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BAng Cartoon update (BANG! in Baltimore Sun Article - MERGED)


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Drawing attention

With his Bang! Cartoon parodies of NFL story lines, John Tayman of Lusby turns heads of players, fans

By Ryan Basen

Special to The Sun

Originally published December 3, 2005

John Tayman sits at a desk in his Maryland home, dragging a black-and-white picture of Norv Turner's head across the screen on his desktop computer. He settles the Oakland Raiders coach's noggin on top of a large overcoat, so that Turner looks like one of the scientists from the poplar Guinness television ad campaign.

Then Tayman, the former owner of a Glen Burnie comic book store, gives Guinness Norv a voice. He leans forward toward a microphone mounted on his desk, mimicking the voice of one of the Guinness characters: "Brilliant!"

Satisfied, Tayman reclines in his Washington Redskins T-shirt and shorts and talks about this satirical online cartoon - one of about 90 he has created about NFL players, coaches, executives and others over the past three years.

"We're on the Internet," he says. "We can do anything we want."

And he has. Tayman and a friend from Ohio have created cartoons featuring Philadelphia Eagles receiver Terrell Owens complaining about his contract in a baby carriage, Ravens running back Jamal Lewis trampling the city of Cleveland and Redskins safety Sean Taylor musing that he'd be the darling of Washington if he "only had a brain."

With their perverse, witty humor, Bang! Cartoons are popular among NFL fans and some players. But they have also gone too far at times for some people, drawing criticism from officials, the media and others.

"They're in poor taste," said Chad Steele, a Ravens spokesman.

The attention Bang! Cartoons has received far exceeds what Tayman, 42, expected when he started drawing caricatures of NFL players for fun a few years ago.

A Forestville native, Tayman co-ran Galactic Enterprises in Glen Burnie for a decade in the 1980s and early '90s. He then worked in construction, but needed to change careers in order to care for his son as a single father.

So he enrolled in a 12-week Web development and design class in Columbia in 2002, creating a Web site featuring drawings of NFL players for a class project.

Tayman soon started a career as a freelance Web designer out of his home in Lusby, in Calvert County near Solomons Island, where he moved from Severna Park in 1988. In his free time, he indulged his love of the NFL by writing a column and creating a few short cartoons about NFL topics (using Macromedia Flash software) on a Web site for fans.

In early 2003, Tayman produced two feature-length cartoons, about Redskins owner Daniel Snyder stealing players and broadcaster John Madden getting his head stuck in a bucket of chicken.

"I've always been a [wisecracker]," Tayman said. "I was watching South Park and other things on TV, and I'm thinking, 'You know. I can make that.'"

Tayman soon began making weekly cartoons, which he now hosts on Bangcartoon.com.

Tayman spends 15-20 hours each week working on a new three- to five-minute cartoon, co-producing them with his friend Tom Lacks, a radio producer from Columbus, Ohio. Lacks engineers the sound and supplies some of the characters' voices and plot ideas. Tayman handles the rest, including soliciting sponsors to help them earn a slight profit on the cartoons.

Their cartoons tackle any NFL news and issues that intrigue them, from Lewis' 295-yard rushing day against the Browns in 2003, to the bitter Kellen Winslow contract dispute between the Browns and his agents, to a woman accusing Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick of allegedly giving her herpes.

Some of them are silly, with humor for what Tayman guesses is their niche audience, 13- and 14-year-old males. Others are over-the-top and raunchy. All of them, they said, are parodies.

"We'll talk about everything" going on in the NFL, Tayman said. "I try not to be nasty anyway. I don't want to personally insult these guys. I just want to have fun with them."

Not for casual fans

Much of their humor is inside jokes for NFL junkies. These jokes likely go right over the head of casual fans - such as references in recent cartoons to former Seattle Seahawks and current Minnesota Vikings receiver Koren Robinson's drunken-driving charge and Tom Brady owning a dog named Peyton. "We're both huge football fans," Lacks said. "You really have to be a fan of the entire league" to fully appreciate the cartoons.

Bang! Cartoons sometimes skewer other pro athletes and politicians, but their core subjects are NFL figures, making them popular among some of the league's players.

Owens, Tayman said, discussed a Bang! cartoon he enjoyed on his Web site, and former Eagles receiver Freddie Mitchell sang the lyrics to it in the locker room last year, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Ravens safety Ed Reed and Redskins receiver Santana Moss are also fans, Lacks said.

Redskins running back Clinton Portis is such a fan, said Eric Espada, content manager for ClintonPortis.com, that Espada has spoken with Tayman about working with him on that site.

Among NFL players, "this stuff spreads like wildfire when it's a really good one," Espada said.

No player could be reached for comment. Bang! Cartoons draw more than 200,000 viewers each week, with the Web site receiving more than 10 million page hits since Sept. 1 from all over the world. Traffic at the site has increased significantly, especially since September, and Tayman and Lacks hope this is a sign that their endeavor is ready to take off.

They are so popular that, when another Web site started hosting links to them last year, its "membership just went berserk," said site moderator Steve Marin, of San Jose, Calif. The Vick cartoon in April forced Marin to shut down the site's server briefly because of intense traffic.

Not everyone's a fan

Despite the popularity, some people don't enjoy Bang! Cartoons. Rather, they have denounced them as insensitive, crude and worse.

One in particular especially irked critics. Before the 2004 season, Kevin and Carl Poston engaged in acrimonious negotiations with then-Browns coach/general manager Butch Davis on behalf of Winslow.

In "Going Poston," Tayman and Lacks depicted the Postons as greedy, temperamental windbags. At the end of the cartoon, for example, while the Postons enjoy massages, they berate Davis, talking so quickly in high-pitched voices that they're hard to understand.

Fox NFL Sunday host James Brown asked the Postons if they considered the cartoon to be racist during his radio show and, after viewing it during a segment of ESPN's Outside the Lines, Kevin Poston said: "It's not right. It's really a sad statement."

Added Carl Poston, according to a show transcript: "I've never negotiated a contract like that."

The Postons could not be reached for comment. Brown said he asked the Postons the racism question to present a balanced interview.

The NFL declined to comment about the content of Bang! Cartoons but will not take any legal recourse, spokesman Brian McCarthy said. "Freedom of speech," McCarthy said.

Tayman and Lacks understand why some people are upset by their cartoons, but say they are meant to be harmless satires.

"Yes it's blue humor at times," Lacks said. "But we really don't have any hatred for anybody."

Making some changes

Some of the public criticism has made Tayman a bit reticent, he said. It has "made me rethink certain portrayals, because some of the things people have said to me, they do make sense."

Tayman and Lacks don't mind the criticism too much. They don't produce Bang! Cartoons primarily to please others, or even to make a living.

They'd like to make Bang! their regular gigs, by selling DVDs of old cartoons, developing T-shirts featuring popular Bang! characters and producing weekly podcasts (which they hope to turn into a commercial or satellite radio show).

Even if they don't realize their ultimate goal, they are happy to merely make the cartoons. So you can expect more shorts like "A Jim Fassel Christmas," "Coach Deion" and "Coming Attractions," the Sept. 30 cartoon featuring Turner and Raiders owner Al Davis in a lab.

After spending about 15 minutes searching his computer for the sound of a seagull to mimic the Guinness ads ("The devil is in the details," Tayman said), Tayman screened the other "Attractions," including "The Exorcism of Brett Favre" and "The Overrated."

Then Tayman, a "Looney Tunes" fan, smiled and leaned back.

"We do cartoons," he said. "We don't have to make sense."

Bangcartoon.com might not be considered appropriate for visitors of all ages.

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