We’ll take a break from the pandemic for my brilliant cartoonist buddy Randy Enos who shares another story about his early days as a cartoonist illustrator. (I must say, Randy’s experience sounds remarkably like my own experience as a cartoonist illustrator in Manhattan 15 years later.)
Visit Randy’s archive –Daryl
In 1955, I shared a room in Boston with a friend of mine from high school who was attending the New England Conservatory of Music which was practically across the street. He was a classical trumpet player who talked like a jazz musician. He woke up late one morning and ran around our small room screaming, “Where’s my axe? Where’s my axe?” He had forgotten where he had put his trumpet case and he was late for school.
Years later when I became an illustrator, I discovered that some illustrators called their portfolios axes. I liked that so I adopted the term. I, and my axe, made the rounds on the New York streets for many years visiting art directors every single Thursday. As I mentioned in a previous story, I took my annual 3 week vacation from the Famous Artists Schools by taking off every Thursday until my vacation had been used up. To prepare for these visits to the Big Apple, I would go through all the magazines on a newsstand and take down the phone numbers of the art directors. At Grand Central Station there was a huge bank of phones in the center of the main floor where now stands a big international magazine store. I’d settle myself down in one of the phone booths and proceed to call one art director after another telling them that I was just in for the day and could I drop by for just a few minutes with a portfolio. In those days, all the art directors set aside Thursdays for looking at portfolios. So, I’d lug my axe up and down Madison Ave., Fifth Ave., Lexington Ave., and all the streets in-between.
I had a lot of guts in those days and would blithely walk into Time magazine, Fortune, Business Week, The New York Times, a newcomer with barely any published work except a few little awful spots I had done for The Famous Artists Magazine. The bulk of my samples were crazy and very off-beat creations I had drawn using an ink bottle stopper or pen and ink or a combination of both. I thought that if I were to make a success at this illustration business, I would have to have an eye-catching original style. Well, for the most part, my early work only found its way into the girly magazines like Escapade where I discovered young daring ADs who would take a chance on a crazy style like mine. The focus of these magazines was, of course, photos of sexy girls and they were willing to experiment with avant garde illustrations for which they paid very little. Because of the low pay, illustrators were given lots of freedom and often worked without having to submit roughs first. Attached to this article are examples of some of these early samples of mine. In the early 1960’s, when I lucked into my first Playboy jobs and could show tear sheets from that prestigious publication, I found doors opening in much classier markets. In Playboy, I did my very first linocut which was to set my style for good.
On Thursdays, as I mentioned, The ADs were seeing lots of artists so the visits were brief. You’d walk in, open your axe and he or she would riffle through the samples, usually stone-faced making no comments and that would be that. You’d leave a photostat or print of some kind and a business card (mine were hand-made).
As I went on in my first few years, I stuck to “high-end” publications because I realized that working in what some called a “sophisticated” style I wouldn’t have a chance with magazines that had a more common appeal. My markets eventually became publications like Time, Life, Fortune, Forbes, airline magazines, lots of food magazines and political and social satire magazines like The Nation, The Progressive, Avant Garde, Monocle, The Atlantic, Mother Jones, Rolling Stone and the National Lampoon. I also did work for Sports Illustrated, New York Magazine, The New York Times, Washington Post and lots of other newspapers all over the country.
And, speaking of the phone bank at Grand Central, my wife did her share of usage there when she started doing theatrical work in New York. She would go into the city and immediately hit the phones. One day I had to get a job into my old friend Mike Gross who was then working at Exxon. I was busy with other jobs so I asked my wife to take it in for me and IMMEDIATELY deliver it to Mike across the street from the train station. I said, “Do not stop at the phones… he needs this right away.” Of course, being a dutiful wife, she got off the train and went IMMEDIATELY to the phone banks. At that moment, across 42nd St., a bomb went off in a small office at the base of the Exxon building. Everyone was evacuated. Mike went into panic mode because he knew that Leann would have been right there at that spot at that time. He found a phone on the street and called his wife, Glennis, and told her to call my home and discreetly inquire about Leann. I think Mike found Leann, at that moment, casually sauntering into the melee of police, ambulances and whatnot.
Back to my axe. At first, I’d go into the city and lug it around to potential clients all day with no success. I got used to it. Leann got used to it. After a while, she wouldn’t even ask if I got anything. It was a given that I hadn’t.
One day, I walked into Harper’s Magazine to see the editor. They didn’t have an art director per se. I actually recognized his name and face because I had seen him on television being interviewed. I opened up my axe and, as always, he flipped through the pages very rapidly and closed it. I gathered up my sample book and thanked him politely and headed for the door. He said, “Where are you going? I have a job for you!” I couldn’t believe my ears. He reached into a desk drawer and produced a manuscript and handed it to me. I HAD RECEIVED MY FIRST MAJOR MAGAZINE JOB! I wasn’t used to this. It wasn’t part of my ritual. It was a major shock to my system. I was nervous on the train going home clutching my axe for good luck.
I worked like the devil on that little black and white job. He hadn’t asked for rough sketches. I was so unsure of my concepts for it that I did 4 or 5 finished solutions just to cover myself. I remember the illustration. It ended up being a pen and ink drawing of a guy lying in the crater of a volcano puffing on a pipe and emitting a trail of smoke. I’ve looked high and low for that sample and, alas, I just can’t find it.
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Read many more of Randy’s cartooning memories: