If, as some reviewers have claimed, there is a noticeable degree of depth to the standard LOAC book, that is a testament to the variety of hands who strive—against all the pressures of marketplace, deadlines, and competition—to turn every release into a labor of love. That includes Dean (at the top of the LOAC pyramid) and Lorraine (as Art Director), presiding over the painstaking restoration of the strips and setting a high level of quality control. It includes essayists like Jeet Heer, whose dedication and wide breadth of scholarship bring insights that help illuminate the artform, as well as Brian Walker, who literally grew up inside the business and whose range of contacts has brought first-hand accounts to titles like Rip Kirby and Blondie from friends and family members of the creators that would have been difficult, if not impossible, for others to come by. (And yes, as regular readers of this space and our books can tell, I’m more than willing to interview subjects and sift through the archives in preparation for writing my own text features. Of course, I admit I’m also still fan enough to have refused to erase the voice mail Howard Chaykin left me several months ago…)
Any praise for the depth of the LOAC line should also include those persons who have kept the torch burning during the lean times between the two Grand Waves of comic strip reprints, one taking place in the 1980s and the other occurring right now. The accessibility created by the Web has given those stalwarts easier avenues to reach out and share their treasures first with us, and through us with you. In getting to know these folks we learn that many of them have fascinating life-stories and have never been given their due…which brings us to this occasional series, which I’ve labeled L.O.A.F., for Library Owes A Favor. Without the contributions from the L.O.A.F.ers, our work would be less robust and your reading experience would be significantly diminished. This inaugural L.O.A.F. installment, then, is dedicated to a John Steed-esque tip of the cap to the one and only Bill Peckmann.
Bill has been not only a key contributor to our Alex Toth Genius series, he’s befriended the great and the near-great while also having a hand in a surprising number of pop culture highlights. Where Toth is concerned, the paths of the two men first crossed at the end of the 1970s; they remained close for almost fifteen years. Since they lived at opposite ends of the country—Alex in Hollywood, Bill in New York—much of their friendship was conducted by mail, and Bill graciously provided us with copies of all his Tothian postcards, letters, doodles, essays, and screeds, a stack of correspondence that stands almost two inches tall. Peckmann shared enough of Alex’s tastes in cartooning and illustration to receive many of the genius’s ruminations about such little-known talents as Roland Coe (“one of our best post-WWII gagsters”) and Leslie Ragan (one of Alex’s shorter paeans to Ragan states, “Did over 100 NYCS RR posters in the mid-’40s – also did ads for NYC’s Moran Towing Co., ‘Budd’ RR coach-builders, ‘Norfolk and Western’ RR Systems, etc.etc – this man’s work is akin to that of Ludwig Hohlwein – lovely watercolors of great subtlety/simplicity/skill!”). Bill kept an eye peeled in Manhattan’s many used bookstores of the day for items of interest, which he would buy and send to Alex as gifts.
Bill’s background in art production also made him one of Alex’s sources for specialized materials and supplies, as well as a sounding board for various issues about same (thanks to Bill, we know Alex agonized for more than twelve months over the idea of buying a photocopier—he received and painstakingly studied manufacture specs and brochures, weighing the advantages and drawbacks between one manufacturer and another, and between the models produced by any given manufacturer. Only Alex could have turned such a monumental effort!).
Bill was professionally involved in advertising and animation. When Toth did his Underoos work featuring various DC and Marvel superheroes, his primary contact at the agency was Bill. Some of the Underoos art has been previously published, but thanks to the redoubtable Peckmann, you’ll see new examples of this assignment in the forthcoming Genius, Illustrated.
This Alex Toth UNDEROOS graphic has run in several other places – thanks to Bill Peckmann, you’ll be seeing never-before-released Toth UNDEROOS images in the upcoming GENIUS,ILLUSTRATED.
The primary home for Bill’s work was at Phil Kimmelman & Associates (PK&A), though the relationship between Kimmelman and Peckmann began earlier, at a studio known as Focus Design. Phil Kimmelman began his career long before that, initially working for the Famous studios, the one-time popular animation house that produced Casper the Friendly Ghost andBaby Huey shorts, along with inheriting control of the Popeye and Superman cartoon series when the Fleischer Studios dissolved. At Focus, Bill was an animator and designer on a variety of advertising efforts for companies such as Flying “A” Gasoline; it was at this time Bill forged his friendship with a multi-talented cartoonist/illustrator, the late, oh-so-great Rowland B. Wilson; I haven’t inquired of Bill directly, but surely he must have one of the most comprehensive collections of Wilson’s work in existence today.
Not long before the founding of PK&A, Kimmelman and Peckmann animated the short subject, “Three is a Lucky Number,” which became one of the earliest installments of ABC’s much-beloved Schoolhouse Rock series. “We did [Schoolhouse] to fill the time between good-paying commercial jobs – now it turns out that’s the work we’re most remembered for,” Bill told me in June of this year (unaware that my nosing about was to gather material for this L.O.A.F. tribute). “Conjunction Junction” and “I’m Just a Bill” are only two of the many Schoolhouse Rock pieces that came out of the PK&A shop.
Grammar Rock was a subset of Schoolhouse Rock that served up such favorites as, “I’m Just a Verb” and “Conjunction Junction (What’s Your Function?)”. The capture below is a spill from the Hill that’s designed to thrill: the very popular segment called “I’m Just a Bill.”
In addition to Schoolhouse Rock, Bill Peckmann also had his hand in some of the animated pieces that appeared on Sesame Street. He’s credited with that show’s “Car Imagination” segment, and he and PK&A were involved in such Harvey Kurtzman-led Sesame features as “Count Off” and “Boat.”
Still, PK&A’s bread-and-butter came from advertising work. “We had a great run in the animated commercial business,” Bill told me. “We did TV spots – all in a Seventh Heaven mode – with print cartoonists Rowland Wilson, Gahan Wilson, Jack Davis, Mort Drucker, Alex Toth, Harvey Kurtzman, Arnold Roth, Herb Trimpe, Stan Mack, and probably a few named I’m forgetting now.” The first commercial featuring the Honey Nut Cheerios Bee is just one of the enduring ad images to emerge from the PK&A studio.
Later named “Buzz,” the Honey Nut Cheerios Bee has appeared in countless TV and print ads, was featured in a commercial “spelling bee” game, and appears on a number of licensed products, such as this T-shirt.
All good things, of course, come to an end. Eventually PK&A shut its doors and by the 1990s Bill Peckmann got involved (“on a very limited basis”) with two more icons of the MTV Generation—Beavis & Butt-Head and its spin-off series, Daria. It was, perhaps, a bittersweet experience for Bill. “I was happy to have the work,” he said, “but the times, they were a’changin’. You really can’t teach an ol’ hound new tricks.” Still and all, Beavis & Butt-Head is one of my friend Tom Field’s all-time favorite TV series (he even wrote some B&B continuity for Marvel when they were publishing a comic book based on the boys’ misadventures), and Daria was high on my younger sister’s list during her high school years, so some piece of their enjoyment is owed to Bill, whether or not the appeal of that work “speaks” to him in the same way his earlier successes do.
These days Bill Peckmann is comfortably retired in New York State; though they’ve never met, he shares a doctor or two with inker extraordinaire Joe Sinnott (“one of my favorite cartoonists,” says Bill—one of ours, too!). Bill joins me in rooting for the Boston Red Sox, though they’ve given us mighty little to cheer for this season, alas. Most important, he shares with the world at large the wide range of artistic treasures he’s accumulated, not just in our Alex Toth books, but also on the pages of Michael Sporn’s animation blog – where you can feast your eyes on calendars by Fritz Baumgarten, illustrations by Keith Ward, the comics art of Jesse Marsh (yes, and Alex Toth), an astounding array of work from Rowland Wilson, and photos of many of the luminaries with whom Bill rubbed professional elbows during a most remarkable career. The “splog” is truly a must-visit-often site, well worth supporting.
This small L.O.A.F. plug doesn’t begin to even the scales for all the help and support you’ve given us, Bill—but heck, we gotta start somewhere…!
(P.S.: For those who may think “L.O.A.F.” is an awkward acronym to bestow upon those heretofore-unsung heroes who have done so much to help us, all I can say is: thank your lucky stars! My initial thought was to riff on the old Marvel Comics fan organization, Friends Of Ol’Marvel, and call this effort Friends Of Ol’ Library. F.O.O.M. may have worked fine for the House that Jack/Stan/Steve Built, but somehow it didn’t seem right to honor folks by using the acronym F.O.O.L.…)