Friday, April 09, 2010
  Topps #8: Bonnie and Clyde fumetti
First stanza of "The Story of Bonnie and Clyde" by Bonnie Parker 
(in Clyde Barrow's handwriting)

I designed the Krigstein-influenced pages above as a section in The Bonnie and Clyde Scrapbook, published by Personality Posters in 1968. The story behind the creation of this book might be just as interesting as the book itself. (For full enlargement of the images, click and when you go to the next page, click again with the crosshairs cursor.)

Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde was released in August 1967. I must have seen it that fall, and a few months later I read The True Story of Bonnie and Clyde as Told By Bonnie's Mother and Clyde's Sister (Signet, 1968), a reprint of Jan Fortune's Fugitives, The Story of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker (1934). This book and the movie made me aware that Bonnie Parker had kept a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about the escapes of the Barrow gang from the law. It occurred to me that a facsimile of her scrapbook would make an interesting book, and I decided to present the idea to Woody Gelman, the publisher of Nostalgia Press.

In the spring of 1967, Art Spiegelman had introduced me to Woody Gelman at the historic Pete's Tavern, where O. Henry wrote "Gift of the Magi" in 1902. As a trial test, Gelman gave me an assignment to write and design an article on the Dionne Quintuplets for his planned Nostalgia Illustrated magazine. I found Gelman's clever concept, to do a magazine like a comic book, quite appealing and workable. (For instance, one article recreated a famous boxing match with a full page for each round.) After I wrote the Dionne article, I had to plow through a stack of Dionne paper dolls and other such memorabilia, calculating how to merge text and images into rows of panels.

Woody liked the finished result, so in the summer of 1967, I daily left Manhattan and rode the subway to the Bush Terminal in Brooklyn where Gelman was the art director of Topps Chewing Gum. I had office space at Topps, but I was working on Nostalgia Press projects. Almost immediately, he became nervous when he realized that Joel Shorin, the head of Topps, might be curious to know why non-Topps work was happening on the premises, so he would only meet with me during his lunch hour. By the end of the year, however, I was hired by Gelman to work full time in his department, drawing cartoon roughs and gags for Topps non-sports cards. (Click on the "topps" label at bottom to see the previous posts.)

By 1968, I was very familiar with Woody's publishing plans, and it seemed to me a book about the real Bonnie and Clyde could be a success for Nostalgia Press. I walked into Woody's office and outlined the book I wanted to create for him, The Bonnie and Clyde Scrapbook, a simulation of Bonnie Parker's actual scrapbook. I was quite surprised when he rejected the concept with very little discussion.

But the real surprise came a week later: He called me into his office and said, "Listen, my daughter Barbara has a great idea -- a book that will resemble Bonnie Parker's scrapbook. Here, I'm going to transfer her call to your phone."

If you think that sounds strange, imagine how I felt. I stood there, pole-axed. Had he simply forgotten our previous meeting? Perhaps I should have put the book's premise on paper instead of making a verbal presentation. Then I could have shown him a sheet of paper and waited for his reaction. To this day, I don't understand what happened there. But the nepotistic situation was a genuine trap. He was my boss, and I wanted to keep the job. So rather than fly into a rage, I said nothing and became a willing victim.

With the project underway, Woody mentioned a freelancer, Bill Hogarth, who he said was an expert at preparing presentations, and a week later, he showed me the dummy mock-up Hogarth had assembled. It showed a cover and a few opening pages. The rest of the presentation had blank pages.

Barbara Gelman took that presentation and went out to pitch the book. Despite the success of the movie, no one was interested. As I recall, she was rejected by nine publishers. However, at that time, Personality Posters was hot, and their posters were everywhere. From their main office at 74 Fifth Avenue, they also had a successful mail-order operation going with their only book, Who Was That? This was a picture book about familiar and unfamiliar character actors, and they sold it through full-page newspaper ads.

Because of the Bonnie and Clyde movie, posters of Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were Personality Posters' biggest sellers. But time was a factor. They agreed to publish The Bonnie and Clyde Scrapbook if it could be delivered in one week. They planned to market it the same way they sold Who Was That?

Barbara brought in the writer Ron Lackmann. This struck me as odd because there was nothing really to write except a few captions. I believe that kick-started Lackmann's career, since he went on to do more than 30 books in the past 40 years. (What I didn't know at the time was that it was more nepotism. Lackmann died two months ago and from obituaries I learned that he and Barbara had been living together for the past 50 years.)

A stack of 1930s news photos was acquired by Barbara from the stock photo service, Black Star. I decided the book needed Bonnie and Clyde movie stills. I went to the Warner Bros. offices at 666 Fifth Avenue and met with the head publicist who listened with interest as I explained what we were doing. He went away and came back carrying a huge binder with all the photo prints grommeted together. He told me to write down numbers of the stills I wanted, and I gave him a list with 70 numbers. When I went back to Warner Bros., they handed me a manila envelope filled with prints of all the stills I had requested.

To meet the seven-day deadline, a team of Topps people worked on the book after five o'clock and during lunch hours. This included polished production art by cartoonist Rick Varesi, whose usual job was creating rough comps for Topps packaging and products, and type mark-up by a nice guy named Paul, who worked in the Topps production department.

I began designing the page layouts, working my way through the pile of Black Star pictures. Since numbers on the stills from Warner Bros. were shuffled randomly, there was no way to put them in the proper narrative sequence, and I visualized a filmic fumetti. In Italian, the word "fumetti," literally "little puffs of smoke," refers to all comics, since speech balloons resembled smoke. After WWII, photo comics became wildly popular in Italy, and Fellini's The White Sheik (1952) is an amusing comedy film about a performer (Alberto Sordi) in the Italian photo comics industry. In English, the term "fumetti" was adopted as a label for photo comics in Harvey Kurtzman's Help! and elsewhere after the word was popularized in a 1959 Time article.

Working from my memory of the movie, I shuffled stills into what I hoped was the correct order. I had a notion to use photos in a vein similar to the Futurist painters and the comic book stories of Bernard Krigstein, in which composition, size and dimension relate to the underlying emotions and add to the impact of the narrative. I did six pages of layouts to create a pantomime photo story that would show the whole movie like a comic strip. I compressed all the stills into those six pages, trying different arrangements as I recalled both the film's editing and past pages drawn by Krigstein. Soon I saw the cascading images almost automatically juggled into the proper places with a jigsaw precision. For the final shoot-out page, I repeated some stills large/small/smaller and tried a Krigstein-like staccato effect in the design. The finale of the movie was an extended sequence of quick-cut editing, and I attempted to duplicate that on the printed page.

At the end of the week, we had succeeded in assembling the entire book. On the phone, Barbara told me to put my name in the byline, but I had such a negative reaction to her intrusion into my book proposal that I refused. The book looked slick and unusual, and we had met the deadline.

Personality Posters ran a large newspaper ad in The New York Times just as they had done with Who Was That? As soon as the ad appeared, Black Star sued Personality Posters, claiming that the ad violated the contractual agreement for one-time only use of the old news photos. I can't remember if Woody was included in this legal action, but I think he got out of it somehow. At any rate, that was it. There were no more ads, and there was no distribution of the book. One day I was walking on Broadway near 46th Street, and I went into the Personality Posters store. Next to the cash register were two tiny piles of the only books published by Personality Posters. They looked completely out of place in the poster store. I never saw The Bonnie and Clyde Scrapbook in any bookstore. What became of all the copies that were printed? I don't know.

During the months this was happening, a strange bit of synchronicity surfaced when I met Michael J. Pollard (Oscar-nominated for Bonnie and Clyde) shortly after he moved into the building directly across from where I lived on West 12th Street.

What became of Nostalgia Illustrated? It was never published. Instead, Woody sold it off to Magazine Management. They hired Alan Le Mond to edit a magazine which was titled Nostalgia Illustrated but was quite conventional in its approach. It had nothing to do with Woody's remarkable design concept of making a magazine look like a comic book. Even so, I became a contributor and for a while had an article appearing in each monthly issue.

A few years later, I suggested to Woody that if he did a display of his books at the Boston Book Fair, I would man the booth. This went as planned, and he and his wife came to Boston for the weekend. The Nostalgia Press books attracted a good deal of attention. However, I recall watching as two matronly types were very offended by the cover of The Bonnie and Clyde Scrapbook. They wandered off, muttering that they were going to complain to someone.

In 1975, I was in a bookstore paging through a book, The World of Art Deco (1973) by Bevis Hillier, a catalog of a touring exhibition with the same title. And that's how  I learned that a copy of The Bonnie and Clyde Scrapbook had been included in that exhibition.

Final resting place of the beleaguered Bonnie and Clyde Scrapbook

You've read the story of Jesse James
of how he lived and died.
If you're still in need;
of something to read,
here's the story of Bonnie and Clyde.

Now Bonnie and Clyde are the Barrow gang
I'm sure you all have read.
how they rob and steal;
and those who squeal,
are usually found dying or dead.

There's lots of untruths to these write-ups;
they're not as ruthless as that.
their nature is raw;
they hate all the law,
the stool pidgeons, spotters and rats.

They call them cold-blooded killers
they say they are heartless and mean.
But I say this with pride
that I once knew Clyde,
when he was honest and upright and clean.

But the law fooled around;
kept taking him down,
and locking him up in a cell.
Till he said to me;
"I'll never be free,
so I'll meet a few of them in hell"

The road was so dimly lighted
there were no highway signs to guide.
But they made up their minds;
if all roads were blind,
they wouldn't give up till they died.

The road gets dimmer and dimmer
sometimes you can hardly see.
But it's fight man to man
and do all you can,
for they know they can never be free.

From heart-break some people have suffered
from weariness some people have died.
But take it all in all;
our troubles are small,
till we get like Bonnie and Clyde.

If a policeman is killed in Dallas
and they have no clue or guide.
If they can't find a fiend,
they just wipe their slate clean
and hang it on Bonnie and Clyde.

There's two crimes committed in America
not accredited to the Barrow mob.
They had no hand;
in the kidnap demand,
nor the Kansas City Depot job.

A newsboy once said to his buddy;
"I wish old Clyde would get jumped.
In these awful hard times;
we'd make a few dimes,
if five or six cops would get bumped"

The police haven't got the report yet
but Clyde called me up today.
He said,"Don't start any fights;
we aren't working nights,
we're joining the NRA."

From Irving to West Dallas viaduct
is known as the Great Divide.
Where the women are kin;
and the men are men,
and they won't "stool" on Bonnie and Clyde.

If they try to act like citizens
and rent them a nice little flat.
About the third night;
they're invited to fight,
by a sub-gun's rat-tat-tat.

They don't think they're too smart or desperate
they know that the law always wins.
They've been shot at before;
but they do not ignore,
that death is the wages of sin.

Some day they'll go down together
they'll bury them side by side.
To few it'll be grief,
to the law a relief
but it's death for Bonnie and Clyde.
             --Bonnie Parker

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If there are no copies of the book where did you get the illustrated pages?
I don't know the print run, but there were plenty of copies. Just no distribution. As I noted, copies were sold in Times Square at the Personality Posters store, and maybe they also had a store in LA. The six fumetti pages I scanned from my own copy.
is Personality Posters still in business? I have prints my dad did in 1967, they are not movies they are Zodiac.
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