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.


Sunday, October 20, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

About Face.

by Rick Marschall.

I have been blessed through the years to meet a lot of cool people – one of the excuses for this running column. Not all of them have been celebrities, in comics or out of comics. I cannot guarantee that people I met have come away with the same feelings I have, of course, but Sick Transit Gloria Monday, to cite the woman who fell ill taking the subway after a rough weekend.

Between my memories and huzzahs are some disappointments, in myself, that I neglected to get photographs of some encounters (more difficult in the BC era – Before Cellphones); and too often I was dissuaded from asking for autographs or book inscriptions or sketches, not wanting to appear to be a fanboy. Me. Not wanting to appear to be a fanboy.

But occasionally I drew sketches or caricatures, and usually I was bold, or suicidal, enough to ask the victims to sign the drawing.

When I was with the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists we descended on Washington DC, I think in the Spring of 1975 or ‘76. The annual meeting, given the location, was a bigger event than usual, and the AAEC was invited to the White House by President Gerald Ford.

In one of the receptions I pulled out my sketchbook and, virtually one-handed and quickly, attempted this caricature. I signed my full name, Richard; and he signed “Jerry” instead of Gerald. Saved ink.

Jack Tippit, my cartoonist friend who worked for a while as Director of the Museum of Cartoon Art, was asked by a large newspaper group in New York if he could secure Herblock to receive an award. Jack did not know Herb, but he knew that I did, and asked me to persuade the famously shy Pulitzer-Prize winner to come out in public for the honor. Indeed Herb was reluctant, but it was a great honor. Herb donned a tux, traveled to New York City, and confided how awkward he felt.

However, his attendance was in doubt to the last minute. Somehow, for some reason, the group (honestly I forget which one, but the turmout was huge; tuxes and gowns everywhere) discovered that Henry Kissinger was available and willing to glom a medal too. The Secretary of State was controversial and – in addition to suddenly sharing the honors with Herblock – was no favorite of the liberal cartoonist.

But Herb affably accepted his award and spoke a few words of thanks. So did Kissinger, except that the audience actually could understand Herblock.

During the dinner I sketched each of them. I tried to capture Herblock’s mood. Kissinger was Kissinger, and as he signed his caricature he asked me, “Did you haff to make me look so morose?” Mirror, mirror, on der vall…

Of the many country music stars I met and interviewed, I sometimes drew large, formal portraits and had them inscribe them. Jerry Lee Lerwis, Linda Ronstadt, Tom T Hall… a nice gallery, probably now in the den of Bob Cole, a former sheriff in Nashville, who swiped them from me. Oh, well; a lot of country songs are sad stories.

But I sketched Merle Haggard backstage once, and the rough sketch came out OK. He signed it with a nice inscription. I made a “tighter” drawing of him for publication, based on the sketch, and it ran with a review of his concert. Through the years I lost the signed sketch, but the “finish” has remained on top of various piles around here…

I have many more caricatures done of me, by other cartoonists. With a face as funny as mine, some of the artists found it irresistible to depict my “phiz.” I will share them some day when I am not looking...

Friday, October 11, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

The Long Trail a Little Longer.

by Rick Marschall.

Editorial cartoonist Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling received the news of Theodore Roosevelt’s death very close to his deadline for the Des Moines Register. It was January 6, 1919. Roosevelt and Ding had become friends, with natural affinities including reform politics and hunting.

As he told it afterward, he naturally wanted to make a profound statement in his cartoon, but also had the deadline monster in his studio. His cartoons appeared in the Register but also were distributed nationally by the New York Tribune Syndicate. Legend has it that he decided to hold the place with a recycled concept of a popular cartoon he drew two years ago almost to the day, a tribute to Buffalo Bill Cody on the latter’s death. “Gone to join the mysterious caravan,” shaking the hands of young admirers.

Ding would then, he thought, have a day to draw a proper, more thoughtful, detailed tribute to Col. Roosevelt.

He never had to draw a second cartoon. The reaction, in Des Moines and around the country, was overwhelmingly enthusiastic. It was printed in many newspapers and praised in editorials. Eventually it was printed as cards, posters, and prints. Ding himself  drew it as a signed, numbered etching. For years copies were displayed in schoolrooms and post offices.

Despite winning two Pulitzer Prizes, and fame as a naturalist (he designed the Government’s Duck Hunting stamps for years and has a wildlife refuge named in his honor on Sanibel Island, Florida), the hurried recycle is Ding’s most memorable work.

Recently I saw a third version. After speaking (and presenting legacy cartoons) at the Annual Symposium of the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson University, I joined a group that traversed the Enchanted Highway. Along a 32-mile stretch of local roads, through farm country of western North Dakota is a collection of the world's largest scrap metal sculptures Gary Greff, an amateur sculptor, began constructing two-dimensional images in 1989. There are nine built to date, at spots along the roads, with cut-offs for parking and a few recreational areas.
Most of Greff’s sculptures refer to the flower, fish, and fauna of North Dakota. But one pays tribute to another essential aspect of the region’s landscape: a 60-foot-high sculpture of Theodore Roosevelt. And he used Ding Darling’s famous and iconic image from “The Long, Long Train” cartoon as his model.

Against the grassy hills and the Dakota sky, it seems to come to life… as much as a cartoon can, in its own way.


Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Theodore Roosevelt Center AT DSU

Welcomes Rick Marschall To Team

Political cartoonist, historian and author Rick Marschall

Rick Marschall contributes a weekly column, A Crowded Life in Comics, to Yesterday's Papers 

Read more with links HERE.

J. Campbell Cory, June 29, 1912

The Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University is creating a comprehensive digital library of all things Roosevelt, including correspondence, newspaper clippings, personal and office diaries, sound and film recordings, and political cartoons. To learn more about the Center, or to access any of the 57,000 items available to date, visit