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Jay Lynch, 1945-2017

Born: January 7, 1945, Orange, New Jersey

Died: March 5, 2016, Candor, New York

Jay Lynch — cartoonist, satirist, and counterculture archivist — died from complications of lung cancer on March 5th. His career spanned more than six decades and made full use of his many graphic talents. He contributed to the earliest counterculture press, drew and edited many underground comic books, designed confectionary novelties and promotional products, and in later years painted a myriad of private commissions for fans of his work.

Young Jay Lynch with a banner headline for Herbert Hoover, circa 1948.

Jay Lynch saw himself as a cartoonist even when he was just a young whippersnapper. He liked to draw. He liked funny stuff. It just made sense. He enjoyed the strip There Ought to be a Law!, which appeared in his local paper. He noted that the cartoonists, Al Fagaly and Harry Shorten, invited readers to send in gag ideas, maybe events from their own lives, that could be adapted for the two-panel strip. The first panel set up a situation that required quick action, and the second showed how their best efforts went awry. The name and address of the person who suggested the joke was included in the strip. Lynch sent Fagaly and Shorten dozens of ideas but none of them were ever used. Rejection, he soon realized, was part and parcel of a cartoonist’s life, and he accepted that.

Many years later, There Ought to be a Law! provided inspiration for his Give ’Em an Inch series that appeared in Playboy during the 1980s. Similar setup, same sort of payoff, but with many more naked adults.

Lynch first sold gags to Cracked magazine while a student at Norton High School in Miami. In 1963, he left his home in Florida, moved to Chicago, checked into a cheap hotel, and got a job as a lingerie stock boy. It was all part of his master plan to earn big bucks in the exciting field of cartooning. He attended art school at night, sold gags to Sick and Cracked, and contributed cartoons to a network of college humor magazines and satire publications, including The Realist. He was a frequent cover artist for the Chicago Seed when underground papers first came to Chicago and also appeared in the Berkeley Barb, East Village Other, The Fifth Estate, and many other members of the underground press syndicate.

The teenage contributors to Wild magazine, an early mimeographed fanzine included future underground cartoonists Jay Lynch and Skip Williamson.

He was a key figure in the underground comix movement, producing eight issues of Bijou Funnies with his partner-in-crime Skip Williamson. They were a vital part of what became one of the most revolutionary art movements of the 20th century. Lynch contributed to numerous other underground titles like Bogeyman, San Francisco Comic Book, Bizarre Sex, and Teen-age Horizons of Shangri-la. The last issue of Bijou Funnies, an homage to Lynch’s favorite satirist, featured Harvey Kurtzman-style parodies of popular underground comic characters drawn by other cartoonists.

After the underground faded he moved into commercial work, overseeing the production of celebrity sticker books and fast food giveaways. He drew cartoons and illustrations for Playboy, Oui, and other men’s magazines. His juvenile sense of humor was also in high demand at Brooklyn’s biggest bubble gum manufacturer, Topps Chewing Gum, who hired him to design cards and stickers, which prominently featured puke and booger jokes for Garbage Pail Kids, Wacky Packages, and many others. In recent years, he has worked on public interest campaigns, illustrated children’s books, and designed covers for the last remnant of the underground impertinence, Mineshaft magazine.

Lynch designed several series of Bazooka Joe comics to wrap around bubble gum for Topps Chewing Gum over the years.

His personal archives are stored in his home in a small town in upstate New York, where he moved in 2000, and include every letter he ever received since 1958, every publication in which he has appeared, file cabinets full of notes and rough sketches, and extensive collections of humor magazines. He bequeathed his property and belongings to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at the Ohio State University.

Before he died, I had several conversations with Lynch about his end-of-life plans. He wanted to stay alive long enough to ensure that his will transfers his whole estate to the Billy Ireland Museum and that his creditors are paid in full, so no one can make a claim on his home. He bought his own casket and funeral package and was interred at Maple Grove Cemetery in Candor, New York. He told me he wanted a tombstone with a coin-operated fortune-telling device on top to pay for perpetual maintenance of his resting place.

“I’m thinking of a Magic Eightball-type-of affair, where you can ask a question,” he explained. “You put in a quarter and it answers it with a Magic Eightball type of answer. They won’t have quarters in the future, but some credit system. I don’t know. Something that maintains itself.” If any hardcore fans of Jay Lynch want to fulfill this eternal wish, please step forward.

He left no close family, two ex-wives, no children; he believed his life’s greatest accomplishment was the creation of an archive that spans the whole Beatnik-Hippy-Punk-New Wave-Alternative-Millennial counterculture. He accumulated a big pile of paper over many years, and it brought him great satisfaction to know it will be part of a proper repository of comic lore, The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum. Columbus is also a less likely target for terrorists in the future compared to our major metropolises, he noted. “Billy Ireland’s new building was built by the Army Corps of Engineers and is nuke proof. It goes very deep below the ground.”

Lynch was an old-fashioned graphic artist, with the know-how to make things work in the printing industry. After several decades as inkslinger for hire, he became a repository of arcane printing processes, discontinued art supplies and materials, and forgotten production methods. Eventually, he became the go-to guy when it came to obsolete printing technology. He readily adapted to computer design tools in the 1990s, but if you were printing a million sticker books on a giant Webb press and the color was a little off, you’d want Jay Lynch with his knowledge of halftone color separations and chromatic charts to be in your corner.

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20 Responses to Jay Lynch, 1945-2017

  1. Gary Whitney says:

    I had the great honor of working with Jay on the comic strip, Phoebe and the Pigeon People, from the late 70s-the
    early 90s. As a mutual friend once said, “Jay is a national treasure.” He had a brilliant comic mind, and was an incredible artist. I learned a lot from him about drawing, humor, and life. Um Tut Sut, Jayzey!

  2. You won’t be able to hang this Jay Lynch painting “upside-down” – even if you try. (Stand on your head and you’ll see what I mean.)

    http://TheMotionDevotion.com/docs/JayLynch.jpg

  3. Mike Rhode says:

    What a loss, but what a great awareness of the value of archives. I’ll raise a glass to him and the Billy Ireland tonight.

  4. Luis Diaz says:

    He lived once with over 25 cats that eventually ruined a home he purchased.

  5. Todd Frye says:

    Also part of the Wild crew above was apparently future filmmaker Don Dohler.

  6. Jay Kinney says:

    Jay Lynch was my first (and greatest) mentor in entering the Underground Comix movement and he taught me all the essentials about comic lettering, Rapidographs, Zipatone, color separations, and bristol-board. I believe I still have partially-used Zipatone sheets that he passed along to me 45 years ago.

    Jay was an eccentric one-of-a-kind character who always had a unique take on things. At a certain stage in his life he would only eat geometrically shaped food (i.e., it had to be rectangular, triangular, circular, etc.). I don’t think there is even a name for this “disorder”.

    His “Nard ‘n’ Pat” strips were timeless comics that stylistically evoked cartoon styles and attitudes from the 1910s through the 1930s (and beyond). In an earlier era, he would have been a sensational daily comic strip artist, but his attention to a carefully cross-hatched style kept him from being able to produce art frequently or prolifically. Still, he never lost his touch, and a Jay Lynch drawing from any era was likely to be consistent with the rest of his work.

    I can’t begin to measure how much I owe to Jay Lynch — not least being that I’ve spent much of my life having to deny credit for “Nard ‘n’ Pat. We were the two Jay’s who were comrades in the early Bijou Funnies and our names and reputations remained linked for the rest of our lives.

    It is great news that Ohio State University has his archives. He was a key person in the UG comix movement and I trust that his significance will be increasingly recognized as the years go by.

  7. Ladybelle (Isabella Fiske McFarlin) says:

    I met Jay through his friend, Art Spiegelman. The supportiveness between the two never flagged or fell off.
    Jay let my company, Top-Drawer Rubber Stamps, use his Phoebe and the Pigeon People designs and Nard n’ Pat as stamp designs in the late 70s-90s, and was happy to let me try again in the 2000s. Very kindly most recently he said he no longer needed royalties and it would be OK if I use the designs without further payment. Now I know why!

    Jay and I remained friends, And he would ask me for advice on his 40 to 50 feral cats, which lived in his backyard and all over his outer house. In order to feed them, he needed donation sometimes, and we agreed that he would name a cat “Irving” after my father, Irving Fiske, a playwright and community organizer, and I would make a donation when whenever I could. I wondered if he had deals like this going with other people. I would have sent him money for the cats despite this arrangement, but it made it more fun.

    We spoke often in the last three years or wrote to each other by Facebook messenger, trying to work out what would happen to the cats (city finally insisted that they go away so somewhere taken in on farms). I was very worried about the cats and he tried to reassure me that they would be all right. I tried to put him in front touch with feral cat rescues but he felt that they’d gone to better places

    We discussed everything I can think of. He was interested in or believed in many outsider ideas about Orgones and other things of that nature. I am not sure whether he voted in the last election because he believed that Hillary Clinton had some plan to send us all to concentration camps in Iceland where we would be “happy.”

    But this did not make any difference to our interaction. Around October or so of last year the conversation fell away, and now I see why. He probably did not want to be more and and now I see why. He probably did not want to be fussed over. And, he may not have wanted the “fanboys” to know that he was dying.

    The more people who knew the more likely that was. But I know he always felt that we were friends. I appreciate his giving and caring consciousness and I will never forget him of course. Thank you Jay. I hope you have going on to another stage of existence as I think you expected. You once said that most people live chronologically, with childhood, youth, maturity, and old age in sequence, but you tried to live in all the times at once, keeping the friends of your youth as well as people you have met later on. You felt that “we are all one.” So do I and I understand.

  8. Rob Clough says:

    I came across a beautiful collection of Bijou Funnies about 15 years ago and it’s a wonderful treasure. Nard ‘n Pat was not only consistently funnier than anything else in there, it was also the best-drawn strip. I know a lot of young cartoonists and writers who sought him out in recent years and he was delighted to collaborate with them. And of course, his recent Mineshaft stuff has been A+ material. His skills as an artist and instincts as a gag man were second to none.

  9. Kim Deitch says:

    It interested me to hear Ladybelle’s brief description of Jay’s spiritual side so to speak. I never really did know what sort of opinions Jay had along those lines; and was thinking about that while working earlier today.

  10. Jim Siergey says:

    Jay was my cartoon mentor. I met him when I was a very young man and he was instrumental in me heading down the path I am still treading and for that I either thank or curse him. Either way, I learned a lot from him. I spoke with Jay a few weeks ago (he was instrumental in me obtaining a comp copy of “The Realist Cartoons” in which I learned included some cartoons by me as well as a fucking incredible wrap around cover by Jay, one of his intense crowd scenes. That drawing by itself would’ve killed me.) He told me that he was diagnosed with lung cancer and no longer had use of his hands except for his right forefinger and thumb, so he could still draw. But, boy, it has spread fast. I worked with him on many projects but my happiest memories are of working with him and his soon-t0-be second wife, Carol, on cranking out issues of our politico-humor zine “The Chicago Spitune” back in the late ’80s. It was as close to a Dick Van Dyke Show-type of enterprise that we all (?) would love to have as a job, it even had the correct gender mix. Jay was a generous man, a fount of information and a great talent. Soon, Jay, a cleansing.

  11. Russell Vandiver says:

    Jay Lynch was always very helpful and dropped everything to help a friend, as great as his art is his character resonates more with me. I cherish our talks, there will never be another Jay Lynch!

  12. David Francis says:

    I wrote to Jay Lynch about old nibs, he said that he was just using a Rapidograph to draw his fine lines as he couldn’t find his favourite nibs called Titsquill (really!).I sent he some fine French nibs which I’m happy to report ,he was able to use.Jays humour wa

  13. David Francis says:

    s a great influence on me as a young cartoonist and I ruined my eyes trying to copy his fine lines.He was a one-off.Happy trails, Jay.

  14. I always thought of Jay as the reincarnation of a cartoonist from another era—anywhere from the 20s to the 50s.
    Not just his drawing style, with its echoes of Basil Wolverton and vintage newspaper comics—but also his manner.
    He always seemed to me to speaking from a place I could never quite locate. Some place where cartoonists
    wore sleeve garters and green eyeshades. He was one of the funniest guys I ever knew.
    On a trip to a comic con in Naples in 1984, he had me, Diane, Harvey and Adele Kutrtzman in stitches for days.
    I marvelled at his intricate drawings—in some cases the stippling was done over a small mound of white out–in such a way that the camera
    didn’t pick up the distortion. Fellow cartoonists of a certain age will know whereof I speak.
    Here’s Jay’s self portrait from Arcade #2 (1975). Nov schmoz kapop, Jay.
    – Bill Griffith

  15. Ant says:

    Tears were shed today. I feel like I did when we lost the great DJ John Peel. Only had a few interactions with the man on Facebook…I watched a vimeo vid about him giving his archives to Billy Ireland, never occurred to me he was ill, I suppose now I know why. I’m genuinely upset.

  16. ebgrjh says:

    This is horrible news. I discovered his work nearly 12 months ago while leafing through Alternative anthology comics from the 1970s.

    It was love at first sight, I knew Nard and Pat was something I would go on to enjoy.
    Lynch was probably the most talented artist out of the artists featured in the anthologies.
    He was able to express himself without being self-masturbatory. He understood that he had to entertain the reader and he was good at it. Good drawing, good characterization, and good gags characterize his work.

    We probably will never see another Jay Lynch. He was part of a dying breed. Contemporary culture but in particular, the Indy comics culture would find his work “problematic” as it not very concerned with what is trendy now. . .

    Thanks for the memories, Jay.
    You did not toil in vain.

  17. Robert Lamb says:

    Excellent obituary and these comments are all fascinating. Thank you. R.I.P. the great Jay Lynch.

  18. Ladybelle Fiske says:

    Just wanted to say I’m sorry about the typos in my post. Jay would have disliked that — me too!
    I sometimes use voice command to write these things on my iPhone. And sometimes it gets out of hand and writes all kinds of things. But I should’ve noticed before I posted it.

    Thanks, Kim, I’m glad you liked my post about Jay’s spirituality or whatever you want to call it.
    He was a very trippy thinker actually. He also gave me good advice from time to time, and I think he realized I often felt out of touch with the world of comix and graphic arts and so on. So he was a good friend.

  19. Jay was my art guru–I once bought 35,000$ of art from a gallery–I showed the stuff to jay–he said they were fakes, proved it, and I got every penny back—in the last five years we communicated nearly daily–he was the most generous, genius , gentleman, and a giant–he could tell, just by looking at this type, that that I’m using my right hand — miss ya, brother—george michalski

  20. Jay was always kind, gentle, and had some project or other up his sleeve. Like most of the underground folks, he was always very approachable and interested in what the new generation had going on. He always struck me as particularly well-adjusted, for a cartoonist and for a human being.

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