments, the Aggie football team and life in the Corps.

“I think that Slouch is very symbolic of the struggle of a coed, even though he was in the Corps, trying to figure out what’s important and what’s not important in his life,” said Susan Palmer, Earle’s daughter. “Slouch probably prioritized sleep over anything else.”

Earle eventually earned a doctoral degree in education and was named head of the Engineering Design Graphics Department, a position he held until his retirement in 1995. Palmer said her father’s observations of his students were reflected in the misadventures of Slouch, though he also drew inspiration from his daughters. Palmer recalls her proclivity for procrastination being a shared trait of Slouch, who often put off his work until the next day. When her sister, Elizabeth Blodgett, was struggling with a trigonometry class one semester, Slouch soon made a comment about not worrying about failing math.

Though Earle was often influenced by his time as a student and, later, a professor, the run of Cadet Slouch was also a time of change. Slouch’s commentary evolved as women started to enroll on a limited basis in 1963, and when participation in the Corps became voluntary in 1965.

Always a “workaholic,” Blodgett said Earle would come home from work, eat dinner and watch the evening news before sitting down at the drafting table in his office, where he drew his cartoons first with pencil, then in ink. In addition to his prolific output of cartoons for The Battalion, collections of Cadet Slouch were published in several books. In the early 1950s when Earle was a student, Slouch dolls, sewn by his mother, and cards could be purchased at the Memorial Student Center.

Earle was born in Jacksonville, Texas, in 1932. In high school, he excelled at sports, including track, football and boxing. In the latter, he earned the nickname “The Mangler” and won several Golden Gloves titles. It was in high school that Earle began drawing caricatures.

When he was stationed at Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene after graduating from A&M, Earle drew caricatures at a base event in the summer of 1957. When his future wife, Theresa Gatlin, sat in front of him for a caricature, he remarked, “You’re so pretty, I think I’m going to marry you.” They married that December.

Though Earle stayed busy with teaching and drawing, he also wrote several drafting textbooks between 1967 and the early 2000s. The Earles also started their own publishing company through which they sold companion workbooks that he also wrote. According to his obituary, Earle’s textbooks were used by more than 125 universities and high schools, introducing “over a million” students to the concepts and techniques of engineering graphics. He published his last workbook when he was 80. Earle was named a professor emeritus in civil engineering in 1995 and “A Legend of Aggieland” in 2000.

Earle also had a passion for history, particularly the Old West. Palmer said she and her sister had an unconventional childhood spent going to gun shows and walking through cemeteries in search of western gunfighters. The Earles also started a Western Americana publishing company in 1979. Among Earle’s teachings to his daughters was to always have a sharp pencil, and that “just showing up” was half the battle.

His brother-in-law, Joe Gatlin, said Earle had a puritanical work ethic and always served as a good role model. Gatlin was a teen when his sister married Earle, and said he has fond memories of visiting them — and their dog, Slouch — in College Station at their home in the Southside neighborhood near campus. In the sixth or seventh grade, Gatlin recalls his father ordering him to spread cow manure across his front yard in Abilene one Easter weekend. When his sister and Earle arrived at the house, Earle helped with the task.

“I was out there with the wheelbarrow, shoveling all this cow manure into places around the yard, and he helped me do that,” Gatlin said. “That shows you what kind of person he was. He didn’t drive up from College Station just to do that.”

Both Blodgett and Palmer say their father believed in the importance of working late into his life, but always maintained his sense of humor. He also preferred to think positive thoughts, and not get “bogged down in the sad parts of life,” Palmer said.

“He was a very interesting man, and we had a very interesting life, and we are both very, very fortunate,” Palmer said. “Every day we’re thankful that he was our daddy.”

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