Just Foolin’ Around (non-sexually)

Posted by on January 25th, 2010 at 10:28 AM

I correspond frequently with Jim Ivey, a political cartooner who is, inexplicably, slightly older than I am and therefore retired. My last letter went on a letterhead I’d devised from the latent logo for this blog. The logo, you’ll remember—if you haven’t refreshed your memory by re-visiting the blog for January 13—deploys as background a 5-panel comic strip, most of the panels being empty. That was more than Jim could stand: he sent the thing back, embellished:

Jim, an inveterate beach comber who finally, happily, found himself in Florida, ran The cARToon Museum in Madeira Beach (approximately 1967-68) and again in Orlando (approximately 1972-81), the latter mostly after retiring from his editooning position with the Orlando Sentinel, his last gig as a full-time political cartoonist.

His first such position was with the now defunct Washington Star in the early 1950s. From 1953 until 1959, Jim was editooning at the St. Petersburg Times; then in 1959, he spent most of the year on a Reid Fellowship studying editorial cartooning as it was practiced in Europe. Upon his return, the St. Pete job expired, so he went from one shining sea to the other and joined the staff of the San Francisco Examiner until it merged with the Chronicle in 1966 or so. Thereupon, he returned to Florida to attend to the beaches and, incidentally, to freelance newspaper and magazine cartoons from 1966 until 1969, when he joined the Orlando Sentinel.

I visited him in his Orlando museum, which doubled as a comic book store. The comic books were in file boxes on tables in the middle of the store; the museum was on the walls, where Jim, in his purely functional and unpretentious habit, pinned original cartoons from his vast collection, acquired over many years. Original art pinned to the wall, not framed or otherwise arrayed.

While I was examining the art on the walls, I overhead a transaction between Jim and a customer, who had grabbed all of a particular issue of a comic book, wanting to buy the whole armload, thinking, no doubt, that the comics, drawn by a currently popular artist, would naturally increase in value, enabling him to sell them at some future date at a monstrously inflated price. But Jim wouldn’t let him buy more than one of this treasured title: Jim didn’t think it was fair for one customer to buy all of a single title thereby depriving other fans of that comic book. Naturally, with that attitude, Jim went out of business a few short years later, during the general collapse of the comic store industry when owners were investing in titles that didn’t show up on a timely basis.

Jim’s letters are invariably sprinkled with tidbits of cultural as well as cartooning lore. Recently, he quoted the legendary newspaperman/author Ben Hecht, who described television as “a honking traffic jam of tawdry entertainment and peddlers’ screams.” Then he wanted to know when was the last time I’d seen: a man wearing a hat, a man smoking a pipe, a hat sale, a pipe sale.

“Just an example of changing fads,” Jim went on, “—check old magazine ads from past decades and watch movies from earlier years, plenty of hats and pipes! But, all of a sudden, something is ‘old hat’ (pun intended).”

“If I were in charge of changes,” he continued in the same epistle, “I would first make it unseemly to wear ties (useless nooses, a splash of color their only virtue) and belts (we do have elastic don’t we?). Unnecessary baggage. Comfort above all.”

And then he imparted a frightening fact: “In the northern Pacific Ocean there is a swirling gyre of the world’s trash called ‘The Garbage Patch.’ It’s the size of Africa! And 90% of it is plastic.

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