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'Calling to police to request help with fish tank...what now?'

A Minneapolis cartoonist finds a certain solace in illustrating Iowa City police calls.

By Luke Heikkila

The year 2020? Between a pandemic, global protests sparked by outrage over police brutality, killer bees and invasive, lawn-munching beetles, this year has been one for the record books - and also fodder for cartoons and comic strips. At least, that's the case for Minneapolis artist Keith Pille, who has coped with the chaos of 2020 by starting each day drawing a single-cell cartoon as quickly as he can, usually in 30 minutes. He then fills his Twitter feed with a drawing every day.

His primary source of inspiration? A police blotter in Iowa City.

Keith Pille
Keith Pille










Enter Christopher Patton, an Iowa City resident who keeps his finger on the pulse of his community by paying attention to his city's police activity log. So he created the non-city sanctioned @IC_ActivityLog Twitter account to highlight the police calls he finds funny, tragic or incomprehensible.

a person sitting on a couch with a laptop
Christopher Patton (credit: Iowa City Press Citizen)










In a case of art imitating life, Pille adds his visual interpretation to the police calls Patton highlights on his Twitter account, and he also uses Patton's tweets as verbatim captions for each cartoon.

Aside from a quick DM a few months back in which Pille asked Patton for permission to pilfer the @IC_ActivityLog account for material, the two men have never been in contact. Yet their individual projects seem to stream from roughly the same trajectory: Patton finds it interesting to keep track of the calls as a moment-in-time history, while Pille finds his work illustrative of how most of the calls made to police do not require an armed response.



On the surface, Patton's account is anonymous, though it only takes a few key strokes and a search bar to figure out who is behind the Iowa City Police Log on Twitter. Still, we wanted to learn a little more about the person behind the inspiration for Pille's cartoons, so he agreed to an interview.

My name is Christopher Patton. I’ve lived in Iowa City since 2001, when I moved here to attend the University of Iowa. Currently, I work on an organic farm.

PATTON: I started the Twitter account in November of 2013 and the Facebook page in July of 2015.

PATTON: I stumbled upon the ICPD activity log on the city’s website, started checking it regularly and soon became completely obsessed. Eventually, I found myself sharing so many of the entries on my personal social media accounts that I decided to make a Twitter account exclusively for that purpose.

PATTON: I post anything I find interesting. Some entries I highlight are funny, some are tragic and some are incomprehensible. There’s no unifying theme or specific criteria at work.

PATTON: The Twitter account started off accumulating followers pretty slowly. I think it took more than a year to get over 1,000. Eventually, I developed a dedicated fan base though. Reactions have been mostly positive, though from time to time people do complain about entries they don’t think are funny and, when that happens, I have to remind them not everything I post is supposed to be humorous.

PATTON: Ultimately, I view this as an art project. Most of the log entries posted on the city’s site are boring, but a few provide compelling glimpses into many different aspects of our community. By archiving and sharing a broad cross-section of calls, I’m trying to paint a picture of life and strife in this time and place.

PATTON: Yes. Aside from mundane things like traffic stops, I also mostly avoid entries related to domestic violence.

PATTON: Animal control calls are definitely the most common, specifically regarding raccoons. After that, it’s probably issues related to bad behavior resulting from alcohol consumption.

PATTON: I got the most enjoyment just from reading through the police log. For the years I looked through it in its entirety, I felt I really had my finger on the pulse of Iowa City. Running popular accounts is gratifying, too, but it’s definitely the raw material I care the most about.

PATTON: I love his cartoons. Seeing someone interpret these calls in a visual medium is really cool. Hopefully a lot of people can find different kinds of artistic inspiration in this material.

PATTON: I haven’t decided on any long-term plans for these accounts. The book I’ve been working on for the last year and a half is almost done. At the very least, I’ll continue to post archived material as I promote the book, which should be available for purchase well before the end of the year.

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This story is made possible by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and the Friends of Minnesota Experience.

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