Saturday, February 19, 2022

Shannon Stirnweis, Part 4: Paperback Cover Art

My conversation with Shannon Stirnweis continues... ~ Leif Peng

Leif Peng: I'm guessing around this time in the mid-1960s you started to do paperback covers, is that correct?

Shannon Stirnweis: That came along almost from the beginning. Paperbacks were really the ... 'hiding place' of illustrators who couldn't get magazine [assignments] anymore. And the less-great publishers were the ones I went to to show my stuff to. That was like Ace and... and Ballantine bought me fairly quickly too.

(Above, two paperback covers illustrated by Shannon Stirnweis, L: Ace Books, 1960, R: Ballantine Books, 1969)

LP: Oh, really?

SS: Yeah, Bob Blanchard was the name of the art director there and he was a nice guy.

(Original art from a wrap-around paperback cover, "The Hell-Fire Club," Illustrated by Shannon Stirnweis, Ballantine Books, 1969)

LP: Now did you go there on your own to get paperback work?

SS: Yeah. I just cold called them. In those days it was quite possible to just call up an art director and go see him the same day with your portfolio. Which is no longer true.

LP: No. So when you started doing paperback work, what sort of stuff were you able to get at the beginning? What sort of genres?

SS: Oh, detective stuff and so on. There were a lot of strata in paperbacks. The stuff I was doing early on was like, $250 a cover and was usually a gal - sometimes a big-boobed gal (we chuckle) - and a guy, a detective or a shoot-out or something.

(A Shannon Stirnweis paperback cover for Ballentine Books, 1967)

LP: Hah. Yeah... I came across one you did called "The Berlin Wall Affair" by Troy Conway, and that one's from Paperback Library, from 1967. And it's very much the sort of scenario you'd see on a Robert McGinnis spy or detective type of cover. Does that ring a bell at all?


SS: It doesn't absolutely ring a bell, no. Well, that's after I moved up a ways. Those American Library guys, they'd pay, oh, a thousand bucks or so.

LP: Wow, yeah, that's moving up for sure! Would that have been sort of the top end for paperback art back then?

SS: Uhh... yeah. It gradually got higher and higher.


LP: Let me ask you this, Shannon... did these guys tend to hang onto the artwork or did you usually get your original art back?

SS: I don't remember exactly when, but they started around some time there was going to be some litigation or some taxes around the art. Up to that time, you never saw it again.


LP: I see. And how did you feel about that at the time, that you weren't getting your artwork back. Did it matter to you?

SS: Well, it mattered, but it was just the way business was done. (he chuckles)

(original art by Shannon Stirnweis from a Paperback Library cover, 1966)

LP: So you just accepted that. And when you started to get your artwork back, did you just hang onto it or give it away to friends and family?

SS: About half and half. Some of it I gave away... some of it I dumped! (he chuckles) Yeah, I gave it away to people and I've got a huge closet full of it here.

(original art by Shannon Stirnweis from a Paperback Library cover, 1966)

LP: The reason I ask is - you know a guy named Stan Galli?

SS: Yeah - I never met Stan Galli but he was also a west coast artist.

LP: Well, I read an article with him where he said every time the Saturday Evening Post or whoever sent back one of his originals, he'd take it out back to the barbeque and burn it. (Shannon lets out a huge laugh)

SS: Well, there was a time when your estate got taxed for everything they possessed and then they took the value of the art when the company bought it and they'd assess your heirs for that! (We both laugh)

LP: That's pretty clever of them! (chuckles) Now, you were saying when you first began doing paperback covers for Ace and so on and then you worked your way up through various genres... I found a blog where this fellow said you also painted a lot of romance covers for Harlequin. Is that right?

(Shannon Stirnweis cover for Harlequin Romance, 1990)

SS: That was not until the '90s. I did romance covers for Harlequin for about four years. One wrap-around cover a month for four years. And they paid decently even for the time, like thirty-five hundred for a wrap-around cover. So it gave you a base income. I was doing those and stuff for Unicover, the stamp people. You know about them?

LP: I do because I shared a studio in Toronto with a fellow named Tom McNeely and he did a lot of work for Unicover.

SS: Yeah, so I had Unicover and Harlequin and I was doing westerns for Bantam Books (about one a month). And I was feeling pretty good - three decent, steady clients - and all of a sudden all three of them gave out.

LP: You're kidding.

SS: Nope. (he chuckles)

LP: That's the way it goes when you're a freelancer, unfortunately.

SS: Yes, right.

Continued tomorrow...

Read Part 1 of the Shannon Stirnweis interview here

Read Part 2 of the Shannon Stirnweis interview here

Read Part 3 of the Shannon Stirnweis interview here

Shannon Stirnweis, Part 3: Children's Book Illustrator

Shannon Stirnweis and I continue our conversation about his illustration career... ~ Leif Peng

Leif Peng: Around the same time you were doing work for the men's adventure magazines you were beginning your relationship with Helen Wholberg as a representative, and she was representing you to the book publishers, is that right?

Shannon Stirnweis: Yes.

(Two books illustrated by Shannon Stirnweis in the 1960s)

LP: Ok, when you say the book publishers, are you talking about paperback book publishers?

SS: No.

LP: Ok, you're talking about children's book publishers. I read you'd done thirty or thirty five children's books. Was one of the publishers Helen wholberg connected you with Whitman Publishing?

SS: Yeah, that's right.

(Shannon Stirnweis cover and, below, interior illustration for Whitman Publishing, 1964)

LP: I've found several examples of that work. Can you give me a general idea of how big a time commitment that was, to do a painted cover and a series of interior illustrations for a typical Whitman's children's book?


SS: Oh, it depended a lot on the book. Some of them were pretty loose, but others - I did a book on dogs called "Dogs of the World" - I had to figure out how to spec type on that one so I could lay the thing out.


LP: So they really handed you the whole project - not just the illustrations.

SS: Yeah, the whole project. I managed to design it fairly well... I think. It started out I was only going to do certain kinds of illustration for that one and then it worked into being the whole book. But in terms of time, I think I had to do a spread and a half every day. It was real tight by the time we got the thing done.


LP: Wow! I've seen some pages from your book of dogs and they were full paintings.

SS: Yeah. Well, they were illustrations in acrylic as opposed to painting in depth.

LP: Did you have to find live dog models for that or did you mostly use photo reference.

SS: I went to a lot of dog shows!

LP: So you did the book on dogs and I know you also did a book on cats, and then for Grumbacher you did a book on "How To Paint Dogs" and one on "How To Paint Cats."


SS: Yeah, and another one on "How to Paint the Wild West."


LP: Right. Did those "How To" books come about because you'd done the early books on dogs and cats?

SS: I don't think so. I might have mentioned to somebody that I could paint dogs and cats but it was Lester Rossin, who was a rep and he knew me and I knew him a little bit. He just said, 'Can you do a book on dogs for me' and I said 'yeah.' He was another one of these characters from those extravagant days... I went to his house in Stamford Connecticut and it was just a bonanza of artwork by illustrators who'd worked for him. Who never got their work back.

LP: Wow.

(Interior spread from "The Art of Painting Dogs," Shannon Stirnweis, 1975)

SS: In his day he was high on the echelon of art representatives. He would bring in Christmas baskets of champagne and cookies and Christmas hams to every art director of a lot of these big agencies.

LP: That's how you do it, I guess... you gotta get their attention... win their affection.

SS: Yup.

(Lester Rossin Associates trade ad from the back pages of the 1957 NYAD Annual)

LP: So during this time as you were gradually becoming a full-time freelancer, did you socialize with a lot of other illustrators?
Were you sharing studio space with anyone?

SS: Yeah, I moved in with [Charles] McVicar and [Gerry] McConnell into a studio in the city because most of the studios that gave you the quickie stuff that really paid the bills wanted to know that you were local. So you didn't want to work out of your house out of town, you wanted to appear to be very local.

(Shannon Stirnweis cover for Grossett & Dunlap Inc., 1965)

SS: Later we were in the 50s someplace... I can't remember. Then we moved down to 34th Street between Lex and Third. It was near Grand Central, where I also shared space with Barney Plotkin. You probably never heard of him.

LP: I don't think so, no.

(Original paperback cover art by Barney Plotkin, 1986, found at

SS: There I took the space that Gerry McConnell had had. He'd been an apprentice to Dean Cornwell way back, so I got one of Dean Cornwell's old drawing tables.

LP: Wow, that's amazing! That is absolutely incredible!

SS: (Shannon chuckles) It was exactly like anybody else's drawing table.

(Shannon Stirnweis cover for Whitman Publishing, 1963)

LP: (laughing) Well, yeah... I suppose...

SS: And none of the talent brushed off. (He chuckles some more)

Continued tomorrow...

Read Part 1 of the Shannon Stirnweis interview here

Read Part 2 of the Shannon Stirnweis interview here

Shannon Stirnweis, Part 2: The (Men's) Adventure Begins

Continuing my conversation with Shannon Stirnweis, we begin discussing his professional career... ~ Leif Peng

Leif Peng: So after the army and after art college, did you try looking for work in a commercial art studio on the West Coast?

Shannon Stirnweis: No. There was virtually nothing out west. The two hotspots at the time were Detroit and New York. So I picked New York because I didn't want to have to do cars all the time. It was the middle of the Eisenhower recession and I'd take my portfolio around to some of these greats like Bob McCall... but they weren't working full time either, so there was very little chance they'd take me on as an apprentice or do anything with me. So after two or three months of walking the streets I got a job as an apprentice at Norcross, the greeting card company.

(Norcross Greeting Cards ad, artist unknown, 1958)

LP: No kidding! That's very interesting. If I'm not mistaken that's where Murray Tinkelman started out as well!

SS: Huh. Well, my position at Norcross was not a professional job. I spent about two months in their apprentice program and then I went to Compton Advertising on Madison Avenue as a sketch man in their studio. I had a good friend from Art Center named Bill Kiazawa who was at that point an art director at Compton's and he recommended me for the job.

(Compton Advertising trade ad, artist unknown, 1940)

LP: Now were you married at the time or... ?

SS: No, but that position gave me the confidence to even think about it. It was double my previous salary and sort of the direction I had wanted to go into.

LP: So what kind of work did a sketch man do at Compton's?

SS: Largely storyboards and comps. The art director gives you a scribble and you sketch the picture up so it's good enough for an illustrator or photographer to do the final version for the ad.

LP: Did they already use markers for that type of work when you started as a sketch man?

SS: Chalks!

(Though not by Stirnweis, these examples from a 1959 ad campaign are typical of the kind of work done by an agency "sketch man.")

LP: Right! I thought that might be the case. Was that a new experience for you, working with chalks?

SS: Actually at Art Center I started out as an advertising designer for the first year. I didn't know the difference, I just wanted to be a commercial artist. The jobs were already beginning to disappear for illustrators so they pushed me that way and I liked it... but after the first year it was kind of a tumultuous decision... was this really what I wanted to do or did I want to do illustrations. So I made a list for both sides and advertising design came out way ahead... and I decided to be an illustrator anyway. (we both chuckle) Because there were a bunch of guys who had gone to Art Center who went on to do illustration and I figured, if they can do it, why not me.

LP: So of that group, did most of them go to the East as well?

SS: Most of them did but I don't think any of them made it. Even though Art Center has a big reputation for getting jobs for everybody, it was not so in their cases. A lot of them went into associated fields like technical illustration and so on.

LP: Ok, let's get back to you working at Compton's as a sketch artist. Your bio says you began to freelance for adventure pulps. I'm very curious to hear how you made that transition from working on staff at the agency to getting your first freelance gigs for adventure pulps.

SS: Well, that was kinda 'extracurricular.' I did the paintings on weekends because I was still fully employed at the agency. So it wouldn't be fair to use their time to do that kind of work. How that started was I had lunch with Chuck McVicar, another Art Center guy, and a friend of his named Gerry McConnell. I was saying I wish there was some way I could get into doing illustration work and McConnell said well, if you want to do black and white or two-colour men's magazine art, just go see Larry Graber at Magazine Management. And he said, "Don't try to do better than what they're doing - just do exactly what they're doing." (We both laugh)

(Above left: photo of Gerry McConnell, year unknown, R: original art by McConnell and printed cover, Peril magazine,March 1958)

SS: So I did a couple of samples and went up there and walked out with a bunch of spots, did them, brought them back and got a painting to do.

LP: So when you got those initial spots, do you remember what they paid for those.

SS: I don't remember... seems there were four or five of them and I got around... $500 or $750 for the bunch of them.

(Four of Shannon's men's adventure illustrations, year and publication(s) unknown)

LP: Now did that seem like a pretty good paycheque to you at the time?

SS: Oh yeah! Because my paycheque at Compton's was a hundred dollars a week, which was decent pay at the time... and double what I was getting at Norcross.

LP: So going from Norcross to Compton's to making five hundred bucks for a handful of black and white spots.. that must have been pretty nice!

SS: Oh yeah.

LP: How did your first painting for them come about, do you remember?

(A men's adventure interior illustration by Shannon Stirnweis, date and publication unknown)

SS: Oh, since I proved myself by doing those spots they immediately moved me up to spreads. It was all spelled out for you: they'd give you a paper with the scene they wanted done and anything that was pertinent. That was it! I went home and did some sketches and they okayed one.

LP: Once they okayed a sketch, was it up to you to go and find models?

SS: Oh sure.

LP: And what was that like for you initially... was that a big expense or did you use friends as models?


SS: Yeah, pretty much friends, although models were not expensive at the time... fifteen or twenty-five dollars for a session.

LP: So it was well within the budget on an illustration job.

SS: Yeah, because if I recall for their middle grade book they paid... oh, $175 for a spread. So, like I said, getting a hundred dollars a week at Compton's... well, within about two years I could quit the agency and my main source of revenue was the pulp magazines - and I'd doubled my income.

LP: When they required you to do a period piece, were they very fussy about costuming and weaponry and that sort of stuff? Did you have to do a lot of historical research?

SS: Not an awful lot because it was usually the Nazis or headhunters or something you could be pretty liberal in interpreting. Minimal research. Not a whole lot.

(A men's adventure interior illustration by Shannon Stirnweis, possibly for Sportsman magazine, date unknown, found at

LP: So you didn't have to go out and rent a lot of costumes or whatever.

SS: No, you could usually figure out something that looked pretty close. I used my wife for a model now and then... posed for a few of them myself. Whatever it took to get the job done.

LP: Ok, let me ask you about a specific cover I found on the internet... for "Real" magazine. It's from October 1962 and there's a blonde-haired gal and she's wearing a pith helmet and she's wearing shorts and a sort of halter top and -

REAL, October 1962. Art by Shannon Stirnweis
(Cover by Shannon Stirnweis for Real magazine, October 1962 - image courtesy of

SS: And she's pointing a gun right at you. Yeah... uh, "Real" was not part of Magazine Management. That would have been somebody else that contacted me. I did a fair number of covers for them and some of them were just... you know, millions of people, like the battle of Iwo Jima (Shannon chuckles) just hundreds of these little bitty figures! But, you know, they all paid money.

LP: What did they pay for a cover? Do you remember?

SS: Uhh... it seems like it was $450 or $500...

(Cover by Shannon Stirnweis for Adventure magazine, April 1966)

LP: The reason I ask is because you arrived on the magazine illustration scene around the time when a lot of that seemed to be ending. You know, Collier's was already gone, the Saturday Evening Post was cutting back on the amount of illustration it was using, Cosmopolitan had a miniscule art budget compared to the previous years. So for you to get a fair amount of work from the men's adventure magazines is great, but did you also try showing your portfolio to some of those 'mainstream' magazines like the Post and Good Housekeeping and so on?

SS: I did sort of arrive as those magazines were on their last gasp. Yeah, those two years in the army really cost me some precious time in that regard. It really made the timing bad for me. On the other hand, I got a lot of memories and met a lot of people I never would have met so... I dunno who came out ahead.

(Interior spread by Shannon Stirnweis for Argosy magazine, December 1966 - image courtesy of Dave Groff)

LP: Yeah, well, I mean for me as someone who looks back at those timelines and has heard or read about a lot of different people's careers, you're arriving on the scene at a very interesting time because, you have, for instance, the guys who were at the Cooper studio during the '50s - Coby Whitmore, Joe DeMers, Joe Bowler and so on - they were all starting to think about moving away because the Cooper studio was a shadow of its former self by then.

SS: Yup.

LP: And meanwhile, here you are, young and eager and ready to get going...

SS: Right! (chuckling) R.G. Harris, I think it was... you ever hear of him?

LP: Absolutely.

SS: Yeah, well, I don't know if this is absolutely true but... Joe DeMers had just moved into town. This must have been a while before (I think the story was related by DeMers) but he went to see Harris to buy his house... and Harris had a five-car garage! All with these relatively spectacular cars in it!

LP: Wow...

SS: (chuckling) Yeah. And DeMers was fresh from the west coast and he thought, wow, you can really make a living here!

(Interior illustration by R.G. Harris for McCall's magazine, 1952)

LP: Yeah, well from talking to some of the guys who were there in the '50s, they were getting say, fifteen hundred to two thousand for a spread in the Post, for example. So you know, that was a very lucrative time for all those guys to be making a living in illustration.

SS: As far as lucrative goes, there's a history of that in illustration. For instance, John LaGatta, in one of his talks to us at Art Center - that was the main value of Lagatta, some of the things he said - told us about one time he was having a barbeque in the back yard and he had to excuse himself because he had a job to finish - or rather to start and finish - for the next day... and it was only a two thousand dollar job.

LP: Hah! "Only!"

SS: And that was in the middle of the depression - like, '32 or so! (he laughs)

LP: Absolutely incredible.

SS: Yeah. So... yes, there was a big difference when I came along.

Continued tomorrow...

Read Part 1 of the Shannon Stirnweis interview here

Shannon Stirnweis: "I wanted to be an artist when I grew up."

Each time I think I've seen it all, learned all the important names, discovered everything there is to discover about mid-20th century illustration, up pops another remarkable talent that was completely unknown to me. In this case I found a striking visual on the front of an old record jacket at a flea market; my first example of Shannon Stirnweis' art. That chance discovery cost me all of one dollar. So began the digging. Pretty soon I found other examples and even better, the artist's website with contact information. A correspondence ensued and not long after, a phone interview was arranged. Shannon generously shared the details of a long and prosperous career and helped fill in yet more pieces in the puzzle that is the history of the illustration business during the mid-20th century. Join me now for Part One of our conversation... ~ Leif Peng

Leif Peng: So I see on your website that you were born in Portland, Oregon in 1931 and you already had your ambitions fixed on becoming an artist while you were in grade school.


Shannon Stirnweis: Well, actually... it was kind of a military time, you know, being the beginning of WWII and I kind of couldn't decide between trying to go to Westpoint and trying to be an artist (or as they would say back then a 'commercial artist'). Then about the seventh or eighth grade I found out that I didn't have 20/20 vision which knocked me out of being an army officer. So I went the other way.

(Shannon Stirnweis, Whitman Publishing, 1962)

LP: Where were you seeing visual material that spurred your interest in drawing when you were a kid? Stuff like comic books, for example?

SS: Comic books hardly existed in my day. I can remember this kid down the street showing me these tremendous drawings he'd discovered... it was the first issue of Superman comics. Of course Hal Foster was doing drawings in the newspaper [comics], which we looked at. But no, I think I drew not trying to emulate anybody in particular, but I was encouraged by my family because they'd give me a couple of cents - or even a nickel or a dime - and I'd turn out the drawings. (Shannon chuckles)


SS: It was encouraged in the schools too... I remember in the seventh or eighth grade they had a competition to attend summer classes with the head of the education department at that time. I submitted my portfolio and got in and got to spend time with a lot of the other talented kids from the other schools, so my interest in drawing just sort of developed. Portland was relatively speaking sort of a backwater in the art world in those days, but I'd got an adult library card early and read all the books in the art section of the central library so by the time I was looking for an art college to attend, I'd developed a background of sorts.

LP: So you'd be looking at the lessons in these art books from the library and doing drawings based on that?

SS: Yeah, George Bridgman and so on. A lot of it was sort of obsolete, but still... probably the most pivotal book for me was Andrew Loomis' "Creative Illustration." And "Forty Illustrators and How They Work."


LP: You said your family encouraged you to draw, but do you think they had a sense that you might be able to make a living drawing when you grew up?

SS: Well, I remember this conversation I had with my grandmother when I was about fourteen. I told her that I wanted to be an artist when I grew up and she said, "There's a lot of good jobs in printing you know." (we both laugh)

LP: Grandmothers are very practical that way.

SS: Yes.

LP: So they were encouraging but they didn't necessarily think this was going to be something Shannon's going to make a good living at.

SS: Well, I was always a good student. I was sixth in my class of five hundred in high school. So my mother and my aunt insisted that I go to the University of Oregon for a year. So I did that... for a year. But I then immediately switched to Art Center College.


LP: So when you arrived at Art Center and suddenly you're completely immersed in an environment with other talented students... how did you feel?

SS: I felt like I was in the right place. But I didn't know how long I would last. At the time Art Center was filled almost entirely with WWII vets... and they were all so good, they scared the heck out of me! (we chuckle) One other kid had high school art and I had one year of college, but that didn't really mean much there. But I'll tell you, it was a very formative experience.

LP: I assume you had some excellent instructors at Art Center.

SS: Oh yeah. There was Stanley Reckless who was a drawing instructor and I think he owned part of the school.

(Stanley Reckless in his home studio, year unknown)

SS: I had Reynold Brown, who was a very capable guy. I got to know him quite well. We used to eat lunch together. He was a very good painter. And I took some classes at the Chouinard Art Institute which was nearby, and I had Pruett Carter there.

LP: Wow!

(Pruett Carter, Ladies Home Journal, July 1948)

SS: So I graduated in 1954 but I was immediately drafted. So I spent two years in the army in Germany, then when I came back they gave me the G.I. Bill so I figured I might as well get a little brush up. So I went back for two semesters and I had John LaGatta. He was a big name, but he was a terrible instructor. You'd put one line down and he'd come by and tell you it was wrong. (we both laugh) He never said why it was wrong or how to fix it... oh, he was not much fun that one semester.

(John LaGatta, Ladies Home Journal, December 1937)

SS: And I had Joseph Henninger, and I think that was about it for the name instructors.

LP: Oh yeah, Joe Henninger shared a studio with Ren Wicks, didn't he?

SS: Ren Wicks, yeah. I showed my portfolio to both of them when I left school.

(An ad co-illustrated by Ren Wicks and Joe Henninger, Life magazine, July 1952)

LP: And what did they say?

SS: Oh, haha... Henninger said, "You never changed that head the way I told you to." (we laugh) It was a pretty girl and I thought it was one of the best heads I ever painted! Ren Wicks was very flattering and very nice.

LP: Well, that's great! Wow, how amazing that you came in contact with some of the huge names in the illustration business.

SS: Oh, and Neil Boyle was in one of my starting classes, but then he went away and went to Chouinard and he really shone there. He was not particularly a star at Art Center before he left. He was a Canadian too, did you know that?

LP: You know I may have known that - I've done some writing on Boyle but I can't recall at the moment if I knew that.

(Neil Boyle, Saturday Evening Post, January 1963)

SS: Yeah, he went back home for, I think, just the summer semester and then he came back and they gave him a lot of flack, which they did sometimes at Art Center. So he decided the heck with this and he went to Chouinard and came out great!

LP: Now, backing up a bit to when you were drafted and went to Germany, did the army take advantage of your artistic abilities or did they have you peeling potatoes and standing guard and stuff like that?


SS: Well I had my portfolio with me when I went over, just a little four by five booklet, and I'd show it and they'd just lost a guy who painted the signs and so on. So I naturally wanted the job and they gave it to me. I was an ammunitions supply specialist, but they had me paint signs and so on and in my spare time I'd paint portraits of the officers and enlisted men for about fifty dollars a head. I think I painted thirty-five or forty portraits.


LP: Your bio says that you had the opportunity to visit a lot of art museums while you were there. What was that like?

SS: I'd never really been exposed to that much art before. I'd been stationed in the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in my training and got up to New York and to the Museum of Modern Art, so I'd seen a little bit of that stuff. But on my last leave in Germany I had twenty one days and I went by myself by train from Zweibrücken to Heidelberg to Switzerland, down to Rome and back up to Venice, up to Copenhagen and down to Paris and then back to Zweibrücken. So in twenty-one days I think I saw almost that many museums.

LP: I can imagine that must have been overwhelming.

SS: Yeah, it was staggering. It was too much. On the other hand, I had no alternative. I wasn't going to be there forever and that was my chance.

Continued tomorrow...

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Ed Graham's Advice To Aspiring Cartoonists of the 1930's: "Get out of the business."

Ed Graham began his career as a professional cartoonist in the 1920s when he moved from his home state of Indiana to New York City. There he enjoyed some admirable successes: Graham's work soon began appearing on covers and interiors of many major magazines including Life, Ballyhoo, College Humor, Collier's and Judge.


Graham was the subject of an article in the March 16, 1935 issue of the Columbia Daily Spectator. By then he'd had ten years experience in the cartooning business but struck a cynical tone when addressing his audience at a presentation at Columbia University: "Mr. Graham thoroughly denounced any rumor that would indicate that a cartoonist's life was easy and without hard luck and discouragements," wrote the article's author, Howard Hammer.


Graham allowed that the most determined newcomer might enjoy a modicum of success if he possessed the many virtues of "resourcefulness, hard work, careful attention to detail, and intellectual honesty."

(An Ed Graham gag from the "Annual Nudist Number" of Ballyhoo magazine, October, 1936)

As for that core skill of the cartoonist - the ability to come up with funny ideas - Graham suggested one consider the scenario of "the wolf at the door" to help motivate one's creative funny bone. "Then," quipped Graham, "the gags will be numerous." In other words, "Be funny or die."


"Those seeking to achieve fame and success in cartoon work without doing the necessary "ground-work" are doomed to disappointment and would do better to change immediately to some other vocation," Graham warned his audience, emphasizing that "nothing but discouragements will be encountered in the [cartooning] profession." The tenor of Graham's 1935 speech at Columbia certainly suggests he felt wounded by his years in cartooning. While he didn't entirely give up freelancing, that year it became a sideline.


Graham took a staff position with an advertising agency, a business he stuck with for the next three decades, eventually becoming vice-president and creative director at Outdoor Advertising Inc. in 1963. Graham also served as president of the New York Art Director's Club in 1962-3.


Cartooning may not have been Ed Graham's true calling, but at least one fellow cartoonist, E. Simms Campbell, who enjoyed a long and successful career in the gag panel racket, gave Graham credit for launching his career.


"My break came when I ran into Ed Graham," wrote Campbell. "There aren't many fellows like Ed. He and I had worked on the Phoenix at the same time back at the University of Chicago. Well, Ed Graham had come on to New York ahead of me, and he had already broken into the humorous magazines and made a name for himself. He had his knocks, but he was over the hump. He knew the editors, and they knew him. I showed him some of my drawings and gags and right off the bat he said, 'I'll take you around. This is stuff is good.' "*

*Quote by E. Simms Campbell from Ariel S. Winter's blog post on the artist.