13 Jul

A bunch of dudes in the woods

From left to right: Danny Trevor, Ben Trevor, me (Jim Gibbons), half of Quint Owen's head and Sam Hulka. I have no idea who took this photo. Possibly a sasquatch, but more than likely a camper.

Taken down at the archery range on a sunny afternoon during my last year at camp (2001), I’m a second year JC (junior counselor) in this photo and instructing/supervising these fine young lads in their arrow-flinging endeavors. Obviously, I was sporting a soul patch and a “Hi, my name is Slim Shady” t-shirt because I was a super cool 16-year-old. ‘Nuff said, right?!

I’ll wager a guess that before, during and after this picture was taken, I was lamenting the fact that I had become an American Archer when I was a camper. Quick explanation: An American Archer is someone who has achieved every target shooting award at the 15, 25, 30, 40 and 50-yard lines with a bow and arrow under the Camp Archery Association’s achievement program. There were usually only one or two handfuls of American Archers at camp each summer making the bragging rights it entailed a cool perk as a camper (Note: They are also kind of cool as a 25-year-old.), but as one of only three staffers with the distinction in 2001 it was a different story. The other two American Archers on staff were Waterfront Director Brent Parker and Head Archery Instructor David Owen, a fellow JC one or two ears older than me. Brent, busy with all things waterfront-related, would have been a rare staffer to see instructing archery that year, which made me (more or less by default) Assistant Head Archery Instructor—or something like that. What that meant was David normally got the morning shift down at the range (Which was preferable because it was usually cooler and your morning was usually more relaxed—a definite perk for anyone among the sleep-deprived staff.), I ended up down there in the sweltering hot afternoons… when I would have rather been down on the waterfront… by the cool, cool water… doing anything, anything other than archery.

That said, with the rose-colored glasses of hindsight, I realize that I ended up spending most of my afternoons on staff leading a bunch of kids as we all fired dangerous projectiles at bails of hay (or sometimes an old t-shirt) for a few hours. Not too shabby.

This photo also exemplifies a lot of camp experiences. It’s a bunch of dudes, surrounded by trees, doing something potentially dangerous. Good times, indeed.

I love how maniacal Sam looks in this photo. Little would the casual viewer suspect that the half-headed Quint was the real threat here. After the photo was taken, he jabbed two or three arrows into my side, filing them in between the gaps of my rib cage like some sort of pointed and deadly piece of paperwork, before fleeing into the nearby swamp… never to be seen or heard from again.

I’m kidding, of course! In my two years instructing archery, no one was shot, stabbed or lost in the swamp. A few arrows, however, did find their way into that quagmire at my discretion…

I didn’t say being an Archery Instructor was completely without its upsides!

13 Jul

Second generation Shewahmegonites

From left to right: Tim Bergstrom, Ryan Bergstorm, Me (Jim Gibbons), Dan Gibbons and Lexie Gibbons. Photo presumably taken by my mom.

This picture is from Dan and my first year at camp: 1995. I’d be 11-years-old here and Dan would have been 9 or 10. The photo features my cousin Ryan and my cousin Tim. (Who are cousins to each other as well, not brothers.) Ryan, Tim, Dan and I were all second generation campers at Shewahmegon. Ryan’s dad, my uncle George (the oldest of the my mom’s siblings), made Shewahmegon his summer home as a camper for many years and then as a staff member. Tim’s dad, my uncle Jim (and the second oldest of my mom’s siblings), did the same. Though Shewahmegon was a boy’s camp, my mom spent some time up there as she was friends with one of the camp owners’ daughters. So, Dan and I were more or less second generation, as well.

Based on the fact that we’re all in our Sunday whites and my sister is in the photo, this must have been taken on Parent’s Visiting Weekend, which occurred after campers had been at Shewahmegon for four weeks. Why we wore whites for matins must have been explained to me at some point, but I now presume it was because we weren’t going to bring our Sunday best to camp and what we wore the rest of the time was pretty filthy. Camp is a ton of fun, but it’s not a very clean place. Sanitary? Sure! But not many clothes made the return trip down from Northern Wisconsin without sustaining a considerable amount of dirt or food stains and other wear-and-tear damage.

Behind us you can see Shewahmegon’s beautiful waterfront area and Lake Owen.

I went home with my parents at the end of visiting weekend that year instead of staying the full seven weeks. It was a huge mistake. Much as I loved my first bit of camp, I felt like I was missing out on stuff at home. I wanted to get back to swimming in a pool instead of a lake and playing video games or watching TV instead of paying Capture The Flag. I got home and was reminded how ridiculously boring summer can often be. You can only ride your bike around the same few streets for a certain amount of time before you realize that the comparatively limitless amount of activities you could be enjoying at camp is a far superior way to spend your summer.

That was the only summer I went home early in my seven years at Shewahmegon. My other four years as a camper, I stayed for the full seven weeks. The two years I was on staff, I was up there even longer helping set up during pre-camp and tear down during post-camp. By that final year (mine as well as camp’s), Shewahmegon and the people I saw there every summer had become such a special part of my life that the fact those extra weeks up there were primarily devoted to raking leaves and hauling brush for hours on end, well… it wasn’t too bad considering the company and the scenery.

13 Jul

A group shot of Cabin 11 circa 1995

From left to right: Axel Owen, Owen Aronson, Tim Bergstrom, Andrew Porter (counselor), me (Jim Gibbons) and Brian Swan. In the back, Cabin 10's David Will and Ben McIntyre (Counselor). Photo nabbed from Pete Reckard's Facebook.

I think I’m 11-years-old in this picture. Clearly, at the time, I was an extremely impressive dresser, as are all my compatriots here. Our counselor Andrew Porter was from the Isle of Man in the UK and I consider him to be one of the first truly cool people I have ever known—a title that, disregarding the chronological aspect, I think I likely applied to most Shewahmegon counselors while I attended camp. Andrew played guitar, informed us he was in a band called “Radiohead and the Scabby Donkeys” (the type of outlandish and playful lie you’d hear often at camp) and introduced me (with the help of Australian nurse Steve Guinea) to a song we were frequently regaled with on hiking trips that went a little something like…

There was (Name) (Name)
Looking mighty (word that rhymed with person’s name)
In the store, in the store.

There was (Name) (Name)
Looking mighty (word that rhymed with person’s name)
In the Corner Master store.

My eyes are dim
They cannot see
I left my glasses in the W.C.

I left my glasses in the W. C.!

Andrew, I also realize, taught me that W.C. stands for Water Closet. (A term synonymous with “bathroom” for some Brits and Aussies.) And, if memory serves, Andrew had a shirt that featuring a grenade-like emblem and words that I can’t remember now which had a meaning none of us younger campers, despite numerous guesses, could ever figure out. I presume it was something horribly offensive disguised by British slang—and I have to presume it was more than just a little offensive as we had pretty filthy mouths for a group on 11-year-olds.

At this point, Luis Orduña had not arrived from Toluca, Mexico, to join our cabin yet.

Lastly, memory doesn’t have to play into this reminiscence thanks to the photo, but we were clearly a well-fed group of kids. Look at those chubby cheeks!

Oh, also, I think I wore that St. Louis Cardinals hat (at least, I think it was a Cardinals cap) for 90 percent of the summer.

Quick notes: If I mention your full name on this blog and you’d prefer I wouldn’t, drop me a line and let me know. I’m at jimgibbons1 [at] gmail [dot] com.

Also, nothing I state here is necessarily fact. I plan to relay stories the way I remember them. Memory is an imperfect thing, so I may get things wrong from time to time. If I do and you know better, comment on the post and help flesh out these long forgotten stories! Thanks!

13 Jul

Don’t call it a comeback. Seriously.

Today is July 12, 2010. Scroll down a bit and you’ll see the last post was erected (Boner jokes already?! What kind of camp blog is this?!) almost a year ago with a “I’m gon’ get back on this shit” promise. Clearly that last boast of blogging fervor was bullshit. This next one, I think, isn’t…

Welcome back to Nothing More American, a summer camp memoir blog of an archival nature posting at regular intervals with a photoblog vibe!

So, why was this blog left oh so neglected for such a long time? Well, last year when I vowed to get this puppy back on track, I had a box full of photos and scanner. I was fully ready to populate this web space with some atrocious teenage photography from Kodak one-time-use cameras with diligence. I had decided to abandon the “maybe one day I can compile this into a novel” memoir approach I originally wanted this blog to take and moved over to a yearbook style scan-a-thon.

Clearly, I say again, that didn’t happen. But… BUT… I have a pretty decent excuse…

In early September of 2009, I was let go from my job. I woke up late. I let my beard grow long. I showered infrequently at best…

2009: Hairy.

…but I was also blogging up a comic-centric storm over at Enemy of Peanuts, freelancing for Comic Book Resources and applying for jobs left, right and center. On the brighter side, I was hanging down in The Village (in New York) walking “celebrity” dogs with my lady and running into the likes of Peter Dinklage, Peter Sarsgaard and Philip Seymour Hoffman—and by “running into,” I of course mean “walking by on the sidewalk.”

It was a strange limbo of a time.

Long story short, I got a job at Dark Horse Comics in Portland, Ore., and Jessi and I moved across the country in November. It’s been great so far, but finding time to get this ol’ bitch of a blog up and running again just hadn’t come along. Now, Jessi’s rocking the Rose City as a professional ballroom dancer and ballroom dance instructor working crazy hours and that leaves me with a good four hour block each evening to spend on hobbies. Hobbies like this blog! So, I’ve got my box of pictures. I’ve got the scanner out. And, I’ve got a librarian-esque drive to archive every single one of those photos on this blog.

Before I get started, here are a few quick notes…

  • Nothing More American will now be primarily organized by year—the seven years I went to Camp Shewahmegon to be more precise. The main categories will be the summer of 1995 through the summer of 2001.
  • Blog posts will lead with a picture and be followed by as much explanation of said photo as I can muster after that. The info may be descriptive or it may just reminisce about something slightly related. Either way, I hope to squeeze a ton of camp memories out of my brain by just rolling with the pictures. If you’re a camp friend with more insight into the images, please comment and add to the story.
  • Most of these photos were taken by my brother Dan, me or someone we handed one of our cameras to. Presuming I know who took the shot, I’ll give them credit.

That’s pretty much it. Basically, this blog is taking its lead from photoblogs. I’ll show a photo and then scribble down a story of some length to explain it—pretty much like some old fart taking you through the slides from his vacation only much more fun. (I hope!)

Let’s get started…

26 Aug

Let’s get visual!

Ok, let’s just get it out of the way…

It’s been a long time since I’ve updated Nothing More American. I’m sorry. But let’s face it, you can’t force nostalgia or the memories and stories that go along with it. A semi-recent conversation with an old camp buddy about the dilemma of modern technology at summer camp led to some definite post-worthy material, but it stewed in my brain and I never got it out onto the blog.

I needed some push, some shove, some deus ex machina to force me back into this memoir blog.

Over on my other blog EnemyOfPeanuts.com, I’ve been doing a daily doodle cartoon called All Day Pizza Buffet. Displaying these doodles required a scanner, and thus was my deus ex machina delivered unto me! (You know, after I bought it and Amazon delivered it.)

Last Thanksgiving, my brother Dan and I sifted through stacks upon stacks of old camp photos. My goal was to take them back to New York with me, scan them and put them online for the enjoyment of all. I came home, amped up to do some scanning and… my scanner broke. But now, with a brand spankin’ new scanner at my side, I’ve begun the laborious process of scanning in hundreds of old camp photos. I decided to begin with the smaller stack of photos I have that Dan took and progress slowly, but surely, from there. These photos will undoubtedly be the impetus for plenty of fantastic storytelling, so enjoy these initial photos now and continue checking back for more pics and the yarns entertainingly explain them!

From left to right: Me (roughly 12 or 13 years old), my cousin Ryan and my younger brother Dan.

From left to right: Me (roughly 12 or 13 years old), my cousin Ryan and my younger brother Dan.

Dan in Cabin 10 (age 10ish). Very flexible for a youngster.

Dan in Cabin 10 (age 10ish). Very flexible for a youngster.

Dan, years later (13 or so), doing the caber toss on Paul Bunyan Day—an annual competition of lumberjack-like skills on Parents Visiting Weekend.

Dan, years later (13 or so), doing the caber toss on Paul Bunyan Day—an annual competition of lumberjack-like skills on Parents Visiting Weekend.

I, apparently doing a great impression of a rock, go against the flow in a Canadian river.

I, apparently doing a great impression of a rock, go against the flow in a Canadian river.

A beautiful Canadian sunset. Possibly the best picture ever taken by a pre-High School Dan Gibbons.

A beautiful Canadian sunset. Possibly the best picture ever taken by a pre-High School Dan Gibbons.

More to come soon!

6 Jun

How “an adventurer” tells stories

Lately, I’ve been on a big Conan (the Cimmerian or barbarian, not the late night host) kick and stumbled across this quote from Conan creator Robert E. Howard featured in an essay about the author bookending a graphic novel collection I was reading. I think it applies to this blog, so here it is:

Conan: An Adventurer.

Conan: An Adventurer.

“As for Conan’s eventual fate—frankly, I can’t predict it. In writing these yarns I’ve always felt less as creating them than as if I were simply chronicling his adventures as he told them to me. That’s why they skip about so much, without following a regular order. The average adventurer, telling tales of a wild life at random, seldom follows any ordered plan, but narrates episodes widely separated by space and years, as they occur to him.”
-Robert E. Howard, March 10, 1936, critiquing an article entitled “A Probable Outline of Conan’s Career” in a letter to P. Schuyler Miller.

After reading this quote, it dawned on me that most of my creative struggle with this blog has been based on trying to keep an element of chronology to my stories and posts. Thanks to Howard, I’ve realized that as an average adventurer—a title I think applies to most who attend summer camp—I need not worry about relating my yarns in order, but should simply make sure they get told.

That said, I’ll be telling tales more frequently here, but they won’t be in any order. I’ll just let them flow and explain the “when” during the story itself. What would Conan do if he had a blog? He’d do it this way!

This guy has some stories to tell, to be sure!

This guy has some stories to tell, to be sure!

10 May

Random Recollections—A messy first

I’ll kick things off with this little comic strip illustrating this memory and then delve into the story behind it…

"Aw, poop." (Click comic strip to enlarge it)

"Aw, poop." (Click comic strip to enlarge it)

When your 11 years old, the brain doesn’t foresee a number of things, especially when it comes to events that will later make for embarrassing stories. In this case, my noggin didn’t really work when it came to my first “number two” in the great outdoors.

At Camp Shewahmegon, every cabin went on a few trips each summer. These were overnight outings that usually lasted two nights where a cabin group would head off to some remote campsite or on a journey down a river, sleeping out in tents and cooking over fires instead of sleeping in our cabins back at camp and eating in the dining hall. My first summer at camp was back in ’95 and that summer my cabin’s first trip was to an island on Lake Owen (the lake camp was located on) named Carter’s Island. We packed up a few days worth of clothes while our tripper (an extra staff member whose main job is to get things in order for trips and, to a degree, to act as a second counselor while the cabin group is away from camp) secured us tents and food for the duration, and we canoed the few miles down the lake to our home for the next couple of days.

Once we got to the island, it wasn’t long before I had to make a bathroom run of less liquid and more solid variety: poop. I’d never gone in the woods before and really had no idea as to how it would be done. Sure, it seems simple when you’re old enough to have seen enough poop-humor comedies and Discovery channel programs, but I honestly don’t remember having the slightest clue as to how I could drop a log outdoors—save that it must involve some sort of squatting and the pulling down of my pants. So, I asked for a little advice from my counselor, heard leaning up against a tree would be a good move and ventured into the woods with a roll of TP (toilet paper) and a shovel.

After walking clear of the campsite and finding a sturdy tree, I dug a small hole at its base, plunged the shovel in the ground out of the way and propped up against the tree. I pulled my teal Nike swim trunks down to my ankles, tried to relax and focus on doing my thing. I few pushes and grit teeth later, and I had a swimsuit full of brown matter.

I leaned against the tree, but hadn’t squat enough to get my legs and ankle-level shorts far enough away from the drop zone.

Bad, right?! Well, it gets better…or, rather, worse. In my embarrassed haste to clean up the mess, I dropped the roll of TP into my messy shorts—which is extra bad as camping trip supplies normally only have a limited amount of bathroom tissue.

So, not sure what to do, I hobbled back to the campsite with my filthy pants at my ankles. My calls for help and advice were met with exasperated yells from my counselor to get into the lake (which we were completely surrounded by on our island campground) and clean myself off. I made my way to the lake, stumbling down a muddy hill in the process and dirtying myself even more before finally getting in the water and soaping off myself and my shorts.

That was a mistake I only made once in my days at camp, because a surprise like that in your shorts is a pretty good motivator to get it right next time.

Confession time: Though I cleaned myself up, there was no way to salvage the TP and I knew ruining half our stock—especially with over half the trip left to go—would be a little harder to forgive than my personal mess. So, I removed as much stained TP as I could, and brought the dirty roll back to the campsite. It wasn’t until my counselor had to poo that the messy paper was found. However, Brian Swan had gone in between my incident and my counselor’s potty trip so he caught the brief verbal assault as I looked on, not fessing up to my part in the TP mess. Now, 13 years later I confess: It was me.

Man, it feels good to come clean!

10 May

Regarding archery in comics and a long, long absence…

Boo boop!

Hey folks, sorry I’ve been so bad at updating over the past couple of weeks, but if you’ve been paying attention to my other blog (Enemy of Peanuts at www.EnemyOfPeanuts.com) then you’ll notice I have at least been busy. Still, I’ve got a few reminiscences that need telling over here on NMA and I plan on getting to those very, very soon—especially now that EoP is up and running on a regular schedule.

Just as a note, Nothing More American is going to be moving to an “at least once a week” posting schedule. Since my posts here are chronicling some of the greatest times in my life, I end up agonizing over them probably too much. Still, for that reason, daily ramblings and posts about any number of other subjects will be gushing forth at Enemy Of Peanuts many times a week, and updates here will be less frequent but hopefully more enjoyable for their relative rarity. The short version: Be patient with me here, I want to do right by my memories.

Also, I made a post yesterday on Enemy Of Peanuts that could not have happened without my years of archery experience at camp. The gist of it is that after my own days as a camper learning to shoot archery which led to me being one of the head archery instructors during my time on staff at Camp Shewahmegon has given me an eye for numerous comic book moments where artists and editors have overlooked how heroes like Hawkeye and Green Arrow should be holding their bows and nocking their arrows. If you ever drew back a bowstring at summer camp, you can appreciate this post, so head over and check out “Far from a bullseye” on EoP.

Overlooked by many, all those afternoons on the archery range led me to notice quite a few errors with this comic cover.

Overlooked by many, all those afternoons on the archery range led me to notice quite a few errors with this comic cover.

I’ll wrap up this very managerial post with a little camp-related anecdote… My coffee maker broke recently, and while I haven’t had time or an access of funds to go out and pick up a new one, I turned again to an item I bought long ago before a camping trip: a campfire percolator.

"Roughing it" in my kitchen

"Roughing it" in my kitchen

So, each morning atop my stove, I load this baby up with some ground coffee and get in percolating. It’s not that odd, but something I doubt would be the case without my camp experience as I (a) wouldn’t have one of these if I didn’t camp and (b) because that sort of “what do I have that can fix this” resourcefulness is a quality I’d credit to my camp years—and one I’ve never really thought about but am now realizing I am very thankful for!

25 Mar

Introducing “Chipmunk Chatter”——>

Most camps have a camper and staff-written publication that updates and parents on the goings-on of their kids’ summer retreat. At Camp Shewahmegon, it may have been printed on pastel paper and put together on an MS Dos computer, but it was still a great place for us Shewahmegonites to drop little in-jokes and tell the epic tales of our Namekagon canoe trips and Pine Point 2 cookouts—it was called The Chipmunk Chatter.

In honor of those three glorious printed pages stapled together by hand to circulate our camp news, I have added a section (look to your right, there it is!) that’ll display all recent comments made on the blog. Hopefully, this will help people see a multitude of other camp stories posted in response to my main entries and foster the open forum feel I hope Nothing More American has in the future.

So, comment away! Now with NMA‘s Chipmunk Chatter, it may be seen by an old camp buddy who has an addition to your story, get you an answer to a nagging nostalgic question or give another former camper a good and much-needed laugh.

22 Mar

Dear Readers…

Hey Folks!

I just wanted to address you all directly with a few things.

First, I chatted with a few friends recently who told me they have been enjoying the blog. You know who you are, but I just wanted to put an additional “thank you” up here. It means a lot to know that people are actually looking into what is essentially a labor of love for me, not to mention a place to record all these memories before they slip away. If you’re reading then you’re probably reading this, so thanks for supporting me and Nothing More American in our bloggy infancy!

Second, many of the same people who have expressed a love for the blog have also expressed that they don’t feel quite comfortable posting comments and what not after posts. No question or comment is inane or irrelevant here and all of them should hopefully stir up more memories that I can blog, not to mention stir up the memories of other readers. If my talk about canoeing brings up an unrelated canoeing memory you want to share, post it! If my posts are lacking crucial information, post a question! If you wish you had memories as fantastic as mine, post that! I’d really love this place to become as much a forum as it is a place for me to catalog the amazing events of my childhood summers, so please don’t be shy and comment frequently. I guarantee things will get even better if you do!

Lastly, if you read some of my introductory posts then I am sure you may be wondering where the webcomics I mentioned are. I finished the first installment of the blog’s namesake webcomic Nothing More American recently, but issues with my scanner have put posting it on hold. Be patient, it’s on its way.

That does it for me. Again, thanks to everyone who has shown support in the early going of NMA, I really do appreciate it!

Till we meet again,


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