Sunday, January 26, 2020

A Crowded Life in Comics –


By Rick Marschall.

Gene Hazleton, who could – and did – draw anything and everything. Animator at Disney, Warner Bros., MGM, Hanna-Barbera, where he created characters and drew the Flintstones and Yogi Bear strips for two decades. A California friend, introduced by the wunnerful John Province.

Cartoonists do sketches for each other, and of course for fans too. It is rumored that cartoonists, at conventions especially, will charge a fee for sketches.

I first met Bob Gustafson when I was a kid taking buses and subways to New York City on school vacations, visiting cartoonists and syndicates. I introduced myself in the front office of, I think, the Hall Syndicate. Bob was the last artist on the Tillie the Toiler strip, and probably was pitching a new creation. I was there to mooch originals or promo material, or get pointers on my own work if cartoonists showed up. As he waited for his own appointment, “Gus” indeed looked over my work, and sent me inscribed Tillie originals the following week. Later we became good friends; his last gig was as one of Mort Walker’s army of assistants and idea men. He drew this sketch at a Cartoonists’ Golf Tournament at Silvermine CT.

It is their right, of course, to seek compensation. I have to admit that in my drawing days the flattery often outweighed what one might want to charge. There were a number of  cartoonists at my wedding, and when the word spread among my wife’s relatives, my friends’ tables were mobbed by old aunts and distant cousins with cocktail napkins, asking for sketches. I was mortified, but the cartoonists loved it. They said.

The GREAT Don Orehek, magazine gag cartoonist.

It has always struck me that a dentist, let us say, casually will expect a professional cartoonist to custom-draw and give away artwork… but never would offer someone, and not that cartoonist, a complimentary dental cleaning in exchange. Nor plumbers, nor carpenters, nor landscapers. Nor hookers, from what I have heard…

Marty Murphy, Playboy cartoonist. I met Marty through Bob Weber, a friend and fan of his work.

Which brings me to the topic. Risqué, the French say. Some cartoonists make their livings by serving what in good old days were called “purple” publications. Others will confine their naughty artistic moments to parties and banquets where they can blame it on the drinks. Others don’t care one way or the other – or, these days, the other other –  and I hope readers here will not have the kids hide their eyes. Nothing X-rated; they are probably watching ruder things on TV anyway.

Reamer Keller managed to slip sexy women into every gag he drew, from Judge Magazine in the 1930s to fillers in the New York News sections and a syndicated panel Oh Doctor! (I was his editor) in the 1970s.

So: good fun, a little off-color. Sketches done for me through the years by cartoonists in varying stages of… abandon.


Saturday, January 18, 2020

A Crowded Life in Comics –

Happy New Year. Again.

By Rick Marschall

OK, I get it; I’m old. That’s part of the point of these columns. Otherwise they’d be called A Crowded Bunch O’ Dreams. But I have been thinking lately of the cartooning and comic-strip pioneers who were still alive when I barely was alive… or, that is, when I was young enough to overlap with legends.

Jimmy Swinnerton, Rudolph Dirks, Rube Goldberg, Harry Hershfield, Russell Patterson, Frank King, Charles Payne, Ken Kling, Otto Messmer, Gene Byrnes, Edwina. You see I am not including legends and heroes who are in misty halls of memory now, but when I was a kid, I met and did not consider to be sacred (but living, breathing) relics – as I now with passage of time consider myself blessed also to have met: Roy Crane, Milton Caniff, Noel Sickles, Hal Foster, Chester Gould, Burne Hogarth, Walt Kelly, Charles Schulz, Herblock, Bill Mauldin, Johnny Hart, Mort Walker, Dik Browne; some of whom I knew more than casually, editor of some, neighbor of some, a few even at my wedding.

I stink at math, but as these fondly recalled ghosts inhabited my thoughts recently (perhaps because it is New Year time and auld acquaintance might get forgot if I am not careful) I realized that when I started to meet cartoonists, in my early teens or earlier with Al Smith, Vern Greene, and some early-birds, this stretch of time I call a (crowded) life, is approximately half the period from the birth of the newspaper comic strip, till now.

File it under “so what?” but it prods me to dig deeper in my memory. So in this brief contribution I pulled up a page by Rudolph Dirks, a Katzenjammer Kids strip on the same nostalgic theme… starring Father Time himself.

I think I have written here about Rudy and John Dirks; meetings and friendships; my role in preserving some dignity for John when his syndicate canceled the legendary page; sleeping in the studio of Rudy in Ogunquit, Maine, and being curator of a comics show in the town’s museum; of Rudy’s memories of Herriman, Mager, et al. … of designing the Katenjammer Kids postage stamp for which John did special art… and if I have not told those stories, I will someday soon.

In the meantime, here is a page that appeared in 1950, not exactly on New Year’s Day; neither on the precise birthday of Dirks’s landmark strip… but on the theme of the passage of time. Der Captain might be tweaked every week, but not Father Time! A clever reminder of the boys’ place in comics history… and our own life-histories if, dod-gast it, you grew up like me.

John Adcock


Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Syndicate Features

Syndicate Features
Vol.1, No. 2
November 1, 1937


Saturday, January 11, 2020

A Crowded Life in Comics –

Of Art Young and young art

   A drawing of Art Young by my friend Walt Partymiller, cartoonist for one of the few Socialist newspapers of his day, the York (PA) Times. Walt late in life married Nellie Anna Opper, granddaughter of Frederick Burr Opper. 

By Rick Marschall.

A crowded life achieves that status by many means. As Solomon said, recorded in the Book of Ecclesiastes, “Time and chance happeneth to all.” Some knowledge, and treasures, and memories, come out of the blue, like last week’s Christmas card from Hergé and his wife Fanny; or through friends; or coincidental friends-of-friends… Being in the right place at the right time. Plausible events and match-ups occur more frequently as you plant seeds.

And some things happen unpredicted, unexpected, and almost unbelievable.

In the 1970s and early ‘80s I lived in Fairfield County, Connecticut. First in Bethel; later in Westport and Weston. The place in Weston was three acres in the woods, two ponds and a stream running through our paisley shawl, deer in the front yard every morning; but only an hour’s drive from Times Square. That was when I wrote Disney stories for Gutenberghus, the Danish licensee.

   Caricature in clay of Art Young, by Jack Sears

My first sojourn was when I drew political cartoons for the Connecticut Herald, and my place in Bethel was rented from my college mentor Dr Albro Martin of American University. I told him I secured a newspaper job in Fairfield County. He was still in Washington DC, or maybe then at his next school, Bradley University, in Illinois. The strange thing I think I never knew was why he had a house in Bethel CT… and why his mother, an elderly Arkansas backwoodswoman, lived there. Alone, much less.

Dr Martin asked if I would consider being a tenant and collaterally look after his mother. A nice house in a charming New England town, a lot of wooded land, a swimming pool, and an easy decision.

The woods were full of cartoonists.” Literally. New Yorker cartoonists Joe Farris and David Pascal had homes on Bethel Road Extension, just opposite. New Yorker cartoonists Bob Kraus and William Steig lived in Ridgefield, and so did Maurice Sendak. Recently Cullen Murphy wrote a book, Cartoon County, about growing up as the son of the Big Ben Bolt and Prince Valiant cartoonist, and the folks who gathered weekly, or more often, for lunches, dinners, parties, golf outings, and cruises.

I was blessed to be working and living – and partying – among so many people who were my idols a few years earlier. And still were. I was accepted in the genial circles, and have shared memories here, and will in the future. Dik Browne, Dick Hodgins, Jack Tippit, Lenny Starr, Stan Drake, Jack Murphy, Jerry Dumas, Bob Gustafson, Mort Walker, Chuck Saxon, Dick Cavalli, Frank Johnson, Curt Swan, John Prentice, Hardie Gramatky, Eric Gurney, Mel Casson, Bill Brown, so many more. So many lunches.

One regular lunch group of mine was centered up around Bethel and Ridgefield. One of two days a week, a group roughly comprising Ron Goulart, Orlando Busino, Jerry Marcus, Gill Fox, Jack Berrill, and Bob Weber would meet at one of several restaurants until Jerry found something to complain about, and then we would re-gather at another restaurant.

   Two drawings by Art Young of the backyard cabin in Bethel – the studio  as it looked, and as he hoped to upgrade it as a small art gallery. 

One week, I mentioned that the property where I had lived in Bethel, ‘way back in the woods, abutted the property of the house where the legendary cartoonist Art Young lived. I knew because he wrote about it, and sketched parts of the property and studio in his two autobiographies. Art Young was a powerful cartoonist. As a radical he drew for The Masses and other Socialist and anarchist journals, and had been indicted during World War I for “obstructing the war effort.” He dozed off during his trial.

As a “straight” cartoonist, he drew some of the first color cartoons in newspapers (Chicago Inter-Ocean, 1892), and for Puck, Judge, Life, The Saturday Evening Post, even The New Yorker and the New York American, friendly with all.

Bob Weber asked if I had ever visited that house, or knocked on the door. “No, Art Young died in 1944,” I attempted to wisecrack. Bob suggested we go and visit the occupants – maybe they knew Young; or maybe he left material behind. Bob, who draws Moose and Mollie, is one of the great guys in the business, and shy about nothing except deadlines, insisted we try. Since I was driving him that day, it seemed natural. I never had thought of doing such a thing!

We drove, knocked, and were met by Clay Fairborn and his wife. Indeed, they had bought the house from Young’s children in 1944. We chatted about all they knew about Young – which was not much, never having met him – but were very grateful to learn all we could share about the famous radical and humor cartoonist. A charming couple of hours.

Bob finally asked if anything of Young’s had been left behind. Clay said, “I was just about to tell you that things were in the attic, and still are. I was going to ask you fellers if you would like them. You know more about Mr Young than we ever did. Seems right.”

   “Holy Trinity” – reportedly Art Young’s favorite of his own cartoons. About the Episcopal Church as a New York slumlord. I own the original, previously acquired to the afternoon at his old homestead in Bethel.

Yes. It sort of felt right to accept his offer. Clay brought down a small trove of books, artwork, and even Art Young’s student notebooks from Chicago, enormous sheets of sketches and studies bound in an elaborate leather book befitting the ambitions of am aspiring artist.

We thanked the Fairborns, then and afterward, and Bob and I were able to divide the artifacts, as I already had some of Art Young’s books and magazines, inscribed, and he cared less about the original art.

From a casual conversation over lunch to a random house call to driving home with precious cartoon artifacts – begun and finished in three hours or so – are threads in the weave of a Crowded Life in cartoons.