Sunday, June 23, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

Jim Scancarelli drew this poster design for an exhibition I organized in 1988 for the Salina (KS) Art Center and the Mid-America Arts Alliance.


by Rick Marschall

Two legendary comic strips celebrate their centenaries this year, in fact about these same mid-year weeks.

Gasoline Alley and Barney Google sprouted in the fertile soil that was Chicago cartooning of the ‘teens and ‘20s. For all of the camaraderie and cross-pollination of the  Chicago “school” who fraternized, were students at, or taught at, the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, there are no substantial records of a close relationship between Frank King and Billy DeBeck, respective creators of those strips.

Otherwise they were nurtured by common ferment and the glories of a great era in American cartooning.

Frank King was born in Wisconsin, but moved to Chicago and lived in the northern suburbs before the Florida sun seduced him late in life. Gasoline Alley was self-consciously set in those Chicago neighborhoods where garages faced each other behind rows of Sears Catalog Homes. Billy DeBeck first cartooned in Youngstown OH and Pittsburgh before moving to Chicago. Before settling in Tampa, after Chicago he mostly lived where good times and golf courses beckoned.

The halcyon days of the Chicago School produced an amazing Who’s Who of talent and influence in American cartooning: Editorial cartoonists John T McCutcheon, Carey Orr, Luther Bradley, Vaughn Shoemaker; strip cartoonists King and DeBeck, Sidney Smith, Harold Gray, Frank Willard, Ferd Johnson, Carl Ed, William Donahey, E C Segar, Sals Bostwick, Penny Ross; panel cartoonists Clare Briggs, H T Webster, Quin Hall; illustrators Garrett Price and Dean Cornwell… and others too numerous to mention.

Long were the careers – and influence – of many of these creators. Gasoline Alley and Barney Google are unique in that they have survived a hundred years, the latter albeit largely having been kidnapped and eclipsed by Snuffy Smith.

When I was the young cartooning-enthusiast son of indulgent parents, the last day or two of annual family vacations to Florida were given over to visiting cartoonists. The only condition was that I be bold and clever enough to arrange appointments in advance. Al (Mutt and Jeff) Smith, my mentor, and other professional friends, and Marge Devine of the National Cartoonists Society, helped me with addresses and phone numbers. After that, I reliably trusted on the native good will and friendliness of professional cartoonists.

So, criss-crossing the Sunshine State for many vacation years, I first met Frank King, Roy Crane, Leslie Turner, Jim Ivey, Ralph Dunagin, Dick Hodgins Sr., Lank Leonard, Zack Moseley, Fred Lasswell, Mel Graff, Don Wright, Worth Gruelle, and others.

Frank King was old and slow, but with a quick memory, when I met him and visited several times. The strip then firmly was in the hands of Dick Moores. On each visit Frank would give me an autographed, vintage Gasoline Alley original. They ranged from the week after Skeezix appeared on Walt’s doorstep (depicting him holding the baby before the Alley gang) to the 1930s.

I have several distinct memories. One is tragic. Frank said he could dig out an old original for me, and went to a shed out back… where he, evidently, had not been for years. There were stacks of old Gasoline Alley originals, but the years – and Florida humidity, maybe a leaky shed roof – had taken a toll. They were mildewed, stuck together; hundreds and hundreds of them. He was shell-shocked.

Other things I remember, and I hope they were saved by his family. For his own amusement Frank created what he called “shadow boxes,” scenes mostly from Gasoline Alley. Each was a large wooden box, open at the front and top. He painted backgrounds on the sides, bottom, and back; and then he painted characters and image details on panes of glass that slid into grooves. The one I remember was of Walt and Judy raking Autumn leaves – when you looked into the shadow box at eye-level, you beheld a three-dimensional cartoon of Walt and Judy and hundreds of colorful leaves all around them, including behind and in front of them.

Frank had many originals on his walls, and I remember being struck by names I had not heard of – Sals Bostwick, a talented assistant who died young; and Quin Hall; and his friends from the early days whose names I knew as illustrators but not as cartoonists, like Garrett Price and Dean Cornwell.

Audacious camera angles, meticulous detail, masterful shading, dialog revealing mature character delineations – hallmarks of Dick Moores’ work on Gasoline Alley)

Later I became a friend of Dick Moores, also as his Editor at the syndicate. An amazing talent, as was the next successor and current resident of the Alley, Jim Scancarelli. A friend who discusses mountain fiddling and Uncle Fletcher’s washrag collection (from radio’s Vic and Sade) as readily as he discusses comics history.

Gasoline Alley can be read as The Great America Novel. For my money, the continuity lines and characterizations in Billy DeBeck’s creations (including in Parlor, Bedroom, and Sink and Bunky) rival Dickens in craft, depth, and invention.

I did not knowe DeBeck, of course; he died in 1942. But I got to know his successor Fred Lasswell very well. One of the most colorful figures in American cartooning; surely the inevitable cut-up in any room he filled with his outsized personality. And body. King Features Present Joe D’Angelo was resigned to being, in some innovative way or another, the butt of a Lasswell practical joke whenever Fred visited New York. For instance having a waiter deliver a bottle of champagne and flowers to every table in a restaurant… charged to Mr D’Angelo.

By the time DeBeck died, relatively young, during World War II, Barney, Loweezie, and assorted hillbillies had taken over the strip. Barney himself receded as a side-character – Spark Plug even more so – and the mountain-folk indeed were a national sensation. Never a casual about any of his passions, DeBeck became a first-rate scholar of Appalachian life, lore, and language. He read all the dialect humorists of the mid-1800s, and caught the mountain folks’ personalities and ways. Phrases he did not borrow, he manufactured… with authenticity.

Such things were not in DeBeck’s background; neither Lasswell’s; but he was a quick study. The stock cast has dominated the strip for nigh-on 80 y’ars naow. Fred was an “A” personality, and even starred in “Uncle Fred’s Cartooning Lessons” videos in the 1980s. We occasionally appeared together in the mid-1990s promoting the US Postal Service’s “American Classic” set of commemorative stamps. We each sported ties, by coincidence, with hand-painted Yellow Kid figures on them.

Snuffy and other denizens of Hootin’ Holler comfortably are in the capable hands of John Rose these days. As in life itself – I mean real life; or realer life than comics – longevity can be attributed to many factors. With Gasoline Alley the old characters and new faces surely have attracted readers’ sympathies. It was the first comics strip where characters aged in real time. (I remembering urging Dick Moores to have Walt die, something that he would have handled sensitively; today Walt should be at least 120 and Skezzix 100. It would have maintained the comic-context realism, and garnered publicity.)

But the changing cast of Gasoline Alley and the frozen-in-time setting of Barney Google and Snuffy Smith (it probably has been a half-century since Barney or Snuffy visited a big city, the strip’s original setting) explain only parts of the strips’ longevity. Obviously the talents of the successors are responsible as well.

But as in real life, as I said, in strips there is a healthy gene pool that is dominant. The premises and conceptions of the progenitors obviously are the gloriously guilty parties. I feel especially blessed to have known, in my Crowded Life, some of the gifted people who have managed these precious creations so well.


Wednesday, June 19, 2019

A Picture Story With But a Single Word


March 1, 1915

April 3, 1915

May 1, 1915

May 7, 1915

Saturday, June 15, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

An Idol with Kley Feet

by Rick Marschall

Heinrich Kley is an artist whose talents were virtually (and wonderfully) schizophrenic in their impressive variety, but who remains generally a cipher to historians and students of cartooning.

This dichotomy, in itself, is not a rare thing that needs to confound researchers. It is we, rather, who are perched between curiosity and selfishness, wanting to know everything we can about those creators whose work impresses. When all is said and done – anyway, not a horrible status to settle for – an artist’s work will speak for itself.

When I engaged in research for my biography of Johann Sebastian Bach, I was struck (and, yes, dismayed) by the paucity of information about the man, particularly by the man. There were comments by some other composers, occasional letters by his children, a few minutes of town-councils and church boards. But scarcely any diaries or letters or journals by old Bach himself; no introspection.

… except through his music. Which is exactly what satisfied Sebastian.

So with Heinrich Kley. We know what he did – although, you eventually will see, far from all of it has been reprinted – and we know what jobs he held through the years. But like Bach and other geniuses through the centuries, we have little sense of what he was like; his creative inspirations; his prejudices and enthusiasms; whether his multi-facted output reflected his passions… or were some activities jobs-on-commission?

Again, we don’t have to know everything. His work does not merely speak to us: it shouts. Kley was born in Karlsruhe in 1863 and died in Munich in 1945. In his 82 years he was a remarkable artist, impressing cartoonists, painters, and connoisseurs in Europe and the United States; and mastering – seemingly from the very start – several distinct genres.

Any one genre would have been astounding. But Heinrich Kley was a superb pen and ink artist and illustrator; he became identified with fantasy and erotic drawings; he executed hundreds of watercolor cityscapes and landscapes; he depicted, in exquisite and accurate details, mighty industrial scenes; he illustrated several books, from The Swiss Family Robinson and Reynard the Fox to science-fiction novels. Were all these thematic preoccupations passions of the same man? None ever betrayed a pedestrian approach.

It is difficult to make too much of my own “crowded life” in relation to Kley, for I was born after he died. Yet, like countless readers and aspiring cartoonists, I discovered his work in two trade paperbacks that Dover published in the early 1960s. Thereafter the story became a little personal, because I eventually was able to collect many European first editions; runs of the magazines he drew for; original artwork; rare art portfolios; the post cards of his stunning watercolors… and even tracked down, on a trip to Germany, the house that seemed to be his when he died. (There is no plaque there, nor any memorial. And his burial was in a small-town cemetery, marked by a small and modest stone.)

(watercolor of Maria Kirche church)

Mystery about aspects of his life are, and were, many; and mostly, as mysteries anyway, silly. His modesty possibly invited some of it. When the American magazine Coronet in the 1930s published portfolios of his work in three succeeding issues, it stated that Kley “reportedly went insane” and was institutionalized; other writers were to suggest that he died a suicide. But that all too likely was to cover for old-fashioned piracy, the unauthorized theft of his work.

“Sanity” and strange seclusion were also convenient explanations for those who could not understand any artist, or any one, not fleeing Germany or consigned to a labor camp, during the Third Reich. But he remained, he continued to draw – as did other cartoonists for Jugend and Simplicissimus – even through the War, and was a creative force who continued to create. Similar putative anomalies were Wilhelm Furtwangler and Carl Orff (the composer whose output and personality, as far as we can tell, bore resemblance to his fellow Munchner Kley).

The satyrs and orgies of blended creatures never were judged “degenerate art” by the Nazis. And while on the subject, it is interesting to note that many of  Adolf Hitler’s own watercolors and submissions to art schools in Munich and Vienna, in the days prior to the Great War’s outbreak, closely resembled Kley’s popular postcard art.

Heinrich Kley can be characterized as a male Aphrodite – he appeared, full grown and almost perfect, on the scene in 1886. (Maybe not a real stretch; Aphrodite was born of sea-foam, and the famous petrified sea-foam called Meerschaum is native to Kley’s Bavarian Alps… and “kley” means loam or clay) To commemorate the 500th anniversary of the University of Heidelberg in that birthplace of the university-system, a “Leporello” book – one drawing, folded accordian-style, depicting a parade of scholars and townspeople of the five centuries – was drawn by Kley in incredible detail.

I have mentioned the other fields he visited, and conquered, and for now, for here, that will suffice. I share with you images not usually seen… a couple of sketchbook pages from my collection (almost all his drawings were virtual sketches, masses of lines coalescing into perfect anatomy) that show that Kley did use a pencil! … and a letter from his widow Emily.

She wrote this letter to publisher Emanuel Borden of Los Angeles. It seems that Borden was at first another pirate, but after the war he produced two more handsome Kley collections; and appears – from this letter – that he earned Emily’s trust, and perhaps paid her royalties. Her letter is pathetic, sad. Three years after the War’s end; Munich devastated and still occupied; and the widow of one of the century’s great artistic geniuses – she is hardly a military threat to the American troops – finds it difficult to send or receive mail, or find bread.

I hope this letter, from my collection, is legible. Click twice and squint.

It might be appropriate that the genius who was Heinrich Kley be relatively obscure to us and more than a little enigmatic. Already attracted to his work when our eyes meet it, we are, perhaps, compelled not to merely look, but to enter his scenes – his fantasy-flavored perceptions of reality, and realistic depictions of the his wild imagination.


Sunday, June 9, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

← The Twain Has Left the Station

 by Rick Marschall 

I intend to write more about the great Lucca Comics Festival in Tuscany, as I did a few weeks ago with photos and sketches. Especially after the death this week of its manager for many years, Rinaldo Traini. I am gathering photos, drawings, and memories; and will share them soon.

When I lived in Weston CT my home was 15 minutes’ drive to Redding, where Mark Twain spent his last years. He moved there in 1908 and built his great home “Stormfield,” and died there in 1910, the year of Halley’s Comet, summoning one of the writer’s many superstitions.

As an aspiring humorist and cartoonist myself since I was old enough to laugh, I virtually worshiped Twain, and had all of his books, including first editions. An additional Mecca for me in my Connecticut years was the annual Mark Twain Library book sale. As in many places where I have lived or nearby – Weston, Westport, Greenwich; Abington and Bryn Mawr PA – book sales in neighborhoods once populated by accomplished artists, writers, cartoonists, and illustrators frequently yielded rare and often inscribed books.

I also honor Twain for the cartoonists he introduced or showcased as illustrators of his books. E W Kemble was a little-known aspiring cartoonist barely cracking the pages of the New York Daily Graphic and Life when the famous Twain noticed his cartoons and thought he had a flair for drawing rural folks, black and white. Thus the obscure Kemble illustrated Huckleberry Finn and subsequent books.

F Opper, A B Frost, Dan Beard, True Williams, Baron DeGrimm, and eventually Norman Rockwell were among the scores of illustrators and cartoonists who accompanied Twain’s prose.

As a collector of original art as well as first editions, I was always happy to discover visual treasures. Here, photographed from a very large watercolor caricature, is Mark Twain by “Vet” Anderson. Largely forgotten today, Anderson (no relation to his contemporary Carl Anderson of “Henry” fame) drew full-page caricatures in this style of panache and boldness, for Sunday New York Herald entertainment sections early in the 20th century. Born in Bear Lake MI, midway between my current home and Traverse City, he later was an animation pioneer in the studio of Raoul Barre and others.

The other caricature of Twain is by Albert Levering, prolific book illustrator and frequent contributor to Puck and Life (for which this was done). Besides Twain, he illustrated works by John Kendrick Bangs; Ellis Parker Butler; and Edward W Townsend, author of Yellow Kid texts.

To bring this little Mississippi River cruise (of sorts) back to port – it was Albert Levering who illustrated the last book Twain published in his lifetime, and one whose title was an inside-joke calling upon his estate in Redding – Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven.


Friday, June 7, 2019

Printing in the Fifteenth and the Nineteenth Centuries

Monthly Supplement 

of the 

Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge

No. 369

Charles Knight & Co.

Nov 30 to Dec 31, 1837

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Sunday with Burne Hogarth –

Burne Hogarth – Star Weekly, Jan 6, 1945

Burne Hogarth – Coq Hardi, France, Jan 1, 1948

Sunday, June 2, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

Good Sports

by Rick Marschall

[TOP] Pap

Depicted is the dean of all sports columnists, Grantland Rice. Trivia: I own (or my son does, now) Rice’s golf clubs. Bequeathed to his friend, syndicate pioneer John Wheeler, and passed on to me.

Sports cartooning is, or was, a category of cartooning that arguably can be considered an incubator once on a par with political cartoons, magazine panels, and book illustration. The National Cartoonists Society used to present a category award for Sports Cartooning, and hands out plaques for New Media, Greeting Cards, and On-Line Short-Form Comics… but discontinued the Sports Cartooning honor more than 25 years ago.

This situation surely is attributable to an ossified genre and reduced population as much as the NCS’s institutional distractions.

But some of the finest cartooning talents in history have Protean roots… and indeed some practitioners never “graduated” to other levels of cartooning.

I will share, here, some memories of sports cartoonists I have known  in my Crowded Life.

When I was a kid – I mean so young I had to take buses and subways from our suburban  New Jersey home into Manhattan, and visit cartoonists and syndicates three times a year, Easter holiday, summer vacation, Christmas break – I ventured to the bullpen of the Associated Press.

In those days (obviously the halcyon times of virtually no security in public buildings and newspaper offices) the AP had its own syndicate operation. It was small but significant; and among its “graduates” through the years were Milton Caniff, Noel Sickles, Al Capp, and Frank Robbins.

R B Fuller created Oaky Doaks for the AP, and remained all his life. During the time I am writing about, Ralph Fuller was a neighbor in Leonia NJ. He willed me volumes of Judge Magazine from his time on staff in the 1920s. At the AP I also met Dick Hodgins Jr. I thought him austere in his horn-rimmed glasses and looming height, but he encouraged me by looking at my sketches and saying if I were five years older I could get a job in the bullpen. I never did apply, but in five years or so I was taller than Dick, and learned how affable he was. He became one of my best friends in this business. 

But the end of the row of drawing-tables, in the corner, was Tom Paprocki, sports cartoonist. On every visit I would check in with Dick, and editorial cartoonist John Milt Norris, panel cartoonist Joe Cunningham (“’ham”), and others, before sitting next to “Pap.” I remember two things especially: a warm friendliness beneath his gruff visage; and a stack of his original daily sports-cartoon panels. Added to for who-knows how many years, the pile must have been 40 inches high! Pap gifted me with a few… but I have always wondered what happened to them, ultimately.

The AP was a “service” organization for newspapers, not a true syndicate. As with its news, features, and wire-photo services, newspapers subscribed, or not, and received everything, to use as they wished. Comics, cartoons, columns, and material offering advice to the lovelorn, bridge and poker strategies, kids’ puzzles, and such, were part of the “package.” (It is difficult to gauge, therefore, the popularity or client lists of its comic strips, as editors variable commitments to cartoons and comics).

So Pap’s cartoons were run by major newspapers, many minor newspapers seeking the look of a pro in their pages depicting major personalities and events, and even Sunday color sections for a while. He was a consummate professional indeed, composing this panels in the form associated with (but not originated by) Willard Mullin – a large realistic portrait, realized by aid of a Pantograph, from photo reference; smaller line drawings, often humorous, illustrating facts and stats in an orbit around the star of the day.

Yes, THAT Ozzie Nelson, later of Ozzie and Harriet; father of Rick Nelson

 Here are a couple of Sports Slants by Pap. The color feature was offered to Sunday supplements; the AP struggled to maintain a foothold in those venues, with minimal success. Nevertheless features like Things To Come by Clyde Barrow; Scorchy Smith by Frank Robbins, Rodlow Willard, and others; Neighborly Neighbors by Morris; and Oaky Doaks ran for some years.

Charlie McGill

Charlie McGill was a local sports cartoonist – local to me in the North Jersey suburbs of New Jersey – and he lived in my town of Closter. The example here is a spot drawing he did for a sports column. McKevin McVey also drew for the Bergen Record, a paper I delivered after school. McVey, who joined the ADK hiking club I belonged to in upstate New York, drew more theatrical caricatures than sports or editorial cartoons.

Ray Gotto “Play Ball! – New York Mets logo

I knew Ray Gotto in several capacities. I seldom read The Sporting News, where his mannered sports cartoons often graced front pages. I was a fan of his two baseball-themed comic strips, Ozark Ike and Cotton Woods. But to many of us Ray’s place in history was cemented as the designer of the New York Mets logo. My hometown team, wherever I have lived; suffering with them today. Ray’s design was their first, in 1962, and is on uniforms and licensing products still.

 Sometime, here, I will share more of Ray Gotto’s artwork, non-sports. Back in the 1970s  Max Allan Collins and I dreamed up a 1930s detective strip, Heaven and Heller, and Ray was one of the artists who auditioned, drawing two weeks of dailies, and a Sunday page. Collins successfully roamed the landscape, subsequently, with premise in various permutations and plain mutations. I have read about them.

Bill Gallo – caricature of Rocky Graziano and Rocky’s autograph

Bill Gallo drew, and wrote (mostly about boxing) for the New York Daily News. Always nice to me, Bill was the old-fashioned “colyumnist” and sports cartoonist – taciturn and cigar-chomping – but warm and congenial very close to the surface. He was a very effective president of the National Cartoonists Society for a term or two (thanks in large part to his great wife Delores). Here is a drawing he did of the colorful boxing legend Rocky Graziano, when we were all at some dinner together.

John Cullen Murphy – caricature of Jack Dempsey and Jack’s autograph

Speaking of sports strips, and boxing legends, I will call up again a caricature from another dinner when I asked John Cullen Murphy – who drew the boxing strip Big Ben Bolt for years prior to Prince Valiant; Al Capp’s brother Elliott Caplin was its writer – to sketch the legendary Jack Dempsey.

Before I leave – I will write more about other sports cartoonists I knew in future columns – no mention of the genre should be allowed with pausing at the greatest of them all, Willard Mullin. (Yes, deserving of a separate column.)

Willard Mullin – “’Tain’t a fit night out for man nor beast...” except in the hands of Willard Mullin

This example, of hundreds that could be called up, shows Willard at his best. Concepts? He was Mr Sports. Likenesses? Thanks to the sports cartoonists’ best friends, Pantographs and “Lucie” projectors – flawless. But Willard was astonishing at his cartoon line-work: casual but impeccable anatomy (figures seemingly in poses impossible to photograph, but invariably spot-on as Willard drew them); arresting compositions; humorous all the time, but never a detour from the subject matter.

Willard Mullins’ pen lines and anatomy and composition all struck me – no matter how unlikely the juxtaposition – of what Russell Patterson sports cartoons would have looked like if he strayed from Broadway and Hollywood to the gyms, camps, and prize fights. I mean that as high compliment to both artists.

More to come. This topic can go to extra innings!


Monday, May 27, 2019

Sunday with Jimmy Swinnerton –

Pink Whiskers Jones! - Ah Yes! 
Roy Delancey, To Be Sure! 

Chicago Examiner 
Sept 13, 1908

Friday, May 24, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

Cartoonists’ Love Notes, Good-Byes, and Get-Wells

Rick Marschall

May 24 was the anniversary of me and my late wife Nancy. She died six and a half years ago, a great wife and mother to our three children. She endured a lifetime of ailments – diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, cancer, celiac disease, amputations, dialysis, heart and kidney transplants, and, at the end, creeping dementia. She was strong; complained little; and kept her faith. The transplants were forecast to buy her three extra years, but she survived 16 years.

She was a saint to endure my comics and cartoon collecting; but after all I knew someday I would be writing this column for Yesterday’s Papers. She was also the star of our team, socially. The only people who did not love her were those who had not yet met her. A favorite of cartoonists and their wives; there were many dinners and parties in Connecticut especially, when we lived in Westport and Weston; and she loved throwing parties herself, especially surprise parties for us all.

Among the cartoonists and wives at our wedding were Dik Browne, Jerry Dumas, Jack Tippit, Bill Brown, Mel Casson, Mort Walker. Comics historians Maurice Horn and Bill Crouch were also there.

I will share some drawings here to illustrate the memories. The first is a Little Nemo take-off. When I left the Connecticut Herald political-cartooning job to join United Feature Syndicate, Dik and Joan Browne threw a little farewell party, and son Chris – the best amateur cartoonist of the day – drew me (Ouch! Yes, I looked like that, then) having fever dreams… with a cameo of Nancy, looking like, well, Nancy.

When we moved, years later, to Bucks County PA, a bunch of cartoonists had a BBQ where we were farewelled. Ron Goulart joined Bob Weber, Leonard Starr, Stan Drake, Ray Burns, Jack Berrill, Herb Green, and others. Orlando Busino engineered a scrapbook of everybody’s farewell drawings, some of which I have shared in Crowded Life columns. Here is the title page Orlando drew (yes, characters are his versions, including Moose Miller, which he occasionally ghosted). Also here, the Jerry Marcus vision of visitors at our old house’s door. I used this as a change-of-address card!

About a decade after we moved to Pennsylvania,  Nancy’s health problems spiked, and she was listed for transplants. More than four months, waiting for organs. Was her hospital room cheery? There was hardly room for flowers, so many cartoonists having sent get-well drawings for the walls. I shared some of these earlier; here are others – by Bob (Chance) Browne, with Hi & Lois and Hagar’s family; and by Dick Hodgins, who ghosted Hagar magnificently for years, followed by his son Richard III.

Nancy’s life was “crowded” in her own way – with challenges and faith, but also with cartoonist friends and their families.


Friday, May 17, 2019

Comic Shorthand – The Melee

by Jimmy Swinnerton 
encounter between a dog and a bad mans

another encounter between a dog and a bad mans

encounter between a dog and an artist

encounter between a cat, a dog and a bad mans

Sunday, May 12, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

The World’s Greatest Comics Festival, Lucca  

[1] Sergio Aragones prepares his morning cappuccino

by Rick Marschall

I have been to Europe more than 60 times, a good percentage of those trips centered around comics festivals, salons, and symposiums. That I often planned trips to coincide, or, more often, I was an invited guest as speaker, juror, or exhibitor (not exhibitionist) made for very nice icing on the cake. I often took a week or two extra, since I was given freedom to choose the dates for the flights they booked… and this Intentional Tourist checked many boxes in cultural, musical, and sight-seeing categories.

It started somewhere, besides connecting dots of interest in comics and a Wanderlust. The major American cons, of course. But I have attended many international comics festivals including Angoulême; ExpoCartoon in Rome; Erlangen in Germany; and in Prague, London, and Brussels. A speaking tour for the US Information Service of the State Department. At many I was the American representative of festivals, sharing presentations or exhibitions; bringing American cartoonists and fans (more than 125 to Angoulême one year – whoosh!); and waving the flag at roundtables.

[2] Bonvi and Victor de la Fuente greet each other

But the earliest for me, my most attended, and most fondly remembered, is Lucca.

The Festival began in the Ligurian Italian town of Bordighera, beautifully nestled on the French Mediterranean border. It was the convention to which Al Capp was invited, and ultimately made a LIFE Magazine cover story out of the challenge of finding it. It moved the next year to Lucca, a Medieval Tuscan town situated roughly equidistant from Florence and Pisa. It has remained there ever since, surviving budget crises and politics; a biennial schedule; an osmosis-like split with ExpoCartoon in Rome; revival as Lucca Cartoons and Games.

[3] Moebius – Jean Giraud – on a chill October morning

For many years I was the American representative, succeeding Maurice Horn and David Pascal; often sitting on the International Jury. 

Of those days I can share much that will be interest to readers (maybe decade-by-decade here in A Crowded Life sometime) about those guests and those awards (plucking a couple myself) and those debates and those lectures and those side-trips and those restaurants… and those friends. It got so that I anticipated every Lucca largely because the cartoonists, the “experts” from all over the world, and special fans, formed the core of a true family reunion for me. 

[4] John Prentice, Mordillo, and de la Fuente looking over a Rip Kirby reprint book.

The “community,” now since dispersed or expired, felt the same way. Conventions endure, but “Luccas” are no more. In the golden days of Lucca, crowds would fill the Opera Theatre to listen to lectures about the most obscure aspects of comics history and theory; and once upon a time there were no costume events or laser-fencing on the streets. Readers will know what I mean.

For this column I will share some photographs from the first couple of Luccas I attended, and some sketches that were drawn… often late at night, at the bar of the Hotel Napoleon (built as the Hotel Mussolini in the 1930s) or the lobby of the Universo. Talking (as best we could), sketching, laughing, drinking, Hugo Pratt playing the guitar and singing… but there I go. More stories later. Here, visual memories.


The first Lucca I attended was 1978. I was still editor at Marvel (I convinced Stan Lee to send me and scout for talent for EPIC). Harry North, the British cartoonist for MAD, said he would do a sketch if he could take my book to his room overnight. Here is what met me at breakfast –

Harry North sketch

Jaroslav Horak, cartoonist of the James Bond strip

Hugo Pratt’s classic Corto Maltese

The great Guillermo Mordillo, Argentine cartoonist