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.


1 comment:

  1. We all just learned of Bob Sr's passing; a shock. Thankfully, I spent an entire afternoon with him in May 2019, chatting and interviewing him for my book BIRTH OF A BEETLE, due next year. I am sad Bob will not seer that, and we won't see Moose. RIP!