Wednesday, May 06, 2015

GREETINGS, DEARIE! Paul Coker, Jr. and Greeting Cards

Here's an odd little 1962 paperback titled GREETINGS, DEARIE! (A CONNOISSEUR'S COLLECTION OF HUMOR FROM HALLMARK CONTEMPORARY CARDS). It's a paperback collection Hallmark cards, produced and edited by Hallmark and copyright that same year by Hallmark.

The juxtaposition of the red cover and black ink makes it look crummy so far as my Canon scanner is concerned. In real life, the cover is very readable. The drawing in the upper right is of a nebbishy fellow in a top hat in a bubble bath perusing what looks like a greeting card. The column of text reads:

"This being an [sic] truly timeless eternal utterly unforgettable (yes) collection of more that 100 and fifty of the absolutely funniest Hallmark Contemporary Cards, many of which have never been seen before (or since)" 

and, then, in small print in the bottom, right-hand corner is the word "Yes!"

Dean Norman, in his book STUDIO CARDS: FUNNY GREETING CARDS AND PEOPLE WHO CREATED THEM, is the only reference book I know of about this subject.

Me? All I knew about Hallmark's Contemporary Card line is that Paul Coker was the Art Director. Mr. Norman's book concurs.

Above: a card by Paul Coker, Jr. 

I knew Coker's work from MAD Magazine, and I was always fascinated by his distinctive clean yet jerky coffee-nerves pen line.

Greeting cards that were funny was a new idea. Before these post-war funny cards, Hallmark's best selling card was this:

"Pansies always stand for thoughts
At least that's what folks say,
So this just comes to show my thoughts
Are there with you today" 

Uh ... yeah. Squaresville, daddio.

Here's a snippet from a 2006 interview with Dean Norman by Pamela Zoslov from the Cleveland Free Times (and that's also where I snagged the pansies poem above):

"I never dreamed of doing greeting cards," says Norman, now 70 and retired from a 30-year career working for the two greeting-card giants, Hallmark and American Greetings. By the time he graduated from the University of Iowa in 1956, general-interest magazines like The Saturday Evening Post, Look and Collier's were folding, and the once-lucrative market for freelance cartoons was drying up. Fortunately, executives at Hallmark spotted a cartoon series Norman drew for his college newspaper, and offered him a job. "I kept thinking someday I'd break into newspapers. I never did," he says, laughing. 

Norman came into the industry at an interesting time. Greeting cards, once limited to sentiments like "Pansies always stand for thoughts/At least that's what folks say,/So this just comes to show my thoughts/Are there with you today" (one of Hallmark's all-time best-sellers) were beginning to reflect the subversive Cold War humor of the 1950s. Comedians like Mort Sahl, Bob Newhart, Ernie Kovacs and Lenny Bruce, and publications like Mad Magazine, were lampooning the uptight post-Sputnik culture with irreverent, sardonic humor. Hallmark, the very traditional Kansas City company that practically invented the greeting card, created its Studio department to tap into the emerging zeitgeist. They hired creative, offbeat artists and writers to produce funny cards with a modern twist.

These silly, raucous cards may have reflected a bit of the non-mainstream, pointed humor of Mort Sahl or Lenny Bruce, but the fact is that they were being offered to the great Wonderbread heartland of America. And the heartland voted with its wallet.

Here's Mr. Norman from the introduction to his STUDIO CARDS book:

There were few funny greeting cards before 1946. OK, if you were born after 1946, that's ancient history. But, consider this -- in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, there were lots of funny radio shows, funny movies, funny books and funny cartoons in magazines and newspapers. So why was there so little good cartooning in greeting cards? 

Mr. Coker, again, with another reminder of the time is how funny drinking was! Would these would sell today?!

Coker and Norman were both Midwestern boys, so maybe they knew, somewhere deep down, that America was ready for antisocial, hostile and shocking humor in its greeting cards.

From the GREETINGS, DEARIE! introduction:

Sentimentality is absent in these cards and in this humor. But sentiment is always present. Strong feelings about certain this -- including the right way to express one's feelings in greeting cards -- have made this style of humor almost as popular in some quarters as the funnies and cartoons are in others. 

The introduction to GREETINGS, DEARIE! is credited to "The Editors of Hallmark Cards." Unfortunately, the editors do not give page by page credits to the writer(s) and artists(s) of the contents.

Above: another by Paul Coker. I love that pile of beer cans, all at different angles.

Coker graduated from the University of Kansas in 1951. He drew advertising cartoons for the paper, but never drew cartoons or comic strips for them. He didn't believe in doing free work. Advertisers paid, the student paper did not.

Above: Coker again, with a groaner. But I like this groaner. And it's funny if you never heard it.

I like the little puff of a zoom cloud below right as the patron zips away from the barstool, and the teary expression and waving of the dainty dish rag from the bartender just makes this one a terrific, characterful drawing!

There are a lot of cards reproduced in GREETINGS, DEARIE! and this is a small sample from one section that dealt with drinking as a funny topic, as if you didn't know by this point in the blog entry.

There's so much material in the book, and so much information that I didn't know, that I think I'll revisit the topic in future. I never considered the history of greeting cards.

Mr. Norman's book, without which I would have no context for these scans, is self-published. From the Amazon page:

Unable to find a publisher willing to even look at his manuscript, Norman decided to go the self-publishing route, investing his own money to have the book printed. "I figured even if I didn't sell any books, I can afford it; I'm retired now. I may lose [money], but no one else is going to write this book. And the people I write about are so pleased to have the stories told."

And there is a book titled COLLEGE CARTOONS that has more great self published cartoons by Dean Norman, Frank Interlandi and Richard A. Watson -- BUT that book seems to have disappeared from its publisher's site.

-- Edited from a blog entry dated July 8, 2008.

1 comment:

furrball said...

I loved that book growing up! (Matter of fact, I recently bought two copies on Amazon.) Someday you'll have to revisit this topic. My favorite entries are the infamous "Calendar of Holidays* (*for people who only drink on holidays)" (Remember The Feast of Smoo's Groon or Bluebeard's Wedding Anniversary? :) ) and one that I just didn't get because the punchline was written in Russian! (I was able to translate the words "concrete" and "b*st*rd", but that was as far as I got!) Thanks for hotwiring the ol' memory banks with this one! :D