Sunday, March 22, 2020

A Crowded Life in Comics –

Creator of Heaven and Mirth.

By Rick Marschall

This week I will mostly let vintage cartoons speak for themselves, and be relatively quiet. You’re welcome.

I routinely share cartoons and comic art that I think is outstanding, especially when outstanding and perhaps obscure; and somehow tied to my ancient and extended past. Herein I will sing the praises of Sam Berman, one of the great caricaturists.

As a group, caricaturists are probably the most neglected cartoonists in the histories and surveys of comic art. I don’t know why; but I do know that the re-boot of Nemo Magazine, long anticipated and slowly building under me, will attempt to remedy that injustice. I plan to focus on one master in each issue.

But here I will lift the tent-flap as related to my associations and collection. I was aware of Sam Berman (1907-1995) through an envelope of prints I acquired – all the stars of NBC Radio, pre-TV, 1947. The gallery of celebrities were drawn by one Sam Berman, in color, each more brilliant than the next.

You know a caricature is “spot on” when you don’t know the subject, or victim, yet you instantly feel like you do know him or her – and better than from a photograph. How is that possible? The gift of the caricaturist is to capture someone’s essence, character, and personality... not a mere likeness.

I rest my case by sharing the rough sketch (as “finished” as the “finish,” however) that Berman did for that portfolio: Phil Harris and Alice Faye. He was a bandleader and she a singer; then he turned to comedy and was a singer on Jack Benny’s radio program; then they played themselves as comic husband-and-wife on their own radio show.

In caricature, the art is the relative postures and attitudes of the couple; the artistry is in the application of lines, their weight, and the basic Impressionistic choice of colors; the caricatural aspect is the vitality of the couple, exaggerated but realistic.

My old friend and mentor on the Connecticut Herald at the beginning my cartooning career was Harry Neigher. Local legend, my predecessor as political cartoonist, and fellow collector. He acquired some items from Berman, including pages from his sketchbook, and the rough for Harris and Faye… which I think is more compelling than the final drawing. (I usually prefer preliminary sketches, whether by Old Masters or my own “work.”)

This rough was in the collection I picked up from Harry. Another is a page of studies – the revelation of an active imagination and nimble fingers. Finally I share some of Sam Berman’s pencil drawings for Sullivan Bites News – faux news items about faux people, who yet seem plausible by the words of New Yorker writer Frank Sullivan and the creator of heaven and mirth, Sam Berman.


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