Today my brilliant cartoonist buddy Randy Enos shares some of the masterpieces that he made just for himself!
When I was at my busiest in the 70’s and 80’s, I would occasionally take a little time to do a personal project. I used to call them “suites”. They would be a small set of linocuts on some subject that interested me at the time. In truth, I wanted to periodically break from having to work for an art director and fulfill the expected results in a manner that would be appealing to a large audience of readers. I was, of course, mainly working for magazines and newspapers. With these personal projects, I could be my own art director and BOY did I give myself a lot of freedom! I didn’t intend for anyone other than myself to see them so I could break from my usual style a little. With my “suites” I could stretch my creative, more “abstract” muscles a bit.
I first did some pretty abstract little small illustrations for Edgar Allen Poe humorous stories of which I am a big fan. Then I did a group of pictures called “Various Lumpen” in which I got to exorcise feelings I had against certain elements in our society.
The series I’m going to tell about here is called “Sideshow”.
The Scarecrow, of OZ fame, said, “I am convinced that the only people worthy of consideration in this world are the unusual ones. For the common folk are like the leaves of a tree, and live and die unnoticed.”
I decided to do a seres of portraits of human curiosities, anomolies, special people or those commonly known as “freaks”.
When I worked at the Famous Artists Schools, bunked into the cartoon dugout was a man names Fred Drimmer who was the school’s language expert and editor. He was a great guy and I got very friendly with him. Later in life, I received an email from his daughter telling me that Fred had died. In answering her, I referred to a book about human oddities that I knew Fred had written and that I had never read. She replied by sending “Very Special People” to me along with some other books he had written like The Elephant Man.
Buoyed by these wonderful books and another I got from an art director friend of mine, I embarked on my project. I call it Sideshow because mostly all of these people earned their meager living by working for Barnum and Bailey and other circuses and shows.
I approached the project as I did with all my others by drawing only on the linoblock with the lino cutter without benefit of a drawing or sketches. I wanted them to be as direct, unaffected and honestly crude as possible. I present most of them here in this article.
Prince Randian the Caterpillar Man was an extraordinary legless and armless man of great character and talent. He was in show business for 45 years entertaining folks with his feats like rolling his own cigarettes and then lighting them using only his lips and mouth. He was married and fathered 5 children. He was a carpenter and wanted to someday build his own house. He has the distinction of having been featured in the famous cult movie “Freaks” by Todd Browning. I printed my cut as I did the others on brown wrapping paper using minimal color and lettering in a brief synopsis of their history or story.
Charlie Tripp was billed as “The Armless Wonder”. Eli Bowen was billed as “The Legless Wonder”. Together they formed an act in which they rode a tandem bicycle, Charlie doing the peddling and Eli the steering. All through the act they would make wisecracks at each other like Eli saying, “Keep your hands off me!”
If you’re old enough, you’ll remember Philip Morris cigarettes’ human trademark, the bellboy, Johnny. His name was Johnny Roventini and he worked at The New Yorker Hotel. An advertising man heard about the marvelous quality of his voice as he would sing out when he paged people for telephone calls in the lobby so he went over to the hotel and tipped Roventini to page a “Philip Morris”. The result off this was that Johnny went from $15 a week to $50,000 a year as the living symbol of Philip Morris cigarettes until he died at the age of 81. He was the most famous midget in the world. I think he felt that his crowning achievement was when he got to sit on the lap of his screen idol Marlene Dietrich so that’s the way I drew him.
The subject that got to me the most was the “World’s Ugliest Woman”, Julia Pestrana. The backwards “S” in the linocut was an honest mistake I made in the cutting… I decided to leave it in. I think it’s my favorite part of the picture. Julia was from a tribe of very short Mexican Indians. In her life she was exploited by an agent who married her and toured her around the world. She was presented before the public always beautifully dressed in bright dresses. She had children.
And… she was in possession of a sweet… and beautifully sad singing voice.
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Read many more of Randy’s cartooning memories: