I was born in Trenton, New Jersey. George Washington was going to Trenton when he crossed the Delaware River in December 1776.
The calendar dates and the conveyances were different, but George and I both had our first glimpse of Trenton during the Winter.
When I arrived, a couple of centuries later, I may or may not have had a pencil in my hand. I can't remember when or why I started to draw, but my earliest memories include sitting on the stairs in our suburban house and drawing - for hours. I have a theory that we are all born artists. A few of us stay with it. By the time I was four or five years old, I was creating characters and illustrating “stories” to entertain myself.
When I wasn't drawing, there were puppets, dolls, teddy bears - they all became characters with stories that I could tell . Later, I would often recruit reluctant siblings cousins, and friends to help me "put on a show".
Walt Disney was my hero. After all, he told stories and drew pictures, too! Once upon a time a Walt Disney animated film was truly a Special Event. I waited impatiently for each release (or re-release). Long before dvds and “streaming media”, a film like Pinocchio or Lady and the Tramp was experienced in the theater, where the effect of cartoon drawings coming to animated life was more dazzling than anything on a movie screen, before or since!
My Father, an electrician, worked in a factory where paper was recycled into wall-board. Occasionally, Dad would rescue a stack of comic books and bring them home for me. There were titles like Sparkler and TipTop, filled with reprints of vintage newspaper strips.
My Mother always found the time to read to me, including the beloved Little Golden Books and the Sunday Comics - the Funnies - which were populated by the likes of Nancy, Dick Tracy, Little Orphan Annie, Etta Kett, Li'l Abner, The Willets (Out Our Way), Prince Valiant, Pogo, Brenda Starr, Steve Canyon and Smokey Stover.
I didn’t even think about the process that brought those drawings and characters into the Comic Books and Newspapers. There they were and there was a kind of Magic that made them live. Today I understand the Magic. It’s called great Cartooning.
Great Cartooning in Color could be fully appreciated in the Sunday newspaper and in Comic Books. But sometimes it was just necessary to check out the grainy photos in the weekly TV Guide magazine.
I was in the Eighth Grade when I officially decided that I wanted to be a Famous Cartoonist. Of course when I told the school Guidance Counselor, he smiled condescendingly and asked “But, seriously, what are your Career Goals?” Cartooning looked like a perfectly serious Career Goal to me. After all, hadn’t it worked out well for Walt Disney and all of the other cartoonists that I read about?
In fact, I read every Cartoon-related book that I could find - and finding them was not easy in those days. I still treasure Comic Art in America by Stephen Becker, Comics and their Creators by Martin Sheridan, the Walter T. Foster How-To books and the Higgins Ink Company's The All American Art: Cartooning. The books were usually friendly and optimistic. However, lurking in the School Library was one relentlessly pessimistic book about the comics, Dr. Frederick Wertham's infamous Seduction of the Innocent. At the time, I was too young to completely understand the doctor's dark and creepy “revelations” or to know how his book had nearly destroyed the Comic Book industry in the 1950s.
Never mind. The School Newspaper provided a generous quarter-page space for my first printed cartoon! My Career as a World- Famous Cartoonist was off and running!
Much friendlier than Dr. Wertham,
the first "Cartooning" book that I
owned included an essay by Comic
Strip master Milton Caniff.
Above, my first published cartoon, clearly not quite ready for the Saturday Evening Post, appeared in the school newspaper instead.
Unfortunately for my Career, grown-up publishers with money to pay were not as agreeable as the School Newspaper. The first of many reject letters came to me from The Saturday Evening Post -THE SATURDAY EVENING POST!! - founded by Benjamin Franklin, home of Norman Rockwell, Ted Key's Hazel and Marge's Little Lulu ! I was fourteen, and clearly, a modest beginning was not on my agenda. In my youthful ignorance, I didn't even know about enclosing the customary self-addressed, stamped return envelope with my cartoons. Luckily, some kind-hearted Cartoon Editor at the Post, who could have easily trashed my submission, took the trouble to return the unsold originals.
Meanwhile, back at High School, Mrs. Dorothy Kennedy, my Art Teacher was kind-hearted, too. She loved her students. She gave us Art with no boundaries. Michelangelo to Ivan Albright. Silk-screen prints to Kabuki Theater. Cartoons, too. The act of creating was the important thing.
My High School Graduation was postponed by a hurricane. If that was an omen, I ignored it. I still wanted to be a Cartoonist.
In college, I supplied the student newspaper with illustrations, editorial cartoons and comic strips. Under the illustrious title of “Art Editor”, I also learned how to handle rubber cement and to create "paste-ups", skills that were useful while the world awaited Desktop Publishing.
Like many Cartoonists, I was interested in acting. Good cartooning, after all, is also acting. Appropriately, I played a Comic Strip character - Charlie Brown - in a College Theater Production of the musical You're A Good Man Charlie Brown.
Playing Charlie Brown in the musical You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.
Typecast for life. Aaaarrgh.
IAround the same time, I began selling gag cartoons in the very low paying bottom of the magazine market. It was definitely not the Saturday Evening Post , but I had finally learned to enclose a Self-Addressed-Stamped Return Envelope, which sometimes returned with a check enclosed, instead of a Reject Letter!
Things were looking up. My comic art was appearing just about anywhere a Cartoon can go - Newspapers, Comic Books, balloons, Tee-shirts, Coffee Mugs, ad infinitum - or so it seemed.
And then pixels arrived.
I was not prepared for Computers. A “desktop” was where you put your “typewriter”, right? Stubbornly old school, I tried to ignore Computers for a very long time. But the handwriting was on the wall (not that anybody bothered with “handwriting” anymore). In the face of this Electronic Revolution, my status as a Seasoned Cartoonist meant nothing. I might as well have been that five-year old kid again, sitting on the stairs, entertaining himself with a pencil and paper.
Of course I surrendered eventually. I bought the #@%*# Machine and I learned the #@%*# Software. Occasionally, I had to confess that I liked the fresh Possibilities that this newfangled Tool offered.
Now and then, I do miss working with the time-honored tools of the Cartoonist - Pens, Brushes, Bristol Board and India Ink. But I also envy the Eighth-Grade Cartoonists of the Twenty-First Century who take for granted these #@%*# Machines and their Possibilities!
In the end, it’s the Comic Art that really matters. Whether the Finished Product is printed on brittle, yellowing newsprint paper or glowing from the Screen of a Smart Phone, Cartooning is still magic. I am glad that I found it!