Friday, June 05, 2009

Remembering Draper Hill 1935-2009

Above: Draper Hill in a photo pulled from the Detroit News site.

I'm going to try to write a remembrance about a cartoonist I never met, but who impacted me at a young age. With one drawing. This is an old memory. A memory that I'd forgotten until I saw that Draper Hill had passed away. And I would not have had it if it wasn't for my Dad.

Draper Hill. No ordinary draw-er of funny pictures was he.

A Harvard grad who had edited the Harvard Lampoon, he studied art at the University of London as a Fulbright Scholar, before returning to Massachusetts to work at the Patriot Ledger and Worcester Telegram.

My Dad met him in once in 1974. Mr. Hill had left New England. He was then a cartoonist with The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, TN where "he doodles. And those doodles turn into some of the most trenchant and amusing drawings since Gillray."

Then-Professor of English Literature at Memphis State James Roper, whose weakness for puns and rhymes knew no bounds, wrote a book of historical limericks. THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE GIBBON, THROUGH DARKEST HISTORY WITH PUN AND CHIMERA was published by The Inadvertent Press, Walter P. Armstrong, Jr., Sole Proprietor. Mr. Hill drew the pictures.

Dad got both of them to sign the book, and then brought it home me. It was a complete surprise.

I was a kid. I didn't read the op ed page and didn't know who Draper Hill was. But dear Dad had given me something I had never seen before. For the first time in my life I had saw a real honest original cartoon drawing -- right there, in front of me, in my hot little hands. Thanks to him, I now owned it!

I stared at Hill's bold lines; the character pointing over toward the opposing page where Dr. Roper had signed. That image of the fellow with the glasses and tail was something I stared at and studied. How did he draw the fingers pointing? Notice how one foot went one way and the other went the other way. Even though the mouth is tiny, it's still expressive. Note the hair and the right hand! You don't need to draw real fingers! It still "reads." Wow!

I never met Mr. Hill, but my Dad's present -- which I still have on the bookshelf these many years later -- made an impact. It reminded me, a gloomy adolescent, that there were real cartoonists out there in the world. Maybe I could be one of them. Just maybe. Dad had given me a bit of hope. That's the reason I still have the book.

Mr. Hill went on to the Detroit News, I went on to more school and other interests. My Dad would go on to teach at a few more universities before retiring as Dean at Ithaca College.

This is also a public thank you to my Dad, alive and well and now leading Carnegie Museum tours. He always encouraged me from the sidelines, even if I had the goofy idea that I would cartoon for a living.

Thanks Dad. No ordinary Dad is he!

And all best wishes to Mr. Hill's family.

Detroit New obituary

Draper Hill bio by Tom Spurgeon


tomgammill said...

Great story, Mike. I wrote Draper a fan letter when I was on the Harvard Lampoon and we stayed in touch for a while, real nice guy.

btp said...

Thanks for sharing that story Mike. My Dad would have loved knowing what an impression he made on you.

Jen Hill

btp said...

Thanks for sharing that story Mike. My Dad would have loved knowing what an impression he made on you.

Jen Hill