Saturday, January 18, 2020

A Crowded Life in Comics –



Happy New Year. Again.


By Rick Marschall

OK, I get it; I’m old. That’s part of the point of these columns. Otherwise they’d be called A Crowded Bunch O’ Dreams. But I have been thinking lately of the cartooning and comic-strip pioneers who were still alive when I barely was alive… or, that is, when I was young enough to overlap with legends.

Jimmy Swinnerton, Rudolph Dirks, Rube Goldberg, Harry Hershfield, Russell Patterson, Frank King, Charles Payne, Ken Kling, Otto Messmer, Gene Byrnes, Edwina. You see I am not including legends and heroes who are in misty halls of memory now, but when I was a kid, I met and did not consider to be sacred (but living, breathing) relics – as I now with passage of time consider myself blessed also to have met: Roy Crane, Milton Caniff, Noel Sickles, Hal Foster, Chester Gould, Burne Hogarth, Walt Kelly, Charles Schulz, Herblock, Bill Mauldin, Johnny Hart, Mort Walker, Dik Browne; some of whom I knew more than casually, editor of some, neighbor of some, a few even at my wedding.

I stink at math, but as these fondly recalled ghosts inhabited my thoughts recently (perhaps because it is New Year time and auld acquaintance might get forgot if I am not careful) I realized that when I started to meet cartoonists, in my early teens or earlier with Al Smith, Vern Greene, and some early-birds, this stretch of time I call a (crowded) life, is approximately half the period from the birth of the newspaper comic strip, till now.

File it under “so what?” but it prods me to dig deeper in my memory. So in this brief contribution I pulled up a page by Rudolph Dirks, a Katzenjammer Kids strip on the same nostalgic theme… starring Father Time himself.

I think I have written here about Rudy and John Dirks; meetings and friendships; my role in preserving some dignity for John when his syndicate canceled the legendary page; sleeping in the studio of Rudy in Ogunquit, Maine, and being curator of a comics show in the town’s museum; of Rudy’s memories of Herriman, Mager, et al. … of designing the Katenjammer Kids postage stamp for which John did special art… and if I have not told those stories, I will someday soon.

In the meantime, here is a page that appeared in 1950, not exactly on New Year’s Day; neither on the precise birthday of Dirks’s landmark strip… but on the theme of the passage of time. Der Captain might be tweaked every week, but not Father Time! A clever reminder of the boys’ place in comics history… and our own life-histories if, dod-gast it, you grew up like me.


John Adcock

64




Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Syndicate Features


Syndicate Features
Vol.1, No. 2
November 1, 1937





🌩

Saturday, January 11, 2020

A Crowded Life in Comics –


Of Art Young and young art


   A drawing of Art Young by my friend Walt Partymiller, cartoonist for one of the few Socialist newspapers of his day, the York (PA) Times. Walt late in life married Nellie Anna Opper, granddaughter of Frederick Burr Opper. 

By Rick Marschall.

A crowded life achieves that status by many means. As Solomon said, recorded in the Book of Ecclesiastes, “Time and chance happeneth to all.” Some knowledge, and treasures, and memories, come out of the blue, like last week’s Christmas card from Hergé and his wife Fanny; or through friends; or coincidental friends-of-friends… Being in the right place at the right time. Plausible events and match-ups occur more frequently as you plant seeds.

And some things happen unpredicted, unexpected, and almost unbelievable.

In the 1970s and early ‘80s I lived in Fairfield County, Connecticut. First in Bethel; later in Westport and Weston. The place in Weston was three acres in the woods, two ponds and a stream running through our paisley shawl, deer in the front yard every morning; but only an hour’s drive from Times Square. That was when I wrote Disney stories for Gutenberghus, the Danish licensee.


   Caricature in clay of Art Young, by Jack Sears

My first sojourn was when I drew political cartoons for the Connecticut Herald, and my place in Bethel was rented from my college mentor Dr Albro Martin of American University. I told him I secured a newspaper job in Fairfield County. He was still in Washington DC, or maybe then at his next school, Bradley University, in Illinois. The strange thing I think I never knew was why he had a house in Bethel CT… and why his mother, an elderly Arkansas backwoodswoman, lived there. Alone, much less.

Dr Martin asked if I would consider being a tenant and collaterally look after his mother. A nice house in a charming New England town, a lot of wooded land, a swimming pool, and an easy decision.

The woods were full of cartoonists.” Literally. New Yorker cartoonists Joe Farris and David Pascal had homes on Bethel Road Extension, just opposite. New Yorker cartoonists Bob Kraus and William Steig lived in Ridgefield, and so did Maurice Sendak. Recently Cullen Murphy wrote a book, Cartoon County, about growing up as the son of the Big Ben Bolt and Prince Valiant cartoonist, and the folks who gathered weekly, or more often, for lunches, dinners, parties, golf outings, and cruises.

I was blessed to be working and living – and partying – among so many people who were my idols a few years earlier. And still were. I was accepted in the genial circles, and have shared memories here, and will in the future. Dik Browne, Dick Hodgins, Jack Tippit, Lenny Starr, Stan Drake, Jack Murphy, Jerry Dumas, Bob Gustafson, Mort Walker, Chuck Saxon, Dick Cavalli, Frank Johnson, Curt Swan, John Prentice, Hardie Gramatky, Eric Gurney, Mel Casson, Bill Brown, so many more. So many lunches.

One regular lunch group of mine was centered up around Bethel and Ridgefield. One of two days a week, a group roughly comprising Ron Goulart, Orlando Busino, Jerry Marcus, Gill Fox, Jack Berrill, and Bob Weber would meet at one of several restaurants until Jerry found something to complain about, and then we would re-gather at another restaurant.




   Two drawings by Art Young of the backyard cabin in Bethel – the studio  as it looked, and as he hoped to upgrade it as a small art gallery. 

One week, I mentioned that the property where I had lived in Bethel, ‘way back in the woods, abutted the property of the house where the legendary cartoonist Art Young lived. I knew because he wrote about it, and sketched parts of the property and studio in his two autobiographies. Art Young was a powerful cartoonist. As a radical he drew for The Masses and other Socialist and anarchist journals, and had been indicted during World War I for “obstructing the war effort.” He dozed off during his trial.

As a “straight” cartoonist, he drew some of the first color cartoons in newspapers (Chicago Inter-Ocean, 1892), and for Puck, Judge, Life, The Saturday Evening Post, even The New Yorker and the New York American, friendly with all.

Bob Weber asked if I had ever visited that house, or knocked on the door. “No, Art Young died in 1944,” I attempted to wisecrack. Bob suggested we go and visit the occupants – maybe they knew Young; or maybe he left material behind. Bob, who draws Moose and Mollie, is one of the great guys in the business, and shy about nothing except deadlines, insisted we try. Since I was driving him that day, it seemed natural. I never had thought of doing such a thing!

We drove, knocked, and were met by Clay Fairborn and his wife. Indeed, they had bought the house from Young’s children in 1944. We chatted about all they knew about Young – which was not much, never having met him – but were very grateful to learn all we could share about the famous radical and humor cartoonist. A charming couple of hours.

Bob finally asked if anything of Young’s had been left behind. Clay said, “I was just about to tell you that things were in the attic, and still are. I was going to ask you fellers if you would like them. You know more about Mr Young than we ever did. Seems right.”


   “Holy Trinity” – reportedly Art Young’s favorite of his own cartoons. About the Episcopal Church as a New York slumlord. I own the original, previously acquired to the afternoon at his old homestead in Bethel.

Yes. It sort of felt right to accept his offer. Clay brought down a small trove of books, artwork, and even Art Young’s student notebooks from Chicago, enormous sheets of sketches and studies bound in an elaborate leather book befitting the ambitions of am aspiring artist.

We thanked the Fairborns, then and afterward, and Bob and I were able to divide the artifacts, as I already had some of Art Young’s books and magazines, inscribed, and he cared less about the original art.

From a casual conversation over lunch to a random house call to driving home with precious cartoon artifacts – begun and finished in three hours or so – are threads in the weave of a Crowded Life in cartoons.


63

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Hergé New Year










0001

Acoustics in the Comics


Acoustics in the Comics, Basil Wolverton
August 29, 1948, Sunday Oregonian
...

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Christmas With The Cartoonists –


🎄Carl Giles🎄


[Rick Marschall] I was American editor for the London Express Feature Service early in my career, and developed my taste for British news, Rupert, Cummings, and... Giles. And then I discovered what eventually amounted to 40+ annual collections of his great work. Those panoramas. Crazy details. Maniacal Granny. Those devilish children. The sexy girls. I got to know him a bit before I ever traveled to England, but even before that I landed on his Christmas-card list. He and Joan signed and often wrote warm messages in the colorful and hilarious cards. I always considered Carl Giles (many fans never knew his first name!) one of the 10 or 12 greatest cartoonists. I still consider the late Carl Giles in that light.






🎄

Monday, December 23, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –


Blon-DEEE!


By Rick Marschall.

Once upon a time, when you saw the Blondie comic strip, or any of it licensed products or merchandising, in your mind you probably heard “Blon-deeeee!” In dozens of movie serials, and a radio show, and the TV series, that was how Dagwood (Arthur Lake) would call out in exasperation or frustration to Blondie (Penny Singleton).

(I will forestall e-mails from trivia hawks and note that in the Columbia movies, 1939-1950; the CBS Radio comedy (1939); and two runs on television (NBC, 1954 and 1958) Arthur Lake was Dagwood. On the CBS-TV Blondie comedy of 1968-69, Will Hutchins played Dagwood. Penny Singleton always played Blondie except on TV: on the two NBC incarnations she was played by Pamela Britton. Opposite Hutchins on CBS-TV was Patricia Harty.)

Anyway, my first book – or maybe my second published; The Sunday Funnies I worked on simultaneously – was for the 50th anniversary of the Blondie strip. I went to King Features with the idea in the late 1970s. I knew several of the executives and editors, but I was led to Benson Srere, whom I did not know. Ben was the relatively new General Manager, having moved laterally in the Hearst universe from Good Housekeeping Magazine – which I have ever since called Good How, pronounced that way, wanting to feel like an insider.

Ben was surprisingly and pleasingly flattering to me. I had not written a book yet; but perhaps because I already had three previous syndicate jobs as Comics Editor he considered me a “fraternity brother,” I don’t know. But when I laid out my plans for the anniversary book – a half century of the most popular of all comic strips! – convincing him that I was nerdy enough to cover all bases of the Bumsteads, he proposed a deal.

I had approached King looking for permissions, or a licensing deal, but Ben turned things around. I would do the book for them; they would find a publisher; and they would set me up with Dean Young and “anything I needed.” How could I say No?

The book finally came out, with much behind-the-scenes peregrinations. For instance, although Harper and Row were the publishers (and I gained valuable contacts there), KFS engaged a middleman, a book packager from Canada. I forget his name now. He flew me to Toronto for a meeting, and handled a lot of the mechanical work, slowly, and since there was minimal design work required, I never figured his vital role. Eventually someone at King told me that he either absconded with his fee, or simply went bankrupt. I guess either can take up some time. When these details were whispered to me, I was told not to tell Dean Young about them. Technically I still am not telling him.

Dean Young and Jim Raymond
Dean, son of Chic, was another matter, and a real fringe benefit of doing this book, getting to know him. One of the nicest guys in comics. I was flown down to the West Coast of Florida for several meetings with him. And, essential for the book, we flew (I think a private plane) across the state to meet with Jim Raymond, the longtime artist on Blondie. After the book was published I periodically continued to visit Dean and his wife, usually with my own wife Nancy when on vacation. And Jim drew special artwork of the characters for the cover, chapter openings, etc., when I requested. 

Jim Raymond lived in Palm Beach, I believe, and was also a terrific guy. Genial, modest, full of stories. His wife served us lunch, and I still remember the beet soup, borscht, but white borscht, the best I ever have had. The Youngs and the Raymonds – I mean the brothers in each case – had interesting and intertwining careers. Chic Young, Cleveland cartoonist, was hired away from strips like Beautiful Bab and Dumb Dora to draw Blondie. Old man Hearst evidently liked his style.


Chic’s brother Lyman was engaged by King to draw an adventure-aviation strip, Tim Tyler’s Luck. To make the characters look semi-realistic, a young (no, that’s not the connection) cartoonist in the bullpen, Alexander Raymond, was hired as assistant. Soon he was assisting on brother Chic’s hit, Blondie. When the Bumsteads had a baby, there was a contest to name the baby, and a phony PR campaign showed Chic swamped by thousands of letters and telegrammed suggestions. The fix was in, however – Baby Dumpling’s real name was Alexander, after Alexander Raymond.

Right after this, the bullpen ace continued his upward climb, and, as Alex Raymond, he created Secret Agent X-9; Flash Gordon; Jungle Jim; and eventually Rip Kirby.

The intertwining coincidence progressed when, in the 1940s, Chic needed an assistant, and found him in Jim Raymond, Alex’s brother. This could actually go deeper. Alex Raymond was killed in a car crash in which Stan Drake (Heart of Juliet Jones) was seriously injured. A couple decades later Stan, most talented and versatile of cartoonists, became the artist half of the Young-Drake byline. Dean had inherited the scripting when his father died. (While I’m at it, I can mention that Stan also ghosted Li’l Abner for Al Capp whose brother Eliott Caplin was the scriptwriter for Juliet Jones…) Where is Kevin Bacon when we need him?

Well, there were great times in this Crowded Life with Dean, and special memories of that afternoon spent with Dean and Jim. As a first-generation King Features bullpen hand, Jim had many stories, even genial gossip, that he shared, and I have the tape somewhere. I will share more (and more) stories in this space in weeks to come.

Two more stories about the book. Intended as a 50th-anniversary book, it properly should have come out in 1980. But, for reasons hinted at above, it was issued just before the strip’s 52nd birthday! The panel of “experts” were going to title the book Fifty Years of Blondie and Dagwood’s America. They did lob off “Fifty Years of...” but the different fonts and colors made the cover look a little like the middle third of a Dagwood sandwich.

King Features was intent on having a celebrity Foreword, which was fine with me. At first it was a confounding challenge: Who? I finally remembered that the Chic Youngs and the Bob Hopes were once neighbors in Hollywood. The pitch of the book was Dagwood and Blondie as middle-America icons, so the fit seemed appropriate.

Bob Hope was agreeable. In fact he was so agreeable he asked me to write it, and he would change what needed changing. Hmmm. I did some more homework about him and his early career and the golf courses I imagined they played together. A brief association was begun with Bob… who did not change a word that I put in his mouth. And he probably got paid more for signing my work than I did for writing my own work, the whole book.


Whatever! A nice credit, especially at the beginning of a career. Several fantastic friends. This morning as I write this, I just received Dean’s annual Christmas card.

Blon-DEEEE!

62



Sunday, December 15, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –


Endpapers.


By Rick Marschall.

Endpapers. The term sends shivers down my spine, at first hearing. I hope papers, and paper, never end! I am addicted to the sight and even the aroma of aged cellulose fibers. Not rot or mold, but the perfume-like scent of old paper. When I open, say, my 1889 volume of Puck, it has a slight aroma that excites what must be memory-neurons on my olfactory nerves… because I have an immediate mental picture of the first evening I owned the volume, on my family’s sun porch. My father had driven me to New York’s Book Store Row, below Union Square, to Marc Nadel’s Memory Shop. Marc had been holding the volume until I saved $25 from my paper-route money.

Yes, I am crazy. But it keeps me from going insane.


Well, I have already digressed. The “endpapers” I want to address here are sketches and inscriptions in books. Someone on a comics web thread last week thought an 1897 inscription in a book of cartoons must be the earliest example of a cartoonist’s compliance with a request. In fact, cartoonists, illustrators, and authors frequently autographed their books before then, if my own modest collection is an indication.


I might not seem like a shrinking violet, but I have often been wary of appearing to be a fan-boy and asking cartoonists for sketches. But holding forth a copy of their book always seemed to convey a reason to be confident, at least compared to my black sketchbooks, or the back of envelopes. I can count my lost opportunities and missed treasures. Dinner with Albert Uderzo. Photo “op” with Chuck Jones or Al Hirschfeld…


The number of sketches on inside front covers, or “free front endpapers” is testimony to a percentage of a large library overall, and the gumption I actually did exercise over my crowded life. Plus… inscriptions to others who preceded me; and sometimes those names are as interesting as the artists who drew the sketches.



A.B.Frost
Carl Anderson
Walter Berndt
Harry Hershfield
Roy Crane
Percy L. Crosby

61



Friday, December 6, 2019

Winsor and Gertie –


...a playlet by Donald Crafton. Animation by Winsor McCay, 1914. Patricia George Decio Theatre, University of Notre Dame (Notre Dame, Indiana, USA), Friday, 6 December, 7:00 pm, with a pre-play talk by the author at 6:00 pm (Eastern time).

Before there was Wallace and Gromit, before there was Mickey and Minnie, and even before there was something called “movie cartoons,” there was Winsor and his Gertie. Here is a one-hour production that combines acting by live performers with meticulously restored classic film footage to transport us back into the turn-of-the-twentieth-century. It was a world where comic strips and variety entertainment ruled, when cinema was still young, and animated films were just becoming the newest novelty attraction... (read more HERE)

 Hat tip to Jerry Beck



Sunday, December 1, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –


Creig Flessel, AKA
Mr Sandman, Bring Me a Dream...


By Rick Marschall.

I was a mere 13 years old when I attended my third National Cartoonists Society Meeting. The New York Metro chapter met monthly in the legendary, ancient actor’s “clubhouse,” I think on 44th Street. Meeting rooms, conference halls, a restaurant, and bars everywhere. Old wood, old mirrors, old actors – many of them asleep in overstuffed leather wing chairs. I swear I spotted a slumbering Brian Aherne, but what does a 13-year-old know?

And of course, one evening a month the NCS had the restaurant and meeting room. These were substantial monthly events, not only excuses to go and fraternize. Always a dinner… always a speaker and entertainer… always a time for drinks before, during, and after… and always a “Shop Talk” to close the evening (except for drinks) (boy, did I get sick of ginger ale).

The Shop Talks were formal affairs, carefully planned and well attended in a separate room. Usually they revolved around a cartoonist visiting from out of town; sometimes they addressed issues like taxes and IRS write-offs for professionals – good discussions, and a lot of Q&As.

After Al Smith (Mutt and Jeff) took me to my first meeting, I became something of a mascot or something – more like a curiosity, this kid who knows about turn-of-the-century comics – and other cartoonists invited me. Vern Greene, Harry Hershfield, others. Was it a kick? Unbelievable.
But on the evening I recall here, and maybe because I felt like a jaded veteran, I largely eschewed the programs. I was in the thrall of two cartooners.

The first was Al Kilgore. He died too young – age 155 would have been too young – and he is remembered today as a caricaturist; a founder of the Laurel and Hardy Society Sons of the Desert; and artist on the Bullwinkle comic strip. I will devote a future column to this genius and friend – eventually I was his editor and a frequent guest at his home in Hollis, Long Island. But that evening, totally impromptu, he held court for me and commercial artist Jim Ruth, on a giant Lamb’s Club red-leather sofa – delivering a steady monologue of anecdotes, reminiscences, dating stories, problems with taxi drivers, crazy friends… I thought he was in a class with Jean Shepherd, if tears of laughter were a gauge. If it sounds like he was the funniest guy I ever met, that’s only because… he was.

The other magnet drawing my interest that evening was Creig Flessel.


I only knew Creig as the artist on the Sunday page of David Crane. It ran in the Newark Star-Ledger, so I knew it well. I was aware that the dailies originally were drawn by Winslow Mortimer, who had created the strip, or was its first artist. At first it was a continuity strip about a small-town pastor, the Sunday pages given to a religious “message.” This was the template of the Mark Trail strip (that is, Sunday pages given over to educational messages); and I believe its cartoonist, Ed Dodd, created David Crane and scripted its first years. When other writers came in, and the syndicate thought that Sunday gags would be more appealing, comic-book and advertising artist Creig Flessel was brought in.

(I recall that at one point while I was talking with Creig, Win Mortimer walked passed, and the two cartoonists exchanged rather hostile glances; nothing more.)

I had absolutely no sense or knowledge of Creig Flessel’s “earlier lives” that evening. He was one of the pioneer comic-book artists – breaking ground and producing “firsts” of titles, characters, covers, and formats with people like Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson and Vin Sullivan. The Shadow pulps for Street and Smith… Johnstone and Cushing ad strips… More Fun covers… the pre-Batman Detective Comics… New Comics… the earliest appearances (maybe significantly creating) The Sandman… eventually Superman and Superboy.

In my opinion, nobody ever drew more handsome comic-book covers than Creig Flessel in the medium’s first generation. 

I was years away from an interest in comic books and superheroes, so there were a thousand un-asked questions from me that evening at the Lamb’s Club. But I had many other questions; and many of those were typical of a 13-year-old aspiring cartoonist. Creig answered everything, and flattered me by asking a lot about me – my favorite cartoonists, my ambitions, my family’s encouragement.

He was genuinely interested. A genuinely nice man. And he confirmed this when, less than a week later, a package arrived at my parents’ house from him. It contained inscribed Sunday and daily originals (he had taken over the daily strip); color proofs; and a three-page, hand-written letter full of advice, encouragement, even information about his working methods and his tools at the drawing board. We reproduce it here; I hope double-clicking will make it readable for you.




Such encounters were not detours but the essence of my Crowded Life in Comics, a chronicle of blessings of time and chance; and of exceptional people.

– XXX –

60