Friday, February 17, 2006
  Wallace Wood: Against the Grain, part five
The Cartoonists and Illustrators School (which changed its name to the School of Visual Art in the mid-Fifties) brought Wood in contact with a number of young artists who were studying on the GI Bill in the post-war years with instructors Hogarth, Jerry Robinson, Paul Reinman ,and Roy Krenkel (who began at C&I as a student). The school evolved out of Hogarth’s 1945-46 sketch class, which Al Williamson attended. After acquiring a partner and making a connection with the GI Bill, Hogarth moved into an old Bell Telephone building and launched C&I in 1947. Here numerous lifelong friendships and future business partnerships and contacts began among a student body that included Wood, Jack Abel, Ross Andru, Dick Ayers, Ernie Bache, Mike Esposito, Harry Harrison, Jerry Goldenberg (later Jerry Kolden), Moe Marcus, Rocco Mastroserio and Marie Severin.

Williamson (in Third Rail) recalled meeting Krenkel: “I was just 17 or 18 when we first met... It was in September of 1948 that he had brought in some Tarzan pages to show the class how Foster had worked. And that attracted me immediately, zing! He and I became great friends after that.” Krenkel recalled meeting Williamson: “He accosted me, and I accosted him right back. And we found a common bond in Foster. He was at that time doing a little work for Hogarth, assisting him.”

Williamson recalled meeting Wood: “I was working for Hogarth at the time; I was doing those pages for him, and I vaguely remember meeting Wally about that time. It was one of those things, like I sort of knew Wally, but I can’t remember how I met him. I know it was at the school.” Krenkel met Wood, and they later worked together: “I wound up doing backgrounds with Wallace Wood. Never inks. Just pencils. I couldn’t handle a brush.” But Wood, as he explained their later team-up (in the 1972 EC Lives!), had a problem with Krenkel: “He’s a wild man. He’s really very good too. The last time I saw him, he was just the same. It’s funny; he looked the same in school. We went to Hogarth school together. I can picture him being born looking just the way he does now, only smaller. He’s fun to have around, but I can’t work with him. I tried to work with him once, but he was always getting up and stalking around the room and making speeches. Then he’d draw a panel that would take me all day to ink. I tried to limit him to one panel on a page, but that panel would take me longer to ink than the rest of the page.”

Jack Abel, who was born in New York City exactly one month after Wood was born in Minnesota, shared a studio with Wood, Nick Cuti and Syd Shores in Valley Stream, Long Island, 23 years after he met Wood at C&I. For Comics Interview (#7) Abel outlined a picture of life among the C&I students, including John Severin’s teenage sister, Marie Severin: “We’ve always been friends, but I didn’t know her really well at that time in my life. I was more aware of an age difference. Marie is four or five years younger than me. Most of the guys, including me, were veterans of the service and were anywhere from 20 to 30 years old, trying to put our lives together and find our life’s work. Whereas Marie was no more than 17 or 18 at the time. But she sat in front of me, and probably joked around, because Marie was always an extroverted person and easy to get along with. She was probably the only one in the school at the time not going there under the GI Bill, where they subsidized your tuition if you were a veteran... Wally Wood was going to the school, and I knew him. But I don’t believe he was in my class... We used to go into a bar on 89th and Amsterdam Avenue, near C&I. All the guys from C&I used to hang out there, watch the fights and drink beer until we got too disgusting and they threw us out. Then we’d go over to Moe Marcus’ home. He used to have this huge Bronx apartment that his parents had given up to buy a farm, and he had it all by himself. And we would sit there all night and work on pages and listen to Symphony Sid, a jazz disc jockey of the time. We were young. It was a nice time. Kind of fun.”

With his famous opening theme (“Jumpin’ with my boy Sid in the city/Mr. President of the DJ committee... Make everything go crazy over JZ... It’s got to be Prez, Bird, Shearing or the Basie”) by Lester Young and King Pleasure (Clarence Beeks), Symphony Sid Torin continued to entertain many NYC artists through late-night work sessions for decades, first over WMCA and WJZ (the “JZ,” mentioned in the theme, which later became WABC) and later over WEVD; Symphony Sid died in 1984. While Jack Abel and Al Williamson listened to jazz, Woody preferred country music. Steranko wrote, “He had an ear for music and could easily remember songs he had heard only a few times—a fact he demonstrated during his tour in the Merchant Marine. He liked folk songs and hillbilly music, occasionally taking an entire night off to sing with friends. He learned to accompany himself on guitar.”

In December 1948 Wood used his lettering skills to connect with Fox Comics, as he detailed for Dorf: “The first professional job was lettering for Fox romance comics in 1948 — about a year. I also started doing backgrounds, then inking; most of it was the romance stuff. For complete pages, it was $5.00 a page. I was sharing a double room for three bucks a week. Twice a week I would ink ten pages in one day.”

Early in 1949, he created a continuing strip published under the byline “Woody.” “My first job on my own,” he said in his Woodwork Gazette interview, “was a political comic strip for a candidate running in Mount Kisco, New York.” Rendered in CrafTint, Chief Ob-stacle, the Woeful Indian was serialized in four-page newsletters distributed by the Union Party of Mount Kisco during the months prior to the March 15, 1949, election. In a letter mailed to Wood the day after the election, Frank LaClave, managing editor of Printer’s Ink magazine, wrote, “Your good work did the job! I was elected Trustee yesterday and our Committee attributes a great share of the victory to the excellent cartoons which you drew.”

“I did finally get to draw some romance books for Fox,” said Wood. But there were other stories in 1949 before that happened — a ten-page story for Women Outlaws (January, 1949), one for American Comics Group’s Romantic Adventures (March-April 1949) and a three-page collaboration with Alex Toth for Magazine Village’s True Crime Comics (August-September 1949).

Working through the agent Renaldo Epworth, who supplied art to Fox Comics, Wood continued with Fox romance titles into the spring and summer of 1949. The earliest were cover-dated August (My Confessions), September (My Secret Life), October (My Love Secret, My Experience), November (My True Love, My Love Affair, My Love Memoirs) and December (My Past Confession, My Secret Affair, My Desire). Only months after arriving in New York Wood had established himself professionally. Soon he was so busy there was no time for trips to Massachusetts; instead, Glenn traveled down from Cambridge, arriving in the midst of the Fox work. “I came to visit him when I finished the second term at MIT in June 1949. I stayed with him for a short time. Then I found a job in New York for a while.”
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is the editor of Against the Grain: Mad Artist Wallace Wood (2003), reviewed by Paul Gravett.

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