Friday, December 11, 2015


Leonard Starr received thousands of letters from fans.  Some of his correspondence was from fellow artists, such as Alex Toth or Milton Caniff.  In an era before email, their letters often came adorned with funny sketches.

Sometimes cartoonists sent him originals inscribed with messages:


But the vast majority of the letters were from everyday readers around the country.  Many of the letters he never got around to opening, let alone answering.  I was intrigued to find hundreds of them  stashed in bags or boxes in Starr's attic.  Apparently they were "temporarily" placed there to get them out of the way and remained there for decades until Starr passed away.  I  went through some of them and soon realized why Starr didn't open all his mail. 



I can't say this experience improved my view of human nature, but it did help me understand the experience of a mid-century cartoonist. 


kev ferrara said...

Well, that was melancholy making. I suppose it is easy to forget that the internet hasn't caused anything, it's only made it more visible.

Apropos of one of those atticstracted letters which hit me rather hard: I had the experience recently of upbraiding someone online for daily uploading tons of living artists' work to a facebook page without permission and with no link back to the artists web-pages, currently available publications or originals. I explained how this was doing a disservice to these artists trying to make a living on their work. I made a few points about how economics works, how the marketplace works. All in service of raising awareness of the reality of the artists' lives to this fellow, who, in my view, was a particularly egregious online purveyor of the goods of others. In a flash, the guy lashed out at me for daring to say anything, fairly shouted at me that everything in his life was stolen from him, and he was suffering from an illness which could kill him at any moment.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- Well, there's a bright side here. For those of you who feared the world was becoming more intemperate and vitriolic, it seems that those people have been there all along. It's just that in the '70s they sat in their basements writing crank letters to comic strips, and today they are out in public at Donald Trump rallies.

As for your guy on facebook -- I agree that his behavior is reprehensible, and no illness (or having his life stolen from him) justifies unattributed borrowing from artists he claims to admire. There are about a dozen blogs and web sites out there that regularly take my blog posts (both words and pictures), remove my name and post them as their own content. They mostly use it to sell advertising (something I refuse to do here) but it's hard to imagine how anyone could take personal pleasure from using someone else's content. Some examples:

As long as borrowing/copying becomes easier to do and harder to punish, there will be more and more people like your facebook guy who can't seem to contribute anything of their own but take a free ride on somebody else's work.

James Gurney said...

David, this look into the attic really humanized the life of a cartoonist for me, giving both a sense of his kinship with other artists, and the flip side of people demanding another "pound of flesh." I loved that one where they ask for a drawing by filling in a blank space on a printed letter. It's fascinating to see how each person in his reading public regarded his artwork through the lens of their particular obsession—anticommunism or seat belts or infirmities. As Kev says, the modern social media make everyone's opinion visible, not only to the creator, but also to each other.

David Apatoff said...

James Gurney-- Thanks, Jim. That's good to hear. As I sat in that drafty attic with all the detritus of a long career piled up around me, I felt it was important to find some way to convey the hard work and the challenges and accomplishments of the artist. The letters provide one perspective. It was difficult limiting the letters to the ones excerpted here; there are literally hundreds of others I could have used. Some funny, some appalling, some exasperating. This week is going to have some additional posts that are a little unusual for this blog but I hope they will shed a little more light on what I found.

alina said...

Those letters are hilarious -- like a good comic strip!

David Apatoff said...

alina-- The ones I included were just the tip of the iceberg. You wouldn't believe all the loony stuff in those boxes and sacks.