Saturday, August 11, 2018

A Crowded Life in Comics – Dick Moores versus Dale Messick

1977 [1] Gasoline Alley Sunday by Dick Moores, Dec 11. 
by Rick Marschall 
“O Tempora! Oh, Moores!…”

OUR SECOND installment of A Crowded Life in Comics will start somewhere in the middle of my crowded life. Like ‘middle age,’ literal mathematical calculations can get scary. I will jump around, here in columns to come, from childhood to last month; from formal meetings with cartoonists to casual encounters; and so forth.

With that understanding, I will recall today a Dick Moores story — my homage to one of comics’ geniuses, a gentle giant — and collaterally tell a story on stuffy syndicate executives. Not out of spite, but to reveal or confirm that certain types of syndicate chiefs were some of the nails driven into the coffin of the once-thriving syndication field.

It was 1975, and I was Associate Editor/Comics of the New York News-Chicago Tribune Syndicate in New York City. The syndicate was oddly specific about my title Associate Editor/Comics, down to the slash; I suppose to distinguish me from the Text Editor in the next office. I had jumped from a similar job at United Feature Syndicate, ironically a few floors away in the same building — the News Building, 220 E 42nd Street. Emblazoned across the front of the News Building was Lincoln’s aphorism, ‘The Lord must have loved the common people, because He made so many of them.’ (Altered by my college professor, ‘The Lord must have hated the common people, because He made them so damn common.’)

Anyway, I was lured to the job by Robert S. Reed, whom I knew peripherally from golf tournaments in Connecticut; and Jack Minch, who had been a salesman for NEA Service (Alley Oop, etc.) and used to call at the paper where I was cartoonist, The Connecticut Herald. We had a jolly time every few months when he called with some new feature to sell. I was among the first editors to buy Frank and Ernest.

When I was hired, Minch had become VP or General Manager of NYN-CT. He might have even brought me in, but was a different character when three-martini lunches were not involved; nor were sales commissions. Full of himself, he was a blowhard who wrote execrable promotional copy, but insisted on doing it, and seemed to regard every piece of tedious prose worthy of a Nobel Prize. He took most of the work off Reed’s desk, so they were a happy couple for awhile.
1977 [2] Dec 18.
DICK MOORES. The annual Reuben Awards were approaching — the National Cartoonists Society version of Oscar night, in those days invariably held in New York City, at the Plaza or the Waldorf. Usually in April, to coincide with the American Newspaper Publishers confab.

I had made quick friends with cartoonists in my stable whom I did not already know. I was friends already with Leonard Starr, Bill Holman, and Henri Arnold in the office; Bill Kresse, Bruce Stark, Bill Gallo, and George Ward of the News’ bullpen downstairs. I made friends with Chester Gould (at the time down in the dumps because he designed promotion for the lagging Dick Tracy because the syndicate would not produce its own promo for the strip; and they coldly ignored even these gestures); and Dale Messick. I met Mike Witte and Tug McGraw, partners on a new baseball strip, Scroogie. It flopped, but as a Mets fan I was thrilled to work with the legendary relief pitcher.

And I met Dick Moores. I had been a longtime admirer; the versatile cartoonist had assisted Gould on the early Tracy; had drawn his own crime strip, Jim Hardy; followed by Windy and Paddles; a domestic humor strip called Merton Musty; and did Sunday Disney comics for years, all before assisting Frank King and inheriting Gasoline Alley.

Dick was never bad, but in the mid-1970s his work on Alley was astounding. Well written (with new characters of his own in the cast); overflowing with meticulous detail — hand-done shading and cross-hatching, almost mechanical; unorthodox camera-angles, for instance up-shots — odd for a man much taller than six feet, I always thought; and delightfully gratuitous design surprises, like upper and lower case lettering; no panel borders; and… much more. Every strip was a masterpiece.

My admiration was not unique; I was not a fan crying in the wilderness. My cartoonist friends in Connecticut around that time — on golf courses, over lunches, at parties — would revel in Dick Moores’ work. Most had never met him. But — ‘Did you see the details in Tuesday’s strip?’ and ‘Wasn’t the bird’s-eye view of the neighborhood in Gasoline Alley insane last week?’ … like that.
1977 [3] Dec 25.
REUBEN AWARDS. So this became my unofficial survey, added to my own wonderment. I pegged Dick Moores to win the Reuben Award that year as Cartoonist of the Year.

I was sure the lunkhead execs at the syndicate would be sweaty with anticipation. But they had other plans for the Reuben dinner. The syndicate would reserve two tables. At the ‘head’ table, the suits would sit with Tug McGraw, a natural bragging decision, given that moment in time. But also they pimped… Dale Messick. A wonderful lady, colorful and successful, and perhaps deserving of a Reuben statuette. Brenda Starr, Reporter was iconic. She was the predicted princess-in-waiting in the eyes of Reed and Minch.

At the second table, I was deputized to ‘handle’ the ‘old man’ Dick Moores, who traveled from North Carolina with his son-in-law Chuck. In fact Dick might have been younger than Dale, but his strip was old-news and rural in their eyes.

… besides, the syndicate was trying to option movie rights to Brenda Starr. Ah. Feelthy lucre. (In fact, it was a film shot in 1986, 10 years later, but only released six additional years after production. Starring Brooke Shields, Timothy Dalton, Jeffrey Tambor, and Charles Durning, it is legendary as one of the worst productions and biggest flops in Hollywood history. Its budget was $16-million; and its box-office was a mere $67,000: a very difficult feat.)

So my wife and I were the evening’s companions of Dick Moores and his son-in-law. (I recall having invited Hal Dareff of Hyperion Press, which had just produced 22 volumes of Bill Blackbeard’s early comic series, The Hyperion Library of Classic American Comic Strips.) This ‘task’ was pleasant indeed. No offense to Dale, but she was not destined to win the Reuben; Dick Moores was destined, if there is a God.

There is. When ‘Dick Moores’ was happily announced as the winner of the Reuben Award (for work done in 1974, technically), the entire head table, as if they were deaf, halfway rose from their seats to whoop it up for Dale. At our table, my wife and I compensated in the cheerleading department, and the modest Dick Moores made it to the stage. He received prolonged applause from the entire assemblage — sincere from his peers.
1975 [4] Dick Moores (b. 1909) with Rick Marschall.
The syndicate heads were boorish and churlish, barely congratulating Dick Moores, and mumbling to anyone who would listen about the black eye Women’s Liberation suffered that evening.

We spent the rest of the evening basking in Dick’s modest pride, and seeing all the well-wishers who embraced him. That’s the rest of the story, but the important fact is that Dick Moores was recognized by his fellow cartoonists; and I did not really have to feel like a soothsayer. He was great.
1971 [5] Feb 3, Gasoline Alley, original daily strip.


Pictures [1-3] courtesy of ilovecomix.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Introducing… A Crowded Life in Comics

1897 [1] The Billposter And The Kid. A Tale of Revenge, by Carl Anderson, in New York Journal, Jan 24.
by Rick Marschall 
“In the comic strip we have the embodiment, the culmination, of civilized man’s 4,000 years of groping for the perfect form of communication.” — opening line of first Editorial in Nemo, June 1983

THE FIRST installment of this column will be a crowded introduction, or explanation; and the ‘crowded life’ will appear in weekly slices. It feels a little presumptuous to appear confident that readers will care about my career and activities, whether in the comics field or out. In fact it is presumptuous; but I thought the same way about blogs 15 years ago, then took the plunge 10 years back, and have written a weekly web message without a miss, with 170,000 hits or so. Perhaps peeking in someone who displays presumption is only a 21st-century spectator sport. But not clicking or clicking out is simpler than yelling at one’s postman, or burning newsletters in an old-fashioned bonfire every few months.

Also, I overcame false modesty and yielded to the suggestions of Yesterday’s Papers editor John Adcock that I write an ongoing memoir. This was the secret ingredient in the recipe. Some of you will know that years ago I edited a magazine called Nemo: The Classic Comics Library. Fondly remembered on two continents, a 32-issue run back in 1983-92 when vintage comics largely were unknown even to devoted fans and scholars.

Nemo ceased publication for various reasons, but I was proud of it, and of the dust it raised. In a way the reprints and scholarship that followed were partly engendered by Nemo. And I feel that, better than anything else of an ongoing nature, Yesterday’s Papers is the legitimate heir to the vision and accomplishments of Nemo. So it is proper that I find a way to be part of this online magazine of John’s — and proud to be here.

NEWS FLASH. Oh, two notes. Nemo will be starting up again: a print magazine; larger page size; approximately 200 pages; with color. And, closing the circle, John Adcock will be our Associate Editor… while maintaining his stewardship of YP!
1983 [2] Dik Browne, Milton Caniff, Rick Marschall.
So I am glad to be here, but at my age I am glad to be anywhere. That is an old joke, and not, however, a hint that these recollections are a function of a realization that Marschall’s life is drawing to a close. Of course, maybe it is (I leave such spiritual wrestling-matches to my blog) — but, mostly, I have come to the point of realizing that I have been blessed with… well, a crowded life. In and out of comics.

I was a guest on Comic Book Historians podcasts recently, and the three interviewers knew things about my career that I barely remembered. Last week, my son, a TV news producer in Florida, found three employees including the weekend anchor jumping with excitement upon learning that his father (me) had been Editor at Marvel; asking things that he didn’t even know.

I’ve got to get some of this stuff down!

BLESSED. I used the word ‘blessed.’ By circumstance, geography, parental encouragement, I have realized that I am sort of a Forrest Gump of the comics game. Just to continue the introduction for people unfamiliar with my spotted past —

I have been a political cartoonist for several publications; I have illustrated books and magazine articles;

I have been a newspaper reporter and columnist; have founded six magazines and edited eight; I was a comics editor with three newspaper syndicates, and of Marvel Comics;

I have written 74 books (history, biography, children’s, humor, Baroque music, country music, television history, Christian apologetics and devotionals; and the field of cartoons and comics, anthologies, reprints, and criticism. Hundreds of magazine articles in the categories and others litter the landscape.
1916 [3] Krazy Kat by George Herriman, June 11.
As a writer (of comics) I wrote stories for Marvel; many scripts for Disney comics, mostly in Europe; and introductions to many books and catalogs;

I served on the Boards of Director of the San Francisco Academy of Cartoon Art, the Museum of Cartoon Art, and the Museum (and Foundation) of Caricature and Cartoon Art in Washington DC. I have attended many comics conferences and symposia in the US and Europe, where I have spoken and organized exhibitions; at various times I was the US representative of Lucca, Angoulême, and ExpoCartoon in Rome. I also repped, at various times, for European comics publishers Dargaud, Strip Art Features, and Glénat.

A few awards have come my way: Friend of Fandom, Eisner, and Harvey awards from Comicon in San Diego; Yellow Kid award from Lucca Festival (for EPIC Magazine); Max und Moritz Prize at Erlangen Festival; RTL award in Luxembourg; and various recognitions for the 20-stamp commemorative series for the US Postal Service;

Speaking of which I consulted, provided artwork and information, and wrote the 100-page book for the Postal Service ‘American Classics’ comics history stamps; and was sent to 11 cities to promote comics and the stamps. Along the way, in similar events and publicity tours, I have spoken at the Library of Congress, at the Kansas City Public Library (Truman Foundation), on C-SPAN and on NPR; and at many universities;

Speaking of which I have taught comics history, techniques, and criticism, at the School of Visual Arts; Rutgers University; Philadelphia College of Art (University of the Arts); and Summer Institute for the Gifted at Bryn Mawr University.
RECALL. The bulk of these reminiscences will not be a recitation of jobs on my résumé, or lists of desks I have sat behind, but to recall the people I have been fortunate to meet and/or interview. A partial list might cause you to stick around; an eclectic bunch, and will stray from comics occasionally — hey, it’s all popular culture:
…Rube Goldberg, Harry Hershfield; Roy Crane; Rudolph Dirks; John Dirks; Joe Venuti; Jimmy McPartland; Teddy Wilson; Alice Roosevelt Longworth; Herblock; Spiro Agnew; Strom Thurmond; Jerry Lee Lewis; John Severin; Al Smith, Vern Greene; Gluyas Williams; Roy Acuff; Bill Monroe; Sam Phillips; Walt Kelly; Jimmy Swaggart; Frank King; Otto Messmer; Matt Koehl; Abbie Hoffman; Jerry Rubin; William Kunstler; Lyn Nofziger; Dik Browne; Dick Hodgins, Johnny Hart; Brant Parker; John Wheeler; Jim Ivey; Jerry Dumas; Harry Neigher; William Loeb; Jean Shepherd; Bob and Ray; Al Capp; Jacob Burck; Stephen Becker; Jack Finney; Mort Walker; Edwina Dumm; Gerald Ford; Henry Kissinger; Charles Schulz; Faron Young; Pete Hamill; Mac Wiseman; Leonard Starr; Stan Drake; Carl Barks; Floyd Gottfredson; Ron Goulart; George Jones; Tammy Wynette; William F. Buckley; Jeff MacNelly; Russell Patterson; Chester Gould; Pierre Couperie; Donald Phelps; Will Eisner; Noel Sickles; Jackie Gleason; Art Buchwald; George Wallace; Mark Russell; Al Kilgore; Bill Holman; Milton Caniff; Robert Novak; Burne Hogarth; Stan Lee; John Buscema; John Romita Sr. and Jr.; Hal Foster; Ernie Bushmiller;  Mell Lazarus; Hank Ketcham; Harvey Kurtzman; Jean Giraud (Moebius); Al Hirshfeld; Mookie Wilson; Alberto Breccia; Benito Jacovitti; Hardie Gramatky; Hank Snow; Hermann Huppen; Eric Gurney; Mel Blanc; Jules Feiffer; Loretta Lynn; Arnold Roth; Stan Lynde; John Fischetti; D. James Kennedy; John Cullen Murphy; Herb Gardner; Alex Toth; Guillermo Mordillo; Maurice Horn; Martin Williams; Bill Blackbeard; Denis Gifford; Warren Tufts; Jim Raymond; Dean Young; Bob Weber Sr. and Jr.; Orlando Busino; Debra Murphrey; Vittorio Giardino; Gill Fox; Leslie Turner; Charlie Rich; Ann Coulter; Maurice Sendak; Bill Mauldin; Art Spiegelman; Francoise Mouly; Allen Saunders; Jack Kirby; Studs Terkel; Frank Thomas; Ollie Johnson; Raeburn van Buren; Jack Clement; Will Gould; John Stanley; Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; Curt Swan; David Levine; Chuck Jones; Otto Soglow; Phyllis Schlafly; Jack Dempsey; Bob Kane; Jack Davis; Harlan Ellison; Nicole Lambert; Lee Falk; Merle Haggard; Joe Kubert; Walter Gibson; Jack Kent; Dr. Seuss; Mickey Gilley; the Statler Brothers; Gil Kane; Fred Lasswell; Al Williamson; Gene Colan; Mike Greg; Ferd Johnson; Dr. Bennet Omalu; Bill Gaither; Howard and Vestal Goodman; Mark Lowry; Hugo Pratt; Mike Yaconelli; Bill Watterson; Al Kaline; Tony Campolo; Tweed Roosevelt; Matt Groening; Jack Phillips; David Irving; Edmund Morris; Wade Mainer; Paul Manafort...
In no particular order…  And there are others I have forgotten, but these names and their associated stories might interest visitors to A Crowded Life in Comics in weeks — months? years? — to come.
1960 [5] Peanuts by Charles Schulz, in Vancouver Sun, Sep 17.
I will not make this feature into a scrapbook, or a record of musty memories. I aim to recall interesting anecdotes and revelations that shed light on comics history and popular culture. I will share my thoughts on the language and structure of strips, literature, movies, music, and such… and open some windows, and even doors, to greater discussions.

The installments will NOT be as long as this intro-piece is. But on the web we waste a few electrons; not whole trees like in the old days.

Continued In Our Next —