Ask A Cartoonist: 100 Years of King Features
One hundred years of King Features-- WOW. We're so lucky to have some of the very best cartoonists in the world working with us, and today, I asked them to share some of their best/favorite memories of their time with King, or their own thoughts about the 100th anniversary!
David Reddick, Intelligent Life:
I am just so proud to be part of the King Features family and part of this anniversary. Growing up in an antique shop, I cut my teeth on original newspapers, still beautifully intact from the early 20th Century, that featured The Yellow Kid, The Katzenjammer Kids, Bringing Up Father, Happy Hooligan, Polly & Her Pals, Krazy Kat, Thimble Theater and the like. I poured over these artistic treasures, sniffed their newsprint, and emulated them in my notebooks. When I was much younger I even bought a set of dip pens and taught myself how to use them so I could experience cartooning like these masters.
King Features represents this art form in every way for me, and I just simply couldn't be more proud to be part of this wonderful institution, this family, that was started 100 years ago this week and continues with the same love, devotion and appreciation for the comics a century later.
I aspire to make my predecessors and heroes proud by continuing what they started in the century before.
Ray Billingsley, Curtis:
Karen Moy, Mary Worth:
Congratulations to King Features Syndicate on its 100th anniversary!
It’s an honor and privilege to be part of an organization that has such rich history! King has contributed to the fabric of American culture for the past 100 years whether it’s popularizing words like “heebie-jeebies” (from “Barney Google and Snuffy Smith”) and phrases like “are we having fun yet?” (from “Zippy the Pinhead”), or representing the heroic ideal as in “Flash Gordon”, the breath and scope of King’s influence is deep and wide.
I remember when I was growing up, watching “Popeye” cartoons, reading “Blondie” in the Sunday funny pages, and enjoying “Beetle Bailey” comic strip book collections. Those things fueled my interest in other comics-related subjects. And now, for King to be such a major part of my work life, is a great thing.
Jeff Corriveau, Deflocked:
Jerry Scott, Baby Blues and Zits:
I’ve been with Hearst since 1995 when Rick Kirkman and I brought Baby Blues to King Features. But my first glimpse of the Varsity Team was at a Reuben Dinner many years earlier than that. It was being held at the Plaza Hotel on a Sunday night, I think. Kim and I had scraped together every dollar we could find to make the trip, and were delighted that The Plaza had a room in our price range. We were surprised to learn that all hotel rooms don’t necessarily have windows. Or air.
After getting dressed in my rented tux and Kim in her altered prom dress, we made the long trip in the elevator from the basement room to the Grand Ballroom. When the elevator doors opened, the car was suddenly flooded with the sounds, smells and greatness of nearly every living cartoonist I’d ever admired. We stepped out and for a few minutes and stood there breathing the very same air as them. Look! Mort Walker! Johnny Hart! Bil Keane! Mel Lazarus! Oh my god! Is that Dik Browne? I remember seeing the King Features table at the front of the room, packed with more of my cartoonist heroes than seemed plausible. I really think that was the night I made the decision to sit at that table someday.
Kim looked at me and smiled. Then we got back in the elevator, rode down to the lobby and back up to the Ballroom, just to experience it all over again.
Woody Wilson, Judge Parker and Rex Morgan:
This letter from Joe DiAngelo is what started my career in comic strips more than 23 years ago. Actually, I had already been working on the strips eight years before I was signed to contract, so that puts me at 30 plus years on Rex Morgan M.D. and Judge Parker.
Alex Hallatt, Arctic Circle:
Stephanie Piro, Six Chix:
King Features has been an important part of my life! As a child, I loved Popeye and Betty Boop cartoons on TV. I read Beetle Bailey, Hagar and Tiger in the comics pages. To think that I would ever be a part of the King Features line up of cartoonists back then was something I never imagined. But being a cartoonist and having people actually read my work in the newspaper was my dream. And then I got that call from Jay Kennedy, the call every cartoonist hopes for, asking me to be a part of his new and original idea of Six Chix. 15 years later, we are still going strong and I am proud to be part of our amazing team of cartoonists: Isabella Bannerman, Rina Piccolo, Margaret Shulock, Anne Gibbons and Benita Epstein! I am sad that Jay isn't around to see his idea continuing to find readers around the world.
Rina Piccolo, Six Chix and Tina's Groove:
“King Features has impacted my life in ways that I had never anticipated. As I’m flipping through the pages of the 100th Anniversary collection “King Of The Comics,” I feel privileged to be a part of its history, and transformation. Cheers to all my friends at King— I raise my pen to 100+ more years!”
Bill Holbrook, Kevin & Kell, On The Fastrack, and Safe Havens:
Terri Libenson, The Pajama Diaries:
To say that King Features has been a huge and integral part of my life would be an understatement. It changed my life. If Jay Kennedy hadn’t encouraged me to keep submitting my strips and then when he ultimately syndicated Got A Life (weekly) and then Pajama Diaries, I honestly don’t know what I’d be doing today. Whatever it is, it wouldn’t be a tenth as fun as my job as a cartoonist. Jay and King Features literally made my dream come true, and I still pinch myself every day (man, that hurts). I’m also just as grateful to Brendan (my current editor) and the rest of the KF family for keeping my dream alive and kicking!
In honor of King Feature’s 100th anniversary, here’s my little tribute drawing to Jay.
Bill Griffith, Zippy The Pinhead:
A couple of things come to mind when I think of Zippy and King. First, it was Will Hearst III who gave me my start in the daily strip world when he took over the San Francisco Examiner in 1985 and asked me to do Zippy 6 days a week. "Like a job?", I asked incredulously. This was
followed a year later with King asking me to take Zippy nationally. 30 years later, I'm still incredulous!
Another thing that comes to mind is my trip to San Simeon ("Hearst Castle") in 1975, which produced a 10 page story in Arcade #3 featuring Zippy's romp through the place, culminating with a tennis match (in the snow) with William Randolph Hearst himself.
In 2002 I reprised Zippy's meeting with Mr. Hearst in the attached strip. This time, they play pool while discussing the Yellow Kid and Mutt & Jeff.
Speaking of the Yellow Kid, here's the cover I did for Zippy Quarterly #2 in 1993. The Kid makes a cameo as Zippy passes by---notice the "Hearst News Service" sign in the background.
Zippy and King---Zippy and Hearst---a mismatch made in comic strip heaven??!!
Jim Borgman, Zits:
In 1980 I signed my first contract with King Features to syndicate my editorial cartoons. The practice at the time was to fly to New York for a meeting with the sales team to get acquainted and presumably help them sell your feature. Quite an adventure for a green kid still new at his job in his midwestern hometown.
For the first time in my life, a driver holding my name on a card met me at the Newark airport and drove me to an apartment King Features kept on the 19th floor of a building several blocks from headquarters. I must have looked like Gomer Pyle staring at all the tall buildings, taking in the hustling bustling city. In memory, I am wearing a straw hat and a checkered suit and carrying a cardboard suitcase. I would have bought the Brooklyn Bridge if anyone had offered to sell it.
When I stepped out of the elevator into the offices of King Features at 235 East 45th Street, I found myself standing on an enormous carpet woven with the images of King’s legendary comics characters — Blondie, Hagar, Popeye, Betty Boop, Beetle Bailey, Flash Gordon, Barney Google, the Katzenjammer Kids…. For all the memories from that trip, the one I remember best was standing in the middle of that carpet and thinking, “I’m in the heart of the cartooning world. I’ve made it.”
Sandra Bell-Lundy, Between Friends:
This beautiful book might actually weigh almost 3 pounds, but I’m having no trouble lifting it, because it’s made me so happy and honored to be included in its pages with Norm Feuti, Patrick Roberts, and Hilary Price. And props to my fellow “Six Chix”, Margaret Shulock, Rina Piccolo, Anne Gibbons, Benita Epstein and Stephanie Piro, without whom I would never have been able to work on a “daily” comic strip.
Jim Keefe, Sally Forth:
When I was hired to work on staff in the Comic Art bullpen at King Features back in 1989 my immediate boss was Production Supervisor Frank Chillino (1920-2007).
The attached pic is from the 1993 King Features Christmas party in New York City. Frank is flanked by me on the left and cartoonist Jerry Craft on the right.
Frank worked under a number of Comic Art department heads – among them…
Sylvan Byck (1904-1982): Head of the Comic Art department from the 1950s until 1978.
Bill Yates (1921-2001): Head of the Comic Art department from 1978 until 1988.
Jay Kennedy (1956-2007): Head of the Comic Art department from 1988 until 2007.
Frank Chillino was the guy at King Features who made sure the trains ran on time. He also devised and implemented the standardized system to format strips for newspapers that's still used today - a template where a strip drawn in a half page format could be reformatted to a third or quarter page quickly and efficiently. It helped streamline the process saving countless hours of production time (and money) for King.
He was there with the pioneers of the industry - Chic Young, George McManus, Harold Foster, Alex Raymond, Jimmy Hatlo, Roy Crane, Milton Caniff, Fred Lasswell and Bela Zaboly just to name a few. In a feature piece in Cartoonist Profile he recalled, "When I joined the bullpen in January 1944, I was twenty four years old. Brad Kelly, who was the comics editor, hired me and placed me at a drawing table next to Bud Saggendorf who was then handling production. For my first assignment, Bud sent me to the supply room for a bucket of benday dots which were used on daily strips for grey tones. Being young and naive I did what he requested. Irving Winters who handled supplies said, "Hey kid, he's pulling your leg! There's no such thing as benday dots, only a benday acetate sheet with dots printed on it." Was my face red! When I brought back the sheets and an empty bucket we all had a good laugh. This was the beginning of a lasting friendship between Sagendorf and myself… About a year later Sag was assigned to draw the Popeye comic books. With his suggestion to Brad Kelly I was appointed comic art production supervisor."
Some other of Frank's recollections…
"King had a room set aside for visiting cartoonists then, which offered us the opportunity to watch them at work. These guys could ink their strips without penciling. Roy Crane worked on craft tint paper and when he brought the tones up with his brush on backgrounds, the strips would virtually explode with action."
"Jose Luis Salinas was brought up in 1950 to pen The Cisco Kid which I lettered for 18 years. He was one of our finest illustrators. Alex Raymond, also a great illustrator, idolized Salinas work. Whenever Alex came to KFS he would sit and watch Salinas pencil and brush through his Cisco strips for hours at a time. Jose worked in our bullpen for about six months before he returned to Argentina."
"There was an aura about them (the cartoonists) when they visited the bullpen. They were fun guys always playing jokes on one another."
Frank once wrote of his job at King, "I always believed that maintaining a rapport with our (King Features) cartoonists was of utmost importance. Letting them know we cared, and knew that they were out there doing their thing for us - drawing cartoons."
When Frank Chillino retired in 1990 he had 45 years at the Syndicate under his belt.
Truly one of King Features' greats!
John Rose, Barney Google and Snuffy Smith:
Being the cartoonist for King Features' Barney Google and Snuffy Smith comic strip is truly the highlight of my professional career. When I think back to all the comics I read and admired as a child, almost all of them were comic strips syndicated by King Features. Even the books I read as a young artist about how to become a cartoonist were written by King cartoonists--How To Draw And Sell Cartoons by Dave Breger and Backstage At The Strips by Mort Walker. So, when I joined King Features many years later in 2001, it felt like a dream had come true--and it still does, each and every day I draw Snuffy and the gang. This has been an incredible year of celebration for King Features and my wife, Karen, and I have felt very thankful to have been able to attend most of the events. The ones that come to mind were the King Of The Comics art exhibit at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at Ohio State; the panel discussion and presentation at the Library Of Congress in Washington, DC; the 100th Birthday Party for King at the Reuben Awards in DC and then having my work included in the recent King Of The Comics: 100 Years Of King Features book was the icing on the cake! What an incredible honor to see my work alongside the work of my childhood heroes! I definitely feel bodaciously blessed to be a part of this wonderful family at King! Congratulations and here's to 100 more years!
The photo shown is of my wife, Karen, and I with the Snuffy Smith original comic strip of mine that was on exhibit at Ohio State as part of the King Of The Comics exhibit.
Ron Ferdinand, Dennis the Menace:
CONGRATULATIONS KING FEATURES!!!!! From Ron, Marcus, Scott, Dennis and Ruff
Rick Kirkman, Baby Blues:
Back in 1979 or ’80, Jerry and I traveled to New York City to peddle our industry-changing comic strip “Copps & Roberts.” We had been inspired by Mort Walker’s Back Stage at the Strips to become syndicated comic strip creators. So, of course, we made the pilgrimage to King Features Syndicate to see the legendary Bill Yates.
Jerry and I shared a room at the Tudor Hotel, highly recommended by me, after a trip there the previous year. I touted its prestigious location—near the UN and a five minute walk from King Features—its lack of cockroaches and a $40 per night room rate. The room was so small, that when you opened the door, the door hit one of the beds. The bathroom door hit the toilet, so you had to squeeze in and close the door before you could reach the sink.
At the appointed time, we visited the King Features office. As we remember it, the feeling was electric as we waited in the lobby that was decked in a carpet of comic characters, and displayed near life-size statues of comic strip characters. We were ushered to Bill Yates cavernous (to us) office, where our destiny awaited. We handed him our comic strip. We sat terrified as Bill shuffled through our strips without ever cracking a smile. After a little small talk, he said he would let us know.
I’m not sure if the rejection letter arrived back in Arizona before we did, but it was pretty close. Undaunted, we were sure we would someday be in the big leagues with King. Eventually, we were, and have spent the past incredible 20 years with them. Thanks, King Features!
Mort Walker, Beetle Bailey:
After working with King Features 65 years, I believe I may be the oldest employee in existence, longer even than old man Hearst. Also I know that I'm the oldest cartoonist still drawing his own strip. At 92 I'm sure many people are waiting for me to die, even though they need me to play golf with them every Tuesday.
Anyway, my strip was the last one Hearst signed on before he died. It was called "Spider" then, about college students. I got it from a fraternity brother who had too much to drink and was crawling up the lawn while we watched him. We laughed and said, "He looks just like a spider." The name stuck with him and I used it for the title of my new strip. King Features said we had to change it because another strip had a character named Spider. So I just changed it to another bug, "Beetle" and attached a last name of "Bailey" after the editor of the Saturday Evening Post who had spotted him in my gag cartoons and wanted to make him into a weekly feature. I was the top-selling magazine cartoonist in the country at that time, but I wanted to do a strip.
King Features helped me develop the strip changing it from a college theme to an Army theme when it didn't sell well at first. I was against it a first because after World War II all the army strips like "Sad Sack" died. But the Viet Nam War was on at the time and Beetle took off selling over 1,000 papers in a year. I was afraid when That was over I'd get the curtain as well so I asked the Syndicate if I could do a strip about Beetle's sister Lois and her family and call it "Hi and Lois."
That didn't sell well, either until we cartooned their baby so you could read her mind and see a baby's first impressions of life. Soon IT was sold to 1,000 papers.
I'm going to stop there even though there are many more pages of how King has entered into the development of my strips and helped me succeed. I just think everyone should know what a great syndicate King Features is and how it operates in a friendly way, working WITH the creators (even giving us putts on the golf course) and how grateful I am that they took this little boy from a poor existence in Kansas City to the top of the heap in New York and 52 other countries, over 500 books published, thousands of products, movies and TV shows.