Tuesday, September 09, 2008

What's a Coogy?

Tuesday newspaper strip day.

For a couple of weeks I have been highlighting the comic book work of cartoonist/animator Irv Spector on Fridays. The reason for this is, that I came across a fantastic strip of his in some of my copies of The New York Herald Tribune. I had bought The Trib to get more of Jeanie, but was surprised to find many treasures in there. Like the New York Post, the Tribune made use of the hordes of free lance artists that were living in New York in the late forties and early fifties, to create all sorts of special features for them. Some of these were short lived, like Harvey Kurtzman's Silver Linings, others even got distributed to other papers by the Herald Tribune Syndicate. Some were Sunday only, like Jeanie, others also had a daily version, such as Ray Bailey's Tom Corbett and Jerry Robinson's Jet Scott, both of which I will be showing later.

Coogy seems to have started as a single tier strip in 1951. The Tribune had more of these, most by cartoonists who don't mean anything to me. Jeanie also ran as a single tier for some time, before expanding into a full daily and Sunday strip. Coogy is supposed to have ran from 1951 to 1954. Unfortunately, I have very little of the 1951 run and have never even seen a strip from 1954. When I announced that I was going to run some of Coogy, I was contacted by Irv Spector's son, Paul. He told me that he had a whole box of originals from 1952 and 1953. He used to have a similar box from 1951 but that seemed to have gone missing in a move some years ago. Too bad, because the 100 or so originals he has, would form the basis of a nice little reprint. In fact, I would wholly support any such reprint project. I think Coogy is a tremendous strip, which would fill a nice little book. That's why I am going to share all my copies and maybe some of Paul's material as well. Because of the size of the originals, Paul has only been able to make photo's of them. But he has complete runs of some of the more interesting four week parody series Spector did later on in the series.

So what's a Coogy? Well, it seems Coogy was started as a imitation of Pogo. Only the main characters are bears and it is set in a sort of deserty Indian country instead of a swamp. But the parallel is obvious. Even the comical swamp-speak of Pogo and Albert has been replaced by some sort of pigeon Indian. The fact that the strip remains so succesful is a tribute to Spector's talent as an artist and his sharp wit. Towards 1951 Coogie starts to find his own tone and subjects. Spector even includes some trips away from his main charcaters, doing parodies of The Mlatese Falcon, The Old Man and the Sea and George Bernard Shaw. There also was a parody of Mary Worth long before Al Capp did his famous version.

It's been long reported that Harvey Kurtzman may have asked Spector to join him at Mad. The source of this information seems to have been Spector himself, who liked to repeat it to everyone he worked with. When this got out, his most visible comic book series, Lucky Duck more than doubled in price. People wanted to check out what Spector was doing at the time Kurtzman asked him and Lucky Duck was the only thing around. It seems obvious to me that if Kurtzman was interested in recruiting Spector, Coogy would have been the trigger. As a New York artist, he was familiar with the Tribune and all it's comics. In fact, most of Kurtzman's targets seem to have been taken from that paper. He himself had a short lived series in the Trib. And they worked for Stan Lee in the same period. I have not yet been able to see if Kurtzman had any contact with Spector in the war, but he may have as they both worked in the Signal Corps (but possibly not in the same unit). Still, if Coogy started in 1951 (as a Pogo imitation) there is very little reason Kurtzman would have been interested in Spector when he was starting up Mad. It is more likely, that he asked Spector if he was available during the run of Mad, possibly when John Severin left in early 1952 and Mad was going from two-monthly to once a month to compete against all it's imitations. On the other hand, here in Europe the myth goes that Kurtzman also asked later Lucky Luke creator Maurice de Bevere (who signed his work Morris) to join him on the strength of his caricatures (also on view in Lucky Luke). The connection there is writer/cartoonist Rene Goscinny, who stayed at Kurtzman's place in the late forties, so when this exchange must have taken place is unclear as well.

Anyway, I hope you will enjoy this strip as much as I did. I'll start with the three samples I have from 1951. Some of my later samples are two tiers, which makes me suspect that Coogy was syndicated as well. Maybe some of you who are subscribing to newspaperarchives can have a look to see what turns up.

The first one is from Januari 28 1951, so either the strip started in 1950 or there are at the most three before this:

July 22 1951:

Sept 23 1951:


p spector said...

Thank you for the kind words about my father. If you don't mind me making a couple of minor corrections:

First, of the two main characters only Big Moe is a bear -- the title character "Coogy" is from cougar.

Secondly, Re your comment on Kurtzman and my father (since I get asked that on occasion). I know that my father certainly knew Harvey well enough, and might very well have been asked to contribute to Mad. However, the suggestion of your quote that "The source of this information seems to have been Spector himself, who liked to repeat it to everyone he worked with." is misleading. If you had known him then you'd know that that would not have been his personal style. I'm not saying he was humble, but the manner you describe is unlike him. Unless you have information from all those professionals that the rest of us do not, I'd venture that the people he worked with in the 1950's and 60's would most likely not have perceived it exactly in the same way we do today, when can have the luxury of looking back on the glory days of Mad. He very well could have mentioned it to some, even in the 1970's when some of the people who grew up on Mad and comic books wound up working in the animation field. Likely he mentioned it to me in passing as well, although I now read and hear about it so much that I am not certain where my own truth ends and the heresay begins.

Ger Apeldoorn said...


You are right. I overstepped my bounds, inferring meaning into some random facts concerning the story (probably true) about your father being asked to contribute to Mad. It's just that however careful we deal with these things, there are always some who turn them into easy quotes and that ticks me off. You picked up on that. Otherwise your comments are always welcome here. And because I don't mind doing some backtracking, if you want you comments included in the bodytext, just send it to me privately and I'll make use of them. Only by having them here, we create a snese of a lively debate and I like that.

p spector said...


Not a problem. I appreciate the effort it takes and the fact you would want to bring these to light.

I believe that the Kurtzman invitation is true. I always wonder how such an insignificant item gets perpetuated -- would be more significant if he actually HAD work for Mad. I wouldn't be surprised if he told a young animator who's a comic collector who also provides information for Overstreet. And I find nothing wrong with that. That's great. I just don't think at that particular point in time he would have been wagging his own tail to so many people about it as you mention implies. More like the young animator was someone who was raised on Mad. But that's just conjecture on my part.

The fact is that I used to go around the Internet correcting misinformation about his career, Finally I gave up. It's a futile task in an age where information, correct or not, replicates at the speed of a mouse click. However, it's not as if he's one the cover of a tabloid with a headline claiming he was raised by aliens. Thankfully there are several generous blogs on the web that allow me some input. For here, I'll just leave it in comments. People can say what they want. I'll never have control over that, nor would I want to.


JohnK said...

This Spector stuff is great!

Unknown said...

Hi all, I have assisted on Beetle Bailey since 1987 and am preparing a major book about Mort's early career and magazine cartoons, greatly helped (couldn't do it without him) by Ger in The Netherlands. Anyway, I've always been a fan and historian on these old comic strips and animators and love Irv's work both on screen and on newsprint. COOGY definitely deserves a book collection, and if I can assist in any way, please (can I not post my e-address here ?) reach out to me ! Virtually all the old Herald Tribune strips are now totally forgotten nor received book collections. It would be great to chat with Paul and continue remembering his
father and family's legacy. I write this on July 4th, so celebrate and all stay well ! Bill