Wednesday, April 29, 2020

A Crowded Life in Comics –

Flowers Off the Wall.

When I got on the Statlers’ Christmas card list, there would always be a (typically) off-the-wall photo of the boys, spreading Christmas cheer. The late Harold Reid is here, on Santa’s lap.

By Rick Marschall

In this column I am going to steal from myself a little, which is a little like dating oneself, of which I frequently am accused. Dating yourself grows mighty thin mighty quickly: you always seem to know every topic that comes up; a constant sense of deja vu. But here I will pick my own pocket, because I posted some thoughts on the web immediately upon hearing of Harold Reid’s death.

Moments to remember in my Crowded Life. Some readers know that I wear several hats, and one of them is a cowboy hat. I have written four books on country music; many articles and interviews; and have met many of my heroes – Bill Monroe, Roy Acuff, Merle Haggard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Connie Smith, Porter Waggoner, Linda Ronstadt, Mac Wiseman, Dolly Parton, Hank Snow, George Jones…

… and the Statler Brothers. Remembering the Statlers’ bass singer is not that unusual in a column about comics, because the Statlers loved comics. I will share some moments to remember.

Harold Reid, bass singer of the greatest quartet in country music history, died of kidney failure at 80. My late wife had kidney failure and transplant, and I knew the “look” from recent photos of Harold that his kidneys were not behaving, a sad and painful thing to experience.

I intersected with the Statlers many times. Their first hit remained one of their biggest – Flowers On the Wall – but right about the end of their association with Johnny Cash in 1972, they were booked by the Fire Department of Greenwich CT, of all places, to put on a show. The toney bedroom community of Greenwich, with more CEOs than the rest of the planet, seems an odd venue for country music, but the firemen had it right.
I interview Harold Reid, and began by saying that I had five favorite country singers: four of them were Merle Haggard, and – Harold interrupted my “joke”  and said, “Yeah, we like ol’ Merle...” – and then I finished my not-very-clever, but sincere, compliment saying that the four Statler Brothers were the other one.
I learned in that interview, and then in subsequent chats and meetings, that the four were not only nostalgia fans, evident from their playlist, but were comics fans, and collectors. They loved comics, Red Ryder in particular; and Western movies, Gene Autrey in particular. Comic books, merchandising collectibles, trivia… through the years I sent them comic books and especially Big Little Books for their virtual museums
Around 1981 I was a go-between with them and Dean Young to have them score a Broadway musical based on Blondie. The strip and characters were being shopped for options by King Features. I spent a couple visits with Dean in Florida, putting the book together, and as he tooled around in his convertible he played tapes of the Popeye movie’s music, and was in love with the Harry Nilsson tunes. (I think he also played the tape of Paul Williams’ songs for the recent Muppets movie too.) He loved the music, but, more, he loved the idea of comic characters on stage, screen, and cassettes. He was dreaming up premises for a Blondie musical comedy.
The Statlers were already known for their nostalgia songs. Really, love songs to Pop Culture and America’s collective childhood – odes to Randolph Scott; a typical Class of ‘57; Saturday morning serials; Gene and Roy; Veronica and Betty; a mythical movie theater called The Strand; evocations of trivia – Do You Remember Those?
I asked Dean if he knew the Statlers. He did not. So I described their appeal – country but very pop-friendly crossover sound – and said I would make a tape of their hits in this genre. He would love them as much as he did Nilsson and Williams, I predicted. At my first chance I called Harold and his brother Don Reid at their office in Staunton VA. Would be interested in talking about writing a Broadway score? Oh, yes.
The Statler Brothers, by the way, were not brothers, except for Harold and Don. None of them were Statlers; they got the name from a brand of tissues on a table when they were brainstorming. The other members were Phil Balsley and Lew DeWitt (later tenor Jimmy Fortune when Lew died young). All were born around Staunton, pronounced “Stanton,” and never moved from the area.
I was part of the conference call between Dean and Harold and Don. I forget whether the collaboration ever made it to second or third base (I would love to hear songs they pitched!) but it never slid into home, neither that team nor any Broadway Blondie.
The Statlers’ music was special and transcended country. They did comedy (Harold played Lester "Roadhog" Moran of the Cadillac Cowboys); they hosted the Nashville Network's longest-running variety hour; they toured years with the Man in Black (chronicled in their song "We Worked for Cash"); and it seems like 50 per cent of their songs were nostalgia / patriotic / gospel songs... but 100 per cent were love songs.
They retired at the top of their game some years ago. Ultimately, they earned twice the number of gold albums than Johnny Cash had; and were the Country Music Association’s “Top Group” for 11 years in a row. Collectively, they are members of the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. The DVD of their Farewell Concert will have anyone’s heart racing for a week. The sons of Harold and Don perform now as an act, taking their middle names as “Wilson Fairchild.”
It is not really accurate theology to imagine Harold Reid entering a Heaven lined with comic pages, Big Little Books, and movie posters… but in the meantime we’ll all be back here, playing solitaire till dawn with a deck of 51...


Monday, April 27, 2020

Sheldon Mayer Estate

The Sheldon Mayer Estate Featuring Sugar and Spike & Many of His Earliest Works to be Auctioned

Also Going under the Hammer are Over 80 Blondie Comic Strips from the Chic Young Estate

LOS ANGELES, April 27, 2020 – Sheldon Mayer and Chic Young collections featuring “Sugar and Spike” and “Blondie” comic strips will be auctioned by Nate D. Sanders Auctions on April 30, 2020.

Sheldon Mayer Estate
One of the most influential cartoonists of the Golden Age of Comics, Sheldon Mayer delighted his readers with the adventures of his characters Sugar and Spike, Scribbly the Boy Cartoonist, and The Three Mouseketeers, along with his popular artwork of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, throughout the years. He’s also the man credited with discovering Superman, so impressed was he with the strip (which had been rejected over a dozen times) that he convinced Max Gaines to take it up the food chain for the first issue of Action Comics. Later, as an editor at DC Comics, Mayer was responsible for bringing in Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and scores of other titles into the fold.
For the first time, Sheldon Mayer’s personal collection of his artwork, sketches, and journal are offered, with complete issues of Sugar and Spike, along with Scribbly (which was reprinted in The Greatest Golden Age Stories Ever Told). His journal and sketchbook from 1935-37 is even included, with stories about the early days of the comic book industry.
Additional information on the Sheldon Mayer collection can be found at

Chic Young Estate

Young created the legendary comic strip Blondie in 1930. Blondie became the widely read comic strip in the United States. It was read by 52 million readers at its peak. Chic’s son Dean Young consigned over 80 Blondie comic strips.

Additional information on the Chic Young collection can be found at
About Nate D. Sanders Auctions
An industry leader in documents and autographs, Nate D. Sanders Auctions has conducted auctions in Los Angeles since 1990 and now holds major auctions on a monthly basis. Owner Nate Sanders is recognized for his knowledge of sports, historical and Hollywood memorabilia. To learn more visit


Sunday, April 26, 2020

Updated: Bill Williams – Comic Artist

Bill Williams and John Stanley Henry Aldrich, 1952
I have updated the Yesterday's Papers biographical information about cartoonist Bill Williams with the help of one of his family members. His date of birth is now correctly stated.



Monday, April 20, 2020

A Crowded Life in Comics –

Moose Tracks. 

For a while I was Editor of the National Cartoonists Society magazine The American Cartoonist, with Dick Hodgins Jr. Bob Weber sent a news item about a teaching gig of his at Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. He frequently taught in Westport, in DC, in New York.

By Rick Marschall

Word came this week that the great comic character Moose is retiring. Thank goodness the great comic creator Bob Weber is not retiring. That is, he will not be drawing the seven-day-a-week classic strip Moose and Molly, but Bob will be continuing, we hope and pray, to be the classic Bob Weber – student of cartooning, friend of cartoonists, collector, practical joker.

That is to say, this column will be neither a funeral for the strip, nor a eulogy for Bob. Just a stroll down memory lane in the neighborhood known as A Crowded Life in Comics.

It has been a privilege to know this guy Weber since the 1960s. Bob could have been created by another cartoonist – well over six feet tall, deep bass voice, a beetle brow under a retro-1950s hair style, of an Elvis pompadour and duck-tail, now silver. He would now say, “You forgot my trademark silver-dollar belt buckle,” and he would be right.

Bob was born in Baltimore – I believe he told me that he went to high school with baseball great Al Kaline – and began cartooning there. He attended New York’s School of Visual Arts so long ago (he is now 85) that, I’m not sure, but I think it was still called the School of Woodcutters And Engravers. Then he became a member of magazine cartooning’s Greatest Generation – the golden age of gag cartoonists who filled the pages of The Saturday Evening Post and other weeklies.

In 1965 King Feature Syndicate asked Bob to develop a strip about a reckless and careless neighborhood guy, a bit of a caution but with a heart of gold, always hungry, always borrowing stuff, never mowing his lawn, always ready for a picnic. In Hollywood it’s called “type casting,” but in Bob’s case, in the strip world, it was called type casting. I mean the kind of characters Bob drew in the mags.

When my wife Nancy and I moved from Connecticut to Bucks County PA, there was a surprise party thrown by cartoonist friends in appreciation of our leaving, or something. This was Bob’s special drawing. It is always appreciated when a cartoonist puts more work into a memento than one of his average Sunday pages…

King Features Comic Editor Sylvan Byck once told me that two years after the success of Hall Syndicate’s British import Andy Capp, KFS thought an American version could find a home. Maybe Bob told me too, I can’t remember which was the chicken and which was the egg about this sales concept – but Moose certainly was not a copycat, rather close enough to check a box on Americans’ want-lists, whether readers knew it or not. The lovable guy down the street. Moose quickly starred in 200 papers.

As I noted, Bob has been a friend – became a friend, as anyone who meets him does become – since the ‘60s. He loves to talk cartoons as much as draw them. Which probably explains why he always was behind schedule. We went to the San Diego Comicon together in 1976, but he was so tight on deadline, he hardly left his hotel room,  producing six dailies and a Sunday, but missing great events and attendees! After the Con we meandered up the coast, visiting Will Gould (Red Barry) and going to bookshops in Los Angeles, while Moose languished.

When Bob drew this sketch for me, probably during Bob and Rick’s Excellent Adventure to Comicon and Beyond in 1976, Moose was already an established hit, 10 years old.

Years later, when I lived in Connecticut, Bob’s new reason for procrastination became mine too – actually a great pastime for cartoonists, a vital lifeline for creativity, notwithstanding the opinions of editors and wives. That is, lunches once or twice or five times a week. In Fairfield County, the group I was lucky to belong to usually included Bob, Orlando Busino, Jerry Marcus, Ron Goulart, Gill Fox, Jack Berrill, Joe Farris. Sometimes Klaus Nordling, Jack Burns, Herb Green, Robert Kraus. These repasts usually convened in Bethel or Ridgefield, occasionally in Westport or Norwalk. Many conversations were about the “old days.” I often brought show-and-tell items from my collection, and we frequently wound up at my house, thumbing through archives.

Bob has always been a great practical joker. I still employ a Weberism, asking supermarket clerks, when they are nearly finished with a big order, to tell me when it reaches $20; “That’s all I have with me.” Once I was the butt. I was new to Fairfield County, eager to meet the fraternity at a BBQ at the house of Frank Johnson, one of Mort Walker’s assistants, eventual soloist on Boner’s Ark and Bringing Up Father. Bob “reminded” me that it was a costume party. Needless to say, I kind of stood out in my cowboy hat and boots and wooden pony.

A few years ago Bob drew for me the newer, mellower Moose. He became the softie hugger of the patient Molly; and the strip’s resident grouch was Chester Crabtree.

It was natural that the son of Web Bobber (alter ego) would be a cartoonist too. Bob Jr is a little more reserved than his dad, but draws in his style. When Bob Jr was young I brought him to a few Saturday morning Bible studies; and he married a terrific beauty named Lisa, also a Christian. Bob Jr took a job at King Features, pitched a children’s feature of puzzles and games and gags (he sometimes bounced concepts off me – the modest guy hid a fierce ambition), and he eventually scored with Comics for Kids. Then the associated Slylock Fox. Then a website for aspiring young cartoonists. His features are major successes.

Eventually Bob Sr pitched in on his son’s feature, more than Junior helped on Moose (you can tell when the great Orlando Busino helped on Moose, mostly by his distinctive lettering).  

Whether Bob Weber will continue to help out on his son’s Sunday pages I have not yet asked. With Moose and Molly now retired after a great 55-year (!) run, Bob will have spare time.

… That is, unless someone calls about having lunch up in Bethel.


Monday, April 13, 2020

A Crowded Life in Comics –

 ❆   Frost Bitten.  ❆ 

Frost’s early treatment of the ice-sliding scene from Dickens’ humorous masterpiece.

❆  By Rick Marschall  ❆

Those who know me, and those who don’t, and the vast portion of humanity in between who don’t care, might know that I am fanatical about Arthur Burdett Frost (1851-1928). A. B. Frost ought to be remembered and celebrated and, indeed, honored, more than he has been. When I admire a cartoonist (or illustrator or author or composer or performer) I tend to be come a completest, acquiring complete printed or recording works when possible, or as much ancillary material as possible.

In the case of this revered artist (close to Opper in my personal pantheon) (and one of many figures responsible for my perpetual penury) I have collected published works, original art, correspondence, rare portfolios, and sketches by Frost. I have visited the house where he lived for much of his career, and traded items with subsequent occupants.

Why is Frost special… No, let me say, A B Frost should be near the top of the list of cartoon scholars and fans for myriad reasons. He was a master at realization, anatomy, composition, humor, and many disparate genres. The Dionne Quintuplets, collectively, had fewer individual facets then did A B Frost. To list significant facts about the modest genius:

He was one of the first newspaper (New York Daily Graphic) and magazine cartoonists (Harper’s, Century, Scribner’s) when technology allowed pen-and-ink artists freedom. His only early rivals were Felix O C Darley, Thomas Nast, and Thomas Worth;

He was a pioneer political cartoonist (Graphic and Harper’s Weekly);

He was a frequent illustrator of scores of books, and for major authors – Lewis Carroll, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Frank Stockton, Theodore Roosevelt;

His illustration for the iconic Uncle Remus stories were so pitch-perfect that when an anthology was published, Joel Chandler Harris wrote a printed dedication to Frost, claiming that it was Frost’s drawings, more than the texts, that accounted for the success of the books;

He mightily contributed to the growing art form of the comic strip – his frequent multi-panel series in Harper’s and Scribner’s were popular before most other artists were experimenting with the form;

If he had restricted himself to one genre, he would be a notable figure… but he was versatile enough to be the dominant artist / cartoonist / illustrator in several fields: Humor… Western adventure… Hunting and sporting scenes… Rural and nostalgia subjects… Nature… Americana;

He was a master of pen and ink, but also frequently painted in colors and gouache (he was color-blind, so usually worked in grays unless his sons suggested colors to use);

For a while he laid aside cartoons and illustration, and moved to Giverny in France to live – and learn and paint with – the great French Impressionists of the era;

At the end of his life he returned to his first love, cartooning, and drew weekly panels and strips for Life Magazine. Besides the many books and stories he illustrated, he is at least known to collectors and fans for a couple of his stunning strip collections – Stuff and Nonsense and The Bull Calf.

In the future I will spill more about this great figure, and my crossed-paths along which I have hunted for information and artifacts.

Here, just a little curiosity – a “footprint” of how he worked. I have letters where he turned down assignments, and a story of his rudely treating an emissary of William Randolph Hearst who showed up at Frost’s farm with an open-ended invitation to draw strips.

But we share a letter to Frost from the Art Department of Scribner’s Magazine (rather frantic!) asking Frost to put aside an assignment to illustrate The Last of the Mohicans, and illustrate instead Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers… suggesting three chapters from which to choose.

A letter from the Art Department of Scribner’s Magazine suggesting illustrations for Dickens’ Pickwick Papers. Some urgency: “I pray do let us have it as soon as possible...”

(To be precise, the book’s actual title is The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. Dickens' first novel concerns the doings of Mr Pickwick and his circle including Nathaniel Winkle, Augustus Snodgrass, and Tracy Tupman. The original illustrator for this novel was Robert Seymour. Undoubtedly the humorous situation related in Chapter 30, one of Dickens’ funniest in any of his books, appealed to Frost. That chapter’s title, by the way, is “How the Pickwickians Made and Cultivated the Acquaintance Of a Couple Of Nice Young Men Belonging To One Of the Liberal Professions; How They Disported Themselves On the Ice; and How Their Visit Came to a Conclusion.”

The chapter’s humor is thus forecast… besides the evidence that Dickens was paid by the word…)

Mr Pickwick was not the only posthumous character in this story; Dickens had passed when Frost was asked to illustrate editions of his great works. And Uncle Remus’s creator represented many authors and editors who clamored for Frost’s work; but Lewis Carroll, who assigned Frost work on books subsequent to the Alice tales, unbelievably was not happy with Frost’s work, and it was an unhappy collaboration. The drawings he did do hold up, however, and were printed; that situation said more about the eccentric Mr Carroll than about the illustrious Mr Frost.

Later. For now, an early frost.



Thursday, April 9, 2020

A Crowded Life in Comics –

Crazy Like a Fox.

A self-caricature of Fontaine Fox, hand-colored.
By Rick Marschall

When I was cartoonist and columnist for the Connecticut Herald back in the ‘70s (note to interested parties: that’s the 1970s, not the 1870s) I ran a feature on the back page of the weekend magazine section. It was called Nostalgicomics, and it essentially was a different vintage Sunday page from my collection of tearsheets, with a squib about its history.

This satisfied myself, and at least attracted the attention of certain readers, as it turned out. Fairfield County had more cartoonists per acre than any county in the civilized world. John Cullen Murphy’s son Cullen recently wrote a book on this very subject, and his family’s history, titled Cartoon County. It followed naturally that the demographics yielded as well retired cartoonists, widows of cartoonists, and children of cartoonists.

Fontaine Fox illustrated two of Ring Lardner’s earliest books.
I received many calls from this sacred circle, and was blessed with resultant friendships; contacts with other veterans of cartooning and the newspaper game; and sometimes folks who wanted to clear their attics and closets of old paper.

One call from the blue was a man named Arthur Clark, who had been Fontaine Fox’s assistant, he told me, for years. Fox was the creator of Toonerville Folks. This remarkable panel (and Sunday page) ran between 1913 and 1955. Set in a rural town with a cast of hundreds, the setting and premises allows us to consider Fox the Breugel of the comics.

A letter complaining about a lost letter, and a missed deadline. Fox’s correspondent Heyworth Campbell was an art director; this might pertain to a Dutch Treat Club annual book. Of interest to fans – answers to trivia questions – is his unique letterhead, and the names of his “staff” – Silas Tooner, owner of the trolley line, perhaps mayor of his town; and Dan (Skipper) Withers, conductor of said trolley.
Most of the panels were crowded scenes starring a rotating cast of beloved regulars. Many of the figures went into the language, with characteristics that inspired nicknames and live on – The Powerful Katrinka; Terrible-Tempered Mr Bang; Suitcase Simpson. And Mickey “Himself” McGuire, the neighborhood tough kid. Among many Toonerville film shorts was the series of Mickey “Himself” McGuire movies starring Joe Yule, Jr. When the actor moved on he kept the identifying nickname and became Mickey Rooney.

Then there was the Skipper. His rickety “Toonerville Trolley That Meets All Trains” was the unifying element in all the panels, in graphic and conceptual terms. The Toonerville environment already seemed nostalgic when it began. Small-town America, always drawn in Fox’s idiosyncratic style – slight birds-eye angles; embellished stick figures; characters frequently in animation; landscapes and dialog on diagonal planes; floating words, in partial or non-existent speech balloons; many panels enclosed in a circle instead of a square.

An early arts-and-crafts book, The Good Old Days, illustrated by Fox.
Besides the popular strip run, Toonerville folks were widely merchandised in reprint books, toys, apparel, games, and a mechanical tin toy that is a prized collectible today. When I was consultant to the US Postal System, in 1995 (its 20-stamp set of Classic Comics) I made sure Toonerville Folks was one of the honorees.

Fox had a distinctive style yet had several assistants through the years. He was syndicated variously by his friend John Wheeler (Wheeler Syndicate and Bell Syndicate) and by fellow Greenwich (CT) resident Charles McAdams’ McNaught Syndicate. At the end he controlled and owned his feature and characters.

Early residents of Toonerville gracing the title page of a reprint book.
Clark, who called me that day and invited to his studio, said that Fox (who died in 1964, just past 80) was a genial but firm taskmaster. To master Fox’s distinct style required discipline. Among things he shared (collectors alert!) was that if there were six parallel, angled lines over the Fox signature (a seventh line being the one that connected the two Fs) – that indicated a drawing by Fox himself. More or fewer lines? The work of an assistant, except when Fox did a special sketch.

Arthur anticipated my visit as much as I looked forward to meeting him. We spent a great afternoon together, and he presented me with four original panels he pre-selected, each with a major character… one of them, of course, being the Trolley itself.

A typical Toonerville newspaper panel.
Fox was born in Louisville, drew political cartoons (conservative Republican) and lived most of his life in Chicago and the New York suburb of Greenwich CT and on Long Island, but he never lost the rural touch – an ultimate goal and identification – nor did he want to. It’s who he was. Even in the Good Old Days, he illustrated a book titled The Good Old Days. He rode his own Toonerville trolley, and knew where it went.