I was saddened to learn this morning that cartooning legend, Mort Drucker has passed away at 91.
I grew up loving Mort’s brilliant artwork in Mad Magazine and he was a great influence on my own work. I think Mort was the greatest caricature artist ever. Mort drew the best and most memorable Mad Magazine movie and tv parodies.
I got to know Mort through the National Cartoonists Society. Other cartoonists would trail after him and ask him to draw their portrait, to which Mort would always respond to draw the backs of their heads –that was easier, and quick, and it looked just like them. Mort was a gentleman. I also like that he called everyone “darling.”
Mort was a staple in advertising and magazines, not just in Mad Magazine. He drew tons of magazine covers, advertising and movie posters, including the iconic poster for American Graffiti. I loved his work in black and white, but his color was fantastic. Mort painted over his ink linework with Dr. Martin’s Dyes, a difficult medium that I could never wrap my head around, but it made his colors glow.
The video below comes from the National Cartoonists Society. It shows Mort interviewed by John Reiner (a great guy who is a brilliant caricature artist himself).
This piece is the front cover of Mort’s book, “Mad About the Movies” …
A fond memory of Mort who drew many Star Wars parodies …
Mort did lots of advertising work. The odd map (below), of how to get to the Mortgage Bankers Association convention in Atlantic City, was a strange journey for me. The ad agency had hired Mort Drucker to do it, and Mort quit after doing the sketch. The job paid pretty well, and Mort’s sketch was nice, so I gave him a call and asked, “What’s up with this job?” I paraphrase from my 30 year old memory – Mort told me this was a job from hell, and the art directors had so many changes he couldn’t stand it any more.” I asked if he minded that I take the job and work from his sketch, and Mort was fine with that, as long as he never had to hear from those art directors again. So I rendered this brochure artwork from Mort’s lovely, rough sketch. And the art directors from hell didn’t give me any trouble – I think Mort wore them down before I stepped in.
If I was an art director, I would never think of asking Mort Drucker to make changes.
Twenty years later, in 2008, the mortgage bankers would destroy the economy – oh! The irony!
Mort is my hero. He taught a generation how to draw. His inspiration lives on.
We wanted to do a 50th anniversary of Peanuts celebration, but hotel construction put the plans for a Santa Rosa convention on hold. United Media, the syndicate that owned Peanuts, was located in Manhattan, and NCS conventions draw the biggest crowds when they are in New York City, so I decided to do the 2000 convention in New York. My wife, Peg and I flew to New York twice and visited a half dozen prospective hotels. We got competing bids from three hotels and spent a month haggling prices with all three before deciding on the World Trade Center Marriott in lower Manhattan, which gave us a great deal on Memorial Day weekend, when lower Manhattan is traditionally deserted. Before that, the NCS usually had their Reuben Awards on Mothers Day weekend. I got some angry blasts of criticism from old NCSers in New York who thought it was outrageous to have the convention in lower Manhattan because it should have been in Midtown, where it always used to be. “Nobody wants to go downtown!” they told me.
The convention was extra difficult because our previous management company had crashed and burned soon after I became president. I had just hired a new management company, but they didn’t want to run the convention because they hadn’t gotten to know the NCS yet; they wanted to come to their first NCS Reubens event just to observe. My wife Peg ended up doing nearly all of the organizing work that we would usually expect a management company to do: starting with handling registrations and tracking all the payments, making seating charts and dealing with menus, responding to the many special requests, arguing about hotel bills and comps, manning the convention registration desk throughout the weekend, and serving as the bouncer for those who overstayed their welcome in the Presidential Suite. I couldn’t have done it without Peg. (And the new management company folks were good sports; they ended up pitching in on site –more than they first planned.)
The convention would be a celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Peanuts. Charles M. Schulz (“Sparky”) was on board with it; United Media was delighted and generously offered to cover the cost of a big Sunday brunch for everyone at the Windows on the World restaurant at the top of the North Tower. Political cartoonist, Mike Luckovich stepped up and was a tremendous help; he did all the organizational work of getting the newspaper comic strip artists to draw 50th anniversary of Peanuts strips on the same Saturday that our banquet was held, when we planned to give our lifetime achievement award to Sparky.
All seemed to be going well when we received the terribly sad news that Sparky had died in February. With all the Peanuts celebration stuff planned for May, 2000, and with the commitments I had already made in the hotel contract, I thought we might be in trouble. We ended up having the biggest NCS convention ever, kicking off with a grand opening cocktail reception on the 2nd floor promenade of the North Tower lobby.
Mike Luckovich contacted all the newspaper comic strip cartoonists and got them to draw Peanuts “tribute cartoons” for that Saturday, rather than the Peanuts anniversary cartoons we had planned earlier. The tributes in the “funny pages” were great, and I was walking around the convention the whole time, with my cell phone on my ear, giving interviews to journalists who were writing about the big newspaper comics tribute. We gave the lifetime achievement award to Sparky posthumously.
Steve McGarry and Jeff Keane both have previous show business experience and ran the shows for the first time, raising our production quality to levels the NCS hadn’t seen before. Bil Keane, Jeff’s dad who drew The Family Circus comic, was a very funny guy; he had been the emcee of the Reubens for many years, but at his insistence, this was going to be his last year as Reuben emcee. Steve had the idea to do a Bil Keane Roast on the Sunday night, which led to a repeat of the King Features/Mort Walker kerfuffle, this time with King objecting to the Bil Keane Roast –Bil liking the Roast idea, and King adopting a positive tone again, becoming a second big sponsor, and paying for dinner before the Roast. Steve’s Roast of Bil involved lots of cartoonists doing skits and was great fun.
There were other fun things that happened. I’m a big David Levine fan, and he was a speaker, so I got to meet him. We had a panel of features editors from top newspapers across America talking about the comics (that’s something that would never happen today). There was an odd debate in the NCS at that time about seminars at the conventions, which were still a new part of the Reubens weekend; some old-timers thought the conventions should only consist of parties and objected to seminars. I was “pro-seminar” and pushed lots of seminars into the schedule. RJ Matson managed the many seminars and did a great job.
What is most fun about being the NCS president is that the president gets to “commission” the Reuben weekend artwork; I called my first choice, who graciously agreed, which gave me the delightful opportunity to serve as art director to the legendary Jack Davis. I love Jack’s work and I grew up looking forward to his art in each new issue of Mad Magazine; it was great fun to work with him on this. He was such a Southern gentleman. Jack Davis was, and always will be, my cartoonist hero.
My kids, Susie and Michael, were 16 and 10 years old at the time, and starting with the site visit, they had gotten to know the World Trade Center well, hanging around the shopping mall and becoming well acquainted with every nook and cranny of the entire complex. Susie danced with Jack Davis on Reubens night, and both kids went to most of the seminars.
There were also plenty of nervous moments. There were over 630 people at the banquet (a typical Reuben banquet size is half that size). Several local cartoonists waited until the last minute, that Saturday, to decide they wanted to come, and showed up at the hotel to register on site for the dinner. No one was turned away, though it meant continually juggling seating and adding extra chairs to numerous tables. The ballroom was filled beyond capacity and the new management company people got nudged out of the banquet, so more NCSers and guests could have their seats. We were lucky the fire marshal didn’t make a visit.
We always had a live band in those days, so I hired a band that the old-timers liked; one that had played for the NCS years ago when the Reuben Awards dinner was a single night at the Plaza Hotel on Central Park South. The band didn’t show up until the exact minute that the show was set to begin. I learned that if you want the band to be in place before the show starts, you have to pay them more for those few extra minutes.
The Sunday brunch at Windows on the World ran well over budget, with open bars and cartoonists who will drink everything they see. United Media contracted for the brunch directly, so the bill of well over $100,000.00 went directly to United Media (thank goodness). It was a great, boozy brunch, but chilling in retrospect. All of the staff at the Windows on the World restaurant were trapped above where the airliner hit the building on 9/11/2001, and the employees who served us brunch did not survive the attack.
When the Twin Towers fell, the entire 22-story Marriott was also destroyed. Most of the hotel staff got out safely, but forty people reportedly died there, primarily firemen who were using the hotel as a staging area. While it was a shock to the entire world to see the towers and hotel fall, the fact that this had recently been home to our convention and a playground for my kids made it feel personal. Marriott chose not to rebuild the hotel and the site is now a part of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.
I look back on our convention at the World Trade Center with both warmth and chills.
I’ve been a member of the National Cartoonists Society (NCS) for nearly 40 years. I was president of the NCS from June, 1999 to May, 2001, and I ran two “Reuben Awards” conventions. The first was held at the World Trade Center in Manhattan the year before the towers were destroyed, and the second in Florida at the Boca Raton Resort and Club. Much of the work of the NCS president is like being a wedding planner, with all the joys, stresses and horrors that implies, which left me with an odd perspective on our colorful profession. Here are my recollections …
Twenty years ago the membership of the NCS included nearly twice as many professional cartoonist members as it does now, and popular newspaper comic strips were the NCS’s strength. The group was rancorous and my years in the hot seat were toasty. We had a crisis at the start when our management company demanded that we triple their fees; they were doing a terrible job so I fired them and I went about finding a new firm, arguing with our board members who wanted to stay with the old management company and pay the higher fees. Finding a new management company for our unusual group was a big chore, because of the unusual nature of our group compared to more conventional professional organizations.
When the new company eventually took over, the old firm transferred our records and I was told that our files looked like someone climbed to the top of a nine foot ladder and randomly dropped the papers into the boxes. It turns out that we didn’t have records of past members’ dues payments – we didn’t know who was paid up and who wasn’t. It became clear why the old management company was doing a lousy job. It was a big mess to clean up the records and to make sense of the membership dues collections; I faced a challenging learning curve of getting myself and the new management company up to speed.
I had a “wedding” to deal with right away. In those days, the NCS had a big, annual Christmas party in Manhattan, often at the Century Club. We planned our biggest Christmas party ever, with the theme being that we would award a “Golden T-Square” to Mort Walker, who drew the Beetle Bailey comic strip. Mort was delighted. We had a nice sponsor in an internet company that was courting us at the time. The 1999 New York Christmas party would be even bigger than the previous year’s Reuben Awards convention in San Antonio.
THE 1999 CHRISTMAS PARTY
The NCS had long depended on support from the syndicates, especially King Features. When I first started as NCS president, King’s comics editor told me that King was finished with their support for the NCS; he said King didn’t like that the NCS included non-newspaper cartoonist members and he didn’t see what King got out of their longtime support of the NCS. Later I got an angry call from King Features’ chairman who was furiously ranting that he wanted us to cancel the award for Mort because we were stepping on King’s toes; Mort was their guy. I don’t recall saying anything in that crazy phone call; I just listened.
On the other hand, Mort was flattered and pleased with the award/party idea, and it was Mort who carried the day. King Features changed their tone after some conversations with Mort and ended up as a second full sponsor for the Christmas party. The double sponsorship let us double the budget and made for quite an opulent evening. I remember that we had a raw bar with all the oysters we could eat, which was fun, and the open bar was freely flowing. Wedding planner glee.
King asked to give their “Segar Award” at the Christmas party, an award that King management chooses to give to a King cartoonist; there was a tradition of giving the Segar Award at the King-sponsored-Christmas party, so I said “yes” to King and there were two awards that night. That was my second big issue as president, because many NCSers objected to King giving their own award at the NCS’s party and they aimed their ire at me, complaining that King had “bought” me. Somebody at the party punched somebody else and most people were talking about the punch. And the huge bill for the big party went entirely on Arnold Roth‘s personal tab at the Century Club, which made Arnie nervous when the NCS took too long to reimburse him. (Sorry about that, Arnie.)
But Mort was happy, and it was a great party.
PLANNING MY FIRST CONVENTION
The first Reuben Awards convention that I ran as NCS president was in 2000, at the Marriott World Trade Center Hotel in lower Manhattan, but it was originally intended to take place in Santa Rosa, California. The convention was to be a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the comic strip, Peanuts. My predecessor as NCS president, George Breisacher, had been talking to Peanuts creator, Charles M. “Sparky” Schulz and the city of Santa Rosa about having the 2000 Reuben Awards banquet at Sparky’s ice skating rink. Sparky and Santa Rosa were both very generous in their offer to host the convention. George and I flew to Santa Rosa to have dinner with Sparky and his wife, Jeannie, to tour the ice rink and visit the proposed hotel. The hotel was a few miles from the rink, but the city of Santa Rosa offered to cover the cost of busses, and they even offered to have a parade. The ice rink was great fun, and Sparky told us how he had a wood floor that would be installed on top of the ice for the Reubens banquet. We had lovely meetings; Sparky was charming and more than generous, but the problem was the hotel, which would be under construction at that time. With no local hotel alternative that could fit the NCS, and difficult logistics, Santa Rosa didn’t happen. We figured the NCS would do Santa Rosa another year, when the construction at the hotel was completed. I was left scrambling to find a new venue for the 2000 convention. This was actually quite typical for new NCS presidents – planning ahead was not part of the culture for the NCS.
Instead of Santa Rosa, I decided to take the Reubens back to New York, and after a search and competitive bid process, I signed a big contract with the Marriott World Trade Center Hotel, still with the theme of celebrating the 50th anniversary of Peanuts.
Sponsorship for the 2000 Reuben Awards weekend was promised, including a big commitment from United Media, the syndicate that owned Peanuts. Sparky, was going to receive the NCS’s lifetime achievement award on Reuben night and political cartoonist Mike Luckovich had organized most of the newspaper comic strip cartoonists to draw a Peanuts 50th anniversary themed strip on the Saturday of our banquet – then in mid-February, three months before the convention in May, we got the news that Sparky had died.
My cartoonist buddy, Randy Enos, will be writing some short remembrances here in the blog; he has had a long career with many stories that he needs to tell. Randy has had a fantastic career, drawing for all the top publications; he was a regular in the old National Lampoon with his Chicken Gutz comic. Randy was working with all the top cartoonists and illustrators in the New York scene since the year I was born (1956). Randy draws his editorial cartoons with a knife, cutting into linoleum block, backwards. Check out his archive.
An Evening at the Society
In the late 50’s into the early 60’s, I often attended the meetings of The National Cartoonists Society as a guest of my friend and co-worker Pete Wells (once a Katzenjammer Kids cartoonist). The meetings were held in New York at the old Lamb’s Club which was really a club for actors, playwrights and the like. I would often see some very familiar faces of old timey actors there because they all enjoyed honorary membership in the Society as exchange for loaning us their home for our meetings.
On this one night, I was employed drinking at the bar, half listening to the two guys standing next to me discussing their work, but mostly I was paying attention to the antics of the Smokey Stover cartoonist, Bill Holman, who was gleefully glad-handing every one who approached and chortling like a little kid when they were “shocked” by the buzzer he had concealed in his right hand.
One of the two next to me was the great DC comics artist Jerry Robinson. I don’t remember who the other guy was. As I listened to them, I became aware of a small man with a large head who had approached and was in rapt attention to the speakers, darting his enormous noggin back and forth between them as though watching a tennis match. Every now and then he would attempt to interject something to no avail. He would say, “Hey… hey, fellas”. This went on for a time and then, through utter frustration, he finally exploded, “Hey, you guys. You never talk to me!” It was then that I recognized one of the founders of the Society, Otto Soglow, former political cartoonist who was now famous for “The Little King”.
“You realistic guys never want to talk to me” he went on, “I draw realistic too… I do. I draw realistic . I can’t help it… that’s the way people look to me!”
Well the evening went on to include a near fist fight between a very drunk Walt Kelly and the evening’s guest speaker, my favorite radio guy Jean Shepherd (A Christmas Story) who was dressed in a gamy tux with holes in his socks.
It was just another typical evening at the Cartoonists Society.
PS from Randy:
Daryl, In case you’re wondering what the fight between Shepherd and Kelly was all about, here’s what transpired:
Shepherd’s talk that evening was about freedom and bucking the system and speaking out. He was admonishing a lot of the cartoonists for being very tame and not pushing the boundaries etc.. At that time in his career he was without a sponsor. There were brief periods when he did have a sponsor but he was so irreverent to them that it never worked out very well. He was fired at one point and then re-instated when his listening audience rose up and demanded his return. so, I tell you this because Kelly’s point was that Shepherd could play Mr. High & Mighty because he didn’t have sponsors to deal with and answer to while the cartoonists worked for papers that had editors and ads to contend with and didn’t have that freedom. Kelly was very drunk at that point in the evening and started shouting from the floor, openly arguing nastily with Shepherd. It got so fierce that I honestly thought they were going to come to blows but finally Kelly staggered off and left the building.
I went on my first National Cartoonists Society (NCS), USO trip last week. The NCS has a long history of working with the USO, dating back to the 1950’s and we’re cheap entertainment – all we need is a pen, a pad of paper and a place to sit.
Bahrain, aside from some flashy skyscrapers downtown, is a pretty desolate looking desert, with beige sand, a beige sky and searing heat. Bahrain is a kingdom that has a long bridge to Saudi Arabia. The Saudis like to come to Bahrain to go to a movie, shop and go out for dinner. I suspect the food, movies and restaurants in Saudi Arabia leave something to be desired, so Bahrain is crammed full of hotels, shopping and restaurants.
Out in the middle of nowhere there is a tree they call the “Tree of Life” that grows where there are no other trees in sight. The locals think the tree is thousands of years old, left over from the Garden of Eden. Those cans on the ground are flood lights. Our group of cartoonists is there in the photo, from left to right, Paul Combs (fireman cartoonist and former political cartoonist for the Tampa Tribune); Michael Ramirez, the knuckle-dragging, Neanderthal, right-wing, Pulitzer-winning star editorial cartoonist; Dave Mowder, Illustrator and character cartoonist; Todd Clark, who draws the comic strip “Lola” and writes gags for another half a dozen top strips; next is me in a Hawaiian shirt, and on the right is Ed Steckley, a brilliant caricature artist/illustrator from New York.
I enjoy drawing for the troops! They seem to really appreciate the cartoons. Typically, they will pull out a cell phone with a photo of a boyfriend, a girlfriend or a dog from back home. I sometimes suggest combining the boyfriend with the dog, which is a big hit with the women soldiers, although it doesn’t work the other way around – “girlfriend as a dog” cartoons are to be avoided!
There are US military installations all around Bahrain, including a very big naval base where we spent a good deal of time drawing. We visited a Patriot missile installation and got a great lesson on how the anti-missile missiles work, but they wouldn’t let us shoot one off.
We had originally been slated to visit Afghanistan, but the Pentagon “locked down” Afghanistan as “too dangerous,” so Bahrain was the safe, backup plan. I’m told that some of these NCS/USO cartoonist trips can be rather rugged and adventurous. Since this was my first time, I have nothing to compare it to. It wasn’t rugged. We had a nice hotel. But is was still an adventure.
I was the oldest guy on the trip. It seems to me that the troops are getting younger as I get older. They are kids. Big, tough kids. I appreciate all they do and it was great fun to sit an talk with so many of them.
So sad to see this on the National Cartoonists Society’s (NCS) Facebook page.
Both Jack Davis and Richard Thompson are among the best cartoonists ever. I met them both through the NCS. I grew up with Jack’s brilliant artwork in Mad Magazine; he was a special influence on my own work and a charming gentleman.
The NCS and the world lost 2 cartooning legends today: Jack Davis and Richard Thompson.
Jack was born in 1924, and after his first freelance drawing gig at age 12, went on to become one of the greatest and most respected cartoonists of all time. He leaves behind his loving wife Dena, and a world lessened by the loss of a legend. Jack won the Reuben Award for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year in 2000.
Richard Thompson, in addition to being a successful humorous illustrator for The Washington Post, created one of the most admired newspaper comic strips of the late 20th century, Cul de Sac. In 2009 he was diagnosed with Parkinsons disease , and soon after had no choice but to retire the strip. Richard was given the Reuben Award for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year in 2011.
I responded to a request from National Cartoonists Society (NCS) president Bill Morrison, to do a drawing thanking the city of Memphis for their support of the upcoming NCS convention. The original will be sold at a fundraising auction. Bill sent cartoonists a list of “Memphis stuff” including the pyramid, the Memphis skyline, Elvis, fried chicken and craft beer. I’m more drawn to the old, fat Elvis – I wonder why.
Watch me draw this one in real time in the video below. I drew two cartoons in this video, and this Youtube link is queued to start when I start drawing Elvis.
I’m impressed with the NCS Southeast Chapter, they put on an ambitious gathering and have a lot of cartooning luminaries in their ranks. I’m looking forward to it.
Next week I’m going to the big, international, editorial cartooning convention in St. Just le Martel, France. This is a little town that has decided that they love editorial cartoons – they built an impressive cartoon museum and the whole town comes out in wholehearted support of our troubled art form. They also love cows; this is French cow country, down by Limoges.
So, if there are any editorial cartooning fans in France who want to visit with some obscure, American editorial cartoonists, the four of us will be hanging with all the other world cartoonists at the cartoon museum the second weekend of the Salon, October 4th, 5th and 6th.
I’m at the National Cartoonists Society Reuben Awards banquet tonight, and I just ran up to my hotel room after the dinner to post and tweet the winners of the Cartoonist of the Year Award and all the Division Award Winners.
The Reuben Award winners are – a tie, for the first time I can remember: Brian Crane (Pickles) and Rick Kirkman (Baby Blues) both won and both took home two big Rube Goldberg statues. I don’t recall that there has ever been a tie before. The third nominee was Stephan Pastis of Pearls Before Swine.
The nominees in the newspaper illustration division were Mark Brewer, Bob Rich and Dave Whamond. The winner is Dave Whammond – a great guy and my new friend who does great work for the Wall Street Journal.
The nominees in the Greeting Card Division were Bill Brewer, George Schill and Jem Sullivan. The winner in the greeting card division is Jem Sullivan..
The nominees in the TV Animation Division were Todd Kauffman, for Sidekick, Alberto Mielgo for Tron: Uprising, and Rich Weber for DC Nation. The winner in the TV Animation Division is Rich Weber for DC Nation.
The nominees in the Feature Animation Division were Rich Moore for Wreck-It Ralph, Joann Sear for The Rabbi’s Cat and Hiromasa Yonebayashi for The Secret World of Arriety. The winner is Joann Sear for The Rabbi’s Cat.
The nominees in the Advertising/Product Illustration Division were Luke McGarry, Ed Steckley and Wayno. The winner is Ed Steckley.
The nominees in the Graphic Novel Division (that I had the pleasure to announce), were Derf, for My Friend Daumer, Joseph Lambert for Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller, and Chris Ware for Building Stories. The winner in the Graphic novel Division is Chris Ware for Building Stories.
The nominees in the Comic Book Division were Amdanda Connor, Evan Dorkin and Bernie Wrightson. The winner is Evan Dorkin.
The nominees in the online Comics – Short For Division were Graham Harrop for Ten Cats, Honathan Lemon for Rabbits Against Magic and Michael McParlane for Mac. The Winner is Graham Harrop for Ten Cats.
The Nominees in the Online Comics Long Form Division were Vince Dorse for Untold tales of Bigfoot, Meredith Gran for Octopus Pie and Pan N. Lewis for Muscles Diablo in Where Terror Lurks. The winner is Vince Dorse.
In the Gag Cartoon Division the nominees were Roz Chast, Sam Gross, Mick Stevens and Jack Ziegler, the winner is Roz Chast.
In the Newspaper Panel Division, Tony Carillo, F-Minus, Dave Coverly, Speed Bump, and Hilary Price Rhymes With Orange. The winner in the Newspaper Panel Cartoon Division is Hilary Price, Rhymes With Orange.
In the Editorial Cartoon Division the Nominees were Clay Bennett, Michael de Adder and Jen Sorensen, the winner is Jen Sorensen.
In the Newspaper Comic Strip Division, noinees were Brian Basset, Red & Rover, Jeff Parker and Steve Kelley, Dustin, and Jerry Scott & Jim Borgman, Zits . Winner is Brian Bassett, Red & Rover.
UPDATE: Here’s a video I shot of Rob Kirkman and Brian Crane both accepting their Reuben Award: