By Don Flowers, Jr.

© 2002 Don Flowers, Jr.

     My dad's newspaper career started at age 17, when he ran away from Custer City, Oklahoma, to work for the Kansas city Star. After a stint there and with the Chicago American, he moved to the Associated Press (he was on the AP re-touch desk the day the first photos of the Hindenberg disaster came in over the wire.) His first cartoon was a character called "Puffy the Pig" which the AP began running in 1930. (it was later taken over briefly by Milt Caniff).

     My dad came up with "Oh Diana" (sometimes called "Diana Dean") for the AP a year later, then gave it up to launch Modest Maidens. the AP rarely killed a feature back then, just let it shrink and die, so Puffy the Pig continued until the war, and Modest Maidens (sometimes" Modern Maidens") was carried on by a succession of cartoonists including Virginia Clark, Wood Calley, Phil Berubi, Vernon Reick and finally, Jay Allen, until '68. During his AP days my dad also drew a cartoon called "Beauty & the Beach" with an AP writer named Betty Clark.

     When Modest Maidens started to become popular, my dad was lured to King Features by old man Hearst's personal secretary, who offered him double what he'd been getting paid (just like the scene of Orson Welles stealing the rival newspaper's talent in "Citizen Kane".) My dad started Glamor Girls for King that October. By then he'd contracted mild TB from his hard-living years in NYC, and soon migrated to Tucson, AZ, from which after the war he moved to California and met my mom. They built a house on Pt. Dume in Malibu, where I grew up, in 1948. (The nice thing about being syndicated back then was that you could work wherever there was a post office; now I guess you can work anywhere there's a computer and Internet access.

     Modest Maidens, Glamor Girls and Don Flowers died almost simultaneously in 1968. At it's height , Glamor Girls had close to 300 papers around the US and overseas, but that number dwindled in later years. My dad's deal with King was 50/50, and near the end, with so few papers carrying the feature (the folding of the big Hearst dailies like the LA Examiner didn't help) his monthly checks were down to a pittance. One collection of his work was published by Avon in the late '50's, and his panels appeared sporadically (swiped or reprinted under license from King) in pin-up art anthologies around the world for years. Though never so well-known as Russell Patterson, my dad was regarded my many as Patterson's equal as an artist. In fact, author/cartoonist Coulton Waugh devoted a page-and-a-half and two reproductions (one Glamor Girls, on Modest Maidens) to Don Flowers in his classic history "The Comics" (Macmillan, '47) and wrote that he had the finest line ever bequeathed to a cartoonist: it dances; it snaps gracefully back and fourth; the touches relate."

     My dad used Venus #4 pencils, a mix of pointed and circular bib pens, Windsor Newton brushes and Higgins India Ink. When the ink dried, he went over the 3-ply Strathmore with an ArtGum to erase the penciled underdrawing, then mailed the package of daily panels or Sunday pages to King in NY. The Sundays were colored there, then proofs were sent back to my dad. I'll always remember him shaking erasures off those big Sunday originals...it sounded just like thunder. (Years ago, I had reason to recall this to a friend who also knew of the drawing talent of my son Butch. "Will Butch make thunder, too, someday?", she asked. I think that he will, but in a different creative field.)

     I do know firsthand that my dad inspired some prominent latter-day cartoonists. Shortly after he died, for instance, King, which carried his work for 30-odd years, forwarded a request for an original from Sergio Aragones, Mad Magazine contributor and creator of "Groo the Barbarian". (By then KFS had shipped all originals back to their artists, for lack of storage space.) I sent Sergio some dailies, and got back a letter in which he said that as a young boy growing up in Mexico, he's learned to draw women by copying my dad's style from panels that ran down there in a Spanish-language humor magazine called "Ja-Ja". (I later met Sergio at a Portland, OR cartoon show, and we swapped more originals.)

     My dad had close connections to his more famous contemporaries: He knew both Al Capp and Milt Caniff at the AP, and recalled how he and Capp would go down to the automat and pool their change to buy lunch. Caniff and he remained friends for years, and Caniff continued to correspond with my mom after my dad died.

     Always a heavy drinker, my dad resumed smoking a few years before his death, committing what was probably a form of suicide (he'd already had a lung removed after being stricken with emphysema.) He passed away in a care unit near Santa Monica, which was the last place I saw him alive (I arrived too late the day he died, but we said the important things to each other before the end.)

     I now probably have the largest inventory of Don Flowers Dailies and Sundays in captivity, and last year I self-published a small run of a little book of his wedding cartoons titled "Standing on Ceremony."

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