The cartoonist Seth made something of a splash in the comics world, nearly 20 years ago, with his less-autobiographical-than-people-originally-thought graphic novel 'It's A Good Life If You Don't Weaken" and the revelation that the tale's MacGuffin, the obscure and long sought-after cartoonist, Jack "Kalo" Kalloway was made-up. I think most students of the craft responded strongly to the story because we've all had our own "Kalo" at one time or another. I'm sure Seth has had more than one "Kalo" over time, but those searches rarely turn out to be worthy of a story, so he blurred those lines and distilled those experiences.
Since the internet came along, so many of our nagging wonderings have been resolved, if not thrillingly so. Sooner or later, SOMEone, SOMEwhere has shared some little blurb of information about every obscure thing we've ever wondered about. That weird cartoon I saw in 8th grade turned out to be made by some borderline-dissident Czech animator in the 70s. That one member of that band I liked 20 years ago had a long out-of-print side project and some amateur archivist has made it available for download (may no longer apply). We've gotten used to finding the information we want, with very few outstanding mysteries remaining... but there's still those few.
One of those biggest mysteries for me is the cartoonist Bob Miller. Who was he? Was he an individual, or a pen name? Did he do anything else beside a batch of covers for Charlie Jones' Laugh Book Magazine? Did anyone ever -- EVER -- laugh at anything IN Charley Jones' Laugh Book Magazine?
It's been more than 20 years now since I first came across the vintage little digest magazines at Periodicals Paradise; Portland's premier place for pound upon pound of printed pulp pages. The colors were bright. The style appealed to my own aesthetic like sub-literate blondes appeal to Fox News viewers. The cheesecake was served up liberally, but with a gooey topping of sillyberry sauce. The old-school retro vibe was electrifying. I loved this artist, from Square One.
The rest of the magazine was... up to a lesser standard. Remember General Halftrack from Beetle Bailey? Remember how the general chasing his buxom blonde secretary around the desk was BIG YUKS for Beetle Bailey? Charley Jones' Laugh Book Magazine pretty much picks it up from there, often with crowdsourced jokes from readers. I'm sure General Halftrack had a subscription. After all, Laugh Book boldly suggested that you "Send one to someone in the service today!" on the covers of many issues. As if those guys hadn't suffered enough already.
Here's a sample:
The contents of Laugh Book exist wholly within that consciously 50s world of humor, minus any nagging tethers back to reality. Take the worlds of tail-devouring comic strips like Beetle Bailey, Hi & Lois and Family Circus, so rooted in the past that they've now become like divergent universes. Laugh Book is like that, except it went the drunken businessman and the farmer's daughter route with things. Put another way, it's like the cartoons in Playboy... if the jokes were submitted by an assistant manager from the John Deere dealership and some of the comics were drawn with a chimp's dick.
In Laugh Book, every man is a drunken philanderer, but that's okay because boys will be boys. The wives are burly harridans, unless they're self-absorbed gold-diggers. Single women are all sluts just barely keeping a lid on their reputations, or else bitter maids jealous of the chesty competition. Even when you understand the effect of gravity in Laugh Book's world, there's still a good chance you won't understand the humor, and that really says as much good about you as it says bad about them.
I bring all of this up not just to mock our forebears, but to illustrate that there was nothing -- NUH-HUH-THINGA -- to recommend the purchase of these magazines other than the Bob Miller covers. And still, I bought them anyway.
When the internet came along, I tried to do some research, but thus far, I have learned very little about Bob Miller. There are a lot more covers online, but no information. I've reached out to a few comics historians who don't know anything about him either.
He was the primary cover artist for Laugh Book through 1955 & '56, apparently having taken over from Al Wiseman around '53. Wiseman is best known for drawing the Dennis the Menace comic books in the 50s and 60s.
At this point, I'm going to engage in some vague and unsubstantiated speculation. I have a pet theory that Bob Miller might have actually been Al Wiseman. Lemme 'splain. Wiseman's covers start to dry up in '53 and Bob Miller's name starts showing up. Wiseman starts on Dennis the Menace in '53. Early Bob Miller girls were longer, proportioned at about 7 heads tall, but they quickly became the cartoonier style that originally caught my attention. Later Wiseman covers showed the development of techniques like those which also struck me about Miller; for example, a decreased use of black lines in favor of colored lines and solids
This early Miller cover shows a longer proportioned female, and colored line work rather than black lines...
This Wiseman cover shows his own departure from heavy black lines, as well as the longer proportioned females...
Not exactly a slam-dunk case, but it would help to explain why these covers are the only Bob Miller work to which I've ever found any reference.
And so, I have scanned my own copies and filled in many of the others with what I've been able to scrounge from the internet, and I am able to offer here, for the first time that I am aware, the most complete collection of the works of Bob Miller available. If I ever discover any more, I will certainly add them.
If you enjoy them even, say, 20% as much as I do, you should be absolutely delighted.
Just for comparison, I'm including a few more of my favorite Al Wiseman covers. Their shared adherence to seasonal cover themes (which, as far as I can tell, was only a running thing during their respective stints) also leads me to believe that Bob Miller was a nom-de-plume for Wiseman. If anyone who knew either of them can fill with facts the gaps that I've temporarily plastered with wild supposition, I would be VERY interested in talking to you.