After a hiatus of almost 6 years, the original, book edition of The Comics Journal has returned to print. It turns out it was well worth the wait, and it could not be more timely. The cover story is a career-spanning in-depth interview with French author/cartoonist/illustrator Tomi Ungerer, who died last month at age 87.
Also covered in this issue is the “new mainstream” in American comics and what the future portends, the role art and comics have in gentrification, a sketchbook by Antoine Cossé, a look at Gay comics, an interview with cartoonist Fifi Martinez, and more. It is a welcome, thoughtful return to form, at a time when comics are beginning to feel like an endangered species.
The Beginnings of Tomi Ungerer
I first discovered the laugh-out-loud funny cartoons and illustrations of Tomi Ungerer on the pages of Evergreen back as a teen. His social commentary and sense of farce added greatly to the zeitgeist of the Vietnam War era, and there was no question which side he was on. He was as prolific as he was talented: a painter, sculpture, as well a best selling children’s book author. All in all, he wrote and illustrated over 140 books.
Born in Strasbourg, France, in 1931, Ungerer was raised by a single mother after his father died suddenly when Tomi was 3 years old. Along with his mother and siblings, he lived under the Nazi regime for five of his formative years.
Interviewed by Fantagraphics and TCJ publisher and co-founder Gary Groth, Ungerer shares much about his early years, his earliest influences, his love of art in all forms, and Mickey Mouse an early favorite. He hitchhiked across Europe, and worked on cargo ships. He studied at the École des Arts Décoratifs in Strasbourg, and began his art career as a window dresser and advertising artist.
A Strong Voice and Vision
His earliest influences were James Thurber, Saul Steinberg and Charles Addams—New Yorkers all—so he emigrated to New York in 1956. An editor at Nordstrom gave him his first break, and his children’s books The Mellops Go Flying and The Mellops Go Diving for Treasure were both published the following year.
Soon after, he met Barney Rosset, publisher of Grove Press and the Evergreen Review, who also published Ungerer’s “adult” books, Inside Marriage and Horrible: An Account of the Sad Achievements of Progress, as well as his illustrations and cartoons in the magazine. His work soon appeared on the pages of the New York Times, Esquire, Harper’s Bizarre, Ramparts and the Village Voice. Before long he was creating film posters, including Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove”, and advertising art.
Kindred spirits, Rosset published Fornicon a book of graphic depictions of sex, in 1969, which led to Ungerer virtually blacklisted in the U.S., although he continued to thrive in Europe, to which he eventually returned.
Groth’s insightful, funny, and probing interview befits the extraordinary legacy of one of the most important artists of the second half of the twentieth century. And it’s a fitting send off for such a prolific creator. The world will surely miss Tomi Ungerer.
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About Steven Brower
Steven Brower is a graphic designer, writer, and educator and a former creative director/art director of Print. He is the author and designer of books on Louis Armstrong, Mort Meskin, Woody Guthrie and the history of mass-market paperbacks. He is director of the “Get Your Masters with the Masters” low-residency M.F.A. program for educators and working professionals at Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania. You can follow him on Twitter: @stevenianbrower.View all posts by Steven Brower →