15 Minutes Of Fame
So much for Warhol’s ‘fifteen minutes of fame’. Comic characters may be world famous and seemingly immortal, but their creators, when not made anonymous, have gone virtually unknown to the public. Within this despised, or at best underappreciated medium, thankfully some of the masters, and a few of the mistresses, of comic art have found a measure recognition while they’ve been still been around to bask in the glow. But others have had to wait for their posthumous epitaph and obituary as almost their only praise for their achievements. Even a lifetime of fame can be erased after death, once tastes change and memories fade, until hopefully some enthusiast rediscovers and restores their reputation.
Bob Lubbers is not the celebrated cartoonist he should be, but thanks to a legion of Italian admirers, he is now getting his day in the sunshine in his 80th year. The latest edition of the long-running Italian magazine Glamour International No. 26 (2001, $34.95, no ISBN or ISSN but available via Diamond and Bud Plant) pays tribute to his ‘Good Girl Art’ in a deluxe, bi-lingual 100-page, 12" x 12" inch square showcase, edited by the respected authority Alberto Beccattini. Lubbers himself writes the commentary tracing his fascinating life and forty year career in comics, accompanied by photos, sketches, a host of brand new colour illustrations and covers, plus some specially coloured panels of his Firehair, Camilla and Captain Wings comic books from his Fiction House days in the Forties and from his string of newspaper strips, Tarzan (a couple of examples are on display at the Tarzan! exhibition at the Musee du Quai Branly, Paris), Long Sam, The Saint, Secret Agent X9, Robin Malone and L’il Abner. Bob credits being in the right place at the right time for keeping him busy, jumping from one series to the next or juggling several at once. But this modesty overlooks his constantly fresh and lively draughtsmanship, his crisp storytelling skills and his particular lifelong love affair with the female form, qualities that have kept him in constant demand.
During his first, pre-War spell at Fiction House, he recalls "a young teenager who’d come in now and then to show a little sample book he’d made up called Panther Lady. We could see this kid had the right stuff. He had no luck selling it to Fiction House, but it was just as well. Frank Frazetta has become a glittering star in the world of fine art." Later, Bob’s teaming up in 1954 with L’il Abner‘s celebrity creator Al Capp introduced him to Capp’s "star-studded world of movers and shakers". Asked who he would most like to model for their new strip about a backwoods knockout, Long Sam, a sort of female Li’I Abner which Capp was scripting, Lubbers dared to ask for Betty Allen, a favourite beauty from the Jackie Gleason Show. Capp merely had to make a phone call and a few days later Bob was back at Capp’s Waldorf Hotel suite, posing Betty for his Polaroid camera.
Writing about his experiences in the comics industry, his encounters with stars, presidents and models, his passions for playing music and golf, and his current success at devising crossword puzzles, Lubbers comes across as a genial, big-hearted man, who has always enjoyed his life and developing a variety of talents. This book concludes with the most thorough checklist of his work to date, eleven pages meticulously compiled by Beccattini with help from many experts, spanning all of his comics from his early Reef Kincaid strips in Centaur’s 1940 Amazing-Man Comics to his Human Fly work for Marvel in 1978 and AC Comics’ and A-List Comics’ assorted recent Fiction House reprints. In 1998 comics aficionados in Rome were the first to truly honour Lubbers, awarding him a prestigious ‘Yellow Kid’ prize at the Expo Cartoon Festival. Now, it’s those Italians again who have produced this tribute to one of the great American artists of the comic book and comic strip. It’s a perfect 80th birthday present.
Posted: August 9, 2009
This article orginally appeared in 2003 in Comics Forum.