Sunday, November 8, 2020

A Crowded Life in Comics –

 The Anniversary of Great Investments.

 Rick Marschall.

If there can be recurring nightmares, why does it seem that there are fewer repeating good dreams? When I die and go to Slumberland, I perhaps will learn the answer to that riddle of life; but in the meantime I will sleep on it.

This has been a diversionary tactic to camouflage the fact that I will Revisit significant moments in this Crowded Life in Comics, recently having their anniversaries. But I will sprinkle some new insights on the cakes.

October 25 was my parents’ anniversary. And it was the date when I was 12 years old when I lost my virginity. No, not THAT virginity – I mean it was my comics coming-of-age, kind of an early Bar Mitzvah if I were of the Jewish persuasion. I attended my first meeting of the National Cartoonists Society.

It nominally was a mere casual invitation, and Al Smith (Mutt and Jeff), who attended our church, had no crystal ball about what that meeting set in motion. Neither did I; the prospect of a 12-year-old nerd getting to fraternize with legends and heroes was enough: I hoped I would make to the next day. 

I have told here that I attended the business meeting (Al was NCS Treasurer); the “gods” I met, many of whom – Rube Goldberg, Harry Hershfield, Walt Kelly, Dik Browne, Al Kilgore, Mell Lazarus, Russell Patterson, Creig Flessell; Bob Dunn; Mort Walker – sent me inscribed originals afterward; many cartoonists who subsequently became friends whom I served as syndicate editor, or who attended my wedding a dozen years later; the giant scroll Al Smith unfurled for cartoonists to draw their sketches, characters, and greetings.

NCS “poster” 

And I have told of my parents waiting up for Al to drop me back home after midnight, from the old-line Lambs Club in midtown Manhattan, all this on a school night… and how this was a cool anniversary present for them. My father, a lifelong cartoon fan, vicariously enjoyed the evening and the stories no less than I did.

But what I can add is the “after-story” – what flowed from that first evening; what might not have happened without that amazing event; it would have been special if I had been 21 instead of 12, really.

With my “feet wet” (forgetting the virginity wheeze), I made associations and, yes, friendships with cartoonists. Growing up inn the New York- New Jersey- Connecticut area, it was relatively easy to be introduced and recommended, and to visit, other cartoonists. I spent time in studios, and I had my drawings critiqued. Other cartoonists invited me to monthly NCS meetings in New York – Harry Hershfield, Vern Greene, Al Kilgore.

A photo of my family and me (since I mention my parents) ca 1988

Harry Hershfield took a liking to me – he said I was one of the few people (!) who were interested in the business and the artists of the ‘teens and ‘20s, and he did love to reminisce. His crowded old office in the Chanin Building on 42nd Street was always open to me.

The meetings and friendships also enabled me to visit syndicate offices on Christmas, Easter, and Summer breaks from school; and I got to know editors and bullpen artists, also at Dell. 

Eventually, as I said, some cartoonists at that first NCS meeting of mine were artists I eventually edited a decade later as Comics Editor at three newspaper syndicates: Mell Lazarus; Allen Saunders; Stan Lynde; Irwin Hasen; Al Kilgore. Some of the cartoonists became very close friends: Vern Greene; Bill Crawford; Bob Dunn; Frank Fogarty; Jay Irving; Bill Holman. Some of the cartoonists became close enough friends that they attended my wedding: Jack Tippit and several who did not sign the board that evening, including Dik Browne and Mort Walker.

I am not saying that I might not have become a political cartoonist or comics editor or a collector or cartooning historian without the kick-start of that serendipitous invitation. I cannot know. I might have dreamt different dreams, and longer, and more earnest, yet recurring, dreams about a life in comics without Al Smith’s invitation on my parents’ anniversary.

But my life would not have been so crowded. To cartoonists and aspiring cartoonists: Encourage those right behind you in the marvelous line. Whether they will become superstars or only (“only”?) lifelong fans, every kind gesture of yours is a precious investment.


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