Friday, April 03, 2020

Remembering Sam Cobean

I was reading a book whose name I forget. It was a history of comics kinda book. Oh, wait a minute. It's here in this messy studio somewhere ...

Rummage, rummage, rummage.

OK, found it. It's Stephen Becker's COMIC ART IN AMERICA. You may know it. I know I read it years ago when I was a kid. It was probably one of those books I checked out of library over and over way back when. I just bought it for myself last year. Anyway, it's a good book and a lot of fun. I did not remember this book when I was teaching my History of Comics class. I wish I had. (I will this fall, since I've been asked back by the college to teach it again.)

One problem: it was published in 1959. It's dated, but that's OK. Anyway, the thing I did not recall was an absolute love letter to Sam Cobean in the midst of the book. Becker goes on for a while about Cobean, reprints a loving forward by Addams from the posthumous collection of Cobean's. And then there are several pages of "unwed mother" gags. Yeah. Unwed mother gags! All by Cobean. Um ... OK, but where's the men undressing women in their thought balloons? (Becker cites these as trademark Cobean gags and there are some below.) I counted and there are FIVE unwed mother gags, one after another, including an eight panel wordless sequence. I'm scratching my head over this.

And those unwed mother gags are really OVER. Up there in gag cartoon heaven with the boss chases secretary cartoons, etc.

Someone asked me "What are unwed mother gags?" and I better clarify. FYI: unwed mothers gags -- It's a creaky old meme. The daughter has had a child out of wedlock and wants to live at home. Angry and full of shame, dear old Dad turns daughter and child out (preferably in the snow) to fend for themselves. Here they are:

Let's delve more into the short and influential life of cartoonist Sam Cobean.

Here's a quote from Playboy/New Yorker gag cartoonist Brian Savage on Sam Cobean:

"I was living in San Francisco when I definitely made up my mind I was going to become a cartoonist. I was really at loose ends. I had gone to school, college, army, and I was in San Francisco just because a friend of mine was going to the University of California. We were sharing a place together, and he went on to get his Ph.D. I saw a book and it turned me on. It sounds dramatic, but this really happened. It's a book by Cobean. I fell in love with it. It just gave me an electric shock. It really was sort of like love. I said, This is what I want to do."

- Cartoonist Brian Savage in JUMPING UP AND DOWN ON THE ROOF AND THROWING BAGS OF WATER ON PEOPLE, CARTOONS & INTERVIEWS FROM SIX OF AMERICA'S FAVORITE CARTOONISTS, Introduction and Interviews by Mark Jacobs, copyright 1980 Mark Jacobs.

Below are just a few samples of Sam Cobean's work. These were from the comprehensive Sam Cobean site which appears to now have been vacated and replaced by a sumo wrestling site or something.

Sam Cobean (1913-1951) was attending the University of Oklahoma when he entered a contest sponsored by Walt Disney. After winning the contest, Sam quit school and moved to Hollywood to work as an in-betweener on Disney's SNOW WHITE for $16 a week.

In 1942, he participated in the Screen Cartoonists Guild strike against Disney, and left the studio soon after that. He married fellow U of O student Anne McCool that same year.

Above: an illustration by Cobean. Just look at the motion in those lines.

Cobean applied for the army and the navy, but was classified 4F on account of his flat feet. He was, the following year, drafted into the army. There, Cobean worked on Army training films in New York City alongside fellow soldier Charles Addams. Addams introduced Cobean to The New Yorker magazine cartoon editor James Geraghty. Cobean began to sell to the magazine.

While still in the Army, Cobean shared a New Yorker office with Addams.

Above: another cartoon from the site. That touch of grey on the ski instructor's sweater effortlessly gives us our point of interest in the cartoon. I like the details here: the bear skin rug, the beams, the luggage, the skis leaning against a wooden pillar, the circles that Cobean's drawn to denote a big stone fireplace. It all tells us we're in a lodge.

In 1946, he was discharged and he and Anne bought a summer home in Watkins Glen, NY. Sam would be involved in the Watkins Glen Grand Prix races there. Cobean began doing a lot of work for advertising, in addition to his cartooning.

In 1950, COBEAN'S NAKED EYE, the first collection of Cobean cartoons (titled by Anne) was published.

Above: a concept sketch for the cover.

Here's the next entry from the Sam Cobean chronology page (unfortunately not there as of this writing):

1951 On Monday, July 2, Sam drove his shiny red Jaguar into Watkins Glen to mail some cartoons to The New Yorker for the regular art meeting the following day. While there, he met a friend, Cameron Argetsinger, who was having car trouble. He offered him a ride home. On the return trip they were involved in an automobile accident. Cobean swerved to avoid hitting another car, lost control and hit a tree. Cobean was killed instantly. His friend survived the crash.

Sam Cobean would be a major name -- as well known as Addams -- if his career wasn't cut short by that accident. He was a wonderful cartoonist.


Michael Maslin has some of Cobean's advertising work reproduced here.

The Hairy Green Eyeball blog has a good number of Cobean's "Naked Eye" cartoons here and  here.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I share your enthusiasm for Cobean's work.

Here's a link to the original Naked Eye concept piece that you posted, plus several alternative covers that Cobean ultimately rejected ("Passing Fancies," "En Garde," etc.).