Saturday, July 22, 2017

A Summertime Picture from Johnny Gruelle

Johnny Gruelle (1880-1938) was born in Arcola, Illinois, but he grew up in Indianapolis, just east of the downtown area and not far from the Lockerbie Square neighborhood where James Whitcomb Riley lived. Gruelle's father, the artist Richard Buckner Gruelle (1851-1914) was friends with Riley (1849-1916). Known as the Hoosier Poet, Riley was famed for his poems of childhood and life in small-town Indiana, including "Little Orphant Annie" and "The Raggedy Man." The poem "Little Orphant Annie" lent its name to Harold Gray's long-running comic strip, Little Orphan Annie. (Like Johnny Gruelle, Gray was born in Illinois but lived in Indiana. He graduated from Purdue University in 1917.) Some years before that, Johnny Gruelle and his family took inspiration from "The Raggedy Man" and named their famous dolls, Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy, after Riley's poem.

The Gruelle family didn't live far from downtown Indianapolis, yet their neighborhood was rural, or at most suburban in character. I suspect the Gruelle children would have gone berry-picking when they were young. It's that time of year now, when the black raspberries, then the blackberries, ripen and are ready to pick. Berry-picking is the subject of the following picture and poem, the picture by Gruelle, the poem by Ethel Fairmont (1881-1977), from her book Rhymes for Kindly Children (Wise-Parslow, 1937). You can read more about Ethel Fairmont at the website of Nancy S. Weyant, here.

Some of the illustrator's pictures for Ethel's book are a little too British, but that's okay, for Johnny Gruelle was all American and a Hoosier at that. I should point out that today, July 22, 2017, is the anniversary of the death of James Whitcomb Riley. He died one hundred and one years ago, in the centennial year of the state in which he was born.



Text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, June 1, 2017

John Gannam (1905-1965)

I have just one piece of evidence that illustrator John Gannam was an Indiana artist. From the book Forty Illustrators and How They Work by Ernest W. Watson, et al. (1946):
John Gannam's first art hero was an Indianapolis blacksmith. This swarthy "primitive" dipped brushes into cans of ordinary house paint and, stroke by stroke on the surface of an ordinary wood panel, created the image of a clipper ship under full sail. In the spell of this miracle the ten-year-old lad went home and tried to reproduce the smithy's masterpiece. The seed had been planted. (p. 130)
So unless he was on his own at age ten, John Gannam was a Hoosier . . .

 . . . but not by birth. That happy event occurred on May 24, 1905, in Lebanon--not the Indiana city but the Middle Eastern country, then part of the Ottoman Empire. (1) His birth name was Fouzi Hanna Boughanam, and he was the son of Hanna Ibrahim Boughanam (1873-ca. 1919) and Najla Boughanam (1883-?). On October 11, 1909, at age four, Gannam arrived in New York City with his mother. Coming from Turkey by way of Le Havre, they disembarked from the ship La Gascogne, perhaps with a destination in mind but giving no address. If Gannam lived in Indianapolis as a young boy, he was, by his teen years, in Chicago. The death of his father when Gannam was fourteen forced him into the role of breadwinner for his family. He worked at the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago, also as an errand boy, elevator operator, and employee in a machine shop. Interested in art since childhood, Gannam finally landed a job in an engraving firm at age eighteen. Although he was only a messenger boy, as Ernest Watson pointed out in his profile of 1946, "he was in the presence of art, and by hanging around nights he could learn much about lettering, drawing and the way artists work." (p. 130) Work for an illustration studio and a fashion studio, along with studies at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts followed.

In 1926, Gannam went to Detroit with his portfolio in hand and began working for the studio of Gray, Garfield & Ladriere. (2) He spent four years in Detroit working in black and white, mostly in the drybrush technique. In 1930, he moved further east, to the artist's Mecca of New York City, and began selling illustrations to leading magazines, including Collier'sCosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Ladies' Home Journal, and Woman's Home Companion. He also created advertising art for the Air Transport Association, Ipana, Pacific Mills, St. Mary's Blankets, and other clients. Gannam specialized in depicting women and children in interior scenes and worked extensively in watercolor. Walt Reed, a historian of illustration in America, called him "a totally absorbed, dedicated artist" and noted: "To his fellow illustrators, each new painting by Gannam was an inspiring event."

John Gannam married Dorothy F. Merwin on August 30, 1936. They had at least one child, John Gannam, Jr., but were later divorced. John Gannam the elder became a naturalized citizen on February 18, 1957, in New York City. He moved from that city to Newtown, Connecticut, in about 1961. A member of the American Artists' Professional League, National Academy of Art, National Institute of Art and Design, Society of Illustrators, and Watercolor Society of America, he was named to the faculty and board of the Danbury Academy of Arts shortly before his death, which came on January 26, 1965, in a convalescent home in Danbury, Connecticut. He was fifty-nine years old. (Some sources say fifty-seven.) Surviving him were his son, John Gannam, Jr., and his brothers, Fred Gannam, Albert Gannam, and Edward Gannam, all of Chicago. Gannam was buried at New Saint Peter Cemetery in Danbury. In 1981, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Society of Illustrators. You can see a very full gallery of art by John Gannam at the website American Gallery: Greatest American Painters, here.

Notes
(1) The town of his birth may have been Zahlé. The record of his arrival in the United States gave his nationality as Syrian.
(2) Gannam may have worked at Gray, Garfield & Ladriere at about the same time as Norwegian-born artist Arild Weborg (1900-1963).

Further Reading
  • Forty Illustrators and How They Work by Ernest W. Watson, et al. (New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1946).
  • A Complete Guide to Drawing, Illustration, Cartooning, and Painting by Gene Byrnes (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1948).
  • The Illustrator in America, 1860-2000 by Walt Reed (New York: The Society of Illustrators, 2001).

A watercolor illustration by John Gannam for Good Housekeeping magazine. The subject matter may have reminded the artist of his homeland in the Levant.

Another woman in pink, though in a far different situation.

John Gannam in his studio, from Forty Illustrators and How They Work.

Update (June 30, 2017): A watercolor drawing by John Gannam from Good Housekeeping, June 1942, illustrating part one of the novel Do You Take These Women? by Viña Delmar. Thanks to Troy for providing the original.

Text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Kenneth Rexroth (1905-1982)

Today's entry is eccentric. In its spinning and turning, it will catch a renowned artist, poet, and critic; a pop singer who cast herself as a witch; an actress who played a princess; two worldwide pop-cultural phenomena; a song about dreams; and the dreams themselves of countless young people--dreams of quest and conflict and a chance at becoming a hero in a battle that never ends. Among those who dream and who have dreamed were four boys who, on a day forty years ago, sat in a darkened theater in Indianapolis, eagerly awaiting the start of a movie that would prove unlike any before it, even if it was drawn from tales as old as storytelling. My older brother had seen the movie before. My younger brother, his friend Tom, and I had not, but we were excited in a way that only children can be excited to see a movie about which we had heard so much. Not long before that day at the Eastwood--a theater now laid low by the passage of time--the movie had opened across the country and had almost instantly become a sensation beyond any moviegoing experience before it. Nothing before and nothing after--not even Jaws from two summers before--would match what it became in the year and more following its release. It has since grown into a franchise, moreover, a worldwide phenomenon. The movie was of course Star Wars. It came out forty years ago today, on May 25, 1977.

Strange details stick in your head. I remember that as we waited to see Star Wars, a song played in the theater. (Those were the days before commercials were shown before the movie begins.) The song was "Dreams," by Fleetwood Mac, from the album Rumours. I didn't know it at the time, but Rumours was released on February 4, 1977, not long before Star Wars came out. It was a sensation, too, and became one of the biggest-selling albums of all time. "Dreams" reached number one on the pop-music charts on June 18, 1977, probably around the time the four of us went to see Star Wars. (Our seeing it was an early birthday present from my parents to my younger brother.) Another thing I probably didn't know at the time: "Dreams" was sung by Stevie Nicks.

Now comes the strange part--strange, then somewhat plausible, at least in my view. The heroine of Star Wars was of course Princess Leia, played by Carrie Fisher, who was only nineteen years old when filming began on Star Wars in March 1976--nineteen and completely convincing not only as a princess but also as an outer-space senator. Although she had been in movies before, Carrie Fisher became a household name with Star Wars. Millions mourned her death this past year. She was loved as few people in popular culture are truly loved. Stevie Nicks is also loved that way, by millions the world over. She who sang "Dreams" for us has, strangely enough, been named as a possible replacement for Carrie Fisher. This isn't just some lone fanboy's dream: it's actually a thing on the Internet. As soon as I heard about it, I thought That might actually work. Whereas some people seem to be saying that Stevie Nicks should just be a stand-in or a body double for Carrie Fisher, I think she could actually be Princess Leia. No one I can think of could fill the role, but Stevie is loved like Carrie was loved, and she has a similar stature, not just physically but also in pop-cultural terms. The pop culture of the 1970s is falling into pieces with age as all things do--sadly, neither Linda Ronstadt nor Steve Perry can sing anymore--but if you want to hold it up for at least a little longer, I say Why not? If she can act and if the deal can be swung, why shouldn't we have someone new in Stevie Nicks to play the forty-year-old part of Princess Leia? I realize that it's only a fantasy--a dream--to think that way, but what else is all of this but a dream and a fantasy?


So what does any of this have to do with Indiana and its artists? Well, as any Star Wars fan ought to know, Ralph McQuarrie (1929-2012), the conceptual artist behind the film and the franchise, was born in Gary, Indiana. He worked with director and screenwriter George Lucas as early as the spring of 1975, two years before the movie was released. He would go on to work on other films in the series. I would like to go beyond Ralph McQuarrie, though, and write about another Indiana artist who had nothing (or almost nothing) to do with Star Wars but by the turns of an eccentric idea can be caught in a discussion of the movie and its related phenomena.

A painting by Indiana illustrator Ralph McQuarrie for The Empire Strikes Back (1980). 

Kenneth Rexroth was born on December 22, 1905, in South Bend, Indiana. A home-schooled prodigy, then a teenaged orphan, he moved to Chicago to live with his aunt around 1919 or so. Although he is now known as a poet and critic, Rexroth studied at the Art Institute of Chicago in his youth. I would be surprised to find that any of his artwork survives. On the other hand, maybe there are drawings by Kenneth Rexroth hiding among his papers, wherever they might be housed.

Rexroth had a varied career as a traveler, friend, husband, lover, critic, essayist, poet, author, translator, activist, and associate of many famous people, including Beat Poets and other literary figures in San Francisco. You can read about him on the Internet and in those ancient artifacts known as "books." I'll note only that Kenneth Rexroth died in Santa Barbara, California, on June 6, 1982, at age seventy-six.

"Dorothy," a portrait by Andrée Dutcher (1902-1940), first wife of Kenneth Rexroth. 

Now comes a part about which I'm not sure, followed by some thoughts that I hope will stand on their own, even if I'm wrong about this connection to Kenneth Rexroth. And here is that connection, if it really is a connection: a long time ago, I read that there are only two kinds of stories, namely, the Iliad and the Odyssey. I think the quote was attributed to Kenneth Rexroth, but I can't be sure. As happens too often, when you lose a quote, it's hard to find again, even in this age of the Internet. But I have kept that thought in my head and have applied it to the analysis of books and movies over the years. It seems to hold up pretty well. Boiled down even further, the idea is that every story is either of a conflict--the Iliad--or of a quest or journey--the Odyssey. I would like to look into that idea in relation to two high-powered, pop-cultural franchises.

The cover of Poetry Readings in the Cellar (Fantasy, 1958), a spoken-word record with Kenneth Rexroth and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I wrote that there is no connection between Rexroth and Star Wars. Well, that's if you stop too soon. If you don't stop too soon, you'll learn that Lawrence Ferlinghetti (b. 1919) was friends with Erik Bauersfeld (1922-2016), voice of Admiral Ackbar and Bib Fortuna in the Star Wars movies.

Before Star Wars, there was Star Trek. Since the former came out in 1977, the two have lived side by side. One is fantasy. It appeals or is meant to appeal especially to children. The other is science fiction, though not always of the highest order. It appeals to children but also to adults, as the best entertainment of the 1960s and '70s did. I'm sure there is some overlap in the fandom associated with each, but the stereotype is that there are just two kinds of people: Star Wars fans and Star Trek fans. I'm not sure what these fans think of each other. If you fall back on stereotypes, you might say that Star Wars fans think that Star Trek is boring and that Star Trek fans think Star Wars is childish and one-dimensional. But those are stereotypes. Anyway, consider their titles: Star Wars. Star Trek. Take away the word Star and you're left with what? Wars--a conflict, the story told in the Iliad. Trek--a quest or journey, the story told in the Odyssey. There are wars in Star Trek and quests in Star Wars, but each is essentially of its own type. (With that in mind, might Princess Leia be Helen of Troy and the Millennium Falcon the Trojan Horse?) 

So just by their titles, these two franchises bear out the idea I have attributed here to Kenneth Rexroth. If there are only two kinds of stories, each must cover a lot of ground. The possibilities for storytelling would seem vast. However, there are limits in each. War eventually ceases. The journey finally reaches its end. Wars and journeys without end can only mean misery and despair. So what does that mean for a pop-cultural franchise? I saw part of the results in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). The moviemakers seem to have been recreating Star Wars for a new generation. That's fine. Star Wars is after all a story for children. Why shouldn't children now have the same chance we had--we four and millions more like us--in 1977 for an exciting fantasy of rushing from one star system to another towards a climactic battle against an evil empire?

But there's a crack in the Star Wars story. I say it as a fan, but there's a crack, for in Star Wars, there must always be an Empire and there must always be a Rebellion. The Star Wars universe is vast and the possibilities for storytelling are theoretically endless, but the main action in every movie is the same: Imperial forces against Rebels, Sith against Jedi, the Dark Side against the Force. Without that conflict, Star Wars may well amount to nothing. So the war goes on, movie after movie, decade after decade, all with variations on a simple theme: the Empire or its equivalent always builds a big, impenetrable fortress and the Rebels or their equivalents always penetrate it and destroy it, often with what is seemingly the most powerful weapon in the universe, the X-wing fighter. Maybe Star Wars: The Force Awakens recapitulated the original trilogy not so much for a new generation of moviegoers but because it's the only story that can be told in the Star Wars universe. And maybe Darth Vader returned in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) because of a further limitation: maybe only he makes a truly compelling villain and a suitable embodiment of the spirit of the Empire. One thing is for sure: he beats the heck out of his weak little tantrum-throwing emo grandson.

In Star Trek, on the other hand, there are always new horizons of outer space where no man has gone before. Storytelling in the Star Trek universe is far less limited than in the Star Wars universe if only because it isn't framed and delineated by war, which has, significantly, a classic narrative structure. There is always a Federation and the starships of the Federation, but beyond that, only the writer's imagination places bounds upon what stories might be told. Star Trek, as Kenneth Rexroth wrote of the Odyssey, "is a collection of adventures, of little melodramas." There are limitations even here, though. One is that in the Star Trek universe, there isn't the classic narrative structure as in a story of war. The story just goes on and on, with all parts being equal to all other parts. There isn't any growth or development in the characters. They simply live out their lives in stasis, returned at the beginning of each episode to where they were at the beginning of the last episode, despite anything that might have happened in between. Captain Kirk might have great adventures, but he doesn't grow. Luke Skywalker, on the other hand, might grow (in addition to being a story of conflict, Star Wars can be considered a Bildungsroman), but he can never have peace in a universe that must always be at war.

So which limitation is worse? I can't say. A better way might be to look at possibilities rather than limitations. Star Wars and Star Trek have both told great stories. When they have not told great stories, it hasn't been because of the limitations of their respective types. And I would say that neither franchise has reached the bounds of possibility. There are still more stories to tell, and it's nice to think that forty years from now there will still be excited children waiting in the dark, waiting for the words Space: the final frontier . . . or A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away . . .

Copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley
Happy 60th Wedding Anniversary to My Parents!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Joseph Allen Minturn (1861-1943)

One hundred years ago today, on April 6, 1917, the United States, with its declaration of war on Germany, entered the Great War, what we now call the First World War or World War I. By the time of the armistice nineteen months later, more than 4.7 million men had answered the call to arms, and more than 110,000 had died in combat, of disease, and by other causes. One who served was Joseph Allen Minturn of Indianapolis, a lawyer, artist, and clubman remembered for being one of the oldest of the officers inducted into the U.S. Army for service in that long-ago war.

Joseph Allen Minturn, known as Joe, was born in Nelsonville, Ohio, on June 20, 1861, shortly after the start of the Civil War. He arrived in Indianapolis in the American centennial year of 1876 and graduated from Indianapolis High School in 1877. Minturn furthered his education at Pennsylvania Military Academy (now Widener University), where he studied civil engineering and chemistry and received his Ph.D. in 1880, and at the law school of Indiana University, completing his studies there in 1895. Minturn started a wood engraving business in Indianapolis in 1881, became a patent attorney in 1895, and was admitted to practice before U.S. Federal Court in 1895 and the U.S. Supreme Court in 1910. In 1901, Minturn served in the Indiana State Legislature.

Just shy of his fifty-sixth birthday, Minturn enlisted in the U.S. Army in May 1917. In June, the army imposed an age limit of fifty-four for enlistees, and Minturn was discharged. He promptly went to Washington, D.C., and, after a month of lobbying, was reinstated and ordered to report to Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis in July 1917. As a newly minted second lieutenant in the Quartermaster Corps, he was next stationed at Camp Zachary Taylor in Kentucky and began learning about landscape drawing, military draftsmanship, and the new art of camouflage. Service at Camp Sherman, in Minturn's native state of Ohio, followed.

In July 1918, Minturn went overseas with the 309th Engineers, 84th Division, and became an instructor in camouflage and military sketching at Army Infantry Specialists' School in Langres, France. He acted as an observer on the Meuse-Argonne and St. Mihiel fronts and served at General Headquarters in Chaumont. Minturn was promoted to first lieutenant in 1918, to captain in April 1919, and was discharged after two years of service in July 1919. He was then fifty-eight years old.

Once returned to civilian life, Joe Minturn continued in his career as an author and illustrator. He had earlier written Inventor's Friend, or Success with Patents (Indianapolis, 1893), Price-Regulation Under Patents (Indianapolis: Minturn & Woerner, 1916), and The Puritans: An Historical Poem of America, etc. (Noblesville, IN: Butler Printing House, 1917). His book The American Spirit (1921), with illustrations by himself and others, is an account of Minturn's service in the army. (1) Next came Brown County Ballads ([Indianapolis], 1928), Frances Slocum of Miami Lodge, etc. (Indianapolis: Globe Pub. Co., 1928), and finally Historical and Other Poems (Indianapolis: Globe Publishing Co., 1939). (2)

Joseph Minturn was married twice and had two daughters. He was a member of the Methodist Church, Knights of Pythias, Masonic Lodge, Scottish Rite, American Legion, Indiana Society of Mayflower Descendants, and Service Club of Indianapolis. (3) Most of the information here is from the book The Service Club of Indianapolis, 1920-1955, compiled by Howard C. Caldwell (1955). For many years, Minturn was the club's oldest member. He had a farm in Hamilton County, north of Indianapolis, and a cabin, called "Miami Lodge," in Brown County, well south of the city. There he carried on his hobby of painting. Minturn was also of course an engraver and illustrator, and he was lifelong friends with Indianapolis artist and art instructor William Forsyth (1854-1945).

Joseph Allen Minturn died on April 3, 1943, at age eighty-one, and was buried at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.

Notes
(1) To see the book in its entirety, click on the link:


(2) The list of Minturn's books is from Ohio Authors and Their Books by William Coyle, editor (1962), and Indiana Authors and Their Books 1816-1916, by R.E. Banta, editor (1949), by way of the website Strangers to Us All: Lawyers and Poetry, here.
(3) Minturn, an amateur genealogist, was descended on his mother's side from John Howland and Elizabeth Tillie or Tilley of the original colony. In that descent, he was related to George W. Bush, Chevy Chase, Sarah Palin, and Ted Danson, among many, many others.

Joseph Allen Minturn (1861-1943), a photograph taken in January 1918 in Chaumont, France. Known as tallest man in his company at Fort Harrison, Minturn was best remembered by the men with whom he served for his age and for his snow-white thatch of hair.





Above, a number of illustrations from Minturn's book The American Spirit (1921).

Text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Esther Friend (1907-1991)

Illustrator, commercial artist, ceramist, printmaker, and fine artist Esther Friend was born in Hinsdale, Illinois, in 1907. She began her professional career at age twelve when she created a Christmas poster for a neighborhood dry goods store for the grand sum of $2. At fourteen, she started work with a commercial art and advertising agency washing brushes. In exchange for her labor, she received not pay but instruction in drawing and illustration. Esther also attended the school of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Vogue School and spent a year studying art in Paris.

Esther Friend worked as a commercial artist in the same agency where she had, as a teenager, washed brushes. After ten years on the job, she approached Chicago publisher Rand McNally and Company with her portfolio and came away with an assignment to illustrate a children's book. It was the first of her eighty-five illustrated books, mostly to do with babies, children, pets, and farm animals. In her search for subject matter, Esther went to parks, playgrounds, dog shows, zoos, and the children's room at the local library. In addition to drawing pictures for small books, she collected small books, some dating back as early as 1804.

Esther met Carl W. Lichtenstein, her husband-to-be, at a summer place in Eagle River, Wisconsin. Born in Detroit in 1902, Lichtenstein (and his twin brother) grew up in Indianapolis, attended Public School 32, and graduated from Technical High School in 1919. Lichtenstein (and his twin brother) worked for the Flickinger insurance agency in Indianapolis. In 1933, following their summer romance, Carl W. Lichtenstein and Esther Friend were married. They lived for some time in Chicago and began taking lessons together at Hull House beginning around 1939. They also started a business making ceramic figurines and Christmas ornaments called Lichten Ware. Lichten Ware was sold in stores all over the country, from Hawaii to Florida, and is still available through dealers and collectors.

By the 1950s, Esther Friend and Carl Lichtenstein were in Indianapolis, where she continued in her career as an illustrator. She also exhibited her paintings, drawings, prints, and sculptures. Esther Friend, a widow, died at Hooverwood nursing home in Indianapolis on December 13, 1991. She was eighty-four years old.




Above, a gallery of covers of books illustrated by Indianapolis artist Esther Friend.

A Lichten Ware figurine, created by Esther Friend and her husband, Carl W. Lichtenstein.

Esther Friend, a photographic portrait from Ruth Mac Kay's column "White Collar Girl" in the Chicago Tribune, December 12, 1947, page 38.

In observance of International Women's Day, March 8, 2017.
Text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

A Picture for Presidents Day

February is the month of presidents, and for February and for our presidents, I would like to offer a piece of artwork by an Indiana artist. His name was Jim Baker, and like Abraham Lincoln, he was born in Kentucky and came to Indiana in his youth. In this case, James Wallace Baker was born on June 24, 1924, in Owensboro, Kentucky, right across the river from the Hoosier State. He graduated from DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, and from 1946 to 1996 worked for the Columbus Dispatch in Columbus, Ohio. Jim Baker was a draftsman and historical illustrator of surpassing ability. He wrote and illustrated about a dozen small books on Ohio and American history. He was also creator of the historical comic strip Ben Hardy, which was known by various names and published from 1952 to 1965 and 1975 to 1979. The illustration below is of the homes and monuments of Ohio presidents, drawn for a portfolio called Portraits of Ohio Presidents, published by the Ohio Historical Society in 1968. Jim Baker died on December 29, 1995, in Columbus, Ohio, at age seventy-one.

Happy Presidents Day!
February 20, 2017


Text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The International Day of the Cartoonist 2017

I would like to observe the International Day of the Cartoonist 2017 by remembering the international cartoonist Joe Szabo, who died last year at the age of sixty-five. I'm happy to say that Joe was also a Hoosier, if only for a while.

Joseph George Szabo was born on February 4, 1950, in Budapest, Hungary, just six months after his country fell under communist rule. According to items on the Internet, Joe graduated from the Academy of Journalism in 1974. I believe that to mean what was then or is now called Bálint György Academy of Journalism in Budapest. On July 19, 1975, Joe Szabo married Flora Toth, also of Budapest.

In a remembrance of his friend, Len Lear wrote that Joe "wanted to be a real journalist because he had a passion for justice, but that was impossible in Communist Hungary, where any deviation from the party line could mean unemployment, exile, prison, torture or even death." (1) Although he worked in the late 1970s as assisting managing editor for Magyar Nemzet (
Hungarian Nation), the largest daily newspaper in Hungary, Joe was dissatisfied with his comfortable position and his relatively prosperous life in his native country. "Journalists in a Communist country are considered a part of the political apparatus," Joe told Mr. Lear. "You're not a watchdog, just the opposite. You are a lapdog. You are not there to print the news or to be objective. You are there to make the authorities in government look good and not to deviate from the party line. You are basically a public relations person for the rulers and oppressors." In 1980, Joe and his wife fled from Hungary to the United States by way of Austria and West Germany (where he sought political asylum at the U.S. embassy). In December 1981, Joe arrived in a small town in Indiana, possibly Warsaw, Indiana.

Not knowing English, Joe struggled and was unemployed for a couple of years. He found work as a freelance cartoonist for a time. With a drawing printed on May 13, 1985, his political cartoons began appearing in the Philadelphia Daily News. They were also syndicated by Rothco and were chosen by Charles Brooks for his annual collection Best Editorial Cartoons of the Year in 1986, 1987, 1988, and possibly other years. (My collection is incomplete.) In 1987, under the byline Joseph George Szabo, Joe began publishing WittyWorld International Cartoon Magazine. The first issue was dated Summer 1987.

I have just three issues of WittyWorld (Nos. 2-4). As a cartoonist, I can say that is everything a cartoonist might want in a magazine. It is well designed and well made, and though there are only forty-eight pages in each issue, those pages are packed full of information. The regular departments are especially fine. They include a letters page; "Witty Wire," a compilation of cartoon news from all over the world; reviews of comic books and animation books by Frederick Patten, of cartoon books by Hongying Liu-Lengyel, and of journals by John A. Lent; "Cartoon Laboratory" on innovations in cartooning; a column on syndicates; a calendar of events; and classified advertisements. There are of course many articles and pictorial features as well. WittyWorld ran for several years. The last number I have found is Number 18, from Autumn/Winter 1994.

Joe Szabo published WittyWorld from North Wales, Pennsylvania, a borough north of Philadelphia. He seems to have moved to Pennsylvania from Indiana and to have lived there for the rest of his life. Even though he had escaped to the United States, he still had reason to fear political oppression and political violence. "Remember," he said, "Joseph Stalin had Leon Trotsky murdered in 1940, although Trotsky was many thousands of miles away in Mexico. In the U.S. and western Europe, where there is freedom of movement, dictators like Vladimir Putin have had journalistic critics murdered. They could do it here, too. You are never really safe." The targets of the cartoons he drew and those he published by other cartoonists were not just communist rulers or rulers in formerly communist countries. They were and are oppressors and tyrants of every color and stripe.


In 1990, Joe convened a meeting of cartoonists in Budapest as the Iron Curtain was coming down. He traveled to other parts of the world, too, to meet with cartoonists, to speak at and attend exhibits and conferences, and to lecture on cartoons and cartooning. He spent the last decade of his life conducting research and interviews for a planned book, The Image of America, showing how people the world over see his adopted home country. With visits to nearly seventy countries, he had enough material for a lecture series, one that he conducted in the United States and abroad. (He found that people in other countries have ambivalent views, though tending to the negative, of the United States. Some of those views are delusional at best. For example, some Spaniards--like one of our recent presidential candidates--are 9/11 truthers.) Joe Szabo was also author and compiler of The Finest International Political Cartoons of Our Time, published in 1992 by his own WittyWorld imprint.


"I'd rather be poor in America than rich in Hungary," Joe Szabo once said. (2) Although he was not materially wealthy--he and his wife reared their five children in a small apartment stocked with used furniture and books--Joe Szabo enjoyed the benefits of freedom with his family in a new country. Sadly, he died at his desk on February 2, 2016, in North Wales, Pennsylvania, just two days short of his sixty-sixth birthday. His obituary observed that "[h]e was a passionate risk taker, boundless world traveler, and world-class debater. He never once lost an argument. Joe's friends described him as having an infectious personality with a continuous thirst for knowledge." (3) I think it fair to say that he also had a thirst for freedom and a very keen interest--as cartoonists tend to have--in fellow cartoonists and in the craft and profession of cartooning, which is, if I might add, a fine and noble profession.

In memory of Joseph George Szabo (1950-2016) and of:

George David Wolinski (1934-2015)
Jean Cabut (1938-2015)
Philippe Honoré (1941-2015)
Bernard Verlhac (1957-2015)
and Stéphane Charbonnier (1967-2015)

Notes

(1) From "Joe Szabo, Local Voice for Courage and Justice, Has Been Silenced" by Len Lear on the website Chestnut Hill Local, January 6, 2017, here.
(2) Ditto.
(3) "Joseph George Szabo," from the Landsdale Reporter, Lansdale, Pennsylvania, posted on the website Legacy.com, February 9, 2016, here.


A cartoon by Joe Szabo from 1987 showing the magnetic pull the United States has for people who wish to express themselves freely and, by extension, to live freely. From Best Editorial Cartoons of the Year, 1987 Edition, edited by Charles Brooks.

Completed at a later date and backdated to January 7, 2016, in observance of the International Day of the Cartoonist.
Text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley