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Celebrating Illustration, Design, Cartoon and Comic Art of the Mid-20th Century

Goodbye Blaine MacDonald

Thursday, February 16, 2012

When I was a kid growing up here in Hamilton our local paper, The Hamilton Spectator had a terrific editorial cartoonist on staff who always signed his work with just the single name, "Blaine."

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Although I was too young to understand what they were about, I loved looking at Blaine's editorial cartoons.

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They had a lively, effortless - yet very accomplished - line quality that really appealed to me (and still does).

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In those days The Spectator ran a games and activities item in their weekend editon called "The Junior Press Club." Kids who were members of the JPC could earn embroidered badges (you worked your way up from Cub Reporter to Editor-in-Chief) for participating in contests and activities. On one occasion when I was around 11 years old, I entered a JPC drawing contest. A few weeks later, the Blaine collection with the yellow cover shown above arrived in the mail. Much to my astonishment, when I flipped to the first page I discovered this hand-written dedication:

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I was blown away. Blaine had written a beautifully hand-lettered personal note to me - a kid - and he was encouraging me to keep drawing. I don't think I've ever seen my own name delineated with such a lovely flourish before or since.

I poured through that book, determined to learn all I could from studying Blaine's work. Perhaps one day I too could become a great editorial cartoonist like Blaine!

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The topics and politicians Blaine lampooned still were largely a mystery to me, but the drawings were very entertaining and inspiring.

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I particularly like Blaine's reoccurring, long-suffering everyman character, The Little Guy. The scenarios Blaine put him into were usually a little more rudimentary and easier for a kid to understand and get a laugh at.

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Near the back of this yellow-covered collection was something that really got my attention: Blaine had included a "How to draw" section in his book!

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This was something I'd never seen before. Simple step-by-step instructions for drawing caricatures just like Blaine's. I quickly set to work learning how to draw our Prime Minister...

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... and that other guy, Nixon, who I recognized from Mad magazine.

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I had hoped to find some of my old drawings still tucked inside this book, but they seem to be long gone. (Actually, that might be for the best).

As I wrote yesterday, I was pretty obsessed with Marvel superhero comics at this point in my life, so other flashier stuff quickly distracted me soon after this. I shelved my Blaine book and didn't give it much thought for all these years - until last week, when word came by way of my friend and fellow National Cartoonist Society member, Mike Cope, that Blaine had died.

You see Blaine wasn't just a respected local cartoonist celebrity -- he was a NCS member and Reubens Award winner.

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After many long years, I dug up my old Blaine collection - and a second one passed along to me by my in-laws. It was by revisiting these two volumes for the first time in probably 30-plus years that I discovered many interesting things about Blaine I hadn't realized.

He was, for instance, just as good at more realistic portraiture as he was at caricature.

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Blaine had met Norman Rockwell - how cool is that?

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His work had been recognized beyond our borders - not only by his fellow cartoonists - but by LBJ himself.

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Even Hugh Hefner's Playboy Bunnies had an appreciation for Blaine's work - vavoom!

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From his obituary:

"Blaine" was syndicated in North America and popular among Canadian, American and Mexican Cartoonists. He won every major award for his artistic abilities and creations. Some were: In Montreal - First Winner of Salon of Cartoons, Grand Prize and Popular Prize (in the same competition). In New York City, he won the coveted Reuben Award. In Toronto, twice winner of the National Newspaper Award.

Blaine was considered a "Master of Brush and Ink Sketching" from life.

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Here are a few examples from his 1970 book collection.

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I wish I had featured Blaine sooner here on Today's Inspiration, because he really was a huge inspiration to me personally at an early and impressionable time in my life. I'll forever be grateful for the gift of that personalized collection he sent me. His words and his art encouraged and inspired an 11 year old kid to pursue cartooning as a career. Goodbye Blaine, wherever you are!

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Blaine MacDonald died on Sunday, February 5, 2012. He was 74 years old.



17 comments

  1. Utterly FANTASTIC leif!

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  2. I did not know (or had forgotten) about this wonderful artist but, wow - what a great, free-flowing style!

    Once again I'm reminded why this is the ONLY blog I subscribe to - thanks Leif!

    Huw EYECATCHER

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  3. Really nice Leif - fabulous in fact !

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  4. Thanks guys - I'm glad I'm not alone in appreciating this local legend :^)

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  5. Amazing stuff. I'd never heard of him, and now I can't BELIEVE I'd never heard of him! Jack Davis ... Mort Drucker ... John Severin .. Wally Wood ... and who's THIS genius???

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  6. The man was certainly versatile. Love his ink drawings from life. They're very powerful.
    Wonderful tribute Leif.

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  7. Well done neighbour, very special tribute, thanks for sharing

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  8. Hi Leif,

    A very touching personal tribute about a terrific artist. What a pity you didn't feature him before he died!

    Warmest regards,

    Bryn.

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  9. Blaine's style is very cool. We should all remember how important it is to take the time to lift up others by taking that extra moment to write back to a fan, or sign a book - one more thing that makes him that much more memorable to you! Wonderful post.

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  10. Oh, man. This is sad.

    In Canadian History in '72 I chose to write about editorial cartoons and their influence on politics for my final paper. I sucked at writing so I filled it with cartoons by Blaine and many of his contemporaries. I recall getting a fairly descent mark if only because the teacher was a little befuddled by the obscurity of the subject, especially for a High School paper.

    Thanks a bunch Leif for acknowledging the contributions of this wonderful illustrator.

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  11. Anonymous4:53 PM

    Leif, I am Tana - Blaine's daughter. I have to thank you for such an incredible tribute to my father. He would have been so pleased. I loved it in it's entirety.
    My father touched many - quite obviously you included :)
    Very best to you - Tana MacDonald

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  12. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and memories, everyone - and especially thanks Tana, for adding a comment. I'm so glad this little tribute to your dad pleases you. :^)

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  13. Awesome. I have lots of his work including that book you got in the mail :)

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  14. Anonymous2:26 PM

    I remember being proud that our paper had the best cartoonist in the
    world.I can still see that sad bluejay sitting on the fence watching the
    Royals in our world series

    ReplyDelete

 

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