Can You Draw Lil’ Normie: A Tribute To Norman Truman

“Do you like to draw, or paint, or maybe just sketch and doodle?”

That is how the president of the Art Instruction Schools, Tom Stuart, greeted viewers in a 1990s television ad intended to attract budding artists to sign up for at-home art courses. Courses meant to forge the dabblings of their hobbies into finely honed marketable skills for the world of commercial art. Its most famous alum is Peanuts creator Charles Schulz.

The mail correspondence art school was founded in 1914 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where it operated until it closed its doors in 2018. It was famous for its many, many print ads challenging doodlers to duplicate simple pencil drawings to be sent in for evaluation. There were cute animals including Cuddles the Puppy, Tiny the Mouse, Cubby the Bear, and Tippy the Turtle. They also had human characters to draw, such as The Pirate, The Cowboy, The Musketeer, The Leprechaun, and an assortment of lovely ladies. All were in profile. All were simple enough drawings, but were you up to the challenge? Could you have what it takes for a career in commercial art?

When I was in the sixth grade, I gave it my best attempt to reproduce Spunky the Donkey. The results were pretty good for a 12 year old. (Although, my memory of the drawing was it was done in 1974. However, my mother’s handwriting on the drawing says in was 1976. I’m not gonna argue with Mom’s handwriting.) I didn’t submit the drawing to the school.

My grade school attempt.

Like most kids, I liked to draw. And sometime in the third grade, I began to notice I could draw better than most the rest of the kids I knew. Oh, why be humble? In grade school, few of my classmates could draw as well as I could. None could draw better. It would be the same in high school.

Being better at drawing than my peers was something that spurred me to draw more and more. Drawing more and more got me better at it and that kept me drawing and that kept me getting better. Sort of a snowball effect. I ended up going to art school after I graduated high school, where I was humbled by other students who could also draw really well. A few were better than me.

In the fall of 1996, I started working as a production artist at Cold Side Silkscreening in Minneapolis. (It’s still there. In fact, my wife is working there now as their staff artist.) That’s when I met Norman Truman.

Cold Side was filled with interesting characters, but Norman was in a category all his own. He was a punk rocker. Yes, there were other punks there, but Norman stood out. He was covered from (literally) the top of his head on down to his feet in tattoos. He also had piercing in loads of places. So, I’m told. I didn’t know him that well.

Norman in the shirt that never was, but should have been.

He had the appearance of someone scary. Someone to avoid. He might be violent. In fact, he was quite the opposite.

Sometime in the late ’90s, a group of us from Cold Side, Norman included, obtained tickets to see the reunited Godfathers of Goth – Bauhaus. While waiting for the band to take the stage, I spotted a couple of my art school classmates. I went of over to say hello. I was greeted by an enthusiastic “Dim!” (I got the nickname Dim at art school.) I sat with them to visit for a few minutes.

As we waxed on nostalgically about the art school days and what we were doing now, one friend was distracted and pointed out to the other, “Look! That dude has tattoos on his face!” I looked over and saw it was Norman. I said, “Oh, yeah. That’s Norman. I’m here with him. I work with him. He’s a really nice guy.”

And he was a really nice guy.

As, I’m sure you’ve gathered by now, Norman is no longer with us. He died in early August, after a sudden and brief illness at the age of 54. I know he had asthma. It was a serious condition for him and it may have been a contributing factor. But, I don’t know the actual cause of death.

Flyer art for Bob Murderer’s Memorial

In June of this year, Norman had reached out to me to do some artwork for a flyer promoting a two night punk rock concert event to honor another former Cold Sider who had recently died. It was for Bob Murderer (not his real name, duh), who had died after battling cancer for sometime. Bob’s death was a sad occasion, but Norman’s was a shock. Bob’s friends knew he was sick and they had time to come to grips with that. We didn’t have that with Norman.

I finished the art for Bob’s flyer and sent it to Norman. He was thrilled with it and planned to give the original to Bob’s longtime girlfriend. I gave him some advice on framing the art and how to preserve it. He thanked me for the heads up.

That was the last private text chat Norman and I would ever have. A couple week’s later yet another former Cold Sider texted me to tell me that Norman was in a coma. A week later our friend Norman succumbed to his illness.

A sketch by me done in May, 2020.

The outpouring of love for Norman on social media was incredible. From the moment the news went out that he was very ill, people who knew him sent their sincere wishes for his recovery. They sent messages of love and support to his wife, his family, and to each other. When the heartbreaking news came pictures, drawings, and endless stories of Norman’s kindness, his openness, his dedication to his friends, his family, his wife, and to punk rock filled my Facebook page. It was incredible! There are still memories being shared.

I shared whatever photos my wife and I had. I shared some memories. And I shared the drawing you see at the top of this blog. It was inspired by the Art Instruction Schools’ “Draw Me” challenges. While I was working in Cold Side’s art department in those early days, a co-worker suggested I come up with one based on Norman. That’s what I came up with. It would have made a great shirt. Why wasn’t it made?

Dear reader, you may not have known him, but in the Twin Cities’ DIY Punk scene Norman Truman was a legend. And if you had known him, you would have loved him. Everyone did.

Punk Forever, Forever Punk.

Packing Peanuts!

Feel free to comment and share.

Images used under Fair Use.

Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Please check out our eBay page, as well. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on Apple Podcasts.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s