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Celebrating Illustration, Design, Cartoon and Comic Art of the Mid-20th Century

Howie Post (1927-2010)

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Though he was not a member of the National Cartoonists Society, I felt it would be most appropriate to conclude this week's series with a look at Howard Post who, sadly, passed away recently. Tom Sawyer provided some wonderful excerpts from his memoirs for us to enjoy this past week. Howie Post was one of the gang of cartoonists with whom Tom had worked and laughed in the early days of his career.


Tom wrote, "I don't know if you're familiar with [Howie's] work, but he was part of our circle in NY, and later, for me, in LA, when he came out here to take a shot at TV comedy-writing. Interesting guy. In fact it was through Howie that I met the people who gave me my start in TV."

Back in 2005 my friend and fellow contributor to Drawn!, Jay Stephens, wrote this wonderful appreciation of Howie Post's accomplishments. I must admit, I had not realized until I read Jay's article that Post was responsible for creating (among others) the iconic Harvey Comics characters Spooky...


... and "The Good Li'l Devil" Hot Stuff (who was a childhood favourite of mine and was the inspiration for my avatar, which you see in the top right corner of this page).

During the late '60s Post also created a short lived (but still much beloved) DC comic called "Anthro."




And perhaps most famously, Howie Post created a nationally syndicated comic strip called "The Dropouts" which ran from 1968 to 1982.


There's an obituary at North Jersey.com that includes a great photo of the artist at his drawing table...


... and Craig Yoe has a very nice appreciation of Howie Post (and shares one of his early comic book stories) on his blog.

* Many thanks to Tom Sawyer for sharing memories of Howie Post with us.

* Thanks also to Heritage Auctions for allowing me to present scans from their archives to illustrate this post.

Luminaries of the NCS: Warren King

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Reubens, the annual awards ceremony of the National Cartoonists Society (of which I am a proud member) was last night. I'm actually putting together this post in my hotel room on the morning after what was another terrific ceremony. As in previous years, I'm using this memorable occasion as an opportunity to showcase some of the Luminaries of the NCS. Today, Warren King.


My friend Tom Sawyer (whose career was the subject of a week of posts here on TI in 2008) has graciously agreed to share another excerpt from his memoirs.

Tom mentioned a group of cartoonist friends who all worked and laughed together in those days. He wrote, "Through Leonard, John [Augustin] and Tex, I began to meet and socialize with other artists, some who’d drop by the studio, several of whom would become close friends, meaningful players in my life for years to come, Stan Drake, Warren King, John Prentice and Howard Post, to name a few." That quote has been the basis for this NCS series.

I asked Tom to elaborate on Warren King, whom he only mentioned in passing in that memoir excerpt, but of whom he clearly had a lot of fond memories.


Tom wrote back, "About Warren King, he had for years been Rube Goldberg's assistant (during Rube's long career as an editorial cartoonist). And when Rube retired (and took up sculpture in his late 70's or early 80's, Warren became the editorial cartoonist for the NY Daily News."


"Rube, BTW was a lovely, witty man, whose most memorable quote in my presence was: "Tits never hurt anybody." And speaking of quotes, one of Warren's that I particularly remember was his description of dogs. He referred to them as "hairy shit-machines."



Tom concluded, "Warren was a very entertaining guy with a singular, distinctive laugh - so particular that even in a roomful of people laughing, his stood out. And we did a lot of laughing in those days."


* Many thanks to Tom Sawyer for sharing this wonderful excerpt from his memoirs with us. The text today is Copyright © 2010 by Tom Sawyer Productions, Inc.

* Thanks to Flickr member, Tribe for sharing his scan of a 1949 comic book page by Warren King that appears in today's post.

* Thanks also to Lee Dunbar for sharing his photo of an original Warren King political cartoon.

Luminaries of the NCS: Leonard Starr

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Reubens, the annual awards ceremony of the National Cartoonists Society (of which I am a proud member) is now under way. I'm actually putting together this post in my hotel room at the event! As in previous years, I'm using this week as an opportunity to showcase some of the Luminaries of the NCS. Today, Leonard Starr.


My friend Tom Sawyer (whose career was the subject of a week of posts here on TI in 2008) has graciously agreed to share another excerpt from his memoirs. Tom picks up the story where we left off yesterday; in those first few days of drawing backgrounds in the studio of the artist Tex Blaisdell had nicknamed ‘Glamorous-and-Unpredictable.’

Excerpted from Thomas B. Sawyer's memoirs:

"Leonard Starr appeared several days later, in town from his home in Centerport, on Long Island’s North Shore. His presence didn’t disappoint. Handsome, tall, blonde, self-assured, witty and, true to Tex’s billing, striking in a star-quality way.


We hit it off immediately, beginning what would become the single closest friendship I would ever have – the kind where, even after weeks or months without contact, our wide-ranging conversations would resume as if there had been no interruption, endlessly stimulating as always. Books, art, movies, theater – and especially, once he’d educated me about it, music."


"And among the best of all, for me, was the fact that he liked my work, quickly ‘promoting’ me from merely doing backgrounds to handling ‘breakdowns’ as well. Another new piece of terminology, this consisted of taking the scripts he was given, and laying out the pages, deciding on panel-size and shape, rough-penciling the figures, arranging and loosely lettering dialogue balloons so that the lettering-man had sufficient space. Storytelling, actually, and in a cinematic way."


"Through Leonard, John [Augustin] and Tex, I began to meet and socialize with other artists, some who’d drop by the studio, several of whom would become close friends, meaningful players in my life for years to come, Stan Drake, Warren King, John Prentice and Howard Post, to name a few."


Leonard Starr has come up in the course of discussion in other posts on Today's Inspiration. On one occasion, while discussing illustrator Frank Reilly's art school, David Apatoff provided these recollections from Starr, who had attended the Reilly school:

"Reilly was the best teacher I ever saw-- the only one who was really worthy of the title, "teacher." My teachers at Pratt were all tired re-treads, who were interested in 2 dimensional design but couldn't teach you how to draw. They would walk around the room and remind you that the human hand has 5 fingers. I learned far more from the Famous Artists School training materials."


"Then one day when I was 27 I was talking with Dean Cornwell at the bar at the Society of Illustrators. I was already doing well as a professional artist but I still felt I had real gaps in my learning. Dean told me that he was "impressed with the work that Frank Reilly's kids are doing." So I went to Reilly and he took me on as a student."


"Reilly taught that drawing was a matter of "relationships"-- from the neck to the hip bone, from the tip of the shoulder to the groin, he showed us how everything combined to make the figure come alive. Kids always start out making the figure lean to one side or the other, but Reilly showed us how to nail that figure down: "at least one of those legs must be supporting the weight of that body." He was just remarkable. I never left a class without learning something new. I wish he had been my teacher starting in high school, then I would really have been able to draw. He was better than George Bridgman (who Reilly dismissed as "an anatomist.") Unlike Bridgman, Reilly taught you in a way that made the anatomy naturally go where it was supposed to go."


... and for a post on NCS member John Prentice, David provided the following quotes from Leonard Starr, which shed light on how his "On Stage" strip came into being:

"Johnny and I shared an apartment in Manhattan-- it was a dreadful little place-- but we were living "la vie Boheme," making a living as artists (although not a very good one. Whoever received the last check paid for the groceries). We worked for Johnstone and Cushing and other places, but I was shopping around some comic strips to syndicates (including On Stage). Then one day, we got word that Alex Raymond had been killed in a car crash. I received a call from Sylvan Byck, the cartoon editor for King Features. He told me that Raymond had only worked two days ahead, and the syndicate was in a panic."


"Could I come right over and take up Rip Kirby where Raymond had left off? I thought about it... Rip Kirby was a sure thing, and it was very tempting, but I decided to take a chance and try my luck with my own strip a while longer."


"So I told Sylvan, "You don't want me, but the very best guy in the world for the job is sitting right next to me." Sylvan responded, "send him right over!" And that's how Sylvan met Johnny and Johnny got the Rip Kirby strip."


"It turned out, that same day, the head of the Chicago Tribune Syndicate was on a train reading a newspaper, saw that Raymond had died, and got off the train at the next stop to send me a telegram confirming that I would be doing On Stage for his syndicate. He figured that King Features would be looking for a replacement for Raymond. So Johnny and I each got our strips at the same time, and took off from there."



* Many thanks to Tom Sawyer for sharing this wonderful excerpt from his memoirs with us.

His portion of the text in today's post is Copyright © 2010 by Tom Sawyer Productions, Inc.

* Thanks to David Apatoff for sharing the quotes from Leonard Starr that appear in today's post.

* I'd also like to thank Alan Light, for allowing me to use his photo of Leonard Starr at the conclusion of today's post.

* Thanks also to Heritage Auctions for allowing me to use all the artwork scans from their archives to illustrate this post.

Luminaries of the NCS: Tex Blaisdell

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Reubens, the annual awards ceremony of the National Cartoonists Society (of which I am a proud member) is just a few days away. As in previous years, I'm using this week as an opportunity to showcase some of the Luminaries of the NCS. Today, Tex Blaisdell.


My friend Tom Sawyer (whose career was the subject of a week of posts here on TI in 2008) has graciously agreed to share another excerpt from his memoirs. In this section, Tom describes, as a newly-arrived-in Manhattan hopeful young kid, his first chance encounter with Tex Blaisdell.

Excerpted from Thomas B. Sawyer's memoirs:


Seated across from me that morning in the reception room at Avon Comics, where I was awaiting an audience with the editor, Sol Cohen, was another artist whose scuffed two-foot by three-foot zippered, suitcase-handled leather portfolio identified him as a professional. Lanky – skinny really – mid-30ish, with short, thinning curly reddish-blond hair and enormous ears projecting at right angles from too far back along each side of his head, his long-legged, skeletal frame didn’t come close to containment in the chair opposite me.


We nodded at each other.

“You new in town?”

Not a difficult deduction: my samples were in a large manila envelope (I had already priced portfolios like his, and resolved to purchase such a badge with the proceeds from my first assignment).

“Yeah.”

“Can I see your stuff?”


He examined my work briefly, without any discernible reaction, then handed it back. “You be interested in picking up some background work?”


Unfamiliar with the term, but reluctant to seem too green, I guardedly faked it: “Yeah. I might.”

While he explained that he had been assisting a very busy artist, Leonard Starr, who could use more help, it registered for me that the term ‘background’ almost had to mean just that: buildings, cars, furnishings – while this Starr fellow, whoever he was, drew the figures.



He jotted something on a scrap of paper, passed it to me: “I’m Tex Blaisdell. C’mon by the studio…” Just then, the inner door was opened, and he was beckoned inside. I read the note he’d given me.

144 West 57th Street – 4th floor – rear.

Newcomer that I was, I may have been the only person in the vicinity who didn’t know that Leonard Starr was one of the most prolific and gifted people working in a business where, at that time, except to aficionados, artists were largely anonymous, rarely signing their work.


Though I’m not sure why it was so, it’s worth mentioning here that then, and continuing throughout my life it did not ever occur to me to seek a steady, salaried job, so ‘picking up some work’ was just what I wanted. And while I hadn’t considered the possibility of serving as anyone’s assistant, I figured hey, why not? None of it was forever.

My meeting that morning with Avon Comics’ editor, Sol Cohen, was encouraging, with his promise of an assignment within the next few weeks. Sol, incidentally, was a pleasant, Groucho-moustached guy, late 30ish, a WWII veteran whose most notable characteristic was the consistency of his costume. Every time I met with him, summer or winter, he wore the same increasingly tattered, moth-eaten olive drab GI sweater.


A few mornings later, I showed up at the smoke-filled studio on West 57th Street, where Tex greeted me and introduced his busy work-mates.

Artist Carl Anderson, about my age, nodded.

Ben Oda smiled, then returned his attention to the dialogue he was lettering. I was impressed to learn that he did the lettering for several major comic strips, including Terry and the Pirates.


The old man of the group, 40ish comic-book scriptwriter John Augustin continued punching the keys of his ancient portable typewriter, squinted briefly at me through smoke from the cigarette clamped between his lips: “Yo.”

Tex jerked a thumb at an unoccupied drawing table, where I deposited myself, not really knowing what to expect.

I found out in a hurry when he shoved several half-sheets of three-ply kid-finish Strathmore drawing paper in front of me, each one an original-art comic-book page containing six or seven panels of already-inked borders and dialogue, and my first viewing of Leonard Starr’s dazzlingly penciled-and-inked realistic figures. To my astonishment they were as well-drawn as those of the master, Milton Caniff. The remaining space in each panel was either blank or bore sketchily penciled indications of interior or exterior objects. The story Starr had illustrated was a Western, and one of his figures in particular, a kneeling gunslinger, really wowed me. “He works from photographs, right?” “Nope…” Tex waved at the tools on the adjacent tabouret – India ink, pencils, pens and erasers – and at the nearby filing cabinet. “Scrap – just about anything you’ll need…” ‘Scrap,’ a term I hadn’t learned in art school, meant reference photos and magazine clippings of everything from automobiles to guns, railroad trains, trees and so on. “…Seven bucks a page. The deal is – unless it’s in the figure’s hand – youknow – like a gun, it’s background. You draw it. Go ahead. Start.”


And, within a few minutes I was working around Leonard’s figures, penciling, then inking lamps, furniture, crockery or whatever else was needed to fill up the empty space, to add atmosphere and otherwise help tell the story. And in those frames containing no humans or animals, I drew appropriate scenery, from foliage to rock-formations to town-scapes. The latter, with dialogue balloons coming out of windows, I quickly learned, were jokingly described as ‘talking buildings.’


As I took in my surroundings, I knew that if I’d had any doubts that I was in The Real New York, this particular Alternate World would have instantly chased them off. The studio’s two relatively bare main rooms seemed to my eyes fully furnished, containing as they did four or five drawing tables, chairs, and Augustin’s small typing desk.

And capping its specialness, the apartment looked out on, and was within earshot of the backside of Carnegie Hall and its rehearsal facilities. From there – morning till night, when windows were open – one could hear practicing: violinists, cellists, horn and woodwind players, both jazz and classical, plus opera singers, the whole shot. Also visible beyond the maze of ducts on the rooftop of the adjacent Little Carnegie Movie Theater were windows into several dance studios where ballet was being taught or rehearsed.

And – there I was, the kid from Chicago, alongside colorful, working artists and writers, laughing and telling jokes while earning my first few professional dollars. I’d been in the East for less than two weeks.

It would be a few days before I’d meet Leonard Starr, my eagerness to do so whetted by his remarkable talent – and by Tex’s intriguing nickname for him: ‘Glamorous-and-Unpredictable.’

* As we close this excerpt from Tom's memoirs, I'd like to add the following from our most recent correspondence. Tom wrote:

"Tex (real name: Philip) had no accent (unlike Johnny Prentice). He was just -- Tex (described physically in the excerpt). And when I hired Tex, it was for backgrounds on my remaining comic-book work, which I was phasing out of, and for my increasing business from Johnstone & Cushing. Actually, I didn't have an outside studio by then -- I was going in to J&C in Manhattan several days per week, and the rest of it was done at my apartment in Jackson Heights, which was where we were working we received the call about Stan and Alex. I asked Tex because he had continued to work in that capacity for Leonard (and others, I believe). He may have picked up a few jobs from me and done them elsewhere -- and that working relationship only lasted a few months, after which I'd stopped doing comic books, and simply went in to my workspace at J&C every day."


Tom added, "To my knowledge, Tex never worked for J&C. He did bigfoot comic book work on his own, though I don't recall any specifics. Tex was very bright, very witty, well-read and unselfconsciously hip, like most of our crowd, a natural intellectual, an autodidact who never graduated from college. Tex and his beautiful wife, Lainie, lived in Whitestone, Queens, with their two handsome and very nice kids, Bruce and Barbara."

From my own research in the last few days I can add a couple of noteworthy accomplishments to Tex Blaisdell's story: He was the artist on the Little Orphan Annie newspaper comic strip for several years - from 1968 until 1973.



And in that capacity, Tex Blaisdell made a celebrity appearance on an old game show called "To Tell the Truth" (I used to love that show when I was a kid). See if you can guess who is the REAL Tex Blaisdell (well, the self portrait in his bio above kinda gives it away)...




* Many thanks to Tom Sawyer for sharing this wonderful excerpt from his memoirs with us.

The text of today's post is Copyright © 2010 by Tom Sawyer Productions, Inc.

* I'd also like to thank Bruce Mason, my newest contact on Flickr, who not only shared his Tex Blaisdell comic page scans with me today, he took the time and effort to locate additional scans online for me. Many thanks Bruce! Be sure to check out Bruce's amazing Flickr photostream of vintage comic book page scans.

* Thanks also to Heritage Auctions for allowing me to use several scans from their archives to illustrate this post.

Luminaries of the NCS: Al Capp

Monday, May 24, 2010

Oh boy, only four more sleeps until, once again, I'll be attending The Reubens, the annual awards ceremony of the National Cartoonists Society (of which I am a proud member). As in previous years, I'm going to use this week as an opportunity to showcase some of the Luminaries of the NCS. Let's begin with a look at one of the true titans of the comic strip form, Al Capp.


My friend Tom Sawyer (whose career was the subject of a week of posts here on TI in 2008) has graciously agreed to share with us an excerpt from his memoirs in which Tom describes his experience working for Al Capp in the early '60s as one of his assistants. Many thanks, Tom!

Excerpted from Thomas B. Sawyer's memoirs:

One morning in my studio I received an unexpected phone call that turned out to be the catalyst for the next dramatic changes in my life. The caller was the legendary cartoonist/humorist Al Capp, creator of the phenomenally successful comic-strip, Li’l Abner, the influence of which had been felt all over America for many years.


Though I had met Al once or twice at cartoonist functions, we didn’t ‘know’ each other. But having heard him on radio and on TV interviews, I immediately recognized that garrulous voice and singular, bigger-than-life laugh.

Al explained that he had this problem. His inker/assistant-artist of 20-some years – the guy who penciled all the realistic (non-cartoon-ish) figures – had had a stroke, and Capp was desperate. He explained that he’d called around to the likes of Stan Drake and others for the name of an artist who could do this sort of work, and I was at the top of everyone’s list. What Al needed was for me to spend every other week at his studio in Boston for at least the next few months, where I’d be provided with a bed and food.


I thanked Al, said I was flattered – which I was – but no, I couldn’t. I told him the truth, that I was up to my eyeballs in work. I wasn’t trying to be cute – though it was not a gig that interested me. To avoid insulting him, I did not spell out that I definitely had no intention of serving as assistant to anyone. Even Al Capp. Further, doing alternate weeks in Boston was even less appealing. Outside my studio window the trees wore that lovely green haze of new leaves that signified the end of another endless New England winter, and almost the last thing I wanted to do at that moment was leave town.


But Al refused to let go. As if reading my mind he did a pitch for his studio, a lovely, charming converted carriage-house at the foot of Beacon Hill, with the best of Old Boston – Charles Street, the river, the Common and the Public Gardens only steps away. Again I said no, this time adding what I figured would be my closer: that my price was too high. He couldn’t afford me.


And damned if he didn’t call my bluff, demanding to know how much it would cost, how much I would require. I did some rapid arithmetic, added 50% to my then-weekly average, and threw the number at him, confident that I was off the hook.

Wrong.

Al said okay, fine, can you be here tomorrow?

I took the train that first time. His studio was indeed terrific, with comfortable space for Al, his lettering man, his aging cartoon-character penciler, and for me. Al and I hit it off immediately, which was confirmed for me a couple of days later when, with Al absent, his lettering guy confessed that a half-hour after my arrival, while I made my first trip to the bathroom, Capp had turned to the others and guffawed: “Hah! That’s me, 30 years ago.”
Not quite, but hey…


… Al Capp turned out to be one very entertaining guy. As expected, major funny, brilliantly politically aware, and commercially, brilliant. This last evidenced, especially, in that Al, a lifelong Liberal, and JFK fan, who lived in Cambridge and socialized with the Kennedys, the Schlesingers and others of the Best and the Brightest, had discovered that on the lecture-circuit at that time there was no longer any money in being a Leftie. So Al Capp became, arbitrarily, an articulate and of course witty spokesperson for the far-Right. He never believed a word of what he said, but the demand for his services as a speaker increased dramatically, and his fees jumped from $3,000 to $10,000.


Al was unique in other ways. Famous for, in addition to his comic-strip, his wooden leg (as a boy in Bridgeport, Connecticut he’d fallen off the back of a truck and been run over by a trolley-car), about which he joked…


…A word about how Al produced his justly renowned comic-strip. He wrote all of it, often while talking – and guffawing at his own jokes. In addition to a lettering-man, there was another long-term assistant, Andy. Italian-American, late-sixtyish, permanently depressed, a bachelor whose social life seemed to consist of nightly visits to the local dog track, where he regularly gambled and lost, Andy penciled the strip’s humorous, cartoony figures. After I drew the more realistic ones, mainly the voluptuous girls, I inked all of it – except for the faces.


Al did those – with a very personal, singularly sensitive line that nobody could have imitated.


He truly loved the characters he’d created, was protective of them, and would not tolerate insults to any, even the broadest of them, such as the Schmoos...


... and, especially the strip’s beautiful blonde, always briefly-clad heroine, Daisy May. Al took offense, for instance – to my surprise, though I should have known better – when I confessed that as a teenager I had, for my own amusement, written and drawn a brief pornographic version of Li’l Abner, in which Abner and Daisy Mae had sex.


And of course – especially while Al was present – the studio was filled with more or less constant, funny chatter, Andy’s wry one-liners and responses being uniformly as dark as his life-view, which was nailed for me by the calendar he kept push-pinned to the upper corner of his drawing table. One of those month-per-page affairs, it was laid out with a roughly one-inch square box for each day. And every morning, upon arrival, Andy’s first move after seating himself was to grab a soft pencil and, carefully staying within the borders, completely blacken that day’s box. By the end of a month, the entire page was black.


Though the work I did on Li’l Abner wasn’t challenging, it was turning out to be a relaxed, pleasant gig, highlighted in that first week by a couple of late-evening dinner excursions with Capp, just the two of us – and the great, entertaining conversations that went with them.


The first of these was memorably initiated by his suggestion that we go out and grab some Chinese food: “…When you’re middle-aged and Jewish and have a wooden leg, y’need a lotta Chinese food.”

* Many thanks to Tom Sawyer for sharing this wonderful excerpt from his memoirs with us.

The text of today's post is Copyright © 2010 by Tom Sawyer Productions, Inc.

* Thanks also to Heritage Auctions for allowing me to use several scans from their archives to illustrate this post.

*Also, Terry Beatty has some amazing Al Capp/ Li'l Abner rarities on his blog! Go take a look here, here and here -- thanks Terry!

My Al Capp Flickr set.
 

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