Monday, October 02, 2006

Berndt Toast Gang Meeting September 28, 2006

(Here's Stephanie Piro and Bunny Hoest at the shoreline of Bunny's home.)

I was happy to have guest Stephanie Piro and John Nolan drop by NYC this past week. Comic shops, pub music sessions, etc. -- it was all grand fun. But, hey, the cornerpiece of the festivities was attending a Berndt Toast Gang luncheon.

Pauline & Stan Goldberg, Mike Lynch. (I work too hard! I need to learn that a frown takes 13 muscles, a smile only takes 2!)

OK, here's the descrip. of the day ....

A cloudy morning broke into a sunny afternoon in Long Island for the monthly Berndt Toast Gang get together. Our tradition is to toast a late cartoonist. This month we opened the meeting with a toast to Al Capp, born Alfred Gerald Caplin, on the same day as the luncheon -- but 97 years earlier -- on September 28th, 1909.

Mr. Capp lost a leg nine years later in a trolley car accident, so, growing up, he was not an active kid. He read a lot. He read the funny authors (Smollett, Twain), and the funny cartoonists (Dirks, Goldberg). Of the two groups, he admired the cartoonists the most and he wanted to be a cartoonist. He got a job in the Associated Press bullpen, and soon was assisting Ham Fisher on JOE PALOOKA strip.

"I owe most of my success to him," said Al.

In 1934, United Features launched his LI'L ABNER strip. Its initial launch saw a scant 8 newspaper clients. Within 3 years, circulation climbed into the hundreds. Capp was on his way, creating characters and terms still familiar: Daisy Mae, Schmoos, Marryin' Sam, Sadie Hawkins Day. When Li'l Abner and Daisy Mae married in 1952, it was big news, making the cover of Life magazine. The strip spawned a musical, merchandising, as well as a movie.

Frazetta used a varity of assistants on the strip, including Mo Leff and Frank Frazetta. Capp was known for not being the easiest fellow to deal with. He later quipped that Ham Fisher was a " ... veritable goldmine of swinishness." There was a sex scandal in the 1972 (Capp pleaded guilty to a lesser charge), and the strip's circulation suffered.

Capp himself ended the strip five years later, passing away from emphysema in 1979. He's buried in the Mount Prospect Cemetary, in Amesbury, Mass.

Capp had won a Reuben in 1947, and was awarded an Elzie Segar award posthumously.

OK, on to some other announcements of the day.

I introduced my guests, and we passed around Stephanie's ANYONE CAN DRAW A CAT book. Various cartoonists added a cat to her sketchbook. (Hey Steph: If you ever start a blog, start by scanning some pages from the ANYONE CAN DRAW A CAT sketch book, huh?)

Here's Trade Loeffler and Steve Duquette. Trade's an illustration freelancer who came in from Brooklyn to our Long Island lunch via subway, train and taxi. His Upside-Down Me has been getting a lot of attention, and rightly so. Steve's been in the cartoon biz since the 1950s, and you can see his work regulalry via his Comics Sherpa site. Steve reminded me that his son Keith Duquette, a prolific children's book author and illustrator, has a large ehbition at the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. The apple don't fall far from the tree.

Joe Edwards, Stan Goldberg and Simmy Barry.

Joe told me that former Berndt Toast Gang chairman Creig Flessel was, at one time, an assistant to Al Capp. I did not know that!

Stan reminded us all about the Masters of Comic Art show, curated by Brian Walker, that's currently at both the Jewish Museum and the Newark Museum.

I also chatted with illustrator Jeff Fisher. I told him we'd been at the Society of Illustrators on Wednesday, and got a sneak peek of the Fantagraphics show there. He said, "That '30 Year of Fantagraphics' show? I helped hang that!"

It's a small, cartoony world.

Bill and Lorraine Kresse with Sandy Kossin. Bill favored us with a drinking song on his harmonica, and he will be the ringleader for our annual Spooky Drawing Trading Game next month. Stay tuned for more about that ....

After our lunch, Bunny Hoest invited us to her studio where Howard Huge greets you as you walk in the door. Here is Stephanie Piro and Howard, saying "Woof!"

See you next time!

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