Friday, October 25, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

After I had met Al Smith (Mutt and Jeff) my parents met him at the church we all attended. Al wrote to invite me a National Cartoonists Society meeting, hoping it was all right with my parents (I was 12). It was a thrill, and a surprise, to be invited; almost as big a thrill to receive the formality of a typed letter, “sincerely yours,” and such.

Father Knows Best.

by Rick Marschall.

I wonder, sometimes, if I would have had this “crowded life” in comics if it had not been for my father. My parents and my supportive family.

This week upcoming will see what would have been my parents’ 72nd anniversary, so my  memories are fresher, my recollections a bit accelerated.

My dad never drew, or aspired to be a cartoonist. But he loved cartoons and strips. He had saved, from his own younger years, a long run of Judge Magazine, beginning with a 1927 issue with a cover cartoon by S J Perelman. I managed a bit of homage by making that cartoon the cover of an anthology of Perelman’s work I edited years later. Ironically, When our family moved from a brownstone in Queens to a spacious New Jersey suburban home, he sold the stack of Judges. He almost immediately, and with subsequent frequency, regretted the decision.

But he loved comic strips, maybe more than anyone lacking artistic ambitions could. In New Jersey, he subscribed to the Bergen Record; and on Sundays the New York Times and the Newark Star-Ledger. However… he subscribed, or would buy at newsstands (remember them?) papers he would not read at all, except for the funnies. New York City: Sunday News; the Mirror; the Journal-American; the Herald-Tribune. Long Island:  The Press. New Jersey: Newark News; Atlantic City Press (all the NEA strips; saved by his old Army buddy for me); Philadelphia: The Bulletin; The Philadephia Inquirer in its garish roto-colors. Also saved by family friends for me.

I say “saved for me,” but he devoured them all with equal gusto. And saved them all neatly for me, a percentage of my tonnage of comics. He also neatly cut out daily-strip pages of comics; and likewise saved them neatly. And our archival trove was of more than New York-area comics. Dad visited out-of-town newspaper stands in Manhattan, where he worked, and brought home random Sunday papers from random cities – I remember being amazed at the Chattanooga Times, which resembled The New York Times (same ownership) except that it ran comics! Perhaps making up for the Gray Lady’s sins of omission up north, it carried two color comic sections every weekend, a tabloid and a standard section.

He loved almost all the comics, but he invariably laughed the hardest, and most frequently, at – hard to guess, but hard to argue – Archie, Hubert, and The Jackson Twins. In later years I was able to secure sketches, signed books, or originals of these, and other cartoonists’ creations. Bill Watterson inscribed one of his Calvin and Hobbes collections to my father.

Lank Leonard (Mickey Finn) was a cartoonist we saw on Florida trips. One year he invited us to join the cartoonists’ contingent, a couple tables at a Welcome Home event for Jackie Gleason, who had traveled abroad between seasons of his American Scene TV show. Jackie was attempting to make Miami a center of television production. We also met Art Carney that evening.
This was not a mere pack-rat childhood. I have shared in these columns how every year’s vacation to Florida, Dad would encourage me (not acquiesce, but encourage) to write letters to cartoonists along the way; and one or two days before driving back home would consistent of visiting cartoonists in their studios. I do, and did, realize that these detours seldom delighted my mother and sisters. But Dad was always by my side… thrilled to be meeting his favorite cartoonists, often boyhood favorites. Roy Crane; Frank King; Leslie Turner; Jim Ivey; Fred Lasswell; Lank Leonard; Mel Graff… I have shared some of these travelogues, but I hope you indulge my return to Memory Lane.

Cartooning as a profession? No, there my father dissented, even despite the encouragement of cartoonists. I should be a teacher – “a job that is secure” – and could ways try cartooning as a sideline. I listened, but did not hear or heed, the advice.

He infected me with pleasant “conditions.” I am not sure if I would have tried to draw, or earn my living as a cartoonist for years, without the first germs. Would I have collected comics? Would I have collected, on broader horizons, first editions and rare books of literature, otherwise?

I was able, in a properly ordered and organized life cycle, to reciprocate in various ways. When I interviewed Bob and Ray – sitting in their WOR studio for an entire broadcast (and risking hernias, trying not to laugh out loud) I asked if they minded if he joined me.  Dad also played jazz piano, and after I developed a friendship with the great Teddy Wilson – one of his stylistic idols – I introduced them and we attended an intimate performance. And so forth.

There is a saying that The boy is father to the man. In Marty Marshall’s case, the boyish father was father to the boy who became the man I am, at least chronologically. As we must all be grateful to our parents, I thank God every day… and I am not even talking about faith or citizenship or being kind to dogs.

If you have endured this far, glean a lesson, if I may suggest.  Appreciate the deeds your parents planted in you. And be intentional about planting seeds in this who follow you.

Between visits to the cartoonists of Florida, we actually did vacation-y things, like fishing. That’s me on the left… no, all the way to the left.


No comments:

Post a Comment