Down the Shore

He’s a Renaissance man in swim trunks, a lifeguard whose cartoons have been featured in The New Yorker for nearly 20 years. But John O’Brien has guarded the 22nd Street Beach in North Wildwood even longer, having joined the city’s beach patrol 36 years ago. Now 52, the Delran resident travels with a notepad, jotting down cartoon ideas often based on life’s everyday absurdities.

He’s a Renaissance man in swim trunks, a lifeguard whose cartoons have been featured in The New Yorker for nearly 20 years. But John O’Brien has guarded the 22nd Street Beach in North Wildwood even longer, having joined the city’s beach patrol 36 years ago. Now 52, the Delran resident travels with a notepad, jotting down cartoon ideas often based on life’s everyday absurdities.

O’Brien says his own search for space for his beach patrol truck inspired one of his best-known cartoons: that of a cop on the beach, making space for himself with the help of yellow Do Not Cross crime-scene tape. “There’s a cartoon everywhere you look,” he says. In a case of art imitating life, one of the more than 70 children’s books he’s illustrated—The Beach Patrol (Henry Holt and Company, 2004), co-written with fellow lifeguard Max Bilkins—was modeled after his own experience.

 

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