Sunday, April 19, 2009
  Topps #3: Pee-wee's Big Adventure
In 1966, at the request of Art Spiegelman, I submitted gags for Topps' Insult Postcard series. The first freelance gag I sold to Topps was part of that series: "Come alive! You're in the Monster Generation!" spoofed the familiar Pepsi Generation commercials. Wally Wood and Ralph Reese illustrated the series.
Cover: Esau Andrews
Although Ralph took an extended leave from illustrating, he returns this month with a wild DC Comics tale, "The Thirteenth Hour," featuring monsters crawling over buildings a la Cloverfield. Look for it in issue #13 (May) of editor Angela Rufino's revival of House of Mystery for Vertigo.

As I explained previously, I began working with the Topps Product Development staff in December 1967. By then, Art had taken off for San Francisco, and when he returned a few months later, we would take sketchpads down the hall to the Topps cafeteria, which was deserted during the hours before and after lunch. While the kitchen staff prepared lunch, we would drink coffee and toss gags back and forth.

Others in the Product Development department, run by Woody Gelman, were the cartoonist-designer Rick Varesi, Len Brown (now a classic country DJ in Austin, Texas), Mad writer Stan Hart (who only came in once a week), the clever, creative Larry Riley and the secretary, Faye Fleischer. Riley was a terrific raconteur with hilarious tales of his years working on Paramount animated cartoons, and I regret never tape recording his stories. When he left Topps, he worked as an animator on Ralph Bakshi's movie, Fritz the Cat (1972).
The inventive Larry Riley at Topps
Occasionally, other people would arrive and briefly take a crack at gagwriting. However, a special knack was required, and these wannabe humorists usually had odd and puzzling notions of what constituted humor.

One day Woody Gelman explained to us that the Topps execs were sending in a crackerjack humor writer to work on creating cards with us. I don't think Woody was too pleased about the situation of a newcomer crashing his party. Rick, Len, Larry and I were sitting in Woody's office waiting for the new guy to arrive. Expectations were high, because why was he being sent over unless he was a funny fellow? Indeed, he came in wearing a plaid jacket, a bowtie and big, confident grin. In retrospect, he looked sort of like Paul Reubens as Pee-wee Herman.

After a round of introductions and handshakes, Pee-wee took a seat, and Woody asked him to go right into his presentation. Pee-wee pitched a very strange concept. He said, "Okay, picture this. You show the world as it looks from a dog's point of view." Dead silence... as we all tried to comprehend just what he was describing.

I said, "So in other words, the dog is looking up, and there's a drawing of what he sees in an up-angle from ground level?"

"Yes," said Pee-wee with a big smile, obviously proud of this idea.

I continued, "So if that's the first card in a series of 44 cards, what would you do for the other 43 cards? Would card #2 be a cat looking up? Then maybe a hamster?"

He had no response. His smile faded. He began to twist slowly in the wind. And after that meeting, we never saw him again. In the bubble gum universe, another bubble had burst.

"Cowpoke in Africa" is another Krazy TV card with gag and color rough by me. John Severin drew the finish. The card caricatures Chuck Connors in the short-lived TV series Cowboy in Africa (1967-68). Coincidentally, Chuck Connors grew up in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, within walking distance of the Bush Terminal where Topps offices were located.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Again Bhob, startling and fascinating insight into a significant part of our culture and art history that is somehow wildly unknown. I wish there was an entire lengthy, oral history of those days at Topps. "That's Bubblegum!" would make a great title!

Mike, for more such, check out Art Spiegelman's intro to the WACKY PACKAGES book.

Terrific portfolio of Lee Brown Coye illustrations at your blog!
hi bhob... i have bookmarked your blog. somebody ought to do a reprint book of those old funny valentine cards and stuff. a lot of baby boomers remember them fondly from when they were kids.
We do have some of the Topps valentines in AGAINST THE GRAIN, but the revelations from unfolding doesn't come across in a book format. Unfolding was part of the fun.
Post a Comment

<< Home
Masquerade of the albino axolotls

My Photo

is the editor of Against the Grain: Mad Artist Wallace Wood (2003), reviewed by Paul Gravett.

October 2005 / November 2005 / December 2005 / January 2006 / February 2006 / March 2006 / April 2006 / May 2006 / June 2006 / July 2006 / August 2006 / September 2006 / October 2006 / November 2006 / December 2006 / January 2007 / February 2007 / March 2007 / April 2007 / May 2007 / June 2007 / July 2007 / August 2007 / September 2007 / October 2007 / November 2007 / December 2007 / January 2008 / February 2008 / March 2008 / April 2008 / May 2008 / June 2008 / July 2008 / August 2008 / September 2008 / October 2008 / November 2008 / December 2008 / January 2009 / February 2009 / March 2009 / April 2009 / May 2009 / June 2009 / July 2009 / August 2009 / September 2009 / October 2009 / November 2009 / December 2009 / January 2010 / February 2010 / March 2010 / April 2010 / May 2010 / June 2010 / July 2010 / August 2010 / September 2010 / October 2010 / November 2010 / December 2010 / January 2011 / February 2011 / March 2011 / April 2011 / May 2011 / June 2011 / July 2011 / August 2011 / September 2011 / October 2011 / November 2011 / December 2011 / January 2012 / February 2012 / March 2012 / April 2012 / May 2012 / June 2012 / July 2012 / September 2012 / October 2012 / November 2012 / December 2012 / January 2013 / February 2013 / March 2013 / April 2013 / May 2013 / June 2013 / July 2013 / August 2013 / September 2013 / October 2013 / December 2013 /

Powered by Blogger