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Roughing It With Bud Blake

I grew up in central New Jersey.  Kendall Park to be exact.  Our circle of family friends were largely transplanted New York Jews from Brooklyn and the Bronx.  This was a vibrant group of opinionated story and joke tellers who could laugh and argue with the best of them.  Many, if not most of the circle of friends, were natural performers for whom the spotlight was never bright or large enough.  Some of them, including my father, appeared in amateur stage productions over the years, but most of those took place before I was cognizant of what was going on.  But what I was aware of were the productions that were put on to celebrate a big event in someone’s life.  A 50th birthday?  Let’s put on a show!  Someone retired?  Showtime! A friend reached senior citizen status?  Time for a show!  The shows usually consisted of some sort of roast, skits, and music, usually adapted from Broadway shows.  I thought this was a completely normal thing that everyone did.  Little did I know how special it was.

When Marvin Schlaffer turned 62 in 1984, the group of friends put on another extravaganza, including one of their funniest routines.  As I mentioned above, this was a great group of story and joke tellers.  Over the decades they came to know each other’s jokes so well that the entire joke was no longer necessary.  One of the skits in this birthday celebration was to simply state the punchlines of their favorite jokes over the years.  Since everyone knew the context, the punchlines were hilarious all by themselves.  I recall some of the jokes well.  Others are lost to the haze of memory.  But it is a perfect example of the humor of this crew.

Punchlines Skit Page From Marvin Schlaffer’s 62nd Birthday Celebration

By now you’re asking: what the hell does this have to do with Bud Blake?  You’re probably also asking: didn’t you already feature Bud Blake in one of your posts?  I’ll tackle the second question first.  Yep, I featured Bud in my very first blog post, but I love revisiting different aspects of his work and will write about his work periodically.  Now, onto your first question.

When I first interviewed Bud at his home in 2004, he had a reputation of being something of a curmudgeon.  I had multiple folks give me something of a warning about him.  What I discovered was completely opposite of the warnings.  I found in Bud a warm, engaging person who was generous of spirit.  He was also quite generous with his fans.  Pretty much anyone who wrote to Bud requesting a piece of art received an original of some sort.  He would often write “Tiger” somewhere on a daily strip, fold it in half and mail it to the person who requested a drawing.  Bud would also send out sketches and drawings.  I’ve seen more sketches of Tiger over the years than I can recall.  Bud occasionally sent out partial strips to fans, which is how the skit done for Marvin’s birthday ties into this post.

As I discussed in my first blog post about Bud’s working process, he really valued the energy and liveliness found in his rough drawings.  Once he had a strip roughed out, Bud would put it on his light-table, toss a piece of thin Strathmore paper on top, and drawing directly with pen & ink, in an attempt to maintain the life of the original drawing.  With the Sunday pages, there was an added process: color. 

Bud was a terrific watercolorist, with a great deal of his early magazine work painted in watercolor.  Bud had a preference for the old Peerless watercolor pads, which featured paper impregnated with dry watercolor pigments.  Those pigments could be activated with a wet brush, producing rich, vibrant colors.  The pad below is one that Bud gave me on the 2004 visit. 

Bud Blake’s Peerless Watercolor Pad

When Bud drew his Sunday pages, he inked his rough version with a black marker, coloring in the final panel as an indicator to the printers so that they would know which colors should be applied to the various parts of the strip.  If the sky was a specific blue in that final panel, the sky in all of the other panels would be the same blue. 

I have some examples of those Sunday page roughs with the final panel colored in, but more often than not, Bud would clip that final panel, sign it and mail it off to the fan who had requested a drawing.  So what the fan received was the punchline of the Sunday page, without any other context.  Just like the skit at Marvin Schlaffer’s 62nd birthday party.

To give you some context, here are a few of Bud’s Sunday roughs, with the final panels colored in.  You can really see the liveliness of the drawing in these pieces, or as Bud referred to it, “…the true creativity…” behind the finished drawings.  Such wonderful work by a man who was equally wonderful. And a Jersey boy to boot!

Tiger Sunday Page Rough, July 11, 1999
Tiger Sunday Page Rough, October 12, 1997
Tiger Sunday Page Rough, August 30, 1998, With Partial Pencils
Tiger Sunday Page Rough, August 8, 1999

Thanks for tuning in. If you would like to catch up on my previous blog posts, please check out the Archives page on this website. Until next time, stay safe and well.

Rob Stolzer

Rob Stolzer has been collecting original comic strip and cartoon artwork for over 40 years. He has written numerous articles for Hogan's Alley, the CFA-APA and other journals. Stolzer teaches art at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, where he teaches Drawing, Figure Drawing, Graphic Narration, Illustration, and Painting.

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