By Randy Enos.
As I entered my final year of high school in 1954, I had lost some of my childhood interest in the cartoons and illustrations in favor of an interest in painting. It was generated by the emerging New York school of Abstract Expressionists. So, I ended up going to the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts to study painting where I met my future wife. The summer that we were married, I was in Westport, Ct with her and looking for a summer job. We were planning to return to Boston so I could continue studying painting and realize my dream of starving to death in a Greenwich Village garret. I had a job waiting for me there at a hotel where I had worked for the two years I had already spent there at school.
So, I applied for a job working on a new highway (I 95) that was under construction. I was waiting to hear back from them when my mother-in-law invited me to accompany her for lunch at her friend Bud Sagendorf’s house. Bud was, at that time, working on the Popeye comic books. He had worked with the creator of Popeye, Elzie Segar, since he was a high school kid and now continued to work on Popeye as did a few others like Bill Zaboly who did the dailies. I was excited to meet Bud.
As we sat in his yard having lunch, Bud told me that The Famous Artists Schools, there in Westport, had hired him away from his post as comics editor at King Features to head up a brand new cartoon course that the famous correspondence school was offering. He asked me if I could draw cartoons because he was looking for teachers. I, modestly blurted out that of course I could draw cartoons … I was a painter. He said that I should draw up some samples to show to the head of the instruction department. To help me along to cinch the deal Bud told me to draw up some stuff using the method they were teaching which featured drawing a center line down a head, for instance, and then an eye-line to locate the eyes etc.. I did as he asked and went in to apply for the job. They said they would contact me in a few days. A few days later I got calls from the highway department AND The Famous Artists Schools both saying that I was hired. What a dilemma. H-m-m-m, sweat all day in the broiling sun in a road gang … OR … sit at a drawing board all day and draw cartoons?
I arrived the next day at The Famous Artists Schools for my summer job. They informed me that they didn’t hire just for the summer and if I took the job I would have to stay there for the rest of my life. I looked around at all the artists working there in the illustration course and the painting course and the new cartoon course and I decided that maybe I could learn something from all these seasoned veterans.
So, being the youngest person (20 yrs. old) they had ever hired I took my place amongst old cartoonists, ex-art directors and middle-aged painters.
I was the first one hired from the “outside” to work in the cartoon course. There was Bud (director), Pete Wells (co- director), Barney Thompson (brought over from the illustration course) and Bill Feeny (brought over from the school’s art department). The five of us worked in a bullpen situation rather than choosing to have separate offices like all the other instructors at the school. We liked to collaborate freely in one room because the course was brand new and we were feeling our way along. I had to learn how to draw cartoons while I was teaching people how to draw cartoons. And I found out that drawing funny was very serious business. The other four instructors became my mentors and teachers and everything I know about drawing cartoons I learned from them.
Bud, as I mentioned, was doing the Popeye comic books (he hired me on weekends to work with him on them); Peter Wells (who never let you forget that he went to Yale) had come from drawing the Katzenjammer Kids; Barney Thompson had done gags for Life, Judge and even Playboy. Barney taught me how to draw nifty babes. As “Bud” Thompson, Barney had also drawn the Captain Marvel Jr. comics which I had really loved when I was a kid, so I was particularly excited about working with him. Bill Feeny had come from penciling The Lone Ranger. They’re all dead now, but I owe my life and career to them.
Later we hired on a young guy named Warren Sattler and also Frank Ridgeway (who on our lunch breaks created “Mr. Abernathy”). I remember the day he was called at work by King Features when they bought the strip. Frank was also a Saturday Evening Post gag cartoonist. He would work on his gags there at work. Once I said, “Hasn’t that gag been done before?” Frank said, “Yes, but has it been done this week?”
Pete Wells taught me the old cartoonists’ trick of drying up puddles of ink with a lit cigar. Sometimes he and I would sit at work with green eyeshades, puffing on cigars as we wielded our trusty Gillott # 170 pens.
Years and years later, we had a great reunion art show of all the old Famous Artists Schools people. I put in 3 or 4 big fairly abstract color linocuts. I hadn’t seen Pete in a very long time. The minute he spotted me, he ran over. He didn’t say, “Randy, nice to see you”. What he said was, “Randy, QUICK, come over here, somebody has put up some God awful pictures and they put your name on them!
A lot of amazing Famous Artists Schools stories to come.