Deep inside nearly everyone, there's an aspiring cartoonist longing to be set free. Whether it's the serious artist who sits down at the drawing table or the bored office worker who doodles on a note pad during company meetings, everyone has dabbled at being a cartoonist.

With that in mind, Willamette Week decided to sponsor the Big Strip-Off, a contest to find some of Portland's most creative cartoonists. Sounds simple enough--draw some funny pictures, win a contest. But there's a big difference between drawing cute bunny rabbits and actually coming up with creative ways to convey ideas through images and words in a limited amount of space. It's sort of like the difference between writing freeform doggerel and writing a haiku. And, of course, there was "the theme."

A contest just isn't a contest without a set of silly rules, and among the Big Strip-Off's silliest was that all entries had to adhere to a single theme: Legends of Portland. In theory, the theme invited contestants to tap into the rich history of the city. Or maybe it would encourage comic artists to create a new legend. Perhaps a little of both.

As it turned out, the theme helped divide contestants into two camps. First were the people who appeared to have lived in Portland for a long time and have a sense of local history. Names like Billy Ray Bates and Ramblin' Rod mean something to these people. And then there were those who aren't even aware Portland once had only one area code and are clueless as to what "available at all stores except 5th and Morrison" means. From more than 60 Groenings-in-training who ponied up the $5 application fee, some entries were great, some were not so great, and more than half didn't meet the required size dimensions (here's a hint: The first number indicates width). Thanks to all who entered.

Picking a winning entry rested on the shoulders of the three Big Strip-Off judges: Steve Duin, columnist for The Oregonian; Mark Petersen, owner of Dr. Tongue's 3-D House of Toys & Collectibles; and Chloe Eudaly, proprietress of the independent-press emporium Reading Frenzy. The judges had some trouble agreeing on one strip, instead coming up with six strips as the top picks. Each winning entry in the Big Strip-Off will be rewarded with $150 in cash and prizes, not to mention the deathless glory of appearing in these pages

To see the winners and some of the other top entries and honorable mentions, go to