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.
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.
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.
TPTO: DIVULGING AS MUCH, OR AS LITTLE INFORMATION ABOUT YOURSELF AS YOU’D LIKE, SHARE A LITTLE ABOUT WHO YOU ARE.
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.
TPTO: HOW LONG HAVE YOU HAD THE IOWA CITY POLICE TWITTER HANDLE / FACEBOOK ACCOUNT?
PATTON: I started the Twitter account in November of 2013 and the Facebook page in July of 2015.
TPTO: WHERE DID THIS IDEA COME FROM?
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.
TPTO: HOW DO YOU DECIDE WHICH POLICE CALLS TO FEATURE?
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.
TPTO: WHAT HAS THE REACTION BEEN LIKE FROM USERS ON SOCIAL MEDIA?
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.
TPTO: IN FRIENDLY RIVALRY, MINNESOTANS POKE FUN AT IOWANS. WE’RE PRETTY SURE IOWANS DO THE SAME. IS THIS ACCOUNT MEANT TO POKE FUN AT IOWA, RAISE AWARENESS ABOUT THE TYPES OF CALLS POLICE RESPOND TO, ALL OF THE ABOVE, NONE OF THE ABOVE?
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.
TPTO: DO YOU PURPOSEFULLY AVOID TWEETING ABOUT CERTAIN TYPES OF CALLS?
PATTON: Yes. Aside from mundane things like traffic stops, I also mostly avoid entries related to domestic violence.
TPTO: WHAT’S THE MOST-COMMON TYPE OF CALL YOU’VE SHARED?
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.
TPTO: PERSONALLY, WHAT SORT OF ENJOYMENT DO YOU RECEIVE FROM MAINTAINING THIS ACCOUNT. DO YOU LOOK FORWARD TO THE INTERACTIONS?
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.
TPTO: KEITH PILLE CREATES SINGLE-CELL CARTOONS BASED ON YOUR TWEETS HE FINDS ENTERTAINING. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF HIS WORK? DO YOU LIKE THE IDEA OF ART IMITATING LIFE?
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.
TPTO: HOW LONG DO YOU SEE YOURSELF MAINTAINING THE IOWA CITY POLICE SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS?
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.
This story is made possible by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and the Friends of Minnesota Experience.
While sheltering in place, writer/producer Anne Guttridge craved a creative outlet. So she turned to the master of inspiration: Bob Ross, the one-and-only. Find out how the “happy little clouds” painter inspired her to personalize care packages sent to her friends.
Photographer Layne Kennedy is known for his editorial assignment work that sends him around the globe to capture the perfect shot for the likes of National Geographic Traveler, Outside and LIFE. But while sheltering in place, he’s focused on a newer craft: making stunning wooden bowls from fallen trees in his Minneapolis neighborhood.
When news of the coronavirus became more worrisome, Tia Keobounpheng picked up a pen. A jewelry artist by trade, Keobounpheng returned to a simple form of expression when she needed to calm herself – drawing. And now she creates coloring sheets for others to download for free or for a small donation.