Wednesday, December 09, 2015


When cartoonist Leonard Starr retired at the end of a long career, he said, "I've been drawing every day for 60 years.  That's long enough."

I met Starr shortly after he retired and learned a lot from him.  I've often written about his work and I posted a tribute to him after he died this year.  Starr lived in a large home in Westport Connecticut and in his attic we discovered mountains of detritus from a career in the arts-- a career that spanned both the heights and the depths of the comic industry.  I've now spent a lot of time going through dust covered boxes in that cold attic on my hands and knees, .  I'm working to make sure that much of that material ends up in the Cartoon Library and Museum at Ohio State University.  But for now I'd like to share some of my anthropological discoveries with you.

The original drawings in Starr's attic spanned the glory years when newspapers featured elegantly drawn, richly detailed soap opera strips reproduced large enough to be savored... well as the later years as newspapers vanished and strips were simplified to satisfy new streamlined tastes: 

It's difficult to believe that the same artist's hand drew both styles.  But Starr won "best strip" awards from the National Cartoonist Society for each style he adopted. 

I particularly enjoyed the piles of sketches everywhere.  There were old character studies showing how Starr developed the faces for his strips:

 ...and of course preliminary sketches showing how he worked out compositions for his panels:


 There were also sketches left over from his bachelor days in the late 1940s.



One thing I admire about Starr is that he went to art school mid-career.  He began freelancing as a comic book artist in 1941, when he was just 16.  He desperately needed the money and in those days, almost anyone could find work drawing crude figures for low rates.  Starr was naturally talented and found work drawing the Human Torch, the Sub-Mariner and other popular comics.  In the 1950s he earned his first nationally syndicated strip and was doing very well.  But he always regretted his lack of formal art training, so he sought out the best art teacher he could find and continued to study anatomy and perspective in between writing and drawing his strip, On Stage.  

Starr's attic contained several battered boxes filled with awards and plaques and trophies.  Judging from the dust, the boxes hadn't been touched in decades.

Starr recognized that a fancy bronze plaque designating you a "living legend" was no guarantee that either you or your legend would live.

What remained after Starr passed away was the contents of that attic.  This week I plan to share some of the lessons I learned-- artistic, philosophical, cultural, socioeconomic-- from going through that material.   


zoe said...

Do you have any knowledge of who Starr enlisted as his teacher? The mannekin diagram looks like it comes out of the Frank J. Reilly branch of the Art Students League.

David Apatoff said...

Zoe-- Wow! Very impressive! In the mid 1950s, Dean Cornwell suggested that Starr try Frank Reilly. Starr recollected: "Frank Reilly was, without question, the best art teacher I ever saw. He was a pedagogue; you didn't have any discussions or debates on artistic merit, or aesthetics or whatever. He taught you the nuts and bolts.... I never left a single class with Reilly without knowing more than I knew when I went in. Practically a miracle in my experience."

kev ferrara said...

The dots, by the way, were called "station points" by Reilly, which indicate anatomical landmarks crucial to his figural abstraction scheme.

Looking forward to your attic finds.

Anonymous said...

A Leonard Starr book would be good.

Don Cox

Andra said...

Really interesting - especially the character sheet and rough layout sheet. Beautiful life drawings too.

Nick Matthews said...

Both a sad and fascinating task I would think, David. Some beautiful stuff. As a fan of Leonard Starr's work I'm really looking forward to further posts whatever they may be. Much appreciated - thanks.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- Leave it to you to know the fine points of Riley's teaching.

Don Cox-- Yes it would. Charles Pelto, head of Classic Comics Press and friend of Leonard, has been republishing Leonard's work with introductions from a variety of people. He will be publishing the complete Kelly Green series next year. He has also talked about a book.

Annie C. Curtis-- Thanks, I'm glad you like them. I felt strongly they should get out of that attic where they'd spent the last 40 years and displayed for the public.

Nick Matthews-- Yes, it was a little melancholy and it was exhausting but I can't begin to express what a richly rewarding experience it was. More to come.

Robert Cook said...

Yes, as soon as I saw the figure sketches, I thought, "Starr must have studied with Frank Reilly." I have an old issue of AMERICAN ARTIST from the 70s that had an article about Reilly and his method. One of Reilly's students, Jack Faragasso, still teaches at New York's Art Students League, and as far as I know, he teaches the Reilly method...or at least his teaching is informed by Reilly's method.

David Apatoff said...

Robert Cook-- Yes, Riley's influence was truly remarkable. In a way he reminds me of Hans Hofmann-- more important as an art teacher than as an artist.