Thursday, September 12, 2019

From the Dick Buchanan Files: Ton Smits Cartoons 1951 - 1967

Ton Smits' (1921 - 1981) cartoons appeared all over the place for many decades. But it wasn't always that way. Although he was from the Netherlands, he liked American cartoons in the American magazines.

After mailing many batches of cartoons for more than a year to Saturday Evening Post cartoon editor John Bailey in New York City (comprised of thirty cartoons per batch), the magazine finally published the first of his cartoons in 1949. This was just the beginning. Five years later, with American magazine sales increasing, he was offered a contract from The New Yorker.

My friend Dick Buchanan has some great samples of Ton Smits' gag cartoon work and some more about this remarkable cartoonist's life. Take it away, Dick:



Cartoons 1951 - 1967

Ton Smits was a prominent Dutch painter, cartoonist and comic artist. In 1921 he was born in Vegheland and moved to Eindhoven in 1938. His first cartoon was published in 1941 in the magazine De Humorist, signing his work "Tommy." In the Helmondse Courant he published the comics "Karel Kwiek," "Daniel Daazer" and "Dolly and the Jewelry Robbery."

Although his paintings won awards, Smits is most renowned for his simple cartoons. During World War Two, living in Eindhoven, he drew portraits lampooning Hitler, Goebbels, and Goering. These cartoons were hidden for fear of reprisals, but immediately after the war they were sold as postcards, wildly popular throughout several European countries. After the war the Dutch newspapers which had published his cartoons honored his anti-Nazi efforts.

In 1947 Smits moved to Amsterdam where he produced political cartoons. Given a copy of Look magazine by an American soldier, Smits was intrigued by the cartoons. He decided to try his luck and submitted his work to American magazines. After a year of rejection, John Bailey, humor editor of The Saturday Evening Post, became the first to recognize the universal appeal of Smits' seemingly effortless drawings. His first cartoon was published in America in 1949. During this period, Ben Roth signed Smits as a client of the Roth Agency and invited Smits to visit New York City. Smits took him up on the offer, and Bailey introduced him to America editors and fellow cartoonists. Roth hosted Smits on several occasions during the early 1950’s, helping to cement Smits’ status as cartoonist of international renown. His first New Yorker drawing was published November 13, 1954 and he continued to be a contributor until 1980.

A celebrated cartoonist and painter, Smits won numerous prizes. In 1964 he received the Palma d'Oro, at the Salon of Humor in the Italian Bordighera which, at the time, was the highest award for artistic expression of humor in the world. He also designed the well-known "vignette" for International Cartoonale, a yearly cartoon and art gallery staged in Knokke-Heist, Belgium. The Dutch Cartoonist Society awarded Smits their annual award. Today there is an annual cartoon prize named for him, the Ton Smits coin.

To top it off, in Eindhoven, there is a small museum called the Ton Smits Huis. It’s his former home and workplace. When Smits decided he needed a personal home studio, he commissioned architect Fons Vermeulen to design the building. Like Smits’ cartoons, the home is modern and unusual. Visitors can view some of the 20,000 cartoons and paintings Smits created over a lifetime of work.

From 1949 until 1980, Smits’ cartoons appeared in many of America’s foremost magazines including Collier’s, The Saturday Evening Post, Look, This Week Magazine, 1000 Jokes Magazine and Playboy.

Smits was a master in observing the human psyche which he expressed in subtle, gentle drawings. Although he never fulfilled his dream of being a circus clown, Ton Smits' drawings achieved the same goal. He made people smile.

Here is a small sample of his delightful work . . .

1. TON SMITS. The Saturday Evening Post January 27, 1951.

2. TON SMITS. This Week Magazine July 13, 1952.

3. TON SMITS. The Saturday Evening Post January 24, 1953.

4. TON SMITS. This Week Magazine April 5, 1953.

5. TON SMITS. This Week Magazine December 19, 1954.

6. TON SMITS. Look Magazine April 16, 1957.

7. TON SMITS. Look Magazine September 16, 1958.

8. TON SMITS. Look Magazine June 9, 1959.

9. TON SMITS. Look Magazine May 12, 1959.

10. TON SMITS. The Saturday Evening Post April 18, 1959.

11. TON SMITS. The Saturday Evening Post July 18, 1959.

12. TON SMITS. For Laughing Out Loud October-December, 1960.

13. TON SMITS. Look Magazine January 31, 1961.

14. TON SMITS. 1000 Jokes Magazine September-November, 1962.

15. TON SMITS. Look Magazine July 17, 1962.

16. TON SMITS. The Saturday Evening Post November 17, 1962.

17. TON SMITS. Look Magazine December 3, 1963.

18. TON SMITS. 1000 Jokes Magazine March-May, 1964.

19. TON SMITS. 1000 Jokes Magazine December, 1963-February, 1964.

 20. TON SMITS. Boys’ Life March, 1967.

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