Monday, October 19, 2020

A Crowded Life in Comics –


Bob Weber, 

Forever the Cartoon Fan.

Rick Marschall.

“A Crowded Life,” by definition, is a personal column. It shares personal memories about the most public of expressions, Cartoonists, Dik Browne once said to me, are curious creatures, choosing to live and work in solitude, yet presenting their conceptions of what what is funny, what is interesting, what is memorable, with the entire world. Cartoonists are, like many actors are, basically shy and private; yet they expose their work, their confidence in its acceptance, they expose themselves, to a world that might be waiting expectantly, or… ready to ignore or criticize.

Odd people, cartoonists: men and women who are pixie-dusted combinations of introversion and audacity.

I suspect these semi-philosophical thoughts, although somewhat pertinent this week, are a form of evasion. I have to address yesterday’s news, as I write: the death of Bob Weber. “All good things must come to an end”? I suppose that fits, but it doesn’t alleviate the grief. Bob embodied a lot of good things, and was good – a good cartoonist; a good friend; a good friend and teacher; a good father; he was even a good procrastinator, maybe the best in a profession rife with them.

He was always ready with a smile, a story, and a memory. He was always ready to go to lunch or dinner or midnight snack, not to much to eat as to fraternize. He never outgrew a child’s delight in discovering new cartoons (even if they were 120 years old), discussing styles, meeting and encouraging young artists. He was serious about being silly but – last but not at all least – he was a craftsman who cared about his work, the personality of his characters, the feelings of readers.

Bob taught cartooning at local libraries and schoolrooms in Baltimore and, later, Westport CT, and even the Smithsonian (despite always mangling the pronunciation of “Smithsonian”). He was generous in praise of other cartoonists; his favorite probably was John Gallagher. I have seen him recall Gallagher gag cartoons, possibly for the hundredth time, yet quake with laughter as if he first saw each one.

There were times – I think overlapping – when he would have his good friend (humanity’s good friend) Orlando Busino ghost some Moose dailies and Sundays… while Bob pitched in on his son’s own feature Comics For Kids: Slylock Fox and crew. Crazy merry-go-‘round? Sure! All cartooning, all fun.

Bob was a big, hulking guy well over six feet tall. A beetle brow and Elvis-like pompadour and duck-ass hair. He came from Baltimore, a modest family and a brother whose lifelong hobby was racing pigeons. He wanted me to ask Al Kaline, after I got to meet and sketch the Hall of Famer, if he remembered Bob from the high school they attended together, but Al died before I could.

When the cartooning bug overtook Bob he attended the School of Visual Art in New York City, I think while it was still Cartoonists and Illustrators, and I think with Orlando and with Jerry Marcus, lifelong friends. He submitted to The Saturday Evening Post and other outlets his heroes and friends did.

I began to describe Bob physically, which is a fun part of this task. He always kept the hair; and his outfits of huge buffalo-nickel belt buckles and good-old-boy string ties never were mothballed. In the toney artists community and celebrity-thick Westport CT, he… was one of a kind. What came with the package was a Southerner’s persona, unapologetic and joyful. I attended many country-music concerts with Bob and discussed endlessly our favorite songs and singers and critiques; he loved Merle Haggard but told me he regretted the line from “Big City,” Keep your retirement and your so-called So-cial Security. “Some people really need that,” he cried. Sometimes Bob and Jean, my wife Nancy and me, and Gill and Helen Fox, would spend evenings in country-western bars (yes, Westport had them).

One Saturday morning Bob called me, said he learned that bluegrass pioneer Mac Wiseman was playing at a country fair somewhere in mid-Connecticut that afternoon. That’s all it took – we drove up, spent a lot of time talking to Mac between his shows, and wound our way back home, drenched in Americana.

Part of the formula that made, or maintained, King Features Syndicate as a powerhouse in the 1950s and ‘60s, was Comic Editor’s Sylvan Byck’s idea to recruit gag cartoonists from the magazines’ golden age. Pick the pockets, so to speak, of the Saturday Evening Post and Collier’s, and let the panel cartoonists loose. Those “minor leagues,” and ad-agency cartoonists, swelled the pages of the funny papers.

One of the call-ups was Bob Weber, surely with some of the funniest drawings and funniest gags of the lot. Sylvan once told me that he thought King should have an “answer” to Hall Syndicate’s Andy Capp, and he thought Bob Weber was the perfect cartoonist to create a lovable American counterpart – not exactly industrious; a character who had friction with neighbors; a good heart. A perfect marriage, of cartoonist and creation, at least. Moose was a classic, as it morphed to Moose Miller its became less cliched and more human; finally, as Moose and Molly, it became warm and fuzzy – but also more surreal, as Moose’s unkempt yard sprouted chicken bones, fish heads, fried eggs, and stray cats.

Only in recent months, because of dwindling newspapers and Bob’s dwindling youth (he was 87) Moose and Bob retired, a sad good-bye we noted in these columns.

I had planned to write a few words and then pick my own pocket – cut-and-paste some of the stories and memories, many from these columns. But Bob Weber stories are many, even without repeating much. I will reprint some of the drawings from through the years. (Sometimes, even when he was tight on deadlines [always] and he knew we’d see each for lunch in a few days, he would send a clipping or news item – and invariably festoon the envelopes with bold and colorful real images and faux-promos for Moose.)

So I will share some of the artwork, which says more about Bob than any of my stories. I think the first time we met was at an early Comic Convention in New York City – Seuling’s I think; maybe at the Taft – and he was with Gill Fox. I was with a portfolio full of old artwork. Fast-forward from the ‘60s to recently, a lunch (of course) in Westport (of course) with Orlando Busino (of course) and some new friends like Sean Kelly.

I have referred to Bob’s son Bob Jr, whose ambition and success have, if anything, built upon his father’s, but whose sense of humor – and drawing style – are the old man’s. When Bob Jr and Lisa lived in Westport we would see each other not always in cartooning contexts; and Bob Jr accompanied me to men’s Bible studies and such. In the golden threads of life, the timeline from SatEvePost to Moose to Comics For Kids, and other creations of Bob Jr, is a solid one. Bob Weber’s legacy is not only countless magazine gags and decades of the Moose comic strip, but Bob Weber, Jr., his proudest legacy.

And a final observation about Bob Weber: this is the first time he ever has made any of us sad.


1 comment:

  1. Always loved Moose & Molly, loved the gags and drawing style.