Friday, June 09, 2023

From the Dick Buchanan Files: Irwin Caplan Gag Cartoons 1943 - 1964

Irwin Caplan (1919 - 2007) was drawing from an early age. After serving in the Army during WWII, Caplan went to NYC to seek a career. 


 Above from BEST CARTOONS OF 1945 edited by Lawrence Lariar.


During the 1940s, through the 60s, he had 2 syndicated strips. He was a prolific contributor to the leading glossy magazines, winning a National Cartoonists Society Division Award in 1972 and again in 1981. Dick Buchanan has much more below, including some of Caplan's prolific gag cartoon output. Thanks, and take it away, Dick!



Gag cartoons 1943 to 1964




Photo of Irwin Caplan from What’s Funny About That? E.P. Dutton & Co., New York, 1954.

Irwin Samuel Caplan, nicknamed Cap, was a gag cartoonist, illustrator, painter, and designer. He is best remembered for his popular Saturday Evening Post series Famous Last Words. 

Caplan grew up in Seattle, Washington. His parents recognized his artistic talent and enrolled him in art classes. As a teenager he won a city-wide poster contest, garnering $10. and at Garfield High School he illustrated the 1935 yearbook. In 1937 he painted murals of a circus and Paul Bunyan on the walls of the school. There was no such thing as an airbrush in those days, so Caplan cleverly adapted an insecticide spray gun to spray paint over large areas of the murals. During a renovation in 2005, the murals he painted were uncovered, intact. Portions were auctioned for charity.

Caplan graduated from the University of Washington with a fine arts degree. He served during World War II as an Army illustrator and contributed cartoons to several military publications, including Yank. A colleague encouraged him to submit his work to magazines. He mailed some drawings to Collier’s and made his first sale. (During WWII, many men under 35 were drafted and that included cartoonists, So, during WWII, along with the meat, gas and coffee shortages there was a gag cartoonist shortage as well). Caplan, seemingly coming out of nowhere, was an instant sensation, welcome with magazine cartoon editors. 

After his discharge, Caplan headed to New York City and joined other veterans who flooded mid-town New York on Wednesday “look day” hoping to break into the gag cartooning profession. Caplan made the grade and his long career as a cartoonist and illustrator was launched. For two years Caplan lived in New York and returned home to Seattle during the summer. His cartoons appeared in Collier’s, The Saturday Evening Post, Esquire, Liberty, American Legion Magazine and This Week Magazine, among others. 

In 1948, he returned to Seattle to marry his wife, Madeline. He teamed with Ted Rand and five other artists to create Graphic Studios, creating logos and advertising work for Pacific Northwest Bell Telephone, Bardahl and the Mutual Life Insurance Company. Caplan illustrated the 1962 Seattle World's Fair poster, sponsored by the Frederick & Nelson department store, and did work for the Seattle World's Fair Alaska Pavilion. He also was the art director for Spokane's Expo '74. In 1972, he received the National Cartoonists Society’s Advertising and Illustration Award, followed by the 1981 Advertising Award. In November 1999, his artwork was exhibited at Tacoma’s at Random Modern Gallery in its "Northwest Art 1920-1962" survey exhibition. All the while Caplan continued to turn out gag cartoons for America’s national magazines.

Here are just a few . . .

1. IRWIN CAPLAN. Yank December 10, 1943.

2. IRWIN CAPLAN. Collier’s December 11, 1943.


3. IRWIN CAPLAN. Liberty July 6, 1946.


4. IRWIN CAPLAN. Collier’s January 5, 1946.


5. IRWIN CAPLAN. Collier’s March 9, 1946.


6. IRWIN CAPLAN. Collier’s November 22, 1947.


7. IRWIN CAPLAN. Liberty June 1948.


8. IRWIN CAPLAN. The Saturday Evening Post May 8, 1948.


9. IRWIN CAPLAN. The Saturday Evening Post November 29, 1949.


10. IRWIN CAPLAN. True Magazine February, 1950.


11. IRWIN CAPLAN. American Magazine January, 1950.


12. IRWIN CAPLAN. Collier’s February 17, 1951.


13. IRWIN CAPLAN. True Magazine February, 1949.


14. IRWIN CAPLAN. This Week Magazine November 16, 1952.


15. IRWIN CAPLAN. The Saturday Evening Post February 23, 1952.


16. IRWIN CAPLAN. The Saturday Evening Post November 22, 1952.


17. IRWIN CAPLAN. American Legion Magazine September, 1953.

18. IRWIN CAPLAN. The Saturday Evening Post November 27, 1954.


19. IRWIN CAPLAN. Argosy January, 1955.


20. IRWIN CAPLAN. Look Magazine April 16, 1957.


21. IRWIN CAPLAN. 1000 Jokes Magazine June – August 1957.


22. IRWIN CAPLAN. This Week Magazine January 12, 1958.


23. IRWIN CAPLAN. The Saturday Evening Post June 21, 1958.


24. IRWIN CAPLAN. Look Magazine February 28, 1961.


25. IRWIN CAPLAN. 1000 Jokes Magazine March – May, 1964.



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