a typical Sunday, Roger
Todd Moore arrives at his friend’s 1875-vintage stone ranch house in southwestern
Travis County by 8:30 a.m. and puts on the coffee.
By 9 or a few minutes
after, once everyone has gotten about as attentive as they will get, he clears
his throat and in his deep, West Texas voice starts reading. Today, it’s from
the Tao Te Ching.
The contrast is hard to escape: A tall man in an Old
West-style collarless shirt, buckskin-colored vest, faded jeans and well-broken
in boots under a sweat-stained cowboy hat, the very image of Texan-ness, reading
ancient Eastern philosophy to a bunch of fellow male Texans. Huh?
give us some of the old time Tao,” one class member cracks as Moore looks up from
his reading, peering over the narrow-lens glasses on the end of his Roman numeral
size XX nose.
Whether it’s the Tao or any one of a score or more books
the group has studied over the last two decades, the weekly routine is the same.
Moore reads selected passages and discusses the material, often interrupted by
his often irreverent students, until shortly before 10 a.m. By that time, sometimes
joking that they should get at least a 25 cent rebate on that day’s “sermon,”
everyone pitches in the required $1 contribution. (Which Moore donates to charity.)
Paraphrasing his favorite Tao passage, Moore offers, “It doesn't matter
whether you go up the ladder or down it, your position is shaky."
words, he continues, “If the ladder is your focus you’re gonna fail. Where's the
top? Where do you stop? Which rung makes you a success or failure?”
having sat still just about as long as he’s capable, he’s off to real church with
his wife Martha and son Jack.
Regulars at his Cowboy Sunday School class
call him Rabbi Moore. He is no more Jewish than Luciano Pavarotti hailed from
Ireland, but he’s a rabbi in the original meaning of the Hebrew word, which is
The weekly discussion of things philosophical, spiritual and
theological began two decades ago. Of the 10 regulars, counting Moore, three are
original class members.
|Beyond his rabbinical
role, Moore’s a cartoonist
with a cowboy bent, a successful Austin
advertising executive, an absentee West
Texas cotton farmer, a cowboy lacking cows or horses, a former high school
and college track star and coach and a good friend. These days, thanks to his
Bona Fide Original Real Texas Calendar, a wall-hanging collection of Texas history
highlights and oddities in which New Year’s Day is March 2 (Texas Independence
Day), he’s well on his way toward being Texas’ next
Ace Reid, the celebrated cowboy cartoonist whose work is still being published
years after his death. |
For such a Texan’s Texan, Moore came dangerously
close to being born in Louisiana. Though his dad grew up in West
Texas, World War II
saw him working at a shipyard in Beaumont,
where Roger increased
the population of the Jefferson County seat by one on June 10, 1945.
when the war ended, the Moore family returned to Taylor County, where his dad
bought from his siblings the Moore "home place" at the mouth of Mulberry Canyon
six miles south of Merkel, 13 miles
west of Abilene.
many a Texas teenager in the 1950s, helping his father raise cotton
convinced Moore he could find easier ways to make a living. A star athlete throughout
high school, Moore
attended Cisco Junior College for two years before transferring to McMurray College
physical education, he took his first coaching-teaching job in Sterling
City in 1967. After a year on the faculty of that small high school, he moved
where he spent another year as a track coach and assistant football/basketball
liked working with kids, he also enjoyed being able to pay his bills. In 1969
he joined Texas Instruments in Dallas
as a line foreman. A year later, he got laid off. Not having relished the widget-building
lifestyle to start with, Moore
soon landed a job as a textbook salesman for Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Never lacking for an opinion, Moore
started drawing editorial cartoons for the Allen American in Collin County. After
working a year in Dallas, he got transferred
to Austin and discontinued his cartooning. Soon he became a registered lobbyist
to represent the textbook industry before the Legislature.
made his living trying to convince the Texas Education Agency to adopt his company’s
school books, he found more satisfaction in the occasional pen and ink drawings
he did after work than he did in peddling social studies texts and painfully politically
“I started drawing before I could walk…about 16,” he
deadpans. “Seriously, I was in pre-school.”
Encouraged by his mother,
who told him it was OK for a country boy to draw, as an only child it helped keep
him occupied until he was old enough to work with his dad in the fields. Later,
as an adult, he started doing cartoons for fun and giving them to family and friends.
In 1974, Moore drove to the offices of the Austin Citizen, a weekly in competition
with the Austin American-Statesman.
“Y’all need a cartoonist?” Moore asked
editor Wray Weddell.
“Are you one?” Weddell replied.
handed Weddell a stack of cartoons lampooning state and local politicians and
issues and left with an agreement that the Citizen would pay him $25 for a weekly
editorial cartoon. The Citizen stayed in business through the early ‘80s and Moore
did a cartoon a week until the end, occasionally selling a signed original to
the politicians he poked fun at.
Tired of working for someone else, in
1976 Moore started
his own advertising agency, Moore & more. Despite its uppercase-lowercase name,
the firm included no Moore other than him. But he thought the name sounded impressive.
He stayed as busy as he wanted to be, still his personal business model.
“I’ll fire a client as quick as some have fired me,” Moore laughs. “Life’s too
short to work with some of the people you run into in this business.”
is he particularly caught up in his successes. "Almost every personal downfall
begins with believing your own BS,” he says.
In drawing ads for clients,
Moore periodically worked in the caricatures that have become his trade mark.
In his cartoons, at least one of his characters, usually the one offering the
punch line, has a pronounced proboscis.
“Most think it’s a little of me
in each caricature,” he says.
certainly a lot of Moore
in his weekly Cowboy Sunday School class. He had been teaching it for five years
when he had a horseback epiphany in the fall of 1993 in the Big Bend.
the rugged grandeur of Texas’ last frontier it came to him that A) spirituality
is different than organized religion and B) he needed to truly embrace his inner
“After that experience in the Big Bend is when I started exploring
works like the Tao de Ching,” he says. “It’s also when I gave up coat and ties
and low-cut shoes for jeans, boots and a hat – the real me. I won’t even wear
a coat and tie for a funeral, just my black dress hat.”
His second Zen
moment came three years later.
In 1996, behind the wheel of his pickup
driving back to Austin from Merkel,
an idea rolled tumbleweed-like into Moore’s
consciousness: Texas needed its own calendar. After
all, he reasoned, the Chinese, Aztecs and Gregorians all had their calendar. Why
not Texas? And why not use his cartoons to make it
a fun calendar?
Sharing the idea with 95-year-old Opal Hunt, an antique
collector who had preserved the little town of Bradshaw in Taylor County by buying
most everything in it and storing it in an old store called Audra Mercantile,
he got a to-the-point response: “Do the things you want to do…Don’t wait until
built a collection of interesting Texas history tidbits, drew a cartoon for each
month, and produced his first “Bona Fide Original Real Texas Calendar.” He dedicated
his 1997 calendar to Ms. Hunt, who had died not long after enjoining Moore to
follow his bliss while he could.
For the first several years, he gave away
most of his stock. But as the uniqueness of the calendar began to attract a little
publicity, he began selling them. He also draws a Texas
history cartoon published by numerous weeklies across the state.
ad business, calendar work and weekly cartoons keep him busy, but about once a
month he strikes out for his old home place in Mulberry Canyon. Spending about
three days there, he does whatever needs doing, drinks coffee every morning at
the Merkel drug store, and draws cartoons.
“I may not be very good,” he
likes to say, “but I’m fast.”
Moore does his cartoons in pen and ink on
a heavy-bonded 8 ˝ by 11 paper.
His cartoons are simplistic, call it “Cowboy
“I like to draw people, not things,” he says. “I like to
give my characters movement and odd postures and put a lot into their faces, giving
them interesting expressions.”
Like many people who have finally figured
life out, Moore didn’t gain his insight sitting inside a monastery in quiet contemplation
“I’ve been divorced and have gone broke a couple of times,”
he says. “But sooner or later, a man’s got to figure out what’s really important
in life. To me, it’s having a loving family like I have now and doing what you
want to do, not what someone else wants you to do.”
Now easing into retirement
age, Moore tries to draw a balance between his advertising business and his cartooning.
is spending more time with the people you wanna be with than people you have to
be with,” he says.
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