HOLY TOUCHDOWN : There's a Flag on the Play, but La Canada Cartoon Map's Creator Gets Point Across

Times Staff Writer

The statue of an unnamed Christian, hands reaching skyward 85 feet above Foothill Boulevard, commands the La Canada Flintridge business district with a gaze of stark piety.

To the less reverent, however, the statue in front of Lutheran Church is known as the "Holy Touchdown."

"La Canada is just begging to be made fun of," said artist Lee Littler, 18, a La Canada High School graduate paid $200 to draw an official cartoon map of the city of 20,000.

The city is distributing 6,000 copies of the 3-foot-long map to libraries and shopping centers to be used in a coloring contest for children. City officials and Littler will judge the entries, which must be submitted by Aug. 15. The winner will receive $100.

Statue Appeared as Referee

But the version of the map the city's children are coloring is not exactly as Littler conceived it. On the original drawing, now filed in City Hall, Littler dressed the town's most prominent landmark in a referee's jersey. And his reference to the statue as the "Holy Touchdown" set off whistles from city officials.

"We felt that with it being a city project, some of the things didn't belong in it," said Katy Daunis, coordinator of the project for La Canada Flintridge.

But Littler seems to have done an end run. A close look at the map shows several pinstripes up and down the garb of the religious figure.

"And the locals will still get it," he said. " 'Church of the Holy Touchdown' is an affectionate pet name, not an insult."

However, he said of the city's insistence that he change the drawing: "The censorship was very frustrating."

While admitting that his misspelling of some of the business names on the map was partially responsible for revisions he was forced to make, he maintained that some of the changes came about because of "La Canada's preoccupation with money, which is sometimes healthy and sometimes sickening."

Bank Drawn in Larger Scale

In early drafts of the map, not enough of Foothill Boulevard was depicted to suit city officials, he said. In the final version, a strip of stores and businesses along Foothill is so detailed that virtually every business is represented by name. He also noted that he was required to draw the Bank of America building too large on the map.

"I'd come out of there with white-out all over my hands saying, 'Here, is this OK?' " he said of meetings with city officials. "They were pretty adamant about getting all of the businesses in."

On the map, small signs saying only "Residential Area" mark the much larger portions of the community where people live.

Editing aside, Daunis said the city is happy with the map. She said Littler's offbeat humor "wasn't difficult to deal with."

And Littler said he is glad to have had the job and hopes it will help him become a syndicated cartoonist.

La Canada Flintridge decided to commission the cartoon map last fall. Littler was recommended for the job by Karen Mealiffe, an artist who teaches at La Canada High. Mealiffe had discovered Littler in a pottery class during his junior year.

He wasn't doing very well in school, Mealiffe said. He did not respond to formalized art classes and only wanted to draw, she said.

Suddenly Flourished

"High school for me was four years of trying to find acceptance," Littler said.

Mealiffe enrolled the reluctant student in an independent study program where "he just flourished," she said. "He was just very intelligent, and I don't think any of his teachers realized it."

Mealiffe said she had no problem recommending Littler for the job, even though the city is considered staunchly conservative.

"Some kids have wheels and some kids don't. Lee has wheels," she said. "A person can draw, but if he doesn't have wheels--ideas--he won't make it."

Mealiffe, 45, said she empathizes with Littler's struggle against civic orthodoxy. "An artist doesn't always do what the public wants," she said.

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