One of the greatest discoveries was stash of magazines (isn't that always the case) from the 1950s. Magazines I had never heard of Trump, Humbug, Help!. "What are these?" I asked. R. O. introduced me to the work of Harvey Kurtzman.
He had a regular page in Humbug and created the cover for the May 1958 issue.
Fantagraphics Books has published the collected Humbug. I picked it up this weekend at Desert Island.
It's a beautifully produced two volume set. The introduction by John Benson and Gary Groth is clear and insightful. They succinctly establish the cultural context which created the magazine while offering a degree of critique that's unusual for (non-Fantagraphics) cartoon anthologies and reproductions. They even point out that Arnold Roth came to the magazine directly from John Hubley's studio, Storyboard.
The highlight, for me, is a conversation between Al Jaffee and Arnold Roth.
It's a great story, and coincides with my experiences with the great illustrator nearly half-a-century later.
Arnold Roth: Blechman could never finish. He was worse, the only guy in America worse than Harvey [Kurtzman].
My wife was pregnant, came up to have lunch with him in New York once. They never had lunch. He walked around to every restaurant. And before they would walk in he'd say, Oh, yes, but, you know, there was something wrong with it. And she said, we never had lunch.
Anyway... So all of those hats that you see were on separate peices of paper.
Al Jaffee: Right.
Roth: And the drawing of the guy is separate. As Harvey used to say, if you hold a Blechman original this way [flat], it looks like a cross-section of the Alps. Because he'd piecing teeny pieces of paper together to correct the line.
Jaffee: It was unbelievable.
Roth: So Blechman brings the cover in, and it's all pasted up, and he gives it to Harry Chester. Harvey OKs it. It was always the same idea, of course.
Tuesday, Blechman comes back and he says, "Listen, I've been thinking about the cover. It can be better." So he gets rubber cement remover and he rearranges the whole... It's still the same idea, you know. What the hats are. Which ones are where. He says, "That's much better."
Comes back Wednesday and he changes it. And he's driving Harry nuts because Harvey's trying to close the issue, you know.
So finally, he comes back on Friday and he says, "Harry, I think if I..." And Harry says, no Blechman, you can't do it. It's been sent to the printer. You can never touch it or change it again. It's over, Blechman, it's over.
So that was for the March issue so it had to be like January.
So here it is, the Christmas party. December after that. [Eleven months later].
I'm in there with my drink and Harry's got his. And Harry is sitting on a higher wooden stool, where he worked. And he puts his hand on the edge of the stool. So he picks his hand up, and I said, "Harry. There's something stuck on your finger. It's a little piece of paper."
So he pulls it off, and there's a hat on the other side. And he said to me, "Don't tell Blechman! Don't tell him!" I said, "Harry, it's over. It's over." He turned white, it all came back to him.