From 1967 to 1969 my family resided in Key West, Florida. We lived on Sigsbee Park, a small man-made island containing a military housing complex connected to Key West proper by a narrow causeway. Key West has a Savannah-like tropical climate. There has never been a frost or a freeze there. It’s been a hot 97º on a couple occasions, but has never broke 100º in recorded history. Key West has now been extensively developed, but in the sixties it was a tropical paradise. We did a lot of deep sea fishing, swimming and snorkeling, playing in the coral dunes and mangrove swamps behind our house. The Navy, in it’s infinite wisdom, quartered all personnel and associated dependents into little neighborhoods by relative rank. So you had all the officer’s kids in one area, all the enlisted kids in another development, and all the single naval types billeted far away in the appropriate barracks by rank. We were predominately white kids who moved every 6-8 months when our folks got new orders. The perceived snobbishness between the officer’s kids and the enlisted kids didn’t really fly much further than the watchful eyes of our moms. All us kids knew without a doubt that we would be moving again within a year or two and we had no time for petty cliques and prejudices. We made friends fast and didn’t ask a lot of questions. We were the navy brat weirdos bused from Sigsbee Park into old downtown Key West to attend Frederick Douglas Elementary School. So for us the civil rights movement meant being the white minority bused to an all black school named after one of America’s most controversial Abolitionists. When there was a student riot and protest, it was the white kids that marched out of class and onto our buses for protection. We were protesting our treatment at the hands of the black, Cuban and Conch locals who would hassle and beat up us white kids without mercy. Especially the Cuban and black girls… they would torture me and my scrawny buddies daily! Oh, the fond memories! Actually, I had many black, Cuban and Hispanic friends at school and one-on-one we all got along great. It’s just something funny happens to folks when they swarm into roving packs!
Mad Magazine was universally reviled by our parents and teachers. It was considered the most outrageous sort of pornography marketed to children. And of course we had to read, collect, and trade each issue until they disintegrated into pulp. Some kids were crazy about the sexy girls (they couldn’t help it…they were just drawn that way!) created by Jack Davis in his movie lampoons. Others went nuts over the clever tri-fold on the inner back page that always revealed an appropriate disaster-piece where sanity and purity had just reigned. Many went gaga for the nutcase known as Don Martin. But I was a member of the secret fraternity that worshipped the little cartoon vignettes sprinkled throughout the margins of each issue. They were always funny, sick, surreal and generally more amusing than the majority of the mags regular content.
In the fall of 1968 the town merchants organized a Halloween window painting competition between various local schools. My cartoons were selected to represent Glynn Archer Junior High School as one of the winning entries. My designs were lifted directly from the pages of Mad. When asked by my art teacher I told her honestly where I found my inspiration and showed her some of the source material. She was a young gal in her twenties and really got a kick out of the whole thing, much to my relief. Thanks to my mom I still have the photos below from the Key West Citizen showing our handiwork. Even then pretty girls trumped snotty little boys when it came to dressing up a newspaper photo. If you look carefully you can see my “Cartoonist” signature in the lower right-hand corner of the storefront window. I later learned these cartoons were the creation of the amazing Sergio Aragonés. In 1983 I attended the last San Diego Comic-Con to be held in the old El Cortez Hotel. It was a faded lady by this time… dusty ghostly ballrooms shuttered with moth-eaten drapes of indeterminate origin. Old sheet music and long forgotten bar receipts littered the floor by an ancient grand piano. The elevators no longer operated and everyone was forced to march up an down the stairs en masse to get to the Cons various activities. The air-conditioning system was also out-of-order which increased our misery. And sure enough, there was Sergio. I got a chance to visit with him for a while and found him to be a most friendly and humorous fellow. I showed him the newspaper clippings and we had a few laughs about the Halloween windows. Sergio told me he churned out so much product in the sixties that he is constantly surprised to see examples that he has no recollection of drawing. He also mentioned that the little margin cartoons for Mad Magazine generated very little profit in return for his efforts. We parted as good friends and Sergio was even nice enough to draw me an amazing sketch of his then new character, Groo ~ The Barbarian.