Bud, Michener, & Me (One of These Things is Not Like the Others …)

If you read our 2008 extravaganza, Scorchy Smith and The Art of Noel Sickles, you know that Sickles (called “Bud” by his friends) was an immense talent, establishing himself in cartooning before shifting to a stellar illustration career. If you’re unfamiliar with the works of James A. Michener, you can Google his name and find a list of his works, several considered major publishing events in their time (Tales of the South Pacific, for example, was a Pulitzer Prize winner). So when I drop myself into their midst, it’s apparent to me (and I suspect to you, even if you’re too polite to say it) that I’m the “one of these things” that is not like the others. What entitles me to mix with such august company?

Here’s one-half of that answer …

Since LOAC began, I’ve had a yen to procure an original piece of art from my favorites of our titles, as discussedĀ a decade ago, here. Since that piece was written, I’ve made some modest additions — an unusual Toth item, for example, and a Steve Canyon daily — but I was having no luck finding a Noel Sickles original that was in my price range.

Until January, 2020, that is.

I forget exactly why I went to one of the major on-line “we-auction-everything” sites — I also don’t recall what whim made me decide to enter “Noel Sickles” into the search bar, but when I did, up popped both the original art shown above, as well as this beauty:

IĀ  won both works and Illustration House, which was auctioning them, was exceptional to deal with. They packaged the artwork securely and shipped so everything was in my hands near the end of January, several days ahead of the projected delivery date. Suddenly I went from having zero Sickles originals to having two, count ’em two, of them!

So the connection between Bud Sickles and I hinted at in the title of this posting now becomes clear … but where does James Michener fit in?

These works are two of the fifteen illustrations Sickles created for the magazine publication of Michener’s short novel, The Bridges at Toko-Ri, when it ran in the July 6, 1953 edition of Life. (In the good old days for major writers, magazines bought the rights to run often-excerpted previews of a new novel. The magazine could tout, “Here’s your first look at …”, since they were on sale slightly before the unabridged text hit bookstore shelves. In that period after paperback books established a firm place in the marketplace, an author could get paid for magazine, hardcover, and softcover editions of the same novel — it was a good time to be a writer!) For Michener, Toko-Ri preceded his more ambitious Sayonara (published in 1954) and sprawling 1959 fictional epic, Hawaii. For Bud, these illustrations marked his return to Life following his tour de force 1952 work on Hemingway’s The Old Man and The Sea.

We devoted a two-page spread to Sickles’s Toko-Ri work in Scorchy Smith and The Art of …; if you’re lucky enough to have a copy of that book and turn to pages 96 – 97, you’ll see a half-dozen examples, one of which is the “jet strafing Russians” image I now own (the other piece I bought, the color “diving jet,” was not included in our book).

So, many thanks to Illustration House, for making my dream come true. It’s taken a dozen years, but at last I’ll have Noel Sickles originals on my walls — once I can tear myself away from looking a them them long enough to visit my excellent local framers and let them work their magic, that is!

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