Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The Usual Christmas Pantomime,

Nast's Almanac 
Harper & Brothers 

Saturday, January 26, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

Precious Jules

(Jules Feiffer)

These memoirs will sometimes coincide with other remembrances, so I was reminded that the day I write this, January 26, is the birthday of Jules Feiffer. He was born in 1929. It has been one of the honors of my life to know Jules, to call him a friend, to have worked with him.

Knowing Jules is a cheap way of feeling like a whole room-full of people are friends. It saves time. Having conducted many interviews and written biographies, one day I realized that precious few cartoonists have had feet – or hands – in virtually every category of cartoon art. Walt Kelly is one – strips, comic books, animation, political cartoons, columns, music, illustration, advertising. Al Capp came close to that “full house.”

Jules Feiffer has had many careers – succeeding, and successful, activity in even more realms besides cartoons: comic books (The Spirit), strips (his mononymous Feiffer), books (many collections, and original titles like Passionella and Other Stories), children’s books (including A Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tears), animation (script for Munro, 1961 Oscar),graphic novels (Kill My Mother and others), illustration (The Phantom Tollbooth), musicals (The Man In the Ceiling), plays (Little Murders), screenplays (Carnal Knowledge and Popeye), novels (such as Harry, The Rat with Women), histories (The Great Comic-Book Heroes), and autobiography (Backing Into Forward). Jules has collected so many awards and honors that he had to move from Manhattan to Shelter Island, just to make room.

These activities, titles, and credits are tips of many icebergs; and everyone knows his name and his works. The wispy lines and casual compositions, even to the invariable absence of panel borders in the strips. But his works, especially lately and especially his favored dancing figures, betray a killer grasp of anatomy. (I was also grateful to compile a preliminary list of his ouevre, because I seldom get the chance to employ “mononymous,” much less “oeuvre.”)

[a] A promotional drawing for the FEIFFER newspaper strip,
when it went nationwide in syndication.

When I was a kid, the only reason I bought The Village Voice was to read Feiffer; just as the original reason I bought The Realist was Jean Shepherd. So when I became Comics Editor of Publishers Newspaper Syndicate (previously Hall Syndicate and Field Enterprises and Publishers-Hall; and eventually News America Syndicate and North America Syndicate…) Jules Feiffer was in my stable.

Only technically. Like Herblock and a few others, Feiffer was a cartoonist who was distributed by us, but “edited” separately or by others. Milton Caniff’s Steve Canyon carried our copyright, but contrary-wise, was edited and distributed by King Features. So I never had to edit Feiffer’s work – how could anyone, except maybe spelling errors? – but I sure enjoyed the advance peeks. Since many strips were topical, he worked on a tight deadline, two at a time.

As I did with most of the cartoonists while I was at Publisher’s, I established contact and visited them in their lairs. Jules lived in Manhattan, upper West Side, and in my first visit, a look at his walls, where so many other things could and did hang, I discovered that he liked vintage comic strips. I was able sell him some treasures from my collection, and others I found.

[b] A drawing of the Honorable Richard Nixon around the time of the 
president’s resignation. Feiffer published two books off Nixon’s corruption and scandals.

Not a surprise to anyone who appreciates his output, but Jules is a polymath, interested in almost everything, and the point, modestly but earnestly, of wanting to know everything about everything.

We had other meetings including at meetings of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists, but the fondest memory is one I have told here in a remembrance of Tony Auth. When I lived outside Philadelphia, Tony called one day and said that Jules was coming to town – actually Cheltenham, the next town to my Abington – to speak at the high school in a special evening program. Cheltenham is a special enclave, its high school lobby’s wall festooned with pictures of notable grads including unlikelies like Benjamin Netanyahu. But that night Jules Feiffer would grace the stage.

Tony, Pulitzer Prize winner of the Inquirer, was asked by Jules to be his shepherd and guide that day; and Tony in turn asked if they might visit my house, maybe to look at parts of my collection.

[c] Feiffer, June 15, 1967

Well, that turned into a full and fun afternoon – and early dinner prepped by my wife Nancy – digging through piles of originals, stacks of old newspaper comics; runs of political-cartoon magazines like Puck, Judge, Life, and The Masses; and many more of the rare old European magazines of graphic commentary and social protest. Jules loved the classic cartoons.

I loved it more when that evening, in the school auditorium, despite his slide show, he made repeated references to things in “Rick’s collection,” with probably two people out of 600 knew who the hell Rick was (and they were Tony Auth and a friend from France who staying with us).

Jules is still going strong at 90, the last I checked writing, drawing, and teaching. A great life, and life for us to behold, for a kid from the Bronx who started in the business(es) by offering to work for free with Will Eisner. That’s the spirit! – that’s how much he loved drawing cartoons. After success with Eisner, he first approached the Voice with the same offer – that’s how much he loved drawing cartoons.

Great lessons, precious Jules.


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.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Sunday with Jimmy Swinnerton

Can This Be Santa Claus? 
Chicago Examiner, Dec 19, 1909

Sunday, January 13, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

An Afternoon in June

(William Overgard)

by Rick Marschall 

A Crowded Life in Cartooning owes a lot to serendipity.

June, 1967, a sunny, gorgeous Spring day. I was a high school senior at Northern Valley Regional High School in Old Tappan, NJ. School let out early for seniors, because the senior prom was that night. I started to drive home, thinking this was too beautiful a day to mark time and shuffle around with friends. Neither did I really want to stare at my rented tux till witching hour.

When I dead-ended at Piermont Road, instead of turning right toward my home in Closter, I impulsively turned left, determined to do a little sight-seeing. A “Sunday Drive” on a weekday. (Back when gasoline was cheap, people used to meander aimlessly in their cars on weekends.)

Northward I drove, into the town of Piermont on the Hudson (where years later I ran an antiques shop); Tappan, where Major John Andre was hanged for plotting with Benedict Arnold during the Revolution; and other quaint New York towns just over the state line.

In the little town of Stony Point I spotted an old barn that presented itself as a crafts and collectible shop (probably “shoppe”). I felt lucky, not merely aimless, and often have followed my instincts at flea markets and used-book stores. Thee place offered more local crafts than old artifacts, but one painting on the wall caught my eye.

It obviously was new, not old, but I recall was painted on wood and had an intentionally  “primitive” look. It was the artist’s name that really caught my attention. “William Overgard.”

My local paper, The Record, ran Steve Roper – written by Allen Saunders, drawn by William Overgard. The signature was his; what a coincidence. I asked the guy behind the counter if he knew Overgard. Yes. Did he live locally? Yes, just up the hill. I introduced myself as a comics fan, and wondered if I could borrow the shop’s phone and  call Mr Overgard. “Sure.” Serendipity.

Mr Overgard answered the phone, and I went through the same story I had just spieled, but added a few bona fides about cartoonists I knew and some of the work I had done.

He invited me up the hill. A wonderful man, working in a wonderful studio, in a wonderful centuries-old house. We spent a wonderful few hours – cartoonists were invariably gracious to young aspirants when I was a young aspirant. But I was aware of the looming prom night, and Sue Keel never knew how close I came to “calling in sick.”

As he lived less than half an hour from my house, I was to visit Bill Overgard more times, even though I left for college a few months later. We kept in touch, and a few years later I was his Comics Editor at Publishers Syndicate in Chicago. One of the brush fires I was hired to put out was Bill’s feud with Allen Saunders. It was decades old. Saunders wrote the strip that Overgard joined in 1954, and his scripts came in the form of pencil-sketch panels – the plotting, pacing, composition all laid out (with Saunders’ insistence on compliance), and with bubble-headed characters, no less; for that was the extent of Allen’s artistic talent.

Overgard considered himself a writer (indeed he wrote paperback action novels and screenplays), and he wanted a wilder feel to Roper. In two years he prevailed upon Saunders to add a roughneck sidekick for the urbane newsman Roper, and thus Mike Nomad was born, a crewcut beefcake who soon dominated the strip and eventually shared the title.

Eventually Saunders surrendered the plotting and dialog, and after a creative tug of war (where I was tasked as referee) Bill took over the writing and layouts. Overgard was a talented writer, and had great natural instincts for comic-strip storytelling. In another syndicate dust-up given to me, Saunders’ long-brewing feud with another collaborator – Alfred Andriola on Kerry Drake – had to be solved. That strip eventually was scripted by Overgard, too; and long-overdue credit given to ghost artist Sururi Gumen. (Some day here I will share back-stories of those strips and those creators and those wars.)

Closing circles, in serendipitous ways, a few years later I received a call from Sid Goldberg, my old chief at United Features Syndicate. (Sid’s wife Lucianne was on an ABC-TV special this week as the provocateur who prodded Linda Tripp to prod Monica Lewinsky to save the blue dress with Bill Clinton’s ick on it) – Sid has just signed Bill Overgard to draw a strip, Rudy, about an insouciant talking chimp in La-La Hollywood.

Overgard had left Roper around 1985, succeeded by my old friend Fran Matera, whom I had tried to connect to Publishers when I was Editor. Cartoonist/columnist Harry Neigher, a mentor of mine, had introduced us. Fran, back in the day, had drawn Dickie Dare, succeeding Milton Caniff, Coulton Waugh, and Mabel “Odin” Burwick.

Rudy was a terrific strip, full of outrageous sarcasm, in-jokes, parodies, and double-entrendres. Sid knew it would be a tough sell… and it was. He asked if I would help promote it – not even knowing my friendship with Bill Overgard. But I truly liked the strip – Sid muscled a reprint book of its first episodes – and I wrote glowing reviews. It was a sad day when the promising, eccentric strip died.

A little while later, in further serendipity, Bill wrote scripts for ThunderCats at the invitation of Leonard Starr. He had also invited me and Ron Goulart to write scripts for the TV cartoons; I later learned that Larry Kenny, country disc jockey who also lived in Westport and was in the Imus in the Morning cast, was one of the characters’ voices.

I suppose I would have gotten to know Bill Overgard eventually, since he was in the stable of Publishers Syndicate. Yet I likely would not have developed the friendship we had, and probably not have visited that fabulous farmland and Colonial home in Stony Point – a part of the world he fell in love with whilst briefly working for Milt Caniff in nearby New City.

Piermont, Tappan, Sparkill, Stony Point… all those wonderful towns in the Palisades-hugging rural New York State. The lower Catskills of Rip Van Winkle legends. It seemed, and still does, unbelievable that their winding roads, dense trees, and old barns are a mere 45 minutes from Broadway. To me – despite the fact it is not on any map, nor possessing a postal code – it will forever be the place of Serendipity.

[By the way, I donned the tux and barely made it to Sue’s house, and the prom, in time. Another off-script serendipity occurred after the prom. Many kids went “upstate” afterwards – living on the border of New Jersey, seniors were attracted to bars where the drinking age was a year lower – but I suggested we do something different. No, not that. Being so close to New York City, we drove to Fort Lee on a lark, and walked across the George Washington Bridge. Around midnight, she in her gown, me in white jacket and boutonniere.

[I heard on the car radio that the United Nations Security Council was meeting in emergency, overnight session. The Six-Day War! A crazy idea formed after I dropped Sue home… and I drove back to the George Washington Bridge, and headed south on the FDR Drive. How could I miss a chance to witness history? Around the UN there bizarre claques of protesters and celebrants, but I worked my way through… and actually secured a gallery pass. I sat in the balcony till dawn, listening to delegates’ speeches (I recall Jamil Baroody of Saudi Arabia decrying Western influences in the Middle East: “We don’t want your hots dogs and mini-skirts”), through the overnight emergency session, sitting there in a white tuxedo jacket.

[In a Crowded Life, that turned out to be one crowded day…]

The Comics are a Serious Business by Allen Saunders HERE

Teepee Town to Times Square HERE

The Soaps on Sunday HERE


Sunday, January 6, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

Theodore Roosevelt, Cartoons, and Me

by Rick Marschall

Many cartoonists – and toymakers – have adopted the 
Teddy Bear through the years. It was first depicted by 
Clifford Berryman, who made it his “mascot.”
All of these “Crowded Life in Comics” memoirs are personal, by definition, and this week a little more so. The occasion – or excuse – is the 100th anniversary of the death Theodore Roosevelt, another prime interest in my life.

Roosevelt was an early hero of mine. I began collecting books by him and about him; they now number more than 350. I collected memorabilia, and now have a fair collection of autographs, buttons, posters, and ephemera. I conducted all the research I could, including eventually getting to know his daughter “Princess Alice,” born in 1884; and today I know several latter descendants.

Political cartoonist Oscar Cesare (son-in-law of O Henry) 
accompanied Roosevelt to Chicago in 1912 for the 
tumultuous Bull Moose convention. He sketched this
 on the spot when TR addressed followers from the 
Congress Hotel balcony.
I have written two books about TR. TR in ‘12 is an expanded exhibition catalog about the Bull Moose campaign for the presidency. BULLY! is a full-length, 100,000-word biography illustrated exclusively with cartoons – vintage cartoons from Roosevelt’s day.

The latter project, and several exhibitions, were at the intersections of my two early and major pursuits as a budding historian and collector. I remember, as a kid, obsessing about old comics and ol’ Roosevelt, sometimes realizing that I was alternately specializing and not multi-tasking. (Plus which, I had other hobbies too, and a predictable proclivity for penury due to these addictions.)

W A Carlson of the Utica Globe drew front-page cartoons that were routinely 
printed in color every Saturday. This is from 1910, when he smashed 
expectations of his opponents and captured the New York State GOP convention.
One nexus was the cartoons about Roosevelt and his time. Being attracted to early humor magazines with a fanaticism I employed in acquiring old Sunday funnies, comic post cards, reprint books, song sheets, and such, I was able to acquire runs of the magazines Puck, Judge, Life, and others. For week after week – year after glorious year – there were cartoons about Roosevelt in their pages. And other presidents, also-rans, and celebrities. Fads and fancies from the Civil War to the First World War and beyond. Glorious colors; stale humor; social changes; forgotten cartoonists; great ads; masterpieces lost to history. I collected other magazines and runs of newspapers, too; not only the Sunday comics.

… all of which fed the collector monster possessing my “mind” but nurturing my heart too – however the metaphor should go – and its passion for history; for popular culture, which I suppose is my specialty.

Percy Crosby drew his famous character Skippy, paying tribute to patriotism, 
the Plattsburgh soldiers’ training camp, and his friend TR Jr.
Enough. I will share here a few of the Roosevelt cartoons I collected through the years. Not clippings or reproductions, but original art I have been blessed to acquire through the years. Enjoy.

And speaking of being blessed, I hope that readers or their children might also experience what I did in this aspect of a “crowded life.” To call it turning a hobby into a profession is true, but prosaic – and most prosaic things do not reflect the passion and joy involved. Discovering the past by holding artifacts from the past, not merely reading books or articles or charts or graphs, makes them more interesting. It makes history more interesting. And I think it makes us all more interesting too.

The great Homer Davenport drew strong anti-Roosevelt cartoons 
when he worked for Hearst early in his career, but later was 
an effective ally, and close friend

Berryman constantly was asked to draw the Teddy Bear. This crayon 
sketch, possibly for a lecture appearance, is 30 inches tall.

A 1911 caricature of TR by his friend and admirer James Montgomery Flagg

Clifford Berryman of the Washington Star was present as cartoonist 
or illustrator at every phase of TR’s life, even depicting him greeting voters.

Clifford Berryman sketched the ubiquity of Roosevelt in his professional 
life… and TR’s presence on the national political scene



Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Mrs. Astorbilt's New Year's Ball!

Among those Not Present Were Mrs. Katzenjammer and der Captain

Rudy Dirks
Chicago Examiner
Jan 1, 1911