and Boffos (2/23)
Marky. Cartooning lost one of its staunchest
devotees and most joyful advocates just before Christmas. Mark
Cohen died about five o'clock in the afternoon on December 19 in his
Santa Rosa home in California, surrounded by his loved ones--namely,
his wife Rose Marie McDaniel and thousands of pieces of original
"Marky" (as he usually signed
himself) recently estimated that they
had about 9,000 pieces of original art in the collection that bears
their names. I've been in his house, and I think he's right:
artwork was lying around everywhere that it was not piled up, leaving
not much room in the house for Mark and Rosie. Of the 9,000
around 900 are self-caricatures of cartoonists, a lot of which appear
only in copies of books of the cartoonists' works that are inscribed
to Mark and Rosie.
I don't know when his love affair with
Rosie started, but I know
there was no doubt about it in Mark's mind. Once, as we tooled
around Santa Rosa, he remarked, a propos of nothing, how much he
loved and admired her and how lucky he was to be married to her.
His love affair with cartooning began
over forty years ago--that is
in 1956 when Mark was about fourteen and wanted to be a cartoonist.
One day, he took samples of his work to show them to a real
cartoonist, hoping to get advice on how to proceed with his career.
Bert Whitman, who was then editorial cartoonist for the Stockton
Record, was Mark's mark.
"It took me weeks to get up the courage
to call," Mark remembered,
"and when I finally made the appointment, I was scared to death.
When the day finally came, I went to the paper and was ushered into
his office. Whitman was a big moose of a man. He
seemed like a
giant to me. I remember that he was working on the day's
and he held a soft-lead pencil in one hand and an art gum eraser in
the other. The hand holding the pencil would spiral down
of coquille board and the other hand would work the eraser," Mark
continued, demonstrating by moving both hands at once. "I
awestruck, watching him work with both hands, sketching and erasing
at the same time, spiraling down the paper."
Whitman looked at Mark's cartoons and
gave him some advice. He also
gave the youth his first original cartoon.
Mark gave up his cartooning ambition because
he didn't fancy the
solitary life that cartoonists invariably lead. A highly
sort, Mark needed to be with people. After several years
his father's pawn shop, he elected to become a magician, developing
his act and an accompanying line of comedic patter. To make
living, he was eventually driven to sell real estate. But
comedian lived on: as he met cartoonists, he started writing material
for them, beginning with Morrie Turner and Wee Pals, later, adding
Jim Scancarelli and Gasoline Alley. In the last analysis,
was Whitman who had persuaded him to give up being a cartoonist: "I
couldn't spiral down the paper," Mark told me, flashing an impish
But he still loved cartooning. Passionately. And
something about the drawings in their original state that enthralled
him. He had been dazzled by the original cartoons hanging
wall in Whitman's office. A habitué of used-book stores and
shops, Mark found some original cartoons in a Los Angeles shop, and
he bought several of them. The passion was fueled. The
Visiting a second-hand bookstore in 1971,
he found a catalogue from
a 1943 exhibit in San Francisco at the deYoung Museum called Meet the
Artist. "It was a book of self-portraits," Mark
said, "and it had
Thomas Hart Benton in it and the better known artists of the day, but
it also had a number of cartoonists who had done self-caricatures.
It had Al Capp, Otto Soglow, Zack Mosley, and so on. And
really hit me. I thought, How interesting. How
fun it would be to
collect self-caricatures. Where would you find self-caricatures
collect? I had no idea. So the logical thing to
do was to make
requests of the cartoonists for self-caricatures. And I believe
first one that I asked was Al Capp. I wrote to him. And
back. And I became a self-caricature requesting maniac."
With every request to a cartoonist, Mark
sent a money order. "I've
always felt it was wrong to ask someone to give their product away,"
he said. "And while it may have been only a token payment,
cartoonists appreciated the ethic generally. I had a high
Initially, he went after the self-caricatures
he found in the
deYoung catalogue. And then he began looking for self-caricatures
the cartoonists whose original art he had in his collection; pairing
the cartoon with the cartoonist's self-caricature made an interesting
display. And display them he did. As the collection
offered it to museums around the country. When the exhibition
consisted entirely of self-caricatures, Mark called the show "The
Face Behind the Laugh." (Last summer, he and Rosie donated
entire show to Ohio State's Cartoon Research Library.)
About 150 of these self-caricatures were
published last year by the
Ohio State University Libraries in a tidy hardback collection
entitled A Gallery of Rogues with biographical text by yrs trly.
Indulging his life-long love of Mad magazine,
Mark began to acquire
original art for the cartooning that had been published in Mad. Mad
occupies a special place in Mark's life: "I grew up on Mad and
comics," he said. "At the time Mad debuted, few
people realized what
an impact this magazine of satire, caricature, and parody would have
on our society. It was Mad that made me realize the world
always as it seemed."
This Mad niche of the collection grew
until it embraced nearly two
hundred pieces, including cover paintings and such objets d'art as
Alfred E. Neuman coffee mugs and wrist watches. When the
goes on the road, it is displayed under the heading "Humor in a
Meanwhile, the collector in Mark plunged
on apace. And like all
collectors, he occasionally failed to acquire some rare and wonderful
piece that he lusted after. One of those that got away was
Mingo drawing of Fidel Castro with an exploding cigar in his mouth.
And Alfred E. Neuman's picture is on the cigar band.
"I ran home to bid on it by telephone,"
Mark recalled, "but I just
missed it. I think Anne Gaines [widow of the publisher of
bought it and hung it in the Mad Magazine office."
Mark was late getting home to his phone,
he said, because he was,
for a while, preoccupied with a marriage ceremony--his own.
Perhaps the most engaging aspect of the
exhibit was to be found in
the terms of Mark's loan agreement. As Mark said (echoing
cover proclamation), "It's cheap." In short, there
is no exhibit
Mark asked only that the borrowing organization
pay the freight and
insurance for sending the exhibit on to its next destination and
round trip air fare and lodging for himself and his wife so they
could attend the exhibit opening. (He thereby made himself
for docent training, interviews to publicize the show, and speaking
engagements; he also offered a 30-45 minute slide presentation for
service clubs, students, attendees, and the like.)
The show has been on the road since February
1991 and is usually
booked 12-18 months in advance. One of the exhibit's advantages
many traveling shows, as Mark saw it, is that "it attracts children,
families and adults that would not usually set foot inside a museum."
His own reward came from owning the art
and seeing it on display
where others can enjoy it, too. "You can see real magic
once said. "It's beautiful to watch. Parents
get dragged into the
exhibit by their kids. At first the adults have a chip on
shoulders about being there. But you can watch the years
when they see something they remember."
I curated a show in Seattle's Frye Art
Museum a couple years ago,
and Mark and Rosie loaned about half the pieces on display. They
came to the opening, and during the evening, Mark sidled up to me and
said, "You know what you should do during these things, don't you?"
When I said I didn't, he said, "Go
talk to people."
And then he proceeded to demonstrate. He
walked over to a couple
looking at an original Mutt and Jeff strip and said to them: "Did
know that Mutt and Jeff was the first successful daily comic strip?"
And when they said they didn't, he continued by regaling them with a
few anecdotes about the picturesque Bud Fisher, who created the
Coming back to me, Mark said, "That's
how I have fun at these
things--talking about comic strips and cartoonists and the history of
it all. So," he concluded with his characteristic adieu,
His fee to Turner and Scancarelli was
akin to his fees for loaning
his exhibits of original art: he wrote gags for them, and they paid
him with the original art of the strips that used his gags. And
did the comedic muse slake the collector's thirst.
Mark's comedic muse was always at his
beck and call. Mostly he
indulged it in cascades of terrible puns and old jokes that Mark made
everlastingly comic by the sheer twinkle in his eye that proclaimed
his boyish conviction that rotten puns and hoary punchlines were,
Talking with museum personnel in Chico,
California, during the
opening of the Mad show there, Mark displayed a quietly subtle side
of his humor: "I liked coming to Chico," he said. "It's
drive from Santa Rosa. My wife drives. All I have
to do is keep my
hand on the wheel."
Never has a backseat driver been so gently
But Mark was no slouch at backseat driving
himself. I rented a car
during a visit with him, and we drove south to Carmel to visit Gus
Arriola. It rained the whole time, and at various intervals
our trek south, Mark would say, "Can't you drive any faster?" I
doing seventy in the pelting rain as it was.
He loved word play, and for that reason
delighted in the antique
locutions to be found in Horatio Alger novels. He showed
me one that
particularly amused him (and, immediately, me): "'You're
human being, Throckmorton, by _______,' yelled the old captain,
inserting an oath in the blank."
And he could write comic poems at the
drop of a syllable. Several
times while I was with him, he would suddenly grab a tiny scrap of
paper (a fragment of a cocktail napkin, say, or the blank inside of
matchbook cover) and scribble a few words on it, then, looking up,
recite an entire poem of a few verses in hilarious couplets. Many
Scancarelli's Sunday Gasoline Alley strips featured Mark's comic
About four or five years ago, Mark fell
accidentally into the job he
seemed born to have. He and Rosie were having breakfast with
Johnston (For Better or For Worse) at the end of one of Ohio State
University's Comic Art Festivals, and Lynn asked if Mark would be
interested in acting as her agent in selling original art. Before
Mark could answer, Rosie said, "Yes--he would."
And so Mark slipped quickly out of selling
real estate into
representing cartoonists. Before long, he had an impressive
cartoonist clients, all of whom became his friends.
"He was a spiritual compatriot in
the cartooning industry," Johnston
said. "The cartoonists grew to respect and have a lot
of faith in
him. He had integrity and he had a love of our work. Anybody
produces work that comes from the spirit, people tend to take
advantage of. We don't know a lot about business or marketing. But
Mark did. He had a natural affinity for marketing. He
absolutely fair to everybody."
But within a year of finding his calling,
Mark was diagnosed with
cancer of the brain.
Mark dealt with this setback in the same
way he engaged with life
itself--as humorously as possible. He was periodically treated
developing tumors, and the disease would go into remission. And
that happened, Mark responded to inquiries about his health by
saying, "I'm remiss."
He teamed with cartoonist Buck Jones to
produce a little flyer of
cancer jokes called "Hello Chemo-Sabe" (invoking memories
of the Lone
Ranger and his Native American sidekick, Tonto).
"There are lots of benefits to having
cancer," the flyer began, and
then went on to list some:
"I can stop worrying about cholesterol."
"I'll never again have to deal with
a used car salesman."
"I don't have to feel guilty about
not taking ballroom dance
"Everything I buy now comes with
a lifetime guarantee."
Jones depicted Mark in various illustrative
poses in the flyer.
"Humor is healing," Mark wrote, inviting other cancer patients
share their experiences for future editions of the document.
When he went in for treatment, "he
made everyone in the infusion
room roll off the table," Rosie said. "He sat in
many waiting rooms
and relieved the pressure for other patients. He'd make jokes
make them forget, for a short time, why they were there."
Last fall, Mark's cancer finally laid
him low: spreading to his
spine, it paralyzed him. For the last month or so of his
was confined to bed. When Lynn Johnston phoned him once,
responded in his usual jocular mode: "I'm in real trouble now,"
said; "I haven't got a leg to stand on."
Never one to let a pun opportunity slip
by, he continued: "But I
Johnston reported later that Mark told
her one of the side effects
of his treatment in the last weeks was that he hallucinated that he
was eating his favorite foods. Mark's many friends found
Mark was able to attend a favorite annual
December event--the ice
show at Charles Schulz's skating rink, the Redwood Empire Ice Arena
in Santa Rosa. Sparky and Mark were friends, and Mark always
his friend's ice show.
"There is no doubt that Mark meant
a lot to all cartoonists," Schulz
said. "Mark and I always loved just talking about other
and looking back to the old ones we liked so much. We were
able to talk about these great old comic strips and laugh and laugh
and have such a good time."
And Mark also attended the opening of
another exhibit of original
art in his collection--nude self-caricatures by cartoonists.
The idea had been Rosie's. "Wouldn't
it be fun if--," she had said
to him last winter. It was a wonderful cartooning idea, positively
aglow with perverse possibilities: ask cartoonists to do caricatures
of themselves in the nude.
Cartoonists responded to Mark's solicitation
for this item with
great enthusiasm, producing outrageously inventive pictures of
themselves in various states of nakedness--or partially, ingeniously,
shielded nakedness. In less than a year, Mark had scores
pictures. And they exhibited them in December in Santa Rosa,
Mark attended the reception in a wheelchair, all smiles.
The opening and the ice show were Mark's
last hurrahs. But he
leaves us all with the beloved trophies of his life-long collecting
"The true collector," he said
once, "is not an investor. The true
collector collects because he loves the art. Every collection
special. Because it reflects the personality and the love
collector. I hesitate to use the term, but Rosie and I have
been blessed because the cartoonists have become our family, and it's
really a love affair. Our collection has been built because
cartoonists have been very generous with us. And we want
to see it
continue as a gift to the art that has been so wonderful to us. So
we've arranged for this collection to go to the Ohio State
University's Cartoon Research Library. There, it will be
the body of
a collector's life. It is a gift of life: it will
be used; it will
be useful. It can be lent to museums and libraries,
publishers--whatever use is fitting and necessary.
"I think it's important to continue
the good things that Ohio State
has done for the art," Mark went on, " and this way, the collection
will always be available to benefit the art. The collection
not have grown and prospered without Rosie's active support, so it's
no longer the Mark Cohen Collection: it's the Mark Cohen
Marie McDaniel Collection. I'm proud of that."
During the past two years, Mark and Rosie
worked to establish the
Cohen-McDaniel Endowment at OSU's Cartoon Research Library (CRL).
Works from their personal collection were auctioned last summer and
fall, and additional works will be sold, probably by Sotheby's, in
the spring. The Endowment income will be used to fund a
distinguished speaker's series at the Library and, if there is
sufficient income, for research fellowships at the Library. For
information about contributing to the Cohen-McDaniel Endowment,
contact CRL at 614-292-0538 or by e-mail at <email@example.com>.
Meanwhile, the business Mark so happily
fell into will continue.
Rosie will now manage exhibits and represent cartoonists, selling
their originals (call 707/528-3440 or e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org). A
cartooning fan herself, she accompanied Mark on his various forays
into the worlds of comics, and she has a sense of humor almost as
antic as Mark's. And all of that is to the good: it's nice
that something of Mark will be around to keep us company.
Mark cheered the world while he was in
it. It is not given to many
people that such a thing can be said of them. It was my good
to meet him; it was my bad luck to have met him only a few years ago.
I thought him a rare and wonderful being. I'll
miss him and so will
the cartooning profession.
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2. Beefs and Boffos. Larry
Gonick's latest effort is all about sex.
Having made the History of the Universe safe for human consumption
by squinting at it through a cartoonist's prism, Gonick joins with
Christine DeVault to made sex safe in The Cartoon Guide to Sex
(HarperPerennial, $14.95). Very few of this book's 250 7x9"
black-and-white pages display sequential comic strip discourse in the
manner of Gonick's earliest success, but on every page, the
cartoonist makes a comical visual comment on some aspect of sex
discussed in plain prose. "The female breast is highly
especially the nipple, which may become erect in response to cold,
touch, or sexual arousal. Some mothers report that nursing
quite erotic, which is why we don't allow 12-year-olds to breast
feed," says the text. The accompanying picture shows
a man groping a
woman's bodice and she says, "Um--could I see some I.D.?" Lots
laughs and much healthy information herein.
and inker Al Gordon continue to regale us with a
restrained graphic style in Alan Moore's Tom Strong--but not very
often. At my first encounter with their work, I thought the
was a little clean for the subject: it looked too manicured for the
jungle sequence that began the series. But as the series
forward, I've come to admire their technique. Their fat-arm
interpretation of a superheroic figure seems as right as it is
restrained. And the restraint suits perfectly Moore's methodical
narrative manner in this title.
Moore's anthology title Tomorrow Stories
is another matter. With
No. 3, Jack B. Quick, the pint-sized scientific genius, achieves
towering comedic resonance. Young Jack experiments with two
well-known "scientific" principles: first, that cats always
their feet; second, that toast always lands buttered-side down. So
he butters the back of his pet cat, proving the theory: the cat
simply rotates in space, unable to land at all. How this
all ends, I
leave to you to discover, but it's worth the trip.
But you will have to wait for these goodies. The
isn't quite up to the announced delivery schedule, it seems to me.
(Or maybe I'm just impatient--too eager for the next installment.)
Moore's undertaken a giant writing load, and it wouldn't surprise me
to see that the books fall slightly behind schedule. A genius
may be--and certainly his stories are a refreshing zephyr of
creativity across the otherwise often stagnant desert of newsstand
funnybooks--but not even a genius can keep up the pace he's set
himself forever. Or so it seems to me.
Jack B. Quick's adventure in Tomorrow
Stories No. 3 reminds me of a
pet theory I encountered some years back about writing. It
two well-known facts: first, that "the style is the man";
that you are what you eat. So you should be able to attain
excellence in writing by controlling your diet. Lessee, I
have peanut-butter on seven-grain bread for lunch and a margarita
before supper--as I'm sure you can tell, right?
In The New Yorker for November 15, 1999,
we have what may be that
magazine's first gay cartoon. William Haefeli shows two men
reclining on a bed in a department store, and one says to the other:
"I still say we should get a queen-size mattress--despite the obvious
jokes it will invite among the sales staff." The trick
is to achieve
a laugh without ridiculing or demeaning the gay community, and I
think this one does the job. It's also somewhat of a rarity
pages of The New Yorker: a cartoon in which neither the picture nor
the words make humorous sense without the other. Too many
magazine's cartoons these days need no pictures for their captions:
the comedy is verbal, not the verbal-visual blend that good
cartooning should be. This gem, for instance, is typical:
think, David, that agreeing to disagree is a good foundation for
marriage." Do you need a picture?
"The Thief" has
been dangling before my mind's eye for some
years--ever since I heard of its unusual aspect. A 1952 movie,
tells its story without the aid of any spoken words. I finally
a video copy in the catalogue of Movies Unlimited (3015 Darnell
Road, Philadelphia, PA 19154; www.moviesunlimited.com) and bought it.
Despite the absence of dialogue, it's not a silent movie: sound
effects are threaded throughout the film. Starring Ray Milland,
focuses on a few weeks in the life of a U.S. citizen working in the
Atomic Energy Commission and selling secrets to the Communists.
For anyone working in comics, director
Russell Rouse has supplied a
provocative exercise in using visuals alone for narrative purposes.
He proves that images are most useful (and successful) in evoking
mood and emotion; they are less successful in depicting thought or
ideas with any precision. In short, while Rouse's experiment
demonstrates the power of visual narrative, it also reveals the
limitations of the medium. The pictures foster sensation--fear,
suspense, tension; but they cannot provide specifics.
In the concluding sequences of the film,
for instance, we know that
the Milland character is fleeing because he fears his cover is blown.
We see him hiding out and waiting, but we don't know, exactly,
he's waiting for. An accomplice? Deliverance? Or
is he simply
biding his time?
We'd like to know more about the case
and this man, but only words
can tell us the more we want to know.
Contemporary movie-makers know, of course,
about the emotional power
of images. That's why action flicks are full of running people,
hurtling vehicles, and orange explosions. Such visual razzle-dazzle
masks the absence of plot. "The Thief" is worth
because it offers a story without violence or, even, much action.
How do pictures achieve narrative ends in such a comparatively subtle
effort? Good question; and Rouse furnishes some answers.
Name-dropping. Herbert L. Block,
the Washington Post's famed
editorial cartoonist, has produced a thin volume about a cat of his
acquaintance. Herblock wrote and illustrated Bella and Me:
the Service of a Cat (48 6x9" pages, hardcover; $12.95). Herblock
has written a dozen books--all reprints of his editorial cartoons
accompanied by his explanatory text except for his autobiography,
Herblock: A Cartoonist's Life (ISBN 0-02-511895-1). But this
first foray into what might be regarded as juvenile non-fiction.
Adults, however--particularly cat owners--will also appreciate this
effort. And fans of Herblock will delight in his pictures
black-and-white, sometimes with orange tints) of the cat named Bella
who roomed with Herblock for a time. He found her when she
kitten and took her in. And as the tale unfolds, she becomes
increasingly human. Herblock imagines her talking to him;
becomes even somewhat wifely, a little of a nag. And then,
fickle feline leaves him.
Elsewhere: If you've wondered
what Stan Lee has been doing all
those years in California after he left the editorial corridors of
Marvel for the eternal promise of life in celluloid, now you can find
out. He wasn't just sitting around, waiting for movie moguls
up options on Marvel's longjohn legions. Oh, no: he wrote
a book for
Rhino Records. Published in 1994, The Best of the World's
Worst is a
sort of Guinness Book of "world class blunders, screw-ups, oddballs,
misfits and rotten ideas" (as the cover proclaims; 192 6x9"
paperback; price not published on the book itself, alas). Actually,
of course, Lee didn't write this entire tome himself any more than he
produced single-handedly the comic books for which he is celebrated.
An army of researchers, "helpers, typists, and exotic dancers"
(credited in the opening pages) assembled a host of off-the-wall
occurrences, and then Stan blithely wrote witty comments about each
For instance: an item notes that in India
4,875 women were killed by
their husbands in 1992 "for insufficient dowries." To
quips: "At least you can't call them motiveless crimes." It's
sort of writing you might do in the evenings during commercials while
The compilers drew from every other book
of "the best" and "the
most" (including Guinness). And no one is advertising
Stan's roll in
all this as being any greater than it was. "Stan Lee
opening pages proclaim, quoting someone named Mizner: "If
from one author, it's plagiarism. If you steal from many,
research." Ah, coda for the Marvel Age.
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