An interview with cartoonist Bob Englehart
It isn’t often (well, it never happened before) that one of my Letters to the Editor is on the same page as the work of an artist I wanted to interview. But it happened at last. I’m referring to Bob Engelhart of the Hartford Courant (Connecticut). Unlike South Africa, Hartford isn’t noted for its diamonds as such, but it can boast two jewels of its own – Mort (“Beetle Bailey”) Walker and talented editorial cartoonist, Bob Englehart.
I like it when an artist thanks a teacher (having been one myself for many decades) for offering an encouraging word along the way. And to Bob’s credit, his grade school teachers, Mrs. Gumper and Mrs. Lebamoff stand out in fond memory – as does his high school art teacher, Mrs. Fleck. On the other hand, he smiles as he recalls the worst advice he ever got – his third grade teacher, “told me,” he says, “to spend more time on math and less time drawng.” Thank goodness he paid no attention.
Bob Engelhart also attributes his success today to his devotion to the television show “Hopalong Cassidy.” Evidently, Hopalong’s homely advice at each show’s conclusion positively influenced at least one viewer.
As for inspiration, Bob draws freely from “the front pages of the newspaper,” which he says, manage to shake his head every morning. He has no favorite among his own cartoons, but is partial, he says, “to ideas that seem to come out of the blue.”
Like so many other creative folks, Bob Engelhart has had his low points, one (he says wryly), “was not being awarded the Pulitzer in 1980 (his last year with the Dayton, Ohio Journal-Herald) for cartooning.” He’s also had run-ins with censorship. “Often,” he says, when that happens, “I’ll send it to the syndicate if the Courant doesn’t want it.”
Bob was delightful to chat with on the phone (he says of his former schoolmates that, “They love me! My high school class of 1964 has a website and praise my work still today”); his written responses are a bit more sparse.
Thoughts on Graphic Novels? “They’re fabulous.”
Has cartooning changed since you began? “Yes, cartooning has gotten so much better.”
Any artists you’d especially liked to have talked with? “Monet to talk composition. Matisse and Chagall to discuss technique.”
Artists in your youth whom you especially like? “Bill Mauldin (the great World War II creator of infantry men Willie and Joe), Norman Rockwell (whose magazine covers spoke of American life for us all) and Paul Coker Jr. (who worked for Mad Magazine as well as helping to create any number of holiday characters for TV specials – Frosty the Snowman, The Easter Bunny and more.)
How about books for a long-distance flight? “Mark Twain and Dick Francis.” I can agree with that – Francis is a great read. And “Any New Yorker cartoonist collection. Well, almost any.”
Anyone whose skin you’d like to jump into? Bob had a really original response here: “Dan Brown (of The DaVinci Code fame), because can’t write worth a (expletive) and he’s fabulously successful.”
The one regret he seems to have (though he spoke cheerfully about it) is that, “I would’ve tried writing books sooner.” He does point us to his book, Trackrat: Memoir of a Fan, available from Amazon.com. It examines a particular American phenomenon, the short-track racing obsession.
In keeping with the adage, “Brevity is the soul of wit,” he told us his final words (at 150 and then some) would be simply: “Thanks! I hope I pissed off all the right people.”
Dick Tracy had his Tess Trueheart to comfort him; but as long as there’s a Bob Engelhart for our amusement and enlightenment, syndicate readers of this gifted editorial cartoonist will be comforted as well.