Monday, February 28, 2005

Blog Break: Sad Week

I haven't felt much like blogging. It was a lousy week. The suicide of Hunter S. Thompson started things off on a bummer. His writing blew my mind when I was a youngster and read Hell's Angels and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas for the first time. When I moved to San Francisco I looked forward to picking up the Examiner every week to see his cadaverous mug staring out from atop his column, and find out what kind of bad craziness he was up to now. I read an obit in the Guardian, I think it was, by Ralph Steadman, the illustrator whose work had become inextricably linked with Thompson's ever since they covered the Kentucky Derby together for Sports Illustrated back in the early 70's. I was thinking of blogging something about this unusual writer-illustrator relationship and how rarely you see it outside of comic strips, but then a bombshell dropped.

I learned that my dear friend, Sarah Jewler, had died. It happened in January, only I didn't find out until Thursday. Sarah was well-known for being the managing editor at New York Magazine for the past 10 years, and before that she held the same position at the Village Voice. But way before that, back in the go-go 1980's, we became close pals when she oversaw the production department, and was my boss, at Manhattan, Inc. Magazine.

Sarah was the first person in publishing to show confidence in my cartoons and their potential for being published. She became my booster, and helped me land my first comic strip gig, at Manhattan, Inc. We got off to a funny start. As my editor, she would ask me questions about the cartoons that had seemingly obvious answers. Like if a character was reacting to something happening visually in a panel she would fail to catch it, and say, "What is he talking about here?"

After a while we discovered that, brilliant as she was, she didn't know how to read comics properly! She would read all of the word balloons first and then go back to look at the pictures, and when made aware of it, she said, "So what? Isn't that the way everybody does it?" I've come to realize over the years that a certain percentage of population suffers from this malady you could call comics-deficit-illiteracy. So, if I had any positive influence on Sarah at all, I did teach her how to read a cartoon.

Sarah pushed me to get my shit together as a cartoonist, and along with my actual editor, Peter Kaplan, challenged and nurtured me in a way that I know was highly unusual. Of course I was temperamental and immature, and didn't appreciate it at the time.

Sarah was funny, opinionated, tough, and, surprisingly ambitious. I say surprisingly because it seemed she was climbing to top of the magazine business without stepping on anybody's toes and without really trying. She had the sweetest demeanor you could imagine that endeared her to everyone she met. She was equally brilliant with ideas and people, which made her a great boss, and, obviously, a great managing editor. You barely knew she was keeping you in line, she had such a soft touch, but she was, and the magazine always got out on time. Sarah was also a party girl who was invited to all the happening events in Manhattan. Once she complained to me, "God, if I have to see Andy Warhol at one more party I'm going to be sick."

After I moved to San Francisco, Sarah and I visited each other a few times and kept in contact as pen pals for many years. She sent me great letters full of clippings of media gossip and other things she found interesting. I've been re-reading them all week (and drinking gallons of alcohol). As she took on more challenges in her career her notes became shorter: "I cut this out for you because I thought you'd like it. No time to write, life is crazy! See ya." Our lives diverged and we lost touch for long periods, but I thought we would be friends forever. I was lucky to know her, she was wonderful, and I'll miss her a lot.


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