Sunday, January 20, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

Chance Browne, son of our beloved friends Dik and Joan Browne, recruited Hagar, Hi & Lois and company, to call out a cheery greeting. 

I Heart Comics
(Cartoonists’ Get-Well Wishes)
by Rick Marschall

This column is devoted to my life in comics (so far!) and readers generally expect, as do I, interaction with moldy strips, vintage collectibles, and half-forgotten masters of the art. But it is about life too; inescapably recent life, and I hope readers will indulge. Last column was about a cartoonist I met the afternoon of my high-school prom – actually, that does seem like ancient history – and this will be a little more personal than usual.

Six years ago this week my wife Nancy died, after a lifetime of horrible afflictions including heart attacks and strokes, kidney failure and dialysis, celiac disease and cancer, amputations and, at the end, creeping dementia. Oh, and heart and kidney transplants. A tough lot, which she always faced bravely with few complaints, and a personal faith that held firm.
The great Mike Peters camouflaged Grimmy as a doctor with a prescription for giggles. 
The only people who did not love her were those who had not met her. When we settled in Connecticut, in the middle of the artists’ colony and cartooning community of Fairfield County, she became a favorite of the cartoonists’ wives, socially, and not a few of the cartoonists themselves. Midway, or so, in her health-journey her heart and kidneys gave out, and she was listed for transplants.

Our old and good friend Dick Hodgins, who I met when I was 12 or 13, was Dik Browne’s ghost on Hagar.
When the word got out among the cartoonists, hand-drawn get-well drawings flooded her hospital room. During the 10-week stay, awaiting appropriate “matching” organs; and during several weeks of recovery, her rooms looked like galleries in a cartoon museum – hand-drawn, colorful cartoons on every wall. Visitors, doctors, and nurses gawked and laughed and admired the cartoons. Of course. And the drawings buoyed Nancy immeasurably.

For me, “well wishes” might mean that people wish I would fall down a well. I realize that. But with Nancy, the love of our cartoonist friends showed through with sincere – and splendid – little masterpieces. I will share a few here.

Five-page Nancy-themed Get Well card, large sheets, from the great Orlando Busino.
As the “hook” for this little memoir is Nancy’s passing, I will reinforce how our family in general trafficked in cartoons and humor. It gets you though life, even physically challenging lives. I hope nobody will be dissuaded by the revelation that Nancy was a conservative, and not a huge fan of Barack Obama.

So, with that as the backdrop, I will say that she died on the very day that Obama was sworn in after his re-election. Nancy had been in a coma for a week, and off life-support for 24 hours, almost exactly. The television in her room was not on, of course; but throughout the hospital floor, the inauguration was on every TV set, and its proceedings, in faint echoes, could be heard by me and my children, who had gathered from points around America and the world.

Coincidentally, just as Obama repeated the oath of office… Nancy flat-lined. Scarcely missing a beat, our son Ted commented, “Mom always said that if Obama got to be president again, she would just die.”

Mel Casson, veteran of many strips and master of many styles, went stylin’ with this happy-dance.

Laughter, if not the best medicine, is a great palliative. And cartoons – so often called mere “lines on paper,” can also be genuine Love on Paper.

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