Bhob Stewart: The Power of Negative Mockery

It’s probably not too often that you’ve been tricked by a magazine cover illustration and the experience significantly changes your life for the better. Or that you’d vividly remember everything nearly 50 years later. The details came flooding back this past Sunday, when I learned of cartoonist-writer-editor-historian Bhob Stewart’s death.

Bhob_600wJules-200wIt was 1965 when I’d begun my freshman year at Pratt in Brooklyn. At a newsstand near MoMA, I spotted what appeared to be a Jules Feiffer cartoon on the cover of a plain, poorly designed newsprint magazine. I knew nothing about The Realist. But, being a big Feiffer fan, I snatched it up without further inspection.

Turns out it was actually a clever parody of the Village Voice cartoonist, drawn by Stewart (click the link above for a close-up). Ha! I’d been tricked. But delightedly so! Someone I admired was being taken down a few notches, and it rang true.

I pored through the entire issue — which you can access here — and became madly addicted to the “magazine of free-thought criticism and satire.” Shortly thereafter I met the editor, Paul Krassner, who’d written the strip. In brief, Paul and his Realist were instrumental in formulating my adult worldview, much of my approach to design writing, and even my design work on a good day. And, in a recent Print interview with him about objectionable cartoons that he’s published — which you can read here — I naturally included the faux-Feiffer.

Bhob-1969

Bhob Stewart, illustration for Venture Science Fiction, 1969

Feiffer, though, was not happy. His “A Little Play” also appeared on the cover, and his friends had been mistakenly congratulating him for having a sense of humor about himself, much to his annoyance. He wrote a clarification that appeared in the next issue, for readers who hadn’t carefully checked the PK-Bhob signature.

Stewart drew other cartoons for The Realist, including sacrilegious Jesus strips. His interest in the form dates back to his childhood, when he’d started the first EC Comics fanzine in 1953. He went on to write comics, edit and design magazines, and illustrate for a variety of publications. He helped create Topps’ “Wacky Packages.” He’s even credited with coining the term “underground comic.” And he maintained a blog that’s a testament to his eclectic interests and concerns.

Although I never met Stewart, we exchanged Facebook comments until the end of his long struggle with emphysema, at age 76. When I told Paul the sad news he offered this fitting tribute: “The ‘h’ in Bhob’s name was indicative of his artistic thinking outside the bhox.”

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