Life Off the Beaten Path
by Jim Amidon
He has frustrated College administrators, irked a few faculty members, and used his cartoons to skewer the "ridiculous crusades" of idealogues on both sides of campus debates.
Meet College humorist and satirist James Haynes
Imagine a Wabash man with dye-streaked blond hair, wearing pants at least four sizes too big, a couple of studded earrings in his left ear, and scads of kite string wrapped tightly around both wrists as he shuffles across the Wabash campus. He's on his way to the basement of the Chapel where each Wednesday night he turns loose his intellectual creativity as cartoonist and columnist for The Bachelor.
Meet James Haynes '98. Or Jaymz, which is the name he scribbles in the upper right hand corner of his immensely popular, often scathing, and always irreverent cartoon, "Loyal Sons." Haynes is many things to be sure, but the stereotypical Wabash man he is not. And he wouldn't have it any other way.
"Wabash wasn't entirely the environment I was looking for in a college," the Farmington Hills, Michigan native claims. "I didn't see rampant creativity here, but it wasn't stodgy, either."
Haynes' high school career had been anything but stodgy. He'd done well by any standards and scored nearly perfect "10s" on the creativity scale. He played bass and sang in a techno band called "Einstein's Dog." He developed large-scale haunted houses that earned praise from the Detroit newspapers because of their wild popularity. He even made a horror film with some friends called The Things in the Woods, which played to packed houses at local theaters. Oh yes, he and friend Gordon Eich teamed up to win the world championship of the "Odyssey of the Mind" competition, for which, as an eighth grader, he earned a spot on NBC's "Today Show" with host Bryant Gumbel.
All of that creative energy, packed with intellectual muscle, caught the eye of the Wabash Lilly Awards Committee. Haynes saw it as a good match.
"I knew that if I came to Wabash, I would have plenty of room to be creative-in essence, to write my own ticket."
That's exactly what he did. Haynes started writing for The Bachelor without any previous experience in journalism. His first work with the paper was as a columnist, writing weekly beer reviews. "I was the only guy in my fraternity who wasn't involved in varsity sports," Haynes remembers. "I wasn't brilliant in class my freshman year, so I found my niche with The Bachelor. And I found that the great thing about Wabash is the recognition-from the time I wrote my first article on, I got feedback and encouragement from professors and students every week."
That column and subsequent work with the College's humor magazine, Barrickman's Revenge, earned Haynes a "bad boy" image. It also made him an obvious choice when then-editors John Jefferson '97 and John Deschner '97 needed a student cartoonist for The Bachelor they were attempting to rebuild.
"They said, 'Haynes, you're funny,' and I said, 'yeah, but I can't draw!'"
With that action, "Loyal Sons" was born, and though his characters don't have bodies ("because I can't draw them"), the messages they send to the College community cut straight to the bone. "Loyal Sons" has skewered every group on campus-students, administrators, faculty, and alumni. Mostly, though, the characters of "Loyal Sons" are the very people of Wabash at their core, and James' depictions of political and social issues on campus often sting with reality.
"People at Wabash lose sight of the issues and nobody really wants to compromise to do what's best for the College as a whole," he says. "People are in search of a moral or political victory, so things rapidly become a war of rhetoric and competing politics. We need to start talking about the issues and stop sloganeering them. The issues themselves are certainly not stupid, but the way we talk about them is counterproductive.
"If you point these things out publicly, they're taken as a hostile assault. In cartoons, you can be less hostile, and people can and do accept criticism in that way . . . No, I never pulled any punches, but I didn't kick anybody in the balls either."
The Bachelor's Editor-in-Chief Chris Cotterill '99, who credits Haynes with invigorating the features section of the paper with his "outlandish wit," says, "the one thing you always knew about James was that he wasn't about to become a mouthpiece for anyone."
Except, perhaps, for the liberal arts. Haynes 700-word weekly opinion columns have covered the full range of the Wabash experience. His tirades have ranged from the difficult task of choosing a major, to road tripping on Spring Break; from why Honor Scholarship Weekend is so critically important to the College's future, to the fun of a home football game; from his frustrations with C&T to campus political squabbles.
"Through his social commentary, James made people think," Cotterill says.
And he always assumed his readers were thinking.
"The good scholar can learn to differentiate between the wheat and the chaff, and I would like to believe that Wabash turns out scholars of this caliber," Haynes wrote this year in one of his columns. He capped his own Wabash academic career by earning distinction on both his political science and English comprehensive exams. Now he's trying to land a job with one of a number of regionally- and nationally-recognized "underground" newspapers.
At various times during his Wabash tenure, James Haynes has been called everything from an irreverent punk and campus smartass to the funniest writer and most insightful wit in the student body. He reflected on his Wabash experience in his final column-words of wisdom for underclassmen: "Pull an all-nighter occasionally to keep from getting soft, support student activities, read something intelligent from time to time, and begin planning a truly spectacular, end-of-the-millennium heist to get our bell back from those cretins in Greencastle."
In the end, James Haynes isn't that "different" than any other Wabash man.