Sunday, February 16, 2020

A Crowded Life in Comics –

Frank Bellew – Research, 1859 

Memories Speak Volumes, and Vice Versa.

By Rick Marschall.

I think it is plausible that sensors, or synapses, or microscopic engineers in the brain do work that we will never understand. How and why we dream, often in complicated scenarios, I will never understand. There are a lot of things I do not understand, but I think science will never solve this one.

The brain is a muscle, I have heard, and that became apparent to me about a decade ago when I wrote three books, two of them with elaborate research and footnotes; three very long magazine articles; my weekly blog; and much else I eventually computed at about 400,000 words for the year, all while being caregiver for my wife. The “brain is a muscle” theory was brought home when I was fairly insensate for a couple months afterward. (You can save your electrons if you are tempted to write in with questions like “How could you tell?” because I was the first to address that…!)

But like dreams, there is another question whose answer seems obvious, yet still ultimately elusive. It is confirmed uncountable times in our lives – how do smells trigger memories, even visual images, in our minds? I know that olfactory nerves from our sneezers connect to the brain, sure; that’s how we know something caught fire in the kitchen. But how is it that… well, here is one example:

As a young cartoon fan, I first discovered Puck Magazine, individual issues, when I was in second grade. My father visited Book Store Row in Manhattan on many weekends, and I invariably accompanied him. That neighborhood, now more a memory than anything else, was several blocks south of Union Square Park, its epicenter roughly 14th Street and Fourth Avenue. There were even maps of the approximately 125 used-bookstores clustered in the area.

A store called “Memory Shop,” whose owner was the perpetually knowledgeable but slightly dazed Marc Nadel (I think the spellings are correct), was a sort of heaven-on-earth to this young fan. Its specialty was what we would call today “popular culture” – movies, comics, cartoon books, Broadway memorabilia. It was at the top of rickety stairs in a nondescript building – now probably a parking garage – opening to a large room messily overflowing with cases and boxes and piles of… everything from sheet music to bound volumes. Marc had a gargantuan movie poster of Rudolph Valentino in Son of the Sheik, too large for any wall. So it was tacked to the ceiling, covering almost all of it, kind of a pop-culture worshiper’s Sistine Chapel.

One bookcase had several volumes of Puck Magazine from the 1880s. Magic to me. Gigantic they seemed to a fifth grader. I was already hooked on vintage comics and cartoons from books my dad had, like Coulton Waugh’s The Comics. And I was already devoted to F. Opper, still my favorite cartoonist. Years before Happy Hooligan, he drew political and gag cartoons for Puck. The 1889 volume was my first purchase at The Memory Shop.

Marc held the rest until income from my paper route enabled me to buy the next and next volumes at the heady price of $25 each. I have never maintained much of a savings account since then, proving the adage that “the child is father to the man.”

Those summer nights, when I acquired that bound volume, are as fresh to me as yesterday. I had already purchased loose issues of Puck, Judge, and Life along Book Store Row, but there was something impressive about an oversized volume, hundreds of pages of vintage cartoons, many colored in lithographed glory, terrific artwork by unknown names who eventually became closer friends of mine than schoolmates.

But those olfactory nerves! The paper in that volume was quality, not pulp. They were not fragile nor yellowing nor slowly degrading. Yet they gave off an aroma – a fragrance I would call it – that was distinctive. And today, about 60 years later, when I pull that 1889 volume off the shelf, and I smell that certain aroma anew… it is not new. Not only do I recognize it, but I have a mental image of myself at 10, sitting on the sofa in the enclosed porch my father had built that year. A portable TV was on, but I ignore it as I discover and rediscover those pages of Puck and my new friends Opper and Keppler and C J Taylor and Ehrhart and Dalrymple and Syd B Griffin.

Since then I have appreciated bound volumes more than individual issues of newspapers and magazines, and I am like the old fellow in an old cartoon. I believe it was drawn in 1859 or 1860 by Frank Bellew, one of the real pioneers of his craft. He was probably the most prolific cartoonist of his day. “Probably” is not in play – his signature, often enclosed in a little triangle, shows up in countless journals, from the famed Harper’s Weekly to obscure almanacs.

This is one, likely by him but oddly unsigned. I discovered this about the time when I scored that volume of Puck. Except for the bald head and wizened features, that devotee was me. Joined at the hip to an old bound volume; reading it at every moment; executing a bibliomaniac’s calisthenics to read it. Discovering things on every page. And savoring the sort of perfume that only collectors of Yesterday’s Paper can perceive and love.

– 30 –

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Orson Bean 1928-2020

Remembering Actor Orson Bean and the Hole 
in the Middle of Us All

by Yesterday's Papers contributor Rick Marschall 


Saturday, February 8, 2020

A Crowded Life in Comics –

What If? Who Knows?

Casey Ruggles, Sparkler Comics No. 101, 1951

By Rick Marschall.

In editorial positions I have held during my crowded life in comics, I have tried to offer work to friends, not out of favoritism or nepotism. I have known so many cartoonists that I have been in a position to do so; and have been able to match cartoonists and open positions.

One also becomes aware of cartoonists’ styles and capabilities, their deadline reliability, openings on strips (when I was a syndicate editor) or books (when editor at Marvel). I also was able to offer assignments to cartoonists I knew in Europe; and European assignments I could arrange for American cartoonists.

I have been comics editor at United Feature Syndicate; New York News-Chicago Tribune Syndicate; and Field Enterprises (Publishers Newspaper Syndicate). Also at Marvel, as I said; and when I wrote for Disney Comics in Europe, I was able to tell American friends like Dwight Decker and Don Rosa about work there. I heard rumors that they checked out those opportunities.

I recommended Max Allan Collins for the Dick Tracy gig as Chet Gould was retiring. Otherwise my best luck – that is, enabling luck for the cartoonists – was at Field, where I was able to connect Fred daSilva, Frank Bolle, and Fran Matera to several strips; and at Marvel, where I brought syndicated cartoonists in as writers, artists, and inkers; and invited European cartoonists to contribute to Epic Illustrated, which I founded.

And that brings me to cartoonists to whom I tried like heck to assign work. Odd names they might seem, but worth the effort! Jack Kent, who had done the quiet classic King Aroo – “Who Knows?” Jack Finney, the great speculative fiction writer – “Who Knows?” Eric Gurney, the legendary animal cartoonist – “Who Knows?” Ray Gotto, the  sports cartoonist – “Who Knows?” Jean Shepherd – the great humorist, author of A Christmas Story – “Who Knows?”

A couple creators I tried to entice in more than one of my jobs. Alex Toth was one – hoping he world say Yes first, and then we would find work. Another cartoonist I admired to the same extent was, by coincidence, once Toth’s boss: Warren Tufts.

Warren had drawn the great cowboy strip Casey Ruggles, 1949-54; the parody strip Lone Spaceman; and the innovative full-page “painted-look” Sunday Western Lance. Warren also worked in comic books for Gold Key and in animation.

When I was at Field I tried to pull Warren back into strips, particularly a 1930s detective strip that Max Allan Collins and I brainstormed, but Warren was wary of the syndicate grind… and lack of control, despite my assurances. Some years later, when Epic Magazine was being planned, I offered another open invitation. Suggest a dream concept; design and write as wished; own the rights. He was tempted, but resisted.

What If? Who Knows?

I thought of those questions and of Warren Tufts this week when I heard of Kobe Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash in California. Besides the fact that Warren’s unique talent and fierce integrity kept him as a maverick in strips and comics, the hobby of aircraft design and test-piloting increasingly occupied his time away from the drawing board.

Warren died while testing a plane of his own design, in Placerville CA in 1982.

– 30


Sunday, February 2, 2020

A Crowded Life in Comics –

Your humble correspondent, just as they were putting out the office cat and turning out the lights. Dec 31, 2019.

Stop the Presses:

The Newseum Is Now Old News.

By Rick Marschall.

I went to Washington DC over the recent Christmas-New Year holiday. I make the trip a couple times a year, if for no other reason than to visit my money. Every taxpayer should do this.

All seriousness aside, I went to college in DC (American University), and my son is a TV news producer with a network affiliate station. In between, I have many old and new friends there, at institutions like the Library of Congress and the National Portrait Gallery; one of my publishers, Regnery, is there; and some friends in politics. For several years I was connected with the National Foundation of Caricature and Cartoons, first as a board member, then President, including of its Gallery on E Street near the White House.

The exterior of the Newseum, looking down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the Capitol.

But recently one of my targets was to “close a circle.” On Dec. 31, 2019, the Newseum closed its doors. It was an event itself, sad and notable; but I had worked with them – Gannett, the Freedom Foundation, and some optimistic souls – when it began. That was in 1997, I think, and my help was solicited partly because of the Foundation connection, but mostly as a consultant, as they planned exhibitions; and as a potential lender, as they filled the cases and displays.

I did consult, and I did lend. I sat in on planning sessions, always the advocate for cartoons and comic strips. Political cartoons. Pictorial journalism. Editorial cartoons. Sunday funnies…

The Newseum opened across the Potomac in Crystal City, Arlington, at first, and eventually moved to a huge new building on Pennsylvania Ave in the District. There were always many exhibitions – interactive, rotating, and permanent. There was a theater, as C-SPAN junkies will know, and broadcast facilities used briefly by ABC, Al-Jazeera, and others.

On the Wall of Comics, one of the pages I loaned to the Newseum, and the acknowledgment that surprised me. In fact, on a number of ID cards (not only in the comics and cartoon sections) I noticed errors of facts, dates, and names. I suppose they were incorrect for the entire 22 years…

There were many reasons why the Newseum failed. The news business is a hard sell these days, thanks or no thanks to electronic technologies (and, for all the putative adaptations, the Newseum was a monument to print journalism) and, no doubt, the widespread perception of bias that has broken America’s love affair with News. When exhibitions were good they were very good; many were utterly mundane; and some were theme-park type obligatory placeholders.

Another nail in its coffin might have been its overreach as a virtual palace: seven levels; 250,000 square feet; 15 theaters; 15 galleries. Finally – really finally – I realized when my son’s press pass spared us the entry fee, $25 for adults.

A nice perspective shot of a history wall display, hoping to provide perspective indeed to visitors.

In a city hosting some of the finest museums in the world, any museum charging any fee was headed for “30,” as reporters used to say at the end of stories. It had been a similar challenge with the Foundation and Gallery with which I was connected. We had a small building, the original, historic Washington Star Building, but a rental tab of eight-thousand dollars a month. Some day, here, I will tell more of its story.

Back to the Newseum. We roamed the floors and galleries, and visited the empty gift shop. There were the clever pull-out drawers of notable front pages and headlines, the wall display celebrating the First Amendment, theaters with grainy old television news reports. We landed on the moon again; Nixon resigned again; the Berlin Wall (portions of which are at the Newseum) was breached one last time. They became melancholy echoes as closing time was announced.

A portion of the Berlin Wall on display in a special gallery. It brought back memories. I was in Germany when the “wall fell,” but at the Frankfurt Book Fair, not in Berlin, I had dinner with a dozen or so editors and publishers, most in the 20s or 30s, and I was surprised that most of them were supremely indifferent, or slightly hostile, to Communism’s demise. It remains a matter of surprise to me.

Among the many ghosts I was surprised to find myself. Many of the newspaper pages and magazine covers acknowledged lenders, if not the Newseum’s own collection – foundations or syndicates or other museums. I was startled to see a Little Nemo page with “Courtesy Rick Marschall Collection” on the card. I didn’t know they still were acknowledging me. Just  my luck; now they’re closing.

Seriously, it was a good dream. Its demise is now being blamed on America’s growing indifference to Freedom of the Press, but that is face-saving press-agentry. It attempted to be too many things to too few people, an extravagant over-reach in a city thick with museums and even the Senate and House, where citizens may roam free, constrained only against feeding the animals.

The Newseum maintained a focus on contemporary political cartoonists on a rotating basis. Their last is shown here: left-wing cartoonist Darrin Bell.

In a Crowded Life, it was cool and perhaps ironic that I was there on Opening Day and Closing Day too. When all is said and done, if it had been done right, someone like me would have been a frequent visitor through the years.

– 30

Sunday, January 26, 2020

A Crowded Life in Comics –


By Rick Marschall.

Gene Hazleton, who could – and did – draw anything and everything. Animator at Disney, Warner Bros., MGM, Hanna-Barbera, where he created characters and drew the Flintstones and Yogi Bear strips for two decades. A California friend, introduced by the wunnerful John Province.

Cartoonists do sketches for each other, and of course for fans too. It is rumored that cartoonists, at conventions especially, will charge a fee for sketches.

I first met Bob Gustafson when I was a kid taking buses and subways to New York City on school vacations, visiting cartoonists and syndicates. I introduced myself in the front office of, I think, the Hall Syndicate. Bob was the last artist on the Tillie the Toiler strip, and probably was pitching a new creation. I was there to mooch originals or promo material, or get pointers on my own work if cartoonists showed up. As he waited for his own appointment, “Gus” indeed looked over my work, and sent me inscribed Tillie originals the following week. Later we became good friends; his last gig was as one of Mort Walker’s army of assistants and idea men. He drew this sketch at a Cartoonists’ Golf Tournament at Silvermine CT.

It is their right, of course, to seek compensation. I have to admit that in my drawing days the flattery often outweighed what one might want to charge. There were a number of  cartoonists at my wedding, and when the word spread among my wife’s relatives, my friends’ tables were mobbed by old aunts and distant cousins with cocktail napkins, asking for sketches. I was mortified, but the cartoonists loved it. They said.

The GREAT Don Orehek, magazine gag cartoonist.

It has always struck me that a dentist, let us say, casually will expect a professional cartoonist to custom-draw and give away artwork… but never would offer someone, and not that cartoonist, a complimentary dental cleaning in exchange. Nor plumbers, nor carpenters, nor landscapers. Nor hookers, from what I have heard…

Marty Murphy, Playboy cartoonist. I met Marty through Bob Weber, a friend and fan of his work.

Which brings me to the topic. Risqué, the French say. Some cartoonists make their livings by serving what in good old days were called “purple” publications. Others will confine their naughty artistic moments to parties and banquets where they can blame it on the drinks. Others don’t care one way or the other – or, these days, the other other –  and I hope readers here will not have the kids hide their eyes. Nothing X-rated; they are probably watching ruder things on TV anyway.

Reamer Keller managed to slip sexy women into every gag he drew, from Judge Magazine in the 1930s to fillers in the New York News sections and a syndicated panel Oh Doctor! (I was his editor) in the 1970s.

So: good fun, a little off-color. Sketches done for me through the years by cartoonists in varying stages of… abandon.


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


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.


Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Hergé New Year


Acoustics in the Comics

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