Why am I reviewing and recommending you buy a hard cover reprint book featuring a comic strip that looks like crudely drawn child’s scrawl? Because you need it.
And because its funny… but most of all, because the book is a wonderful tribute to the strip’s creator Jack Mendelsohn, a comics-and-animation writer who has worked on a lot of stuff you love – whether you know it or not.
First off, Jacky’s Diary by Jacky Mendelsohn, Age 86 1/2 is one of the series of comic reprint tomes edited by Craig Yoe for IDW Books. As such it is beautifully produced – the presentation is gorgeous, printed on glossy stock, these Sunday strips (from original color proofs) have vibrant color and sharp lines (written and drawn). Jacky’s Diary was originally syndicated by King Features from 1959 through 1961 (or during the period “Jacky” Mendelsohn was ages 31 1/2 through 34 1/2). Written and drawn from the point-of-view of 7 seven old boy – it’s one of the cleverest strips of the post-Peanuts era.
For example, one such strip has Jacky describing his uncle’s wedding – making sound it like the worst day ever from the perspective of a seven year old; with women crying, men dressed stiffly as ushers (but “they didn’t show a single movie”) and, worst of all, his uncle has to kiss the bride! Several of the best strips involve Jacky’s mis-interpretations of his classroom history lessons.
I’m grateful this neglected strip has been preserved in such lavish form. The drawing may look crude at first glance, but Mendelsohn’s art is quite sophisticated in layout, design and lettering. In fact, he may have been ahead of his time – his primitive style reminds me of more contemporary artists like Mark Marek and Gary Panter. I dare say Mendelsohn’s drawings are more appealing. The strips themselves are a perfect example of how to write intelligently to kids, yet skew toward adults, both at the same time.
There are two heart-felt tributes (a “foreword” and a “backword”) by two of Mendelsohn’s best friends – Mort Walker (Beetle Baily) and Mell Lazarus (Miss Peach) and 20-page introduction by Mendelsohn himself that outlines his career with rare photographs and art.
As for his career – Mendelsohn started out in comic books with Howard Post, David Levine and Norman Maurer. He first worked at Famous Studios in the 1950s, painting cels, but his comedy writing earned him a place as one of “the usual gang if idiots” at Mad Magazine. He also wrote King Features animation like Krazy Kat (storyboard page included) and The Beatles (the Saturday morning cartoon series and the first draft of Yellow Submarine); He boarded stories for Jay Ward (George of the Jungle, Super Chicken and Cap’n Crunch) and Hanna Barbera (Flintstones, Scooby Doo, etc.). He wrote for Laugh-In, Carol Burnett, Dick Van Dyke, Three’s Company, etc. and continued with animation in the 1980s with Muppet Babies, Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles and Dennis The Menace. Mendelsohn has great anecdotes about all of this in his intro.
When his pal Howard Post took over the Paramount Cartoon Department in 1964, Mendelsohn was the first person Post called to get stories going. He wrote several routine Honey Halfwitch and “Boobie Baboon” cartoons, but was given the chance to write and direct a pair of Jacky’s Diary animated shorts (embed below).
Considering the kind of low rent material Paramount was churning out in 1965 – these two cartoons are rather exceptional in their way. Both of these Jacky’s Whacky World cartoons have their roots in the Jacky’s Diary strip: Mendelsohn did a George Washington history lesson each President’s Day and several of the gags from the strips wind up in this first film, The Story of George Washington (1965):
Mendelsohn did a Jacky strip based around a classroom lesson about Holland and the Dutch – note the panels from the 6/11/61 strip below are used word-for-word in the animated cartoon below it. In A Leak In The Dike (1965), he expands upon this germ of an idea to include the saga of Hans Brinker (with Jacky playing the part)…
A small but important piece of the giant jigsaw puzzle of animation history is addressed in this new Yoe book devoted to Jacky’s Diary. If any of the above intrigues you, I highly recommend this volume.