Better Off A Forgotten Illustrator Than A Rotten One

In 1977 a new illustration credit appeared on the Letters and OpEd pages of The New York Times. But S. Harmon wasn’t doing anything new; just the same collage style that Surrealist and Dada collagists had done decades before. The Times employed many of the latter day derivations. Still, S.Harmon’s work made an impression on me – and I commissioned a number of illustrations.

Actually, I never met him. I’d send over the manuscript by messenger and he’d send back a finished collage, made from clip art and Lettraset texture films.

Then one day, I sent an assignment over and the envelope was returned: S. Harmon was gone. No forwarding address, no telephone. Just gone. I wondered where he (or it could have been she) disappeared and why. I pondered for a while over this fleeting life. And then one day, as happens with so many people who enter and leave one’s radar, I forgot he (or she) ever existed.

Until the other day when I uncovered a package that had never been opened and was addressed to me. It must have been decades since it was originally delivered, got put on one of my piles and buried. Included was a leather-bound book containing the faded newsprint proofs you see below; they were stuck between and left stains on the pages from years of sitting unnoticed and unattended. There was also another book: a common black covered sketchbook with around two dozen pen-and-ink drawings, including the four reproduced below.

I vaguely recall that some drawings like these were in the portfolio that S. Harmon left for me as a drop-off, but I had no interest in them at the time. They seemed quite personal and rather random. They didn’t leave me with the confidence that strong editorial concepts would materialize. But I liked the collages, which weren’t acerbic but conveyed a “conceptual mood.”

My guess is that S. Harmon knew a career doing this kind of thing was limited, unsatisfying and bound to fail. Maybe that accounts for the disappearance. I’m not sure why I was the beneficiary of this work. But if I ever find out, I’ll let you know.

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