Sunday, July 3, 2016

E. Harper Johnson




I have written before about E. Harper Johnson, but at the time I knew only a little about him. The book-jacket biography above tells a little more than that, but more of what I know now comes from Mr. Johnson's granddaughter Kisha, who has generously provided more information on him in her comments on my original article.

H. Harper Johnson was born in Birmingham, Alabama, in the 1920s. He was a painter, muralist, cartoonist, and illustrator who lived and worked in New York, Africa, and I believe the Arabian Peninsula. His art training came at the American Academy, the National Academy, and the Art Institute of Chicago. Mr. Johnson's illustrations and cartoons appeared in newspapers, magazines, and more than 100 books. The illustrations and book-jacket biography above are from The Story of George Washington Carver by Arna Bontemps (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1954). Like the subject and the illustrator of his book, Arna Bontemps (1902-1973) was a black southerner and a man of great accomplishment.

Harper Johnson was married to Mildred Anita Johnson and to Salma Tahira Malik (1928-1979). He died on March 24, 2016. I hope to find more on E. Harper Johnson, his life, and his work. I invite and welcome comments and email messages.

Original text copyright 2016 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Morrie Turner (1923-2014)



Morris Nolton "Morrie" Turner was born on December 11, 1923, in Oakland, California. He served as a mechanic with the Tuskegee Airman during World War II and contributed to Stars and Stripes, the newspaper of the Armed Forces. In the 1960s, he traveled with other cartoonists to entertain the troops in Vietnam.

Turner began drawing cartoons and comic strips in the mid 1960s, mostly for the Chicago Defender, a black newspaper. Titles included Dinky Fellas (1964-1965), Press Gremlins (1964-1965), Reverend Smiley (1964-1965), Sepia Smiles (1964-1965), Dogbert (1965-1969), and Classified Chuckles (1966-1969). In 1965, Turner's syndicate rebranded Dinky Fellas as Wee Pals, the comic strip for which he will always be known. Wee Pals began on February 15, 1965, and is still running today, two years after the cartoonist's death.

Morrie Turner was a friend of Charles Schulz and Bil Keane, two other cartoonists of childhood. His Wee Pals is very much like Peanuts, with a large cast of kids who have their own distinct personalities, backgrounds, dress, and interests. It was and is a great strip. By the way, Nipper, the boy with the soul food stand on the cover of Doing Their Thing, wore a Confederate cap, though without the crossed swords. When asked why, he replies,"'Cause I'm non-violent!"

Morrie Turner died on January 25, 2014, in Sacramento, California.

Text copyright 2016 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Jack Matthews (1925-2013)



It's Christmastime, but here in the Midwest it's more like spring. I have seen snowdrops, dandelions, violets, and forsythia in bloom. Robins are still hanging together in flocks, but they have been singing their spring songs, though only a few notes. I doubt they have mistaken the season or feel any embarrassment for it. Robins, in their boldness, seem incapable of that. It may be that they hold their songs at the ready and are simply trying out for a debut that is still three months away.

It was a colder season forty-eight years ago today when the Silver Bridge came down. Forty-six people died that day, on the bridge and in the waters of the Ohio River. Even now, in the area of Point Pleasant and across the river in Gallipolis, Ohio, there are people who remember the disaster or knew or are related to someone who died there. Jack Matthews was born in Columbus, Ohio, but had roots in Gallia County, of which Gallipolis is the seat of government. Matthews' father came into the world on a Gallia County farm. I don't know that Jack Matthews knew or was related to anyone who died in the Silver Bridge disaster, but he took on the identity of a fictional survivor in his novel Beyond the Bridge, from 1970. The book jacket biography above is from that novel.

Beyond the Bridge is brief but dense and complex, a much different book than Matthews' first novel, Hanger Stout, Awake! (1967), which is more a song of innocence than of experience. Beyond the Bridge takes the form of a diary of a man who has put his old life behind him and assumed a new one on the other side of the river--beyond the bridge--in West Virginia. The book ends with an entry for July 18, 1968--four days before Jack Matthews' forty-third birthday--as the protagonist sets out to cross another bridge and begin another diary.

In Beyond the Bridge, Matthews' diarist is friends with a fallen preacher named Harlan and becomes the lover of a local woman, Billie Sue, who knows all the superstitions of Appalachia. The diarist, Neil, writes of himself and Billie Sue:
     Only before we went to sleep, I myself wondered why I should be so interested in these silly superstitions and Harlan's insane theology.
     I couldn't figure it out, except for the possibility that I could feel human breath in them. And I can't help feeling close to people who have long been dead, and have no other voice left. (p. 138)
I like to think that those who are gone still have a voice, even if it's one we can no longer hear. But if Jack Matthews' only remaining voice for us--whether we are vast seas or merely islands of readership--is in his books, then I must share the feeling of his diarist, that of being "close to people who have long been dead, and have no other voice left." His books speak, have the breath of life in them, and, though their author has been gone two years now, still live.

Original text copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, December 4, 2015

Steele Savage (1898-1970)




Harry Steele Savage was born on December 21, 1898, in Central Lake, Michigan. According to his biography in The Rainbow Book of Bible Stories (The World Publishing Company, 1956, shown above), he studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Slade School in London, and in Vienna and Paris. He designed the sets and costumes for Caviar, a musical comedy than ran for twenty performances at the Forrest Theatre in New York in 1934. Savage was also a designer of furniture, and he created at least one poster design during World War II.

Steele Savage is most well known as an illustrator of books, especially on mythology, history, and the Bible. He also created the covers for many science fiction novels of the 1960s and '70s. The illustrations above, from The Rainbow Book of Bible Stories by J. Harold Gwynne (1956), show Savage's style, which can be described as a kind of magical realism. Savage's other credits include:
  • The Decameron of Boccaccio (Blue Ribbon Books, 1931)
  • The Arabian Nights edited by Bennett Cerf (Triangle Books, 1932)
  • The Droll Stories of HonorĂ© de Balzac (1932)
  • No Other Man by Alfred Noyes (1940)
  • Stories of the Gods and Heroes by Sally Benson (1940)
  • Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes by Edith Hamilton (1942)
  • Throne of the World by Louis de Wohl (1949)
  • The Wild Party by Joseph Moncure March (1949)
  • Adventures with the Giants by Catherine F. Sellew (1950)
  • Adventures with the Heroes by Catherine F. Sellew (1954)
  • The Life of Christ by the AbbĂ© Constant Fouard (1954)
  • The Token by Samuel Shellabarger (1955)
  • The Golden Library Book of Bible Stories by Jonathan Braddock (1956)
  • Martin Luther by Henry Emerson Fosdick (1956)
  • The Adventures of Ulysses by Gerald Gottlieb (1959)
  • Little Golden Book of Airplanes by Ruth Mabee Lachman (1959) 
  • Life in the Ancient World by Bart Winer (1961)
  • The Virginian by Owen Wister (Scholastic, 1964)
  • Golden Blood by Jack Williamson (1967)
  • The Well of the Unicorn by Fletcher Pratt (1967)
  • Breakthrough by Richard Cowper (1969)
  • Between Planets by Robert A. Heinlein (1970)
  • Have Spacesuit, Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein (1970)
  • Rocket Ship Galileo by Robert A. Heinlein (1970)
  • The Long Result by John Brunner (1970)
  • The Rolling Stones by Robert A. Heinlein  (1970)
  • The Sorcerer's Skull by David Mason (1970)
  • The Squares of the City by John Brunner (1970)
  • The Star Beast by Robert A. Heinlein (1970)
  • Time for the Stars by Robert A. Heinlein (1970)
  • Starbreed by Martha deMey Clow (1970)
  • The Whole Man by John Brunner (1970)
  • Anti-Man by Dean R. Koontz (1970)
  • The Citadel of Fear by Francis Stevens (1970)
  • Black in Time by John Jakes (1970)
  • Report on Probability A by Brian W. Aldiss (1970)
  • Tunnel in the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein (1970)
  • Barrier World by Louis Charbonneau (1970)
  • World's Bible Story Library by J. Harold Gwynne (a multi-volume reissue of The Rainbow Book of Bible Stories, 1970)
  • Red Planet by Robert A. Heinlein (1971)
  • Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner (1972)
  • Hurlbut's Story of the Bible (revised edition) by Jesse Lyman Hurlburt (1974)

This list is not necessarily complete.

Steele Savage lived in New York for much of his career. He died on December 5, 1970, at age seventy-one. You can read a little more about him on my blog, Tellers of Weird Tales, here. Part of the book list above is from the Internet Speculative Fiction Database.

Original text copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Robert J. Serling



Robert J. Serling was born Jerome Robert Serling on March 28, 1918, in Cortland, New York, and grew up in Binghamton with his younger brother, Rod Serling of Twilight Zone fame. Both men served in the U.S. Army during World War II, and both attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Robert Serling spent twenty-three years covering the airline industry for the United Press International. The Probable Cause: The Truth about Air Travel Today, published in 1960, was the first of his twenty-five books. Most were non-fiction involving aviation, but Serling also wrote five published novels including The President's Plane Is Missing from 1967. The mystery of a missing airliner is nothing new to readers of 2015. Robert J. Serling died five years ago today, on May 6, 2010. He was ninety-two years old.

Photo by Alex Gotfryd
Jacket design by Al Nagy

Text copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Jack Matthews



Jack Matthews has been gone for almost a year now and the world is a diminished place. This past weekend, I went to the book sale at the Athens County Public Library, a place he frequented, and found one of his books, The Charisma Campaigns from 1972. I read the book straight through last night. I must say what a pleasure it is to read the work of Jack Matthews. On every page, you will find a gem of a sentence, scene, insight, or line of dialogue or description. The Charisma Campaigns is one of the funniest books I have ever read, but you would be wrong to think that because it's funny, it's also a bit of fluff. The book reminds me a little of Portnoy's Complaint, another very funny book that turns out to be serious in its intent. It comes as no surprise to me that Walker Percy nominated The Charisma Campaigns for a National Book Award. Like Jack Matthews, Walker Percy was a writer who was at once funny and serious. The Charisma Campaigns reminds me of a Percy novel (or one by Saul Bellow) in which a man in his middle years finds himself in crisis. There is even a bit of one of Percy's favorite topics, semiotics, in Mr. Matthews' book. Oddly enough--and of interest to the Appalachian Ohio reader--there is also mention of Ambrose Bierce (a native of Meigs County) and the collapse of the Silver Bridge. Odder still, for me, there is a kind of coincidence in reading about the protagonist's eccentric brother, who keeps his collection in a number of railroad cars on his property, and of the death last week of former U.S. Representative Phillip Crane, whose father, George Crane, moved a railroad car onto his family farm in Hillsboro, Indiana, where it remains.

The photograph above is from before Jack Matthews' fiftieth birthday and shows him smoking a cigar--perhaps a Dutch Masters panatella--and sporting a string tie like his Charisma Campaigns protagonist, Regius "Rex" McCoy. The events in the book come to an end in October, a month just passed and one of nostalgia and bittersweetness. Jack Matthews died in November 2013, nearly a year ago as I write this. He inscribed the copy of his book that I found this weekend in December 1975, almost forty years ago now. As Mattie Ross in True Grit says, "Time just gets away from us." You might say also that it does away with us, but Jack Matthews will go on living in the memories of the people who knew him (or like me, knew of him), and when we are all gone, in his books, which are so full of life and living.

Original text copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley
Photograph by Max Schaible
Jacket design by Lawrence Ratzkin

Monday, October 6, 2014

Armstrong Sperry



Armstrong Wells Sperry was born on November 7, 1897, in New Haven, Connecticut, and attended the Yale School of Art and the Art Students League. During World War I he served in the U.S. Navy, and in the 1920s he traveled in the South Seas. Returning to New York City, Sperry found work as a commercial artist and illustrator. His first book for children was published in 1933. Call It Courage was awarded the Newbery Medal in 1941.

The book shown here, The Amazon: River Sea of Brazil, is from 1961 and a series called "Rivers of the World Books." It is illustrated with photographs and with maps by Sam Galy. The jacket design is by Ernest Kurt Barth.

Armstrong Sperry died on April 26, 1976, at age seventy-eight.

Original text copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley