The voice on the other end of the line sounded as if it was being extruded painfully from an atrophied larynx. Like fingernails scraping across slate, the voice grated, a groan that was nearly a grunt. “Jud Hurd, Bob,” it excruciated, “—is this a bad time?”
No doubt about it: the sound, the message—indisputably, Jud Hurd, my friend and editor. Abruptly businesslike—no preludes or preambles. But, withal, everlastingly courteous and considerate.
No one I have ever known committed a phone call with Jud’s diffident squeamishness about the instrument’s most frequently overlooked quality, its inherently heedless intrusiveness—its interloping capacity for barging into someone’s life, wholly unheralded, demanding attention immediately, regardless of what the surprised and cowed recipient of the phone call might be doing or might desire or need. Jud recognized this uncivilized dimension of the telephonic universe, and he invariably sought to make up for its unthinking invasiveness by being so punctilious as to unhorse the barbarian.
For me, it was never a bad time to get a phone call from Jud.
Jud’s voice was probably the most well-known sound in the world of cartooning after the sound of a pen scratching a line on paper. For over thirty years, he was publisher and editor of the profession’s longest-running periodical—the industry’s leading “insider” magazine until The Comics Journal surfaced and matured—the quarterly journal Cartoonist PROfiles. In his role as editor and reporter, he telephoned others of the inky-fingered fraternity often, making several phone calls a day—interviewing cartoonists, lining up future stories, talking to syndicate officials, exploring sources of illustrative material for articles scheduled for a future issue of the magazine.
He also answered scores of questions, from friends and total strangers, from established professionals and from aspiring neophytes wanting to know which pen or brush to use. Most of the questions were about cartooning, but some were not.
Once I phoned him—secure in my belief that good editors know everything—and asked him, without warning, what the districts of Paris were called. In a blink came the answer: “Arrondisements,” he said. “Thanks,” I said and rang off. (I knew he’d know—and not just because he was a superior editor. He and Claudia, his wife, had made nearly a dozen trips to Paris over the years, and he could hardly have made such visitations without knowing about arrondisements. And I knew, too, that if he didn’t know, Claudia would.)
Jud’s editorial acumen was firmly rooted in a lifelong involvement in and practice of cartooning as a career. Born in Cleveland in approximately 1912, Jud discovered, at about the age of 12 or 13, that Charles N. Landon ran his renowned correspondence course in cartooning from his hometown, so Jud went downtown, met Landon, and enrolled in the course. He was hooked.
He subsequently drew cartoons for the campus publications at every educational institution he enrolled in, junior high through college, and sold his first cartoon when he was about twenty-one.
He sold it to the Calgary Eye-Opener, a humor magazine which, at the time, was published in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It promulgated an assortment of jokes and cartoons of the sort that, today, are so mildly risque as to be nearly inoffensive if not completely boring. For 1934, however, the Eye-Opener was a pretty spicy dish.
Jud's cartoon depicted a honeymoon couple in a fancy hotel on January 1, the newly minted husband saying, "Let's start the New Year off with a bang."
Jud was informed of the success of his assault on the bastions of publication by a letter from the associate editor, who wrote: "Payment will be three bucks on publication. Check will reach you in time to buy a case of Christmas lager or whatever it is that $3 will buy in Cleveland." The letter was signed "Carl Barks," who would, somewhat later, make Donald Duck famous and invent for Disney's webfooted wunderkind a miserly mutton-chopped relative named Uncle Scrooge.
Jud attended Adelbert College of Western Reserve University (now Case-Western Reserve University), where he majored in economics and became art editor of the campus humor magazine, the Red Cat. In that capacity, he wrote various cartooning dignitaries, begging from them drawings of their characters to publish in the magazine. It was a common ploy among campus humor magazine editors. By letter, Jud met such steller 'tooners as E.C. Segar, Frederick Burr Opper, Eugene "Zim" Zimmerman, and Rube Goldberg. After graduation, Jud spent a year at the Chicago Art Institute and then lit out for California.
In 1936, he was in Hollywood working as an inbetweener at the Mintz Studio but aspiring, all the while, to a career as a syndicated newspaper cartoonist. By 1937, he had achieved this goal, producing a thrice-weekly comic strip called Just Hurd in Hollywood (his actual given name being "Justin") with "an all-star cast": each strip consisted of a photograph of a movie star in the first panel followed by several other panels presenting Jud's cartoon rendition of an anecdote taken from the star's life.
Jud obtained the anecdotes by interviewing the stars, meeting Joan Crawford, Joe E. Brown, Betty Grable, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Gary Cooper, Lana Turner, and so on. While in Los Angeles, Jud also met cartooning greats George McManus, George Herriman, and Walt Disney.
The die was cast: Jud sharpened his interviewing skills and followed his natural inclination to seek out other cartoonists to hobnob with. But it would be a few more years before he combined those vital ingredients into another career, publishing a magazine of interviews with cartoonists.
Just Hurd in Hollywood was cancelled soon after it was launched. It was simply too much in an already crowded field: newspapers were being flooded with studio publicity material about movie stars, and a single syndicated gossip column contained many more anecdotes about more stars in the same space that Jud's six-column comic strip occupied.
Jud returned to Cleveland and joined the art department at Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA), a feature syndicate, where he produced, among other things, an editorial cartoon for NEA's weekly service.
In those days, many of the NEA cartoonists still lived in Cleveland and worked in the NEA offices, so Jud met such luminaries as editorial cartooning great Herblock, Clyde Lewis (Hold Everything), George Scarbo (The Comic Zoo) and Harry Schlensker (later Roy Crane's assistant on Buz Sawyer) and Bela Zaboly (then doing Our Boarding House with Major Hoople following Gene Ahern's departure for King Features and ownership of his feature).
Jud went to New York to seek more cartooning fortune in 1940, drew a baseball cartoon-type story called "Pie Cobb" (a take-off on Ty Cobb) for Dell comic books, then returned again to Cleveland, where he learned typing (an invaluable skill for a magazine editor acting as his own reporting and production staff) at the Spencerian Business College and met Claudia, who would eventually become his wife. While in New York, he met Peter Arno, Bud Fisher (who, in a somewhat alcoholic daze, offered Jud a job—which offer, alas, evaporated with the aforementioned daze), and H.T. Webster.
Drafted into the Army in 1942 for the duration of World War II, Jud, like many artists and cartoonists, wound up in the Signal Corps, Intelligence Section, where he did a weekly educational cartoon about a dim-witted soldier named Crypto Chris, later reincarnated as Stew Pid, a character Jud created for American Steel and Wire Company while operating his Industrial Cartoon Studio in Cleveland after the war. Like Will Eisner in the postwar years, Jud produced cartoons and comic strips for commercial clients who wanted comics to emphasize safety messages, to enliven in-house newsletters and magazines, and to instruct employees or to sell products.
In the 1950s, Jud tried, in vain, to sell a couple of comic strips to syndicates; then in 1955, Children's Playmate magazine hired him to produce a new "comic book section," for which Jud created Inspector Hector, Socko & Jocko, and Sandy & Dandy features.
Finally, in 1959, Jud achieved national distribution by syndicating himself with a business-oriented panel cartoon, Ticker Toons, in which, employing (at last) his education in economics, he posed and answered questions about the stock market. It debuted in November, and a year later, it was picked up by the Chicago Sun-Times/Daily News Syndicate.
By then, Jud was already at work devising another informational cartoon panel, Health Capsules, partnering with a physician, Michael Petti. It was distributed by United Feature Syndicate, which, later, also took on Ticker Toons. Ticker Toons lasted 10-12 years; Health Capsules, launched in February 1961, was still going well into 2005, although Jud gave it up a couple years before, after more than 40 years.
In 1952, Jud had joined the National Cartoonists Society (just six years after its founding in New York by Rube Goldberg and a half-dozen other cartoonists who had been convening occasionally during WWII to visit area military hospitals to entertain the convalescing wounded), and he occasionally made trips to New York on business, timing the trip to coincide with NCS's monthly meetings.
In 1964, shortly after he moved to Westport, Connecticut, Bob Dunn (They'll Do It Every Time), then president of NCS, asked Jud if he would take over the editing of the Society newsletter—"guessing," as Jud usually put it, "that I could spell."
The assignment appealed to all of Jud's instincts and employed many of the skills he'd honed over the years, and he consequently poured more of himself into each successive issue. By 1968, it was consuming too much of his time as a volunteer, gratis employment. Jud offered to continue if NCS could find a way to pay him something. Happily, the NCS Board of Governors proved to be fiscally conservative (which, in those days, meant they didn't want to spend any money, still sometimes a conservative blight upon the land), and Jud then had the idea of continuing in much the same vein with a publication of his own.
Cartoonist PROfiles was born with the winter issue in March of 1969. It and Jud's two syndicated cartoons absorbed his energies ever since. Every day, he went to work in the cozy one-room building in back of his home, a studio about 30 yards from his back door.
On December 13, 2003, at its anyule Christmas party held, that year, at the New York clubhouse of the Society of Illustrators, NCS presented Jud with the award it gives to those who have performed outstanding service to the Society and/or have made a significant contribution to the profession, the Silver T-Square.
The first Silver T-Square was awarded to Britain's legendary political cartoonist, David Low, in 1948. Others have been conferred on such stellar performers as Cliff Sterrett, Herblock, James Thurber, Milton Caniff, Russell Patterson, Bill Mauldin, Arnold Roth —well, you get the idea: it is a distinguished company. And the initiation of Jud Hurd into it was long over-due. Few have done as much for cartooning.
Arnold Roth presented the T-square to Jud, and Jud, taking it in his hands, stood at the microphone for a few minutes, his suit coat hanging like a smock from his shoulders, his hand habitually making small propeller motions as he, ever the editor, sought for the right words to rehearse, briefly, his career, displaying, as usual, his lifelong affection for cartooning.
I started contributing articles to the magazine in June 1991 and had something in nearly every subsequent issue, but I'd been a subscriber much longer—since 1974. I missed the first 5 years of PROfiles, but I didn’t miss an issue since.
The final issue of Cartoonist PROfiles came off the press in mid-September 2005, a little late: it was the June issue, No. 146, and it ended the quarterly's 36-year run. At almost the moment of its publication, Jud Hurd, the magazine's founder, publisher, editor and, for most of those three-and-a-half decades, its chief (if not its only) writer, ended his run of nearly 93 years. To the poetically inclined among us, it was as if his life had to end when his life's work ceased.
Jud suffered a stroke in early May. He never fully recovered. Initially, he lost the use of his right arm and leg; but as he regained speech, his wife Claudia told me, it was clear that his mind was unimpaired. But he couldn't take food by mouth and was fed intravenously. The last four months had been very hard for him, Claudia said. Moved to a rehabilitation facility, he regained some of the use of his right hand. But he kept getting pneumonia and was sent back to the hospital on four occasions. Finally, on Wednesday, September 14, Jud Hurd died.
Claudia told me that she went to see him on Tuesday when she got a copy of the last issue of PROfiles; she took it with her to show him. He was lying in bed, she said, with his eyes closed. She asked him to squeeze her hand so she'd know he heard her, and he did. And she put the magazine into his hand. He'd seen the proofs before, but she hoped he'd see the final issue. She doesn't know if he did. When she left, his eyes were still closed, the last issue of the magazine clutched to his bosom.
Jud would have been ninety-three on November 12. "I think he was ready," Claudia said. "He did what he wanted to do," she added, summarizing his life in her eyes.
What he did—with great affection, high regard, and just a little awe—was all about cartooning.
Jud had decided that spring of 2005 to end PROfiles with the June issue. He had been approaching every issue of PROfiles for the last couple years as if it might be his final issue. Enterprising writers kept sending him articles, and he kept the magazine going in order to publish them. But the June issue—he was pretty sure, he told me—would wind it up. He'd finished preparing all the camera-ready pages for the last issue before his stroke, Claudia told me. So she had very little to do to prepare the material for the printer in Birmingham, Alabama, where it was printed for decades.
At 156 pages, the June issue was the largest PROfiles ever published. Another record. Going out with a memorably big bang—square spine and slick-paper cover. This issue included a couple pages from syndicates, friends and colleagues who commemorated Jud's achievement.
And there's a "love letter to the editor" from Claudia, who told subscribers this was the last issue and summarized her husband's career.
She was moved, she writes, by the tributes inspired by his decision to retire the magazine. "One word recurs in all of them," she says. "Gentleman. That has always been true, my dear. You are a gentle man. You are kind and loving and have included me into your world of talented, fascinating men and women. When cartoonists get together, I have often thought how dark would be the world without them. You have my admiration and my love."
Every issue of Cartoonist PROfiles reflected Jud's intensity as a reporter, his passionate curiosity about cartooning, his compulsive desire to understand everything about it and about those who made their living at it. He was perfect for the job, and it created him just as he created it. In the process, Jud emerged as a genuine pioneer in cartooning, a legend in his own right whose contributions to the well-being as well as the history of the medium are legion and lasting.
For all of its run, PROfiles served as inspiration and edification for hundreds of young aspiring cartoonists who yearn to make their livings at the craft. Through the lifetime of the magazine, a couple generations of neophytes have learned about the profession by reading PROfiles.
The interviews with cartoonists that gave the magazine its heft also recorded the history of the medium, year by year, and that record is now an integral (if, alas, sometimes fugitive) part of the history of cartooning in America. But the magazine was also a visit with colleagues once every three months, a sort of shop talk marathon. In a profession whose practitioners labor, mostly, in solitude, the talk was invigorating as well as gratifying. Good for the soul of cartooning.