In 7th grade, I wrote a gushing fan letter to Stan Lee. The letter was subsequently published in its entirety in Captain America #107, November, 1968. A thrill. Here’s the cover, by Jack Kirby (another hero:)
But it got better. Stan deemed the letter worthy of a “No-Prize,” his inside-joke “award” for fans – an envelope with literally nothing inside. So when, a few weeks later, said envelope from Marvel arrived, my 12-year-old head hit the ceiling.
This is my way of saying… RIP Stan, entertainer extraordinaire, wizard of words and worlds, and an outsized influence on many, including me. I’m so happy you lived long enough to see your co-creations explode into every corner of pop culture. Thanks for the ride.
And thanks also for this little envelope: no prize I’ve gotten since surpasses.
“Congratulations,” it says. “This envelope contains a genuine Marvel Comics No-Prize which you have just won. Handle with Care.” I did, through the decades. That’s a pic I shot recently. The outer envelope (from 625 Madison Avenue, New York, 10022) has yellowed. The No-Prize itself… is mint.
Get ready for hot, sexy comic strip action: 1976-style!
Just kidding. What you’re about to see is, by today’s standards, quite tame.
But in November, 1976, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (and about 20 other newspapers around the country) made an editorial decision to withhold publication of a 5-day run of the Doonesbury™ comic strip, and replace it with reruns.
At the time, I was a 21-year-old feature columnist for The Current, the student-run newspaper at the University of Missouri – St. Louis. I was also a crazed comics fan. Realizing I could fill a column, provide a “public service,” and see the blacked-out strips myself (not easy, pre-internet), I pitched then-editor Tom Wolf: “Let me ask Universal Press Syndicate if they’ll let us run ’em. For free.”
Tom and the syndicate said, “Do it.” We printed the strips with my article, which you can read below.
Most St. Louisans will never know how good Joanie Caucus is at breakfast.
There were were, Tuesday, Nov. 11, breathlessly watching as Joanie makes her final moves on Rick Redfern. Eating dinner in his apartment, Rick compliments Joanie on the meal she had made. “Thank you, Rick,” she says. “I’m pretty good at breakfast, too.” Rick’s face contorts. Joanie thinks to herself: “As the kid goes for broke.”
The next day, we were intrigued further, as Virginia Slade — having just withdrawn from the Senate race — dials Joanie’s apartment in the morning… and gets no answer!
The day after that, we were suddenly and mysteriously back on the familiar football field with Captain B.D., no mention made of Joanie’s romantic adventure.
It was enough to drive Doonesbury fans zonkers, so to speak. Local fans of the terse, explosive, provocative comic strip realized The St. Louis Post Dispatch had substituted alternate episodes rather than finishing the Joanie and Rick sequence.
We called Joan Dames, features editor at the Post, and she was quick to clarify this comic strip tease, AKA the Doonesbury dilemma.
“The editorial board of the Post decided to take out the sequence that showed Joanie Caucus and Rick Redfern in bed,” said Dames. “We thought it inappropriate for a family page.”
But the Post wasn’t alone in blacking out the strip.
Lee Salem, a representative of Universal Press Syndicate (which distributes Doonesbury to 450 newspapers) said about 20 papers dropped the sequence. But those papers, including the New York Daily News, make up a large chunk of circulation. Most of them just dropped the Nov. 13 strip.
Riding out this controversy, as he’s done before more than once, is Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau, the most electrifying force on the contemporary comic art scene.
As an undergraduate in 1968, Trudeau started drawing a strip for the Yale Daily News called “Bull Tales.” It introduced a cast of rich, mimetic characters like Mark Slackmeyer, Zonker Harris and Mike Doonesbury. When Universal Press offered to syndicate the strip nationally, it was dubbed after the persona presumably closest to that of Trudeau.
In its short history, the strip’s virtual world has developed and diversified, the characters shuffling, the concepts sharpening. Trudeau’s insights, pacing and crisp characterizations have enthralled legions of readers, while giving them some of the gutsiest comic strip humor since Walt Kelly’s Pogo.
The Joanie and Rick affair is just the latest of Doonesbury’s envelope-pushing concepts. While their sex life may be casual, the establishment of it — and the reaction to it — wasn’t.
“We only got about 20 letters and about as many calls, but some are very angry,” said Post features editor Dames.
“Most kids don’t read Doonesbury. But parents do get upset when this type of material appears on the comics page. We thought it wasn’t appropriate,” she said.
With a smile in her voice, Dames added: “Listen, we live in Sex City, U.S.A. We’ve got Masters and Johnson here, and even they say that sex without commitment isn’t that exciting.”
“Trudeau said that he did this because he wanted everyone to take a stand on pre-marital sex,” said Dames. “So I guess the Post took a stand. But we’re really not bluenose about this. Just today (Nov. 18, 1976), we ran a story contraceptives. Take a look at it.”
At Universal Press, Lee Salem emphasized that his syndicate carefully reviewed the strips.
“With Garry, as well as with all the creative people we do business with, the material is gone over carefully,” he said. “With this particular piece, we had a long session over the phone with Garry, and we thought, considering Joanie’s character and that of Rick Redfern, the sequence is justified.”
The sequence was certainly justified to those readers who have shared Joanie Caucus’ long and winding road to happiness.
Joanie worked hard in Slade’s campaign, but times turned bleak when Virginia decided to throw in the towel so that a third candidate could successfully beat the incumbent. The only light in the darkness for Joanie — who only weeks before had been hurt by a guy who was gay — was political reporter Rick Redfern.
That’s where we came in, remember?
Trudeau has said it is the challenge of the cartoonist to, among other things, “invite the reader to involve himself in a new reality set up as a sustained metaphor for his own; to let the small meanness and foolishness of life face each other in distortion … and to seek out the vignette that speaks to the lives of many.”
Joanie got to make her “good breakfast.” That is her small pleasure.
We got permission to print the blacked-out strips.
That is ours.
Walt Jaschek hopes you have enjoyed this frisky flashback to the sexy 70s.
Calling Dick Tracy! In 1969, a ninth-grader in Jennings, Missouri, sends a fan letter to Chester Gould, Tracy‘s creator, and a week later, opens the mail to find this personalized sketch and note! The delighted recipient (one “Walt Jaschek,” seemingly) immediately alerts his friends via Two-Way Wrist Radio. Okay, that part’s not true. But the masterful, ink-on-bristol sketch (about 4″ x 10″) holds an honored place in my office still today.
One lesson, as I see it. If you like somebody’s work…
It has been said that a radio station is only as good as its commercials. That axiom has served Paul Fey and Walt Jaschek well.
Widely acclaimed for their sharp sense of humor, the team is nationally recognized as the creative genius behind a number of radio spots promoting the seasonal lineup of shows for TV networks.
Their client list includes King World, Warner Brothers Television, 20th Century Television and CBS Television Network.
“If a commercial is boring and doesn’t hold their attention, we can’t blame them if they reach up and hit the button on the car radio,” said Paul Fey, founding partner of Paul & Walt Worldwide. “We want to stop them in their tracks.”
Fey and Jaschek have been on the laugh track since high school, winning some 400 awards for excellence in commercial production, including three Clios and two regional Emmys. The team walked award with the five Ollies in one evening, setting a record for the most awards won by one company in the Hollywood Radio & Television Society’s annual presentation.
One Ollie was presented for a Paul & Walt commercial, “Auditions,” in which Patrick Stewart is among the voices trying out for the part of Jean Luc Picard in “Star Trek.”
Of all the awards (which stream in at a rate of 50 a year), Fey is most partial to the team’s first Clio. Fey aspired to win a Clio since his high school years, and recalls vividly the magic feeling of creating the spot.
It was a radio ad featuring a “catalog” of types of laughter. “The whole spot was kind of invented on Walt’s front porch. It just sort of came out… It wrote itself,” he said.
What keeps this team on the leading edge? “We never want to get satisfied with doing the same thing,” Fey said, pointing out that too many comedy teams rely on formulaic humor.
“Once upon a time, and it wasn’t that long ago, funny dialogue radio spots were what broke through the clutter. Now, I feel that funny dialogue spots are becoming the clutter, because there is so much of it out there,” Fey said.
Radio in particular lends itself to production-oriented spots, where a hybrid of audio effects, humor and dialogue work together. “It’s much easier to do a gigantic-scale production on radio because a lot of it is letting people’s minds fill it in,” he said.
A recent Paul & Walt commercial for a cellular telephone carrier, for example, camped up the Beach Boys’ “I Get Around” with a polka beat accompanied by amusing dialogue, delivered in a deadpan voice:
“I get around, so I signed up for voice mail. I used to leery about sending voice mail. I wasn’t sure if I was putting enough stamps on it.”
As the music cut in and out abruptly, the deadpan voice again speaks up:
“Voice mail is easy. Think of it as rolling up a yellow sticky-note, jamming it into your cellular phone, and having it pop out somewhere else.”
Life begins for a Paul & Walt spot with an idea, either dreamed up by Fey, the production genius of the team, or Jaschek, the primary writer. Fey works from the Paul & Walt Worldwide office in Los Angeles, while Jaschek works from his office in St. Louis, the city where they both grew up.
They communicate through faxes and computer modems to tighten ideas, copy and production of radio ads.
The spot takes life in the imagination long before it is committed to tape. “It’s no exaggeration for me to say that I know exactly what a spot sounds like before it’s recorded,” Fey said. “The key is trying to put on tape what’s in my head.”
Paul & Walt fleshes out the characters, relying on a pool of creative talent from an audio studio in the same building as its Los Angeles office.
“People get accustomed to thinking of radio in a certain way,” said Fey, who claims the company owes its success to breaking those conventions. The plan for the future is to continue carving out new niches in radio commercials.
Paul & Walt Worldwide is now working on a project that Fey hopes will set a new milestone in how people perceive radio. He was mum about who the client is and the product, saying only that he is not bound to the conventions of 30 or 60 seconds for the spots.
“We’ve barely scratched the surface of what we can do with radio,” he said.
This story by Maureen O’Donnell appeared in the March 6, 1989, edition of Adweek magazine.
A Big Hand for the Little Agency: Two Fledgling Shops Take St. Louis Addys by Storm
By Maureen O’Donnell
ST. LOUIS – The staffers at two small, young agencies had trouble applauding at the St. Louis Addys. It wasn’t for lack of enthusiasm. Their hands were so full of awards, they couldn’t clap.
“We kept passing them down the row and juggling them,” recalls Pamela Barnes, office manager at the Puckett Group. “It was hard to applaud after a while.”
The Puckett Group and another little known St. Louis agency, Jaschek Ink, stole the show here last month. Jaschek won three gold and two Best of Show Awards after submitting only three entries. The Puckett Group nabbed nine gold awards, more than St. Louis’ two oldest, largest agencies combined: D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles and Gardner. Puckett Group also won a Best of Show.
Walt Jaschek’s head is still spinning from the recognition. His freelance copywriting agency, with a staff of one – the boss – won’t even celebrate its first birthday until next month.
“I wish I could be hip and blase about it,” said Jaschek, 33, “but I must admit I called my Mom at the crack of dawn and said, “Mom! Guess what!”
Jaschek won Best of Show in radio for a 60-second spot boosting the TV show George Schlatter’s Comedy Club, featuring the sounds of different types of laughs, from the “East Coast Schmooze” to the “Glasnost Giggle.”
Jaschek’s Best of Show print collateral ad, announcing his agency’s opening, was a spoof of a warm, personal note. It was a form letter.
Before opening his company last April, Jaschek was a creative director at the Flynn Group in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “It was a small, hot shop, and that was fun,” Jaschek says. He went on to work in advertising management at Southwestern Bell in St. Louis, handling copywriting and collateral materials such as brochures.
Southwestern Bell is among his freelance clients todays, as are Eveready Battery Co., Anheuser Busch, Monsanto, CBS and NBC.
“Radio is my obession, and radio is what I do best,” Jaschek said. “It engages your intelligence.” His influences include the Monty Python comedy troupe, Bob and Ray, and Stan Freberg.
Opening his own show was an easy decision, Jaschek said. “I woke up one morning, said, ‘I’m 33 years old.’ I believe people should do not what they’re good at, but what they’re great at,” it he said.
“So, [he begins singing in a Sinatra-esque purr] it’s the free-lance life for me.”
Comic friends!! Donate unwanted back issues to hospitalized kids! That’s what I did at Star Clipper in August, 2013, thanks to a new, worthy initiative of the Zombie Squad. Here’s Laura of said Squad accepting a box of 1980s Marvel and DCs. I’ll never miss ‘em. (Quipped a friend: “I notice you didn’t donate a box of Ditko Spider-Man.”)
Yeah, okay, I’ll buy James Morrow’s premise that people should watch TV “noisily and together,” [The Best Way to Watch TV? Noisily and Together,” April 11]. But there’s a dangerous side effect to such behavior: the compulsion to converse loudly in movie theatres. We at HUSH (Help Us Silence Half-wits) submit that the social dynamic of the living room is too often transferred to the cinema, where boorish cretins babble with no regard for those around them. Sure, discourse should be nurtured at home. But so should manners.