Sunday, May 24, 2020

A Crowded Life in Comics –

The End of World War II – V-C Day.
All the Mauldin Details…

1. Bill’s early (1943) Sicily Sketch Book, some yet earlier cartoons from the 45th Division News. A slim paperback and slimmer design, yet printed on slick paper and grain cover.

By Rick Marschall

V-C Day. What’s that? Blame it on Kilroy, who was just here. It’s a stretched point on the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II – “Victory of Cartoons.” OK, to coin the  term might be a historical crime, but it’s not a war crime. Just an excuse to share some special and obscure cartoon memorabilia, with some connection to my Crowded Life.

I am a baby-boomer, born several years after my father returned from the service (our side). He was in an Air Force weather squadron that overflew Normandy on D-Day; and was an officer charged with re-establishing the German civilian weather bureau after the surrender. Until the end of his life he seldom talked about the war, so a lot of what I knew I learned – predictably – from cartoons.

And there were many cartoons that taught me; more cartoons, probably, than accompanied other wars in the world’s bloody history. There were many book collections and anthologies of many cartoonists’ work. There were cartoons in the service publications Yank and Stars and Stripes and Leatherneck. Many of the cartooning greats of the next generation got their starts, drawing for camp newspapers. Virtually every character in syndicated strips donned a uniform during the war (ironically, or maybe not, to the detriment of creative quality) – Joe Palooka, Winnie Winkle, Skeezix, Donald Duck. Established comic-book superheroes, and virtual cavalries of new heroes, took on Huns and Japs. Animation studios, with federal subsidies padding their patriotism, churned our war cartoons. And all sorts of licensing and merchandising, from post cards to songsheets, drafted cartoon characters too.

2. 1944’s Mud, Mules, and Mountains was printed on crummier paper in occupied Italy – “Sorry, folks; there’s a war going on” – but featured some wonderful wash drawings by Bill; and an Introduction by his print counterpart, the legendary Ernie Pyle.

Except for obvious details, American service 1941-45 was a Cartoon War.

Cartoons and comics produced during the war were obvious targets of research and collecting for me. It was a bonus, when I could meet – which was frequently – cartoonists who won the war. So to speak. I did a story in the old NEMO Magazine about “The Cartoonists Who Won the War,” a panel from Milton Caniff’s Male Call – a strip created exclusively for soldiers – on the cover.

Not excepting Caniff, the cartoonist most identified with cartooning during the war was Bill Mauldin. He “came from nowhere” in the sense that he was a young recruit with no cartooning chops when he enlisted in the New Mexico National Guard while still a teenager…. and two days before it was federalized. All cartoonists “come from nowhere” – everybody does – but Bill was an artist who seemingly never had a “green” period. His drawings, from the start, were mature, well composed, funny, and with sharp points of view. His work featured aspects some artists never master, like the obvious importance of grasping anatomy; and the deceptively simple depiction of shadows and folds.

3. This Damn Tree Leaks (titled Mauldin’s Cartoons on the front endpaper) was a meaty 118 pages; 1945. The title served as a confirmation that Mauldin was to World War II what the British soldier Bruce Bairnsfather was to World War I. His most famous of many cartoons was Ole Bill in a rainy foxhole to a complaining comrade: “If you know a better ‘ole, go to it!”

He was put to work on Stars and Stripes, the “soldier’s paper.” So General Eisenhower called it when he countermanded George S Patton’s removal of Mauldin for portraying dirty, tired, and wrinkled soldiers as dirty, tired, and wrinkled. That military stand-off was a blessing. On the other hand, staff work on the paper dragged young Mauldin through a succession of famous and bloody battles.

He was wounded, yet there was yet another silver lining. Publishers in the United States notices this, and reprinted it. United Feature Syndicate noticed his work, and his cartoons were distributed to many stateside newspapers. The Pulitzer Prize committee noticed his work, and Bill, at the age of 23, won the coveted award – his first of two.

Back in the States post-war, his first hardback book was published (softcover anthologies were released in war zones) and it was a best-seller; his face, and the soldiers who starred in his cartoons, Willie and Joe, joined him on the cover of TIME.

4. Up Front was the title of Bill’s syndicated cartoons for United Features; and the hardcover book published by Henry Holt stateside.

I will interrupt his biography at this point, because I have much more to tell of his later years – retiring from cartooning; writing and illustrating; a run for Congress; appearing in movies; “re-upping” as a political cartoonist; another Pulitzer Prize, as I said.

In the 1970s, when he drew for the Chicago Sun-Times and I was Comics Editor of Field   Newspaper Syndicate (totally superfluous as his nominal syndicate editor), our offices were on the same floor and I got to know him well. Anecdotes, stories, insights in a future installment. I will also, in this anniversary year, call up some other special war-cartooning material.

In my office at Field I furnished it not with furniture or lamps or comfy guest chairs as assiduously I decorated it as a comics museum and library of cartoons. I had my stable of artists do artwork for the walls; a couple of the looser nuts waited until they visited Chicago and forswore frames, drawing their characters right on the walls. One day Bill noticed that I had all his books on a shelf – of course; they were favorites! – and asked if I wanted him to do inscriptions in them.

I share them here (was there a doubt that I said No Thanks?), quick sketches of Willie and/or Joe the ways they might have looked when the cartoons in each book were drawn.

Quick sketches, as I say, and related to the “Good” War. Before long we’ll trace Bill through the Korean War and Vietnam; his political odyssey; and anecdotes about interplay with John Fischetti, Herblock, and other cartoonists.

At ease.


Sunday, May 17, 2020

A Crowded Life in Comics –

Inscriptions: Requested Graffiti

 Walter Berndt

By Rick Marschall

In the last – I should say, rather most recent – column I wrote about Puck magazine and the Puck Building in New York City, and I guess an over-arching theme could have been acting on instinct, or boldness, or naivete, or… several categories of putting myself in situations where I could gain anything from an autograph to a collection to a lifelong friendship. I have been blessed in my associations (the first “Crowded Life” installment, 70 weeks ago or so, lists the hundreds of celebrities I have managed to meet)… however, in addition to luck and boldness and mutual friends, a lot of meetings can be ascribed, simply, to living long enough…

In truth, for all the memories and inscriptions in books, I have many, many regrets that people I have met I have not asked for autographs or sketches – usually not wanting to seem like a fan boy – or photographs, a category of bitter lost chances.

After I wrote my first of several books on country music, an encyclopedia, I brought that around to subsequent interviews, concerts, and events; also as a credential / calling card for another project. And I would ask singers and songwriters to inscribe their entries. As a result, the books now has more than a hundred inscriptions and messages from legends who have since passed on: Roy Acuff, Bill Monroe, Hank Snow, Kitty Wells, Mac Wiseman, Tammy Wynette, Charlie Rich, Jean Shepard, Grandpa Jones, Charlie Louvin, Phil Everly, Johnny Russell, Jan Howard, Jack Clement, John Hartford, Jim Ed Brown, Bill Carlisle, Skeeter Davis, Wade Mainer...

And so it was in different fields in which I have worked, hit and miss, opportunities taken or missed. And with cartoonists, notes and sketches when I joined or left a syndicate; moved from an area or moved into a new house…

So I usually share, here, clippings or personal Christmas cards, but I will share some sketches in books or inscriptions that would not otherwise see the light of days, or lights of day, whatever (I never did ask Strunk or White for an inscription…) I do have mere (mere?) inscriptions – that is, good wishes and autographs, but alas with no drawings – from some of my admired cartooners. I could have asked, but held back. Alas: Walt Kelly; Charles Schulz; Bill Watterson; Johnny Hart; Rube Goldberg…

But I never knew I’d be writing these memoirs! A Crowded Life with darn few regrets, overall. I hope you enjoy these private or personal inscriptions.

Roy Crane

George Baker

Harry Hershfield

Tony Auth – One of the nicest guys in the world, not only the business. He also did sketches in collection of Reagan cartoons, and another children’s book, one he did with Chaim Potok (who also inscribed.) Tony won a Pulitzer Prize of two with his piolitical cartoons; and drew the short-lived wonderful strip Norb.

Vittorio Giardino – The fantastic graphic novelist, about whom I will write here one day, evoked his erotic homage to Winsor McCay, Little Ego wrapped around the design of a “Glamour” volume published by my late friend Antonio Vianovi.

Will Eisner – Will drew this sketch in, I think, Erlangen, Germany, at a comics festival. The meaning of the inscription is this: we had just laughed over the fact that we seemed to see each other more at overseas comics fairs than in the US, and something like two years has passed since our last meal together…

Orlando Busino – I hope the silver ink shows here. My good and old (good ol’) Orlando made a visual pun of my last name. I love, love, love his drawing style – who wouldn’t?

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

A Crowded Life in Comics –

What Fools These Mortals Be!

We could have chosen a hundred drawings, but this Puck cover from the last week of 1887 doubled as a subscription inducement, inviting readers to the sideshow nature of 1888’s presidential campaign year. By C J Taylor, who had begun his career on the Daily Graphic

By Rick Marschall

A mercifully brief column, this installment, because if I shared my enthusiasms and interplay with Puck Magazine throughout my Crowded Life, all the books in the world could not hold it. That is somewhat blasphemous, but I regard this old magazine with reverence, and its headquarters building in Manhattan as holy ground, so for the nonce, whatever that is, I will restrict my recollections to the iconic Puck Building, still standing.

Puck magazine was the brainchild of actor and cartoonist Joseph Keppler in Vienna. In 1871 he emigrated to St Louis, then the third-largest city in America and with the largest German population outside the Fatherland. He was friends with another aspiring journalist, also German-speaking immigrant, Joseph Pulitzer, in St Louis. Keppler founded and flopped with three cartoon / humor magazines (one named Puck) before moving to New York and becoming Leslie’s Weekly’s answer to Thomas Nast at Harper’s Weekly.

After several years in that prominent position, Keppler went independent and launched a cartoon / humor / satire / political weekly, Puck, in German. That was in the Fall of 1876, just as the presidential contest wound down. In March of 1877 he launched an English-language version, and it soon became the tail that wagged the dog.

Self-portrait of Joseph Keppler, from the luxury volume anthologizing his great work, from 1893. He autographed the limited copies of 300. Unexpectedly, Keppler died the next year, of overwork. His son Udo (Joseph Jr, thereafter) took over the magazine and, if anything, surpassed his father in proficiency and powerful concepts.

Keppler’s novelty – for there had been many comic magazines in America, none having really succeeded – was the color cartoon. At the time, color in newspaper or magazines was virtually non-existent; and Currier and Ives prints sold as separate sheets. Puck boasted front-page, back-page, and center-spread cartoons in lithographed color.

Before long Puck was a spectacular success. It gained a national circulation; was influential in politics, affecting election outcomes; and attracted talent to assist Keppler. The young H C Bunner joined as editor, poet, editorial writer, and short-story writer (his currently neglected reputation in that period genre is a shame).  Many cartoonists, chiefly Frederick Burr Opper, joined, and shined.

But I have broken my promise. Some other column(s), more about the magazine itself and its cartoonists, and my points of connection.

I was about in fourth grade, maybe younger, when I acquired my first issues, and then bound volumes, of Puck. My father visited Book Store Row, south of Union Square in Manhattan, every weekend, and brought me along. It is where I became infected by old books, the look of aged spines, the aroma of wonderful, rotting paper, and the exotic magic of ancient books, newspapers, and magazines.

I jumped on a copy of Puck from 1882, with an Opper centerspread in the old Biblo and Tannen shop. At the second-story bookstore of Leo Weitz I found the deluxe, limited, Pictures From Puck, leatherbound, signed by Keppler himself. I squealed with a 10-year-old’s joy. My father shushed me, whispering that we should appear indifferent, in order to strike a better bargain. But Mr Weitz noticed my enthusiasm, and said that to encourage my nascent bibliomania, he would make a gift of the book. He succeeded.

Once bitten, I was never shy again. Old volumes of Puck sold downtown (yes, they could be found then) for $25 a year. I started a paper route, and every penny went towards Pucks and Lifes and Judges

Puck had started life in lower Manhattan on North William Street in a little place that was replaced by, I think, part of the Brooklyn Bridge construction. It moved into the impressive edifice bordered by Houston, Mulberry, Jersey, and Elm (now Lafayette) Streets, roughly east of SoHo. It shared the building with Jacob Ottmann Lithographers – who would print Puck – reportedly the largest steam-press lithographer in world.

In my timeline here, the building still stood, but was dingy, an embarrassing relic of its former self. The neighborhood was ratty – it still is – but the building, like an aged stage beauty, was faded, hinting of former glory. Its two outdoor statues of Puck himself, the Shakespearean mascot (“What fools these mortals be!” from Midsummer Night’s Dream), once gilded, likewise had faded, covered in soot and grime.

To me it all was magic, however. I had dreams that there were old storerooms or closets with piles of original drawings or old magazines; or that I could convince the owners to let me remove the statues and place them on my parents’ suburban lawn (I never shared this fantasy); maybe that there was an old oaken door with Mr Opper’s name on it…

On one trip to the city with my cousin Tommy, when I was old enough to indulge such jaunts without my sane father, we sought out the watchman, or super, or whatever he was. What he was was a boozy old guy in stained undershirt and suspenders. The building was, inside, as it was outside: grimy, half-empty office and lofts, burned-out lights. The polite kid asking about cartoons and presidential campaigns and original drawings, and Keppler and Opper and Bunner… Well, the old guy listened, belched, and said whatever the hell I was asking about is gone, long gone.

I will fast-forward. In the 1980s, developers took hold of the Puck Building to renovate it instead of demolishing it. Their idea was to transform it into the city’s premier location of artists’ lofts and creative space. A grand lobby would be for exhibitions. Offices became ateliers (that’s French for a studio with higher rent). Eventually, there would be grand, spacious living space on upper floors.

My friend Richard Samuel West, fellow Puckaholic with a biography of Keppler to his credit, was engaged to provide historical material for the literature and prospectus. There was a grand Grand Opening. Through the years movies and TV shows have been shot there. My beloved statues on the facing were sand-blasted, like the entire building, and re-gilded.

When the pixie-dust settled, Rich told me something I correctly had sensed 20 years earlier: there were stacks of old magazines, and volumes, and account books, and correspondence, in the recesses of the beautiful brick-Valhalla. He invited me to join in the purchase… to fill out our collections… and dispose – to make other maniacs like us happy.

Who would have thought? – well, I thought, and dreamed, and even acted. But the story had one more chapter, the ultimate salvage of buried treasures! What fool this mortal be… a happy fool for cartoons.

By the way, one of the developers was Kushner Properties, and tenants in the luxury living suite on the top floor are Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.



Wednesday, April 29, 2020

A Crowded Life in Comics –

Flowers Off the Wall.

When I got on the Statlers’ Christmas card list, there would always be a (typically) off-the-wall photo of the boys, spreading Christmas cheer. The late Harold Reid is here, on Santa’s lap.

By Rick Marschall

In this column I am going to steal from myself a little, which is a little like dating oneself, of which I frequently am accused. Dating yourself grows mighty thin mighty quickly: you always seem to know every topic that comes up; a constant sense of deja vu. But here I will pick my own pocket, because I posted some thoughts on the web immediately upon hearing of Harold Reid’s death.

Moments to remember in my Crowded Life. Some readers know that I wear several hats, and one of them is a cowboy hat. I have written four books on country music; many articles and interviews; and have met many of my heroes – Bill Monroe, Roy Acuff, Merle Haggard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Connie Smith, Porter Waggoner, Linda Ronstadt, Mac Wiseman, Dolly Parton, Hank Snow, George Jones…

… and the Statler Brothers. Remembering the Statlers’ bass singer is not that unusual in a column about comics, because the Statlers loved comics. I will share some moments to remember.

Harold Reid, bass singer of the greatest quartet in country music history, died of kidney failure at 80. My late wife had kidney failure and transplant, and I knew the “look” from recent photos of Harold that his kidneys were not behaving, a sad and painful thing to experience.

I intersected with the Statlers many times. Their first hit remained one of their biggest – Flowers On the Wall – but right about the end of their association with Johnny Cash in 1972, they were booked by the Fire Department of Greenwich CT, of all places, to put on a show. The toney bedroom community of Greenwich, with more CEOs than the rest of the planet, seems an odd venue for country music, but the firemen had it right.
I interview Harold Reid, and began by saying that I had five favorite country singers: four of them were Merle Haggard, and – Harold interrupted my “joke”  and said, “Yeah, we like ol’ Merle...” – and then I finished my not-very-clever, but sincere, compliment saying that the four Statler Brothers were the other one.
I learned in that interview, and then in subsequent chats and meetings, that the four were not only nostalgia fans, evident from their playlist, but were comics fans, and collectors. They loved comics, Red Ryder in particular; and Western movies, Gene Autrey in particular. Comic books, merchandising collectibles, trivia… through the years I sent them comic books and especially Big Little Books for their virtual museums
Around 1981 I was a go-between with them and Dean Young to have them score a Broadway musical based on Blondie. The strip and characters were being shopped for options by King Features. I spent a couple visits with Dean in Florida, putting the book together, and as he tooled around in his convertible he played tapes of the Popeye movie’s music, and was in love with the Harry Nilsson tunes. (I think he also played the tape of Paul Williams’ songs for the recent Muppets movie too.) He loved the music, but, more, he loved the idea of comic characters on stage, screen, and cassettes. He was dreaming up premises for a Blondie musical comedy.
The Statlers were already known for their nostalgia songs. Really, love songs to Pop Culture and America’s collective childhood – odes to Randolph Scott; a typical Class of ‘57; Saturday morning serials; Gene and Roy; Veronica and Betty; a mythical movie theater called The Strand; evocations of trivia – Do You Remember Those?
I asked Dean if he knew the Statlers. He did not. So I described their appeal – country but very pop-friendly crossover sound – and said I would make a tape of their hits in this genre. He would love them as much as he did Nilsson and Williams, I predicted. At my first chance I called Harold and his brother Don Reid at their office in Staunton VA. Would be interested in talking about writing a Broadway score? Oh, yes.
The Statler Brothers, by the way, were not brothers, except for Harold and Don. None of them were Statlers; they got the name from a brand of tissues on a table when they were brainstorming. The other members were Phil Balsley and Lew DeWitt (later tenor Jimmy Fortune when Lew died young). All were born around Staunton, pronounced “Stanton,” and never moved from the area.
I was part of the conference call between Dean and Harold and Don. I forget whether the collaboration ever made it to second or third base (I would love to hear songs they pitched!) but it never slid into home, neither that team nor any Broadway Blondie.
The Statlers’ music was special and transcended country. They did comedy (Harold played Lester "Roadhog" Moran of the Cadillac Cowboys); they hosted the Nashville Network's longest-running variety hour; they toured years with the Man in Black (chronicled in their song "We Worked for Cash"); and it seems like 50 per cent of their songs were nostalgia / patriotic / gospel songs... but 100 per cent were love songs.
They retired at the top of their game some years ago. Ultimately, they earned twice the number of gold albums than Johnny Cash had; and were the Country Music Association’s “Top Group” for 11 years in a row. Collectively, they are members of the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. The DVD of their Farewell Concert will have anyone’s heart racing for a week. The sons of Harold and Don perform now as an act, taking their middle names as “Wilson Fairchild.”
It is not really accurate theology to imagine Harold Reid entering a Heaven lined with comic pages, Big Little Books, and movie posters… but in the meantime we’ll all be back here, playing solitaire till dawn with a deck of 51...


Monday, April 27, 2020

Sheldon Mayer Estate

The Sheldon Mayer Estate Featuring Sugar and Spike & Many of His Earliest Works to be Auctioned

Also Going under the Hammer are Over 80 Blondie Comic Strips from the Chic Young Estate

LOS ANGELES, April 27, 2020 – Sheldon Mayer and Chic Young collections featuring “Sugar and Spike” and “Blondie” comic strips will be auctioned by Nate D. Sanders Auctions on April 30, 2020.

Sheldon Mayer Estate
One of the most influential cartoonists of the Golden Age of Comics, Sheldon Mayer delighted his readers with the adventures of his characters Sugar and Spike, Scribbly the Boy Cartoonist, and The Three Mouseketeers, along with his popular artwork of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, throughout the years. He’s also the man credited with discovering Superman, so impressed was he with the strip (which had been rejected over a dozen times) that he convinced Max Gaines to take it up the food chain for the first issue of Action Comics. Later, as an editor at DC Comics, Mayer was responsible for bringing in Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and scores of other titles into the fold.
For the first time, Sheldon Mayer’s personal collection of his artwork, sketches, and journal are offered, with complete issues of Sugar and Spike, along with Scribbly (which was reprinted in The Greatest Golden Age Stories Ever Told). His journal and sketchbook from 1935-37 is even included, with stories about the early days of the comic book industry.
Additional information on the Sheldon Mayer collection can be found at

Chic Young Estate

Young created the legendary comic strip Blondie in 1930. Blondie became the widely read comic strip in the United States. It was read by 52 million readers at its peak. Chic’s son Dean Young consigned over 80 Blondie comic strips.

Additional information on the Chic Young collection can be found at
About Nate D. Sanders Auctions
An industry leader in documents and autographs, Nate D. Sanders Auctions has conducted auctions in Los Angeles since 1990 and now holds major auctions on a monthly basis. Owner Nate Sanders is recognized for his knowledge of sports, historical and Hollywood memorabilia. To learn more visit


Sunday, April 26, 2020

Updated: Bill Williams – Comic Artist

Bill Williams and John Stanley Henry Aldrich, 1952
I have updated the Yesterday's Papers biographical information about cartoonist Bill Williams with the help of one of his family members. His date of birth is now correctly stated.



Monday, April 20, 2020

A Crowded Life in Comics –

Moose Tracks. 

For a while I was Editor of the National Cartoonists Society magazine The American Cartoonist, with Dick Hodgins Jr. Bob Weber sent a news item about a teaching gig of his at Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. He frequently taught in Westport, in DC, in New York.

By Rick Marschall

Word came this week that the great comic character Moose is retiring. Thank goodness the great comic creator Bob Weber is not retiring. That is, he will not be drawing the seven-day-a-week classic strip Moose and Molly, but Bob will be continuing, we hope and pray, to be the classic Bob Weber – student of cartooning, friend of cartoonists, collector, practical joker.

That is to say, this column will be neither a funeral for the strip, nor a eulogy for Bob. Just a stroll down memory lane in the neighborhood known as A Crowded Life in Comics.

It has been a privilege to know this guy Weber since the 1960s. Bob could have been created by another cartoonist – well over six feet tall, deep bass voice, a beetle brow under a retro-1950s hair style, of an Elvis pompadour and duck-tail, now silver. He would now say, “You forgot my trademark silver-dollar belt buckle,” and he would be right.

Bob was born in Baltimore – I believe he told me that he went to high school with baseball great Al Kaline – and began cartooning there. He attended New York’s School of Visual Arts so long ago (he is now 85) that, I’m not sure, but I think it was still called the School of Woodcutters And Engravers. Then he became a member of magazine cartooning’s Greatest Generation – the golden age of gag cartoonists who filled the pages of The Saturday Evening Post and other weeklies.

In 1965 King Feature Syndicate asked Bob to develop a strip about a reckless and careless neighborhood guy, a bit of a caution but with a heart of gold, always hungry, always borrowing stuff, never mowing his lawn, always ready for a picnic. In Hollywood it’s called “type casting,” but in Bob’s case, in the strip world, it was called type casting. I mean the kind of characters Bob drew in the mags.

When my wife Nancy and I moved from Connecticut to Bucks County PA, there was a surprise party thrown by cartoonist friends in appreciation of our leaving, or something. This was Bob’s special drawing. It is always appreciated when a cartoonist puts more work into a memento than one of his average Sunday pages…

King Features Comic Editor Sylvan Byck once told me that two years after the success of Hall Syndicate’s British import Andy Capp, KFS thought an American version could find a home. Maybe Bob told me too, I can’t remember which was the chicken and which was the egg about this sales concept – but Moose certainly was not a copycat, rather close enough to check a box on Americans’ want-lists, whether readers knew it or not. The lovable guy down the street. Moose quickly starred in 200 papers.

As I noted, Bob has been a friend – became a friend, as anyone who meets him does become – since the ‘60s. He loves to talk cartoons as much as draw them. Which probably explains why he always was behind schedule. We went to the San Diego Comicon together in 1976, but he was so tight on deadline, he hardly left his hotel room,  producing six dailies and a Sunday, but missing great events and attendees! After the Con we meandered up the coast, visiting Will Gould (Red Barry) and going to bookshops in Los Angeles, while Moose languished.

When Bob drew this sketch for me, probably during Bob and Rick’s Excellent Adventure to Comicon and Beyond in 1976, Moose was already an established hit, 10 years old.

Years later, when I lived in Connecticut, Bob’s new reason for procrastination became mine too – actually a great pastime for cartoonists, a vital lifeline for creativity, notwithstanding the opinions of editors and wives. That is, lunches once or twice or five times a week. In Fairfield County, the group I was lucky to belong to usually included Bob, Orlando Busino, Jerry Marcus, Ron Goulart, Gill Fox, Jack Berrill, Joe Farris. Sometimes Klaus Nordling, Jack Burns, Herb Green, Robert Kraus. These repasts usually convened in Bethel or Ridgefield, occasionally in Westport or Norwalk. Many conversations were about the “old days.” I often brought show-and-tell items from my collection, and we frequently wound up at my house, thumbing through archives.

Bob has always been a great practical joker. I still employ a Weberism, asking supermarket clerks, when they are nearly finished with a big order, to tell me when it reaches $20; “That’s all I have with me.” Once I was the butt. I was new to Fairfield County, eager to meet the fraternity at a BBQ at the house of Frank Johnson, one of Mort Walker’s assistants, eventual soloist on Boner’s Ark and Bringing Up Father. Bob “reminded” me that it was a costume party. Needless to say, I kind of stood out in my cowboy hat and boots and wooden pony.

A few years ago Bob drew for me the newer, mellower Moose. He became the softie hugger of the patient Molly; and the strip’s resident grouch was Chester Crabtree.

It was natural that the son of Web Bobber (alter ego) would be a cartoonist too. Bob Jr is a little more reserved than his dad, but draws in his style. When Bob Jr was young I brought him to a few Saturday morning Bible studies; and he married a terrific beauty named Lisa, also a Christian. Bob Jr took a job at King Features, pitched a children’s feature of puzzles and games and gags (he sometimes bounced concepts off me – the modest guy hid a fierce ambition), and he eventually scored with Comics for Kids. Then the associated Slylock Fox. Then a website for aspiring young cartoonists. His features are major successes.

Eventually Bob Sr pitched in on his son’s feature, more than Junior helped on Moose (you can tell when the great Orlando Busino helped on Moose, mostly by his distinctive lettering).  

Whether Bob Weber will continue to help out on his son’s Sunday pages I have not yet asked. With Moose and Molly now retired after a great 55-year (!) run, Bob will have spare time.

… That is, unless someone calls about having lunch up in Bethel.


Monday, April 13, 2020

A Crowded Life in Comics –

 ❆   Frost Bitten.  ❆ 

Frost’s early treatment of the ice-sliding scene from Dickens’ humorous masterpiece.

❆  By Rick Marschall  ❆

Those who know me, and those who don’t, and the vast portion of humanity in between who don’t care, might know that I am fanatical about Arthur Burdett Frost (1851-1928). A. B. Frost ought to be remembered and celebrated and, indeed, honored, more than he has been. When I admire a cartoonist (or illustrator or author or composer or performer) I tend to be come a completest, acquiring complete printed or recording works when possible, or as much ancillary material as possible.

In the case of this revered artist (close to Opper in my personal pantheon) (and one of many figures responsible for my perpetual penury) I have collected published works, original art, correspondence, rare portfolios, and sketches by Frost. I have visited the house where he lived for much of his career, and traded items with subsequent occupants.

Why is Frost special… No, let me say, A B Frost should be near the top of the list of cartoon scholars and fans for myriad reasons. He was a master at realization, anatomy, composition, humor, and many disparate genres. The Dionne Quintuplets, collectively, had fewer individual facets then did A B Frost. To list significant facts about the modest genius:

He was one of the first newspaper (New York Daily Graphic) and magazine cartoonists (Harper’s, Century, Scribner’s) when technology allowed pen-and-ink artists freedom. His only early rivals were Felix O C Darley, Thomas Nast, and Thomas Worth;

He was a pioneer political cartoonist (Graphic and Harper’s Weekly);

He was a frequent illustrator of scores of books, and for major authors – Lewis Carroll, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Frank Stockton, Theodore Roosevelt;

His illustration for the iconic Uncle Remus stories were so pitch-perfect that when an anthology was published, Joel Chandler Harris wrote a printed dedication to Frost, claiming that it was Frost’s drawings, more than the texts, that accounted for the success of the books;

He mightily contributed to the growing art form of the comic strip – his frequent multi-panel series in Harper’s and Scribner’s were popular before most other artists were experimenting with the form;

If he had restricted himself to one genre, he would be a notable figure… but he was versatile enough to be the dominant artist / cartoonist / illustrator in several fields: Humor… Western adventure… Hunting and sporting scenes… Rural and nostalgia subjects… Nature… Americana;

He was a master of pen and ink, but also frequently painted in colors and gouache (he was color-blind, so usually worked in grays unless his sons suggested colors to use);

For a while he laid aside cartoons and illustration, and moved to Giverny in France to live – and learn and paint with – the great French Impressionists of the era;

At the end of his life he returned to his first love, cartooning, and drew weekly panels and strips for Life Magazine. Besides the many books and stories he illustrated, he is at least known to collectors and fans for a couple of his stunning strip collections – Stuff and Nonsense and The Bull Calf.

In the future I will spill more about this great figure, and my crossed-paths along which I have hunted for information and artifacts.

Here, just a little curiosity – a “footprint” of how he worked. I have letters where he turned down assignments, and a story of his rudely treating an emissary of William Randolph Hearst who showed up at Frost’s farm with an open-ended invitation to draw strips.

But we share a letter to Frost from the Art Department of Scribner’s Magazine (rather frantic!) asking Frost to put aside an assignment to illustrate The Last of the Mohicans, and illustrate instead Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers… suggesting three chapters from which to choose.

A letter from the Art Department of Scribner’s Magazine suggesting illustrations for Dickens’ Pickwick Papers. Some urgency: “I pray do let us have it as soon as possible...”

(To be precise, the book’s actual title is The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. Dickens' first novel concerns the doings of Mr Pickwick and his circle including Nathaniel Winkle, Augustus Snodgrass, and Tracy Tupman. The original illustrator for this novel was Robert Seymour. Undoubtedly the humorous situation related in Chapter 30, one of Dickens’ funniest in any of his books, appealed to Frost. That chapter’s title, by the way, is “How the Pickwickians Made and Cultivated the Acquaintance Of a Couple Of Nice Young Men Belonging To One Of the Liberal Professions; How They Disported Themselves On the Ice; and How Their Visit Came to a Conclusion.”

The chapter’s humor is thus forecast… besides the evidence that Dickens was paid by the word…)

Mr Pickwick was not the only posthumous character in this story; Dickens had passed when Frost was asked to illustrate editions of his great works. And Uncle Remus’s creator represented many authors and editors who clamored for Frost’s work; but Lewis Carroll, who assigned Frost work on books subsequent to the Alice tales, unbelievably was not happy with Frost’s work, and it was an unhappy collaboration. The drawings he did do hold up, however, and were printed; that situation said more about the eccentric Mr Carroll than about the illustrious Mr Frost.

Later. For now, an early frost.