Wednesday, July 27, 2016

All Betts Are On

Wednesday Illustration Day.

I have shown a lot of work by Jack Betts, an American illustrator who worked mainly in advertising comics. He sold a couple of gag illustrations early on and did some illustrating work for weeklies such as This Week and Collier's in the early fifties, but beyond that he spend all of his time at Johnstone and Cushing, vreating some of their most successful series, - like the often imitated Peter Pain ads for Ben Gay and Neddy Nestly for Nestlé instant chocolade milk. His style was similar to that of Bob Bugg and I have no doubt that he would have become one of Hank Ketcham's many assistants in the sixties and seventies or even get his own strip or gag panel if he had survived. Instead, he seems to have died in the late fifties and disappeared from everybody's view. I asked a couple of the remaining artists who worked for Johnstone and Cushing in the late fifties and early sixties (like Neal Adams, Tom Scheuer/Sawyer and Leonard Starr) and none of them even remembered his name. One of the view artists who was allowed to sign his name in his ads, he deserved more.

After sharing a lot of his work, I was contacted by his daughter Joanne. What she told me about her father made for a sad story. He had divorced her mother in the early forties, so she didn't remember much of him after her youngest years. She hinted that he might have had a drinking problem, but didn't come out and say it like that. She did share with me what was told to her about the circumstances of his death. Apparently, somewhere in the second half of the fifties, he was mugged on the street and hurt in such a way that he couldn't really function anymore. He may have lived in some sort of care facility for two years before dying alone and unknown. To not be remembered by his colleagues seems like adding insult to injury.

Over the years since I heard this, I tried and tried to get confirmation of this story. If only for Joanne's sake, who knows nothing else about her father. But I couldn't. No mentions of the mugging, no move to a care facility in official documents, nothing. Also, knowing the artist community and how they love to gossip, it seems to me that if anyone had heard about this, it would have been told and retold in many ways. Look what happened to the story about Alex Raymond's death, or the different tales that were spun about Joe Maneely's tragic death (before Dan Goldberg finally came out and told everyone how his glasses had been in repair that day he fell between two commuter trains after a night on the town with his friends). So ad far as I am concerned the whole story isn't told yet.

Also, there is the problem of dating the story. The latest original work I have of Jack Betts is from 1956, close enough to the sixties for people such as Tom Sawyer and Leonard Starr to have known him. Anyway, if there is anyone out there who can help me find more about Jack Betts, please contact me.

In meantime go and enjoy this one booklet Jack Betts drew outside of his work for advertising comics. It is his one claim to fame, mentioned in various online sources. There were two editions of the propaganda booklet, which may have been quite different. One was from the early war years, to warn people for the dangers of National Socialism and the second one ten years later about Communism. Here is the first one. As soon as I get the other one, I will share it as well.

I am also adding a birthday card for the Betts family, sent to me by Jack Bett's daughter.

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