Saturday, February 21, 2009

The following article originally appeared in the Panama City News Herald, June 30, 2000.

IT IS IMPOSSIBLE to think of Nellis Johnson without smiling. Nellis, who passed away last Monday at the age of 80, possessed the unique ability to look at life's foibles and find humor.

"I just see things funny," he once said. He spent a lifetime sharing that humor with others.

Every Sunday for eight years--from 1966 to 1974--readers of the Panama City (FL) News Herald were treated to his cartoon Panhandle Parade, which he subtitled Humourous Views of Area News. The cartoon lampooned overstuffed politicos, silly highway signs, and ordinary folks just being themselves.

Johnson also created the cartoon Cornflakes, which ran in hundreds of papers throughout the country during the 1980s, spreading his brand of self-described "countrified humor."

Johnson was an accomplished musician, too. He could--and often did--entertain audiences with his guitar-playing and singing. He could mimic Johnny Cash one minute, Willie Nelson the next. Johnson wrote and sang his own songs as well. Two of his compositions, in fact, have been sung at the Grand Ol' Opry. He once played guitar and sang for an audience of 300 at a regional postmasters' convention. But I've seen him entertain a group of ten with equal enthusiasm.

I dropped in to see him at his home on Cove Boulevard in Panama City four or five months ago. Although confined to a wheelchair, Johnson's mind was as sharp as ever as he reminisced about his days as telegraph editor at the local newspaper (1958 to 1974), and as art director at WJHG-TV in Panama City (1975 to 1982).

He loved to collect vintage musical instruments and he showed me the display of unique guitars and ukuleles which hung on his den wall.

Nellis was proud of the fact that a protege of his--Gary Brookins--had found success as editorial cartoonist for the Richmond Post-Dispatch and artist for the nationally-syndicated cartoon Pluggers.

"It ain't always easy," Johnson once said, "to find the humor amid the car wrecks, fights, divorces and other litle capers of the human race."

He not only found the humor, he made sure we saw it, too.