Sunday, May 31, 2020

A Crowded Life in Comics –

Second Banana.

By Rick Marschall

There I was, minding my own business. Actually I was minding Sam Morse’s business, a part-time job in high school at a drug store. Delivering prescriptions, stocking shelves, working the register. I used to say that when I sold a box of tissues, I was sticking my business in other people’s noses. It wasn’t funny even before the days of flu epidemics, but sometimes the afternoons dragged by.

But I kept at it: I had a habit to support. No, not drugs from the stockroom. My hourly work and meager tips went almost 100 per cent into my old paper addiction – Sunday funnies from the turn of the century; volumes of Puck, Judge, and Life; old reprint comics. The aroma of rotting cellulose fibers was ambrosia to me.

One of those coincidences in a Crowded Life happened one afternoon. A fellow came in while I was manning the register and the gift-wrapping honors for the Russell Stover candies. He dropped of a prescription, and I dutifully asked name and address for the pharmacist.

“Enoch Bolles.”

“Enoch Bolles?” I asked. I recently had acquired a stack of Judge magazines from the late ‘teens, and Film Funs from the ‘20; and many of the covers were signed “Enoch Bolles.” Naw… But…

When I had a paper route, I used to ask every subscriber with the last name of an old cartoonist if they were related. I batted .000 – but this seemed to be too coincidental.

And after all, not every Tom, Dick, and Harry is named Enoch.

Without blinking, the guy said that, yes, Enoch Bolles the artist was his father. Living in  my town; still living, he added.

We talked a bit, and then afterwards some more. His father was living, and living at home, but weak, and apparently mentally weak. When I got to know Enoch, Jr., better (actually he was the third Enoch in the line, if I remember) he said that after his father was active through the 1940s he had to be placed in a home, although eventually he was released back to the family. He mentioned, maybe safe to share now, that his father in odd moments would take his old canvasses and add some prurient aspects. Part of his dementia, or whatever it was.

A sad end, if somehow a logical arc.

Enoch Bolles (1883-1976) painted some covers and a couple interiors commencing in 1914 for Puck and, mostly, Judge and its related publications like Film Fun. Eventually he branched downward and painted covers for Snappy Stories and Saucy Tales and such literature. The contents were virtual trash, despite the latter two titles being started by a magazine legend, Col. William d’Alton Mann, and edited by, get ready, H L Mencken and George Jean Nathan before they launched their blue-ribbon American Mercury.

If my references to “downward” and “trash” sound like disparagements, that is because they are meant to be. Bolles – who also worked a lot in print advertising, almost always anonymous – happily found his niche in soft-core porn, and stayed there. The illustrations here attest. The worst puns in the world… suggestive double-meanings… and winsome flappers, usually in bathing suits no matter the season, in erotic poses; sometimes anatomically impossible. But the customer was always right.

Other great illustrators started their careers with the same formulae, but graduated to better assignments, book illustrations, even their work on postage stamps. But “Bolles Girl,” and there was one even if only whispered, had gossamer skin, bow lips and bobbed hair of the era, and either wide-eyed innocence or suggestive come-on leer: nothing in between.

I acquired some memorabilia from my Landsman: canvasses, comps, and many cover proofs. Bolles was a creditable technician: a good painter with good technique. I always saw his equivalent as perhaps a very talented composer who never wrote that sonata or symphony because he preferred the commercial world of writing jingles to sell detergent. Or the potential Great American Novelist who instead writes blogs every week… whoops.

Well, we all chase our muses. Enoch Bolles’ were cheap flappers, not arboreal nymphs. If he were around still today he might be gratified by the little cult that has grown around his work – even though his son seemed embarrassed at the life-turns of his father. We can suspect that the adulation is more for the genre than the artist himself. If there were brass rings to catch, Enoch filled enough Bolles (so to speak) with them over a long career.

A “comp,” not a finish, for a Film Fun cover by Bolles. It was on my wall for years, not only an attractive presentation, but a wholesome girl looking wholesome.


Sunday, May 24, 2020

A Crowded Life in Comics –

The End of World War II – V-C Day.
All the Mauldin Details…

1. Bill’s early (1943) Sicily Sketch Book, some yet earlier cartoons from the 45th Division News. A slim paperback and slimmer design, yet printed on slick paper and grain cover.

By Rick Marschall

V-C Day. What’s that? Blame it on Kilroy, who was just here. It’s a stretched point on the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II – “Victory of Cartoons.” OK, to coin the  term might be a historical crime, but it’s not a war crime. Just an excuse to share some special and obscure cartoon memorabilia, with some connection to my Crowded Life.

I am a baby-boomer, born several years after my father returned from the service (our side). He was in an Air Force weather squadron that overflew Normandy on D-Day; and was an officer charged with re-establishing the German civilian weather bureau after the surrender. Until the end of his life he seldom talked about the war, so a lot of what I knew I learned – predictably – from cartoons.

And there were many cartoons that taught me; more cartoons, probably, than accompanied other wars in the world’s bloody history. There were many book collections and anthologies of many cartoonists’ work. There were cartoons in the service publications Yank and Stars and Stripes and Leatherneck. Many of the cartooning greats of the next generation got their starts, drawing for camp newspapers. Virtually every character in syndicated strips donned a uniform during the war (ironically, or maybe not, to the detriment of creative quality) – Joe Palooka, Winnie Winkle, Skeezix, Donald Duck. Established comic-book superheroes, and virtual cavalries of new heroes, took on Huns and Japs. Animation studios, with federal subsidies padding their patriotism, churned our war cartoons. And all sorts of licensing and merchandising, from post cards to songsheets, drafted cartoon characters too.

2. 1944’s Mud, Mules, and Mountains was printed on crummier paper in occupied Italy – “Sorry, folks; there’s a war going on” – but featured some wonderful wash drawings by Bill; and an Introduction by his print counterpart, the legendary Ernie Pyle.

Except for obvious details, American service 1941-45 was a Cartoon War.

Cartoons and comics produced during the war were obvious targets of research and collecting for me. It was a bonus, when I could meet – which was frequently – cartoonists who won the war. So to speak. I did a story in the old NEMO Magazine about “The Cartoonists Who Won the War,” a panel from Milton Caniff’s Male Call – a strip created exclusively for soldiers – on the cover.

Not excepting Caniff, the cartoonist most identified with cartooning during the war was Bill Mauldin. He “came from nowhere” in the sense that he was a young recruit with no cartooning chops when he enlisted in the New Mexico National Guard while still a teenager…. and two days before it was federalized. All cartoonists “come from nowhere” – everybody does – but Bill was an artist who seemingly never had a “green” period. His drawings, from the start, were mature, well composed, funny, and with sharp points of view. His work featured aspects some artists never master, like the obvious importance of grasping anatomy; and the deceptively simple depiction of shadows and folds.

3. This Damn Tree Leaks (titled Mauldin’s Cartoons on the front endpaper) was a meaty 118 pages; 1945. The title served as a confirmation that Mauldin was to World War II what the British soldier Bruce Bairnsfather was to World War I. His most famous of many cartoons was Ole Bill in a rainy foxhole to a complaining comrade: “If you know a better ‘ole, go to it!”

He was put to work on Stars and Stripes, the “soldier’s paper.” So General Eisenhower called it when he countermanded George S Patton’s removal of Mauldin for portraying dirty, tired, and wrinkled soldiers as dirty, tired, and wrinkled. That military stand-off was a blessing. On the other hand, staff work on the paper dragged young Mauldin through a succession of famous and bloody battles.

He was wounded, yet there was yet another silver lining. Publishers in the United States notices this, and reprinted it. United Feature Syndicate noticed his work, and his cartoons were distributed to many stateside newspapers. The Pulitzer Prize committee noticed his work, and Bill, at the age of 23, won the coveted award – his first of two.

Back in the States post-war, his first hardback book was published (softcover anthologies were released in war zones) and it was a best-seller; his face, and the soldiers who starred in his cartoons, Willie and Joe, joined him on the cover of TIME.

4. Up Front was the title of Bill’s syndicated cartoons for United Features; and the hardcover book published by Henry Holt stateside.

I will interrupt his biography at this point, because I have much more to tell of his later years – retiring from cartooning; writing and illustrating; a run for Congress; appearing in movies; “re-upping” as a political cartoonist; another Pulitzer Prize, as I said.

In the 1970s, when he drew for the Chicago Sun-Times and I was Comics Editor of Field   Newspaper Syndicate (totally superfluous as his nominal syndicate editor), our offices were on the same floor and I got to know him well. Anecdotes, stories, insights in a future installment. I will also, in this anniversary year, call up some other special war-cartooning material.

In my office at Field I furnished it not with furniture or lamps or comfy guest chairs as assiduously I decorated it as a comics museum and library of cartoons. I had my stable of artists do artwork for the walls; a couple of the looser nuts waited until they visited Chicago and forswore frames, drawing their characters right on the walls. One day Bill noticed that I had all his books on a shelf – of course; they were favorites! – and asked if I wanted him to do inscriptions in them.

I share them here (was there a doubt that I said No Thanks?), quick sketches of Willie and/or Joe the ways they might have looked when the cartoons in each book were drawn.

Quick sketches, as I say, and related to the “Good” War. Before long we’ll trace Bill through the Korean War and Vietnam; his political odyssey; and anecdotes about interplay with John Fischetti, Herblock, and other cartoonists.

At ease.


Sunday, May 17, 2020

A Crowded Life in Comics –

Inscriptions: Requested Graffiti

 Walter Berndt

By Rick Marschall

In the last – I should say, rather most recent – column I wrote about Puck magazine and the Puck Building in New York City, and I guess an over-arching theme could have been acting on instinct, or boldness, or naivete, or… several categories of putting myself in situations where I could gain anything from an autograph to a collection to a lifelong friendship. I have been blessed in my associations (the first “Crowded Life” installment, 70 weeks ago or so, lists the hundreds of celebrities I have managed to meet)… however, in addition to luck and boldness and mutual friends, a lot of meetings can be ascribed, simply, to living long enough…

In truth, for all the memories and inscriptions in books, I have many, many regrets that people I have met I have not asked for autographs or sketches – usually not wanting to seem like a fan boy – or photographs, a category of bitter lost chances.

After I wrote my first of several books on country music, an encyclopedia, I brought that around to subsequent interviews, concerts, and events; also as a credential / calling card for another project. And I would ask singers and songwriters to inscribe their entries. As a result, the books now has more than a hundred inscriptions and messages from legends who have since passed on: Roy Acuff, Bill Monroe, Hank Snow, Kitty Wells, Mac Wiseman, Tammy Wynette, Charlie Rich, Jean Shepard, Grandpa Jones, Charlie Louvin, Phil Everly, Johnny Russell, Jan Howard, Jack Clement, John Hartford, Jim Ed Brown, Bill Carlisle, Skeeter Davis, Wade Mainer...

And so it was in different fields in which I have worked, hit and miss, opportunities taken or missed. And with cartoonists, notes and sketches when I joined or left a syndicate; moved from an area or moved into a new house…

So I usually share, here, clippings or personal Christmas cards, but I will share some sketches in books or inscriptions that would not otherwise see the light of days, or lights of day, whatever (I never did ask Strunk or White for an inscription…) I do have mere (mere?) inscriptions – that is, good wishes and autographs, but alas with no drawings – from some of my admired cartooners. I could have asked, but held back. Alas: Walt Kelly; Charles Schulz; Bill Watterson; Johnny Hart; Rube Goldberg…

But I never knew I’d be writing these memoirs! A Crowded Life with darn few regrets, overall. I hope you enjoy these private or personal inscriptions.

Roy Crane

George Baker

Harry Hershfield

Tony Auth – One of the nicest guys in the world, not only the business. He also did sketches in collection of Reagan cartoons, and another children’s book, one he did with Chaim Potok (who also inscribed.) Tony won a Pulitzer Prize of two with his piolitical cartoons; and drew the short-lived wonderful strip Norb.

Vittorio Giardino – The fantastic graphic novelist, about whom I will write here one day, evoked his erotic homage to Winsor McCay, Little Ego wrapped around the design of a “Glamour” volume published by my late friend Antonio Vianovi.

Will Eisner – Will drew this sketch in, I think, Erlangen, Germany, at a comics festival. The meaning of the inscription is this: we had just laughed over the fact that we seemed to see each other more at overseas comics fairs than in the US, and something like two years has passed since our last meal together…

Orlando Busino – I hope the silver ink shows here. My good and old (good ol’) Orlando made a visual pun of my last name. I love, love, love his drawing style – who wouldn’t?

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

A Crowded Life in Comics –

What Fools These Mortals Be!

We could have chosen a hundred drawings, but this Puck cover from the last week of 1887 doubled as a subscription inducement, inviting readers to the sideshow nature of 1888’s presidential campaign year. By C J Taylor, who had begun his career on the Daily Graphic

By Rick Marschall

A mercifully brief column, this installment, because if I shared my enthusiasms and interplay with Puck Magazine throughout my Crowded Life, all the books in the world could not hold it. That is somewhat blasphemous, but I regard this old magazine with reverence, and its headquarters building in Manhattan as holy ground, so for the nonce, whatever that is, I will restrict my recollections to the iconic Puck Building, still standing.

Puck magazine was the brainchild of actor and cartoonist Joseph Keppler in Vienna. In 1871 he emigrated to St Louis, then the third-largest city in America and with the largest German population outside the Fatherland. He was friends with another aspiring journalist, also German-speaking immigrant, Joseph Pulitzer, in St Louis. Keppler founded and flopped with three cartoon / humor magazines (one named Puck) before moving to New York and becoming Leslie’s Weekly’s answer to Thomas Nast at Harper’s Weekly.

After several years in that prominent position, Keppler went independent and launched a cartoon / humor / satire / political weekly, Puck, in German. That was in the Fall of 1876, just as the presidential contest wound down. In March of 1877 he launched an English-language version, and it soon became the tail that wagged the dog.

Self-portrait of Joseph Keppler, from the luxury volume anthologizing his great work, from 1893. He autographed the limited copies of 300. Unexpectedly, Keppler died the next year, of overwork. His son Udo (Joseph Jr, thereafter) took over the magazine and, if anything, surpassed his father in proficiency and powerful concepts.

Keppler’s novelty – for there had been many comic magazines in America, none having really succeeded – was the color cartoon. At the time, color in newspaper or magazines was virtually non-existent; and Currier and Ives prints sold as separate sheets. Puck boasted front-page, back-page, and center-spread cartoons in lithographed color.

Before long Puck was a spectacular success. It gained a national circulation; was influential in politics, affecting election outcomes; and attracted talent to assist Keppler. The young H C Bunner joined as editor, poet, editorial writer, and short-story writer (his currently neglected reputation in that period genre is a shame).  Many cartoonists, chiefly Frederick Burr Opper, joined, and shined.

But I have broken my promise. Some other column(s), more about the magazine itself and its cartoonists, and my points of connection.

I was about in fourth grade, maybe younger, when I acquired my first issues, and then bound volumes, of Puck. My father visited Book Store Row, south of Union Square in Manhattan, every weekend, and brought me along. It is where I became infected by old books, the look of aged spines, the aroma of wonderful, rotting paper, and the exotic magic of ancient books, newspapers, and magazines.

I jumped on a copy of Puck from 1882, with an Opper centerspread in the old Biblo and Tannen shop. At the second-story bookstore of Leo Weitz I found the deluxe, limited, Pictures From Puck, leatherbound, signed by Keppler himself. I squealed with a 10-year-old’s joy. My father shushed me, whispering that we should appear indifferent, in order to strike a better bargain. But Mr Weitz noticed my enthusiasm, and said that to encourage my nascent bibliomania, he would make a gift of the book. He succeeded.

Once bitten, I was never shy again. Old volumes of Puck sold downtown (yes, they could be found then) for $25 a year. I started a paper route, and every penny went towards Pucks and Lifes and Judges

Puck had started life in lower Manhattan on North William Street in a little place that was replaced by, I think, part of the Brooklyn Bridge construction. It moved into the impressive edifice bordered by Houston, Mulberry, Jersey, and Elm (now Lafayette) Streets, roughly east of SoHo. It shared the building with Jacob Ottmann Lithographers – who would print Puck – reportedly the largest steam-press lithographer in world.

In my timeline here, the building still stood, but was dingy, an embarrassing relic of its former self. The neighborhood was ratty – it still is – but the building, like an aged stage beauty, was faded, hinting of former glory. Its two outdoor statues of Puck himself, the Shakespearean mascot (“What fools these mortals be!” from Midsummer Night’s Dream), once gilded, likewise had faded, covered in soot and grime.

To me it all was magic, however. I had dreams that there were old storerooms or closets with piles of original drawings or old magazines; or that I could convince the owners to let me remove the statues and place them on my parents’ suburban lawn (I never shared this fantasy); maybe that there was an old oaken door with Mr Opper’s name on it…

On one trip to the city with my cousin Tommy, when I was old enough to indulge such jaunts without my sane father, we sought out the watchman, or super, or whatever he was. What he was was a boozy old guy in stained undershirt and suspenders. The building was, inside, as it was outside: grimy, half-empty office and lofts, burned-out lights. The polite kid asking about cartoons and presidential campaigns and original drawings, and Keppler and Opper and Bunner… Well, the old guy listened, belched, and said whatever the hell I was asking about is gone, long gone.

I will fast-forward. In the 1980s, developers took hold of the Puck Building to renovate it instead of demolishing it. Their idea was to transform it into the city’s premier location of artists’ lofts and creative space. A grand lobby would be for exhibitions. Offices became ateliers (that’s French for a studio with higher rent). Eventually, there would be grand, spacious living space on upper floors.

My friend Richard Samuel West, fellow Puckaholic with a biography of Keppler to his credit, was engaged to provide historical material for the literature and prospectus. There was a grand Grand Opening. Through the years movies and TV shows have been shot there. My beloved statues on the facing were sand-blasted, like the entire building, and re-gilded.

When the pixie-dust settled, Rich told me something I correctly had sensed 20 years earlier: there were stacks of old magazines, and volumes, and account books, and correspondence, in the recesses of the beautiful brick-Valhalla. He invited me to join in the purchase… to fill out our collections… and dispose – to make other maniacs like us happy.

Who would have thought? – well, I thought, and dreamed, and even acted. But the story had one more chapter, the ultimate salvage of buried treasures! What fool this mortal be… a happy fool for cartoons.

By the way, one of the developers was Kushner Properties, and tenants in the luxury living suite on the top floor are Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.