VERY USEFUL LESSON – Pacific High School student Madison Mercer adjusts a mirror as Matt Groen, Pacific High School teacher, shows a large class how to butcher deer meat this morning at Sitka High School. For the second year in a row Meggan Turner, Sitka High School foods and nutrition teacher, has brought in Sitka black tail deer she's harvested to demonstrate methods of processing deer meat. She says it's a great way for Sitka High and Pacific High students to learn in the same classroom. Sitka Tribe of Alaska's Charlie Skultka was on hand to share traditional stories and processing techniques. Also pictured is Pacific High student Demetri Lestenkoff. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Sentinel Cartoon Drawn to an End

By SHANNON HAUGLAND
Sentinel Staff Writer
    In the comic strip Bilge, two bald eagles are having a conversation while perching on the cross atop St. Michael’s Cathedral.
    “Bilge is kind of a stupid name for a comic strip,” says one.
    “What do you suggest?” says the other.
    “How about Peanuts?”
    “How about Just Sue Me Now?”
    A kingfisher sitting just below comments: “Peanuts. That’s about what he’s going to make with this comic strip.”
    That was the first of hundreds of Bilge strips Tina Johnson would write for the Sentinel. The last is appearing today, as she and her husband, Marty, move south to Boise, Idaho, for new adventures.
    “I can’t do a comic that’s Sitka-centered if I’m not living in Sitka,” she said.

Tina Johnson (Sentinel Photo)

    Tina is a writer, whose poetry and stories have been published and shared on occasion at the Monthly Grind, Writers Read and other Sitka events. She has used comic-style drawings in her journaling, but this is her first comic strip effort. The first Bilge comic appeared in the Sentinel on Feb. 1, 2017.
    “I’ve been playing with comic strips over the last few years, more as journaling about funny things that happened in my family,” she said.
    The idea for the strip was in part inspired by an exchange with a customer at Old Harbor Books, where Johnson worked at the time. He rushed into the store in an excited manner, announcing to the staff,
    “I just saw two eagles sitting on the cross of the church,” he said. Tina and a co-worker exchanged a look, prompting the tourist to realize, “I guess you see that all the time.”
    “It was a funny exchange,” Johnson said.
    Eagles, other Alaskan birds, fishing and other everyday occurrences provided plenty of material for the daily strip, which has become one of the most popular features in the Sentinel.
    “So many cartoons take place in bars,” she said. “That was a setting that was humorous to me for some reason.”
    The Johnson family fishes, which was another source of inspiration.
    The name of the comic came from Tina’s wish to have something short.
    “I like the idea of trying to make light of things in life that run down underneath everything and aren’t that pretty to look at,” she said.
    Tina and Marty moved to Sitka in 1988, and over the years she has worked at the Sentinel, Old Harbor Books, Sitka Public Library and Sitka Community Hospital, while she and Marty raised their two boys, Amon and Jenner, who are now adults. Jenner and his wife, Lakrisha, live in Sitka; Amon, his wife, Megan, and their daughter Olivia live in Boise.
    After they move to Boise, Tina and Marty plan to continue coming back to Sitka to gillnet in Deep Inlet.
    Tina said she’s enjoyed writing Bilge.
    “It has been really fun, actually,” she said. “It’s been a good brain exercise. It’s been good for me to do something new. Also, having to do something funny in a couple of panels has been a fun challenge.”
    She has also enjoyed the feedback from readers.
    “People have been really, really nice in their comments,” she said. “I’ve appreciated that feedback.”
    She’s not sure what the plans will be once settled in Boise, although she will continue writing.
    “I might like to do cartooning,” she said. “I’m not sure what form that’s going to take.”
    In some of the cartoons, Tina pokes fun at her own basic drawing ability, and she says there’s room for improvement. “I need to take drawing lessons,” she laughed.

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