He was renowned
for his luscious palette and exciting action scenes, his sexy
women and his ability to shoot from the hip when facing a deadline!
Norman Blaine Saunders' illustration career was as big and successful
as any artist could hope for, and no single genre could contain
his remarkable talent. He painted them all - aliens and aviators,
heroes and hunters, detectives and demons, quarterbacks and comic
books, sex kittens and serial killers, westerns and wacky packs!
He was curious about everything in life, and his paintings were enriched with his detailed studies of people, history, science and nature. No matter where his visual curiosity led, he branded that world with his own dynamic design, playful skepticism and a solemn belief that life is tough. He was shockingly irreverent a nonconformist who laughed at the self-righteous and advocated the School of Hard-Knocks. He was a colorful story-teller and an innovative thinker, charming, insightful and fearless. He loved women, children and puppies, and he always cried when the hero died.
His own autobiography begins...
I was born in Minnesota on January 1st, 1907. My very earliest memories are of the eighty acres that was our homestead and the one room log cabin we lived in, my mother, father and I.
My father served in the 7th Calvary with General "Blackjack" Pershing in the Spanish American War. He became an ordained Presbyterian minister when I was seven we moved further north to Roseau County, where he had a circuit that he served and where he took on the added duties of County Game Warden, which included the American half of the Lake Of The Woods a tribe of the Chippawa Indians were there and by the time I was 12, was practically a blood brother.
The northern-most part of Minnesota, called Lake Of The Woods, was a wild frontier community of hard-drinkin' gun-totin' prize-fightin' crap-shootin' fur-trappers, moose-hunters, lumberjacks, railroaders and Indians. From the very beginning, Norm developed a rugged and humorously skeptical view of the human condition, and that outlook on life was profoundly confirmed when he read Huckleberry Finn.
Little Norm was such a darned-good doodler that the margins of his textbooks fascinated his classmates. All the students had to return their schoolbooks at the end of each semester, but before classes resumed, there was always a stampede of kids to reclaim Norm's books for their own use in the next semester. To restore order, the school set up a lottery to select the lucky winners. That raffle gave kids something to look forward to as vacation ended and it became a local tradition that lasted until the books fell apart.
After this first taste of schoolyard glory, there was no stopping him! He took a correspondence art course, ("Just to brush up!") from the Federal Schools and after high school, he won a full scholarship to the Chicago Art Institute. Although his tuition was paid for, he still had to earn his keep, so in addition to his farm chores, Norm tried to earn some money by mailing a few of his drawings to his favorite magazine, Captain Billy's Whiz Bang, a saucy joke-book published by William Fawcett in Minneapolis, and to his delight, they sent him back a check and an offer of steady work as an in-house staff artist. He stood at one of life's crossroads and asked, "Why should I go to Chicago to study to be an artist when I can go to Minneapolis and be an artist!" So in 1927, at age 20, Norm Saunders decided to forego his college scholarship to become a full-time artist.
Over the next six years he produced hundreds of cartoons, graphic maps, charts and technical diagrams in pen & ink, black & white gouache and full color cover paintings. It was a valuable hands-on training in drafting, lay-up and mechanicals. He worked on most Fawcett Publications such as Modern Mechanix, Technocrats, Whiz Bang, JimJamJems and Hooey. He met a wonderful band of visionary young artists at Fawcetts, among them George Rozen, Doug Rolfe, and his best friend Allen Anderson. It was the "Roaring Twenties" and they were all a part of the industrial frenzy of the jazz-age, late-night speak-easies and home-brewed hooch. The camaraderie of this group of college-aged "modernists" sustained Norm throughout his life. Minnesota was overrun with "Swedes", and so was the staff at Fawcetts. Allen Anderson was often teased for his Scandinavian name, so the gang fished around for some nickname and Norm suggested "Lil' Joe", just to be absurd, but it stuck and forever after he was "Lil' Joe" Anderson.
By 1934 William Fawcett decided to move his operation to the East coast to capitalize on the expanding circulation of his magazines. Norm's talent was outgrowing the mid-western publishing "empire" so he moved to New York to join the big leagues, competing for cover jobs with pros like Ralph DeSoto, Rudolph Belarski and Dean Cornwell.
The conventional procedure at the time was for new-comers to find work among the pulps, and, if they played their cards right, in a few years they could hope to work for the "slicks". Established artists, like J.C. Leyendecker, Coles Phillips and Norman Rockwell were all getting giant fees to help sell giant circulations of "slicks" like Saturday Evening Post, Colliers and Liberty. So Dad got in line with all the others, thinking "Look out, Lyendecker! Here I come!" Norm made the rounds of all the major publishing houses with his portfolio of published works from the mid-western publications and pretty soon he had steady work, and by 1936 he had all he could handle.
As Norm got to know the denizens of the New York publishing world, he heard about the famous evening painting classes taught by Howard Pyle's protege Harvey Dunn at the Grand Central Art School. That was where Dad got his "graduate level" grooming and really learned to paint, along with Dean Cornwell, Robert G. Harris, John Clymer, Harold Von Scmidt and dozens of other great illustrators from those golden years.
Dad loved the classes and profoundly respected "ol' man Dunn". His wisdom was filled with profound truths that applied to painting as well as life. "Art is a universal language and it is so because it is the expression of the feelings of man. Any man can look at a true work of art and feel kin to it and with he who made it. By this you may know that the Brotherhood of Man, is." All the students loved him. Dunn occasionally brought a selection of new magazines to class to critique and one night he singled out a pulp cover for lavish praise. Dad's face went red when another student spoke up, "That's one of Norm's covers!" Dad told me he felt awkward being the "art star" of the class but he was proud to be this particular teacher's pet. One day, Harvey Dunn came up behind Norm's easel and slapped him on the back and said, "Listen Blockhead, you're too damn good to hang around here pretending to be one of my pupils! You've learned whatever I can teach you. You're good enough now so get out of the nest and fly! Go out and make yourself a living!" It was one of Norm's proudest moments!
Norm became a top cover artist for dozens of magazines like Eerie Mysteries, Ten Detective Aces, Wild West Weekly and Saucy Movie Tales. "Before the war, I sold a hundred paintings a year for 25 to 75 bucks apiece, which was quite a chunk of change in those days! I was riding in style, right smack through the Great Depression!" His studio cost only $35 a month. He had a shave, shine and manicure every morning and he went to hear Horace Heidt's Musical Knight'"s for dinner and dancing at the Biltmore Hotel. Norm was such a snappy dresser that one night as he entered the Hotel Astor a mob of fans shouted, "It's Harry James!!" He literally ran for his life as they tore his tux to pieces! Norm had two cars - a Buick open-car and a Pontiac convertible, which both sat undriven in a parking garage that cost more than the average rent. He hired his favorite models every day from a local agency, but often desperate young women would find there way up to his studio, ring the bell and drop open their robes when he opened the door. If he was all booked up, they might suggest other more intimate services. As Dad reported it, he had pity on them - dressed them and sent them on their way with a hand-out, and with a tear in his eye.
Although times were hard, cheap thrills were in demand. Many Americans were steady readers of the pulps, faithfully watching their newsstands for new issues. This devoted market made the magazines a substantial backbone of popular culture in the era before television. Although black & white movies and radio dramas have a magical power of suggestion, the pulp magazines combined the written word with fantastic colorful paintings to produce a hand-held form of popular entertainment. These little magazines, made of low-quality pulp paper and high-quality full-color covers, provided the literal and visual means to substantiate the magic worlds of radio and movies. The pulps and Norm Saunders enjoyed a long heyday, leading up to the Second World War.
Dad was just painting his first covers for the "slicks" but everything changed with Pearl Harbor. He was a mature man of 36 who had worked his way to the top of his field, and was suddenly faced with an historic cataclysm. He spent the war years illustrating his own service experiences. The "slick" magazine editors ran several illustrated stories by "Master Sgt. Norman Saunders", so his career continued even during the war.
After a year state-side in the MPs, a case of whiskey helped him finagle an overseas transfer to Asia with the Army Corps of Engineers, building the Burma Road to supply the Chinese Nationalist Army of Chiang Kai-Shek. From 1943 to 1945 Norm explored a country and a way of life that profoundly inspired him as, "the closest that mankind has ever come to being sensible". It was the happiest time of his life. Norm dove into the enormous prospect of documenting the magnificent spectacle of China. He was raised on tales of his father's war experience in the Philippines of 1898, so Norm relished his own opportunity to explore the exotic adventure of the Far-East Asian way of life.
Dad made thousands of detailed watercolors of intriguing scenes that crossed his path along the Burma Road, and in retrospect, he felt these were his best works. I can never fully appreciate the influence of that experience on him, but these masterful artworks are a testimonial to China's inspirational impact. At the end of his life he told me his dream was to be cremated and have his ashes scattered along the Yang Tse River.
After the war, Norm returned to a changed America, where popular culture was trying to keep up with the new tastes. The pulps were still selling and Dad continued to find work with them until the end of the 1950s but the publishers saw the writing on the wall. They had to repackage their products to keep in business. Many titles were ended, merged or reformatted as paperbacks, comic books or mens magazines, and Norm Saunders followed his old contacts from the pulps into each of these experimental new formats.
From 1948-1954 Dad painted covers for the earliest paperbacks of Ace, Bantam and others. This new product combined cover art and literature that both reflected hard-boiled social realism, and was the major success of the Post-War publishing industry.
The features of one particular beauty began to appear in all of Norm's work at this time. She was a young Greek model named Ellene Politis, and in 1947 they were married. They bought a four story brownstone for $25,000 on 104th Street in a racially mixed section of Harlem, and started to raise a family.
At that same time Norm's old publishers also sent him many jobs painting covers for comicbooks.
Comics were still evolving in these early years and they often had full color covers painted by pulp artists, and their stories were filled with the same shocking pulp fiction thrills. However, these products were being distributed along with innocent kiddie comics and this shared marketing raised many censorial eyebrows! The fact that Dad's covers looked realistic, made their horror all the more gruesome. Letters of parental complaint led to a public campaign for the government to regulate "the trash we expose our children to!" This is a whipping-horse that still appeals to today's political opportunists. My father's painted covers were so nightmarish that the United States Congress actually passed a Comic Book Code of Decency Act to protect American youth from his kinds of images. How many kids can say that! The legislation was swept along with the general drive to crack down on "unAmerican activities" and by 1954 my Dad's controversial style of work was black-listed from the comics.
Dad continued to do freelance work with package design, calendars, jigsaw puzzles and any other illustration jobs he could find that weren't taken over by color photography or concerned politicians.
When Fawcetts and Columbia began publishing magazines like TRUE and SAGA and REAL, Norm produced a large body of work for these men's adventure magazines. They showed the same kinds of manly action adventures that were featured in hollywood films of that time like, "Fort Apache", "The Big Sky" or "The Guns of Navarone." Dad felt these were geared towards men who had served in the war but had seen no action, so exciting tales of heroic deeds satisfied their frustrated fantasies. By 1962 these magazines had gone over the top into a whole new genre that was aimed at men's frustrated sexual fantasies. New Man, Man's Book and Men Today.
There were very few magazines after 1960 that still used painted covers, so Dad accepted these jobs and he left his works unsigned and uncredited. Nevertheless, he still painted them in his familiar style, so they're easy to identify. Dad actually got a good laugh out of doing such outlandish burlesques, mocking puritan cliches of dastardly wickedness.
One of the oddball jobs Dad took in the late fifties, was at Topps Bubblegum Company, doing corrections on color photographs of baseball and football players who had been traded to new teams after their cards were ready to go to press. Without time to rephotograph the players, Topps needed someone to come to their printing plant and fix a mess of complicated switcharoos! A Cleveland Indian uniform and cap had to be painted onto a former Pittsburgh Pirate, while a Pittsburgh Steeler had to become a Cleveland Brown.
His covers had once been enough to sell 100,000 copies of a pulp, and then suddenly he was an anonymous retoucher. Nowadays they'd just use a computer photoshop program, but in 1958 Dad took his paint box, (an old spattered green tin tackle box, filled with paint tubes and a palette, his "nose dabber" (Kleenex) and a handful of Windsor Newton #6 Sable watercolor brushes), hop in the subway and ride over the East River to the Topps Brooklyn offices. He always brought his glasses and green plastic poker-dealer visor, his big Sherlock Holmes magnifying glass, his hip flask of gin and sometimes even me! I'd sit on a stool and try not to be a pest, watching him doctor a dozen cards an hour, standing at an office table and muttering spicy old ditties to himself. "Barney Google, with his goo-goo-googly eyes! Barney Google had a wife three times his size!" - "K-k-k-katie! Oh, beautiful Katie. You're the only g-g-g-girl that I adore!" - "Today's the day to give babies away for a half a pound of tea, so if you know any ladies that want any babies, send 'em around to me!" Dad's love of the cornball left no room for snooty pretensions. He was hilariously irreverent! "Look, kiddo, I don't have any time to chew the rag with a snot-nosed brat, so don't get your ass in an uproar! Just sit on your hands and button your lip! Remember I love you madly, but I don't want to get any madder at you than I already am!" I was proud of my "Specialist" Dad, being called in to do emergency art jobs that no one else could do! The staff artists at Topps treated him like he was the Maestro! He laughed it off, and loved every minute of it.
Eventually Topps got the idea to make better use of Norm by having him do a Non-Sports Series. There was a big hubbub in 1961 about the centennial of the Civil War. The Civil Rights movement was on everyone's mind and there was a morbid curiosity about the "War To Free The Slaves," so Topps gave Dad a pile of rough sketches to get things rolling. He pasted tracing papers on them to redraw more dynamic compositions or he suggested other more dramatic scenes. Dad used Matthew Brady's infamous battlefield photos for research.
I knew the book was "not for children," so I started looking at it as soon as his back was turned. One day he caught me with the book, but instead of scolding, he sat with me in stunned reverence, describing the fuller implications of each detailed photograph, leaning over my shoulder, I was shocked to see my Dad's tears splotting on the page before me, as he wept at the pitiful waste of human lives.
After Topps OK'd his compositions, he sliced up some Bainbridge illustration boards into 8 x 10 inch pieces and marked off little 4 x 6 inch central spaces for the artwork. This left a 2 inch border of neutral space where the production staff scribbled red and blue pencil instructions and registration marks for the printing process. Dad would sharpen an Ebony pencil to a razor fine point and transfer each revised sketch to its own little board. He intentionally did this by eye, without using any mechanical aid, because "the drawn line has more pizzazz than a mechanical tracing," and he took advantage of this final redrawing to further refine the composition to suit his taste.
The Civil War cards depicted battle scenes of such bloody realism that Topps was flooded with letters of complaint. They decided to halt further distribution and to produce an "educational" series instead: Flags of All Nations, and later, after a similar reaction to Battle!, they issued Flag Midgies. Although the United Nations was a hot topic in those Cold War years, no kids bought flag cards, but Topps never expected them to. It was just a crafty legal defense, in case they wound up in court and needed to show some edifying product to redeem their public image.
The Mars Attacks series was Dad's next big sensation! It showed us all the worst nightmares that kids could ever imagine about the world-wide mayhem of a Martian invasion!
On the day that Dad had first discussed the project, I had been given a plastic Captain Video space helmet by a friend. I'd never seen another kid anywhere with such a cool thing and I couldn't wait to wear it on the block. But, by bedtime it was gone! I looked for it all over the place and I finally found it in Dad's studio, up on the 3rd floor of our brownstone. He had set it up on his table, posing with a skull inside it! That skull was a plaster cast Dad bought from his art supply store on Broadway and 95th Street. He needed a model to study under various lighting conditions, and he created the entire invading horde of Martians from that one skull, as well as any fried earthlings that happened to get their way!
The whole family and neighborhood friends loved to pose for Dad. He often dressed us in stage clothing and directed our acting roles under theatrical lighting. Our dog "Cindy" and I got to be zapped into ashes by a merciless Martian. At first Dad painted the scene with the dog roasted into a hideous charred skeleton, but Topps made Dad retouch the dog with a coat of fur. I've always wondered if the owner of that painting knew there was a more "x-rated" dog underneath that revision!
After we kids
were all packed off to school, Dad's first work-shift began, between
9AM -to- 3PM. After 3PM he would give us snacks and do the shopping
and cooking, the serving and cleaning up, the bathing and bedding
of his four kids and pets. When we were all tucked away, he would
start his evening work-shift. From 9PM to Midnight, Dad put in
his most focused work. I would usually peek at his current paintings
every evening before bed and sometimes he would point out some
detail that was a "lucky piece of business. Lots of artists
get lucky breaks, but only a smart one knows when to leave'em
alone!" But I also knew that I should leave him alone if
he didn't initiate the conversation. It was better not to interrupt
his concentration during his late-night work schedule.
Dad would take a last drag on his cigarette and go to work. Invariably, his cigarette burned down to the filter, dangling in his heavy glass ash tray for the next hour, until he'd "come up for air" Although he was a life-long chain smoker, who always needed a lit cigarette, whenever he painted he could go for hours without a smoke. This phenomenon amused him as another example of the absurdity of the human mind.
Dad was astonishingly good at graphics and hand-painted lettering. He'd use a "blue-line" non-photographable pencil to block-in carefully spaced-out letters and then he'd swiftly paint-in his finished job. This was particularly impressive because of the minute size of the original artworks and the fact that Dad was getting so old, he suffered from poor eyesight and cataracts!
He invented and built his own optical aid device, which stacked up three consecutively more-powerful magnifying glasses under a 100 watt lamp. The contraption extended over his table and was mounted on a heavy floor stand. His adjustable drafting table was set at the height of a lectern and he stood on a swiveling barstool. By adjusting his optical device so that it was suspended before his eyes, he would stare at his tiny artworks for nine hours a day with the intensity of a hopped-up toy-maker in his workshop, putting the eyelashes on Pinocchio. He gracefully brushed in the tiniest details with a sweep of his microscopic sable-hair brushes. He knew a million tricks for using bridges, french-curves and triangles, to produce slickly controlled effects which flowed from his brush as gracefully as an Olympic skater. He explained each technique to me as he employed them but they required a lot of practice, and I suspect many of his tricks are now lost forever.
Dad preferred to paint from observation of actual objects, so he arranged elaborate set-ups to refer to while he painted, and he always used dramatic lighting. He even used colored filters to create lighting affects which enhanced the illusionism of his rendering. Many of his works feature a "hot light" (red, orange or yellow ) glowing on one side of the object and a "cold light" (purple, blue or green) shining on the other side. This "hot-to-cold" color scheme is a traditional painter's technique for adding dimensional depth. It's based on the visual phenomenon that "cool" colors appear on surfaces that move away from the viewer's eye, while the brilliant potency of "hot" colors seem to jump out and confront the viewer's eye, but Norm intensified this principle to make his illustrations more eye-catching.
Within a few minutes, Dad could transform a preliminary doodle into something that looked alive. He'd flesh-out the character, add some volume to the objects and touch-up the structural details in a flurry of intense focus. I loved to watch Dad work. He'd start by splashing around some "blocked-in colors" to get focused and then he'd rapidly make a seemingly reckless and abrupt color change that appeared like a mistake at first. If I squealed "Dad! What are you doing!?! You're gonna ruin it with that dirty color!", he'd mutter an aside without losing his concentration, "Wait a minute. See where I'm going with this." If I was patient, his paintings would magically resolve before my eyes into realistic illusions. It was a thrill to watch Dad's imagination bring something to life, because, no matter how bumpy the ride, he'd always land at the other end in some strange and amazing illusion.
Dad used two white porcelain palettes each with a grid of 64 teaspoon wells. Before painting, he removed the saran wrap that kept the paint moist from his last session, and squeezed out paint tubes of any additional casein and watercolors needed. He adjusted their fluid consistency by squirting water from a turkey-baster, sucked from a gallon-sized pickle jar that he kept on a table beside his drafting table to dunk his brush in after each stroke.
He kept a stack of typewriter paper handy for grooming the paint-laden brush tip and wiping it off after each stroke. Once the top sheet of this stack was filled with slops and drips and splats, he would remove it - but rather than crumple it up, he saved them in another pile. Once every month or so, he would inspect this pile - holding up each page to earnestly appreciate the random beauty of the abstract compositions he had mindlessly generated. "Hmm! This one's as good as any Pollock!" After selecting his favorites, he filed them away as respectfully as any of his artworks.
Dad followed the art world news and reviews in the NY Times and attended the important museum shows and he even took day trips to Philadelphia, Boston and D.C. to catch any major shows. The Metropolitan Museum was his favorite collection. He went about twenty times a year. It always started the same way. Id be eating Sunday morning breakfast by myself and he'd walk into the kitchen and announce, "I'll be going to the Met today, so anybody that wants to tag along should be ready to go in ten minutes!" He would never go alone. We always went together. I loved to study those master works with Dad. Great art was the only product of mankind that my father treated with the solemn awe he otherwise reserved for nature. As we walked through the museum, I listened to his ideas, which grew into spontaneous public lectures as a crowd of art lovers drew around. Many times he'd conclude his thoughts and walk away from a painting and the group would break into heartfelt applause. Those museum trips inspired me to love art.
Dad had always been a fervent advocate of sharpening one's creative mind by detailed observation of the world around him. "Keep your wits about you! You never know when something will come in handy!" Our walks around town were routinely delayed by his spontaneous inspiration to stop and sketch. I'd sit on a stoop and pick my nose and wait for Dad to finish some astonishing drawing. He considered visual alertness to be a vital human survival skill that helped him to thrive in life's harsh jungle. His mastery of observation may have been his greatest artistic talent. Dad trained me to look for new ways to walk down the same street, and to carry my head mindfully, to look around and to keep a pad and pencil handy, to make sketched notations of everything, and to be curious about how everything works.
"If you don't have a pencil'n'paper, just drink it all in with your eyes and hurry home to make a sketch from memory! That's how Robert Henri use to do it! It's all useful material for some future picture or for getting out of some scrape! Let's say some punks jump you from the alley. If you're just walking like a zombie, they're gonna clobber you! BUT, if you're observant, you'd notice there was a garbage can right behind you! Everything can be used as a weapon to defend yourself in an emergency! You can grab that garbage can lid and whack'em on the head! Always keep your eyes open!" Walking around a cluttered Harlem street with Norman Saunders was to see it all come alive with his colorful imagination! "Notice how the traffic light is counter-balanced by those wires from the lamp-post. It's plastered with some nutty handbills, and those ratty sneakers some kids tossed up there, dangling by their shoestrings! It seems like an outrageous abstract sculpture, but you have to know what you can use and what to ignore! That's what makes life and art interesting!'"
Topps and Norm Saunders continued to collaborate on an incredible variety of gum-selling products, most of which reflected popular trends on kiddie TV- Batman! Monster Valentines! Ugly Stickers! Nutty Initials! Rat Fink! Mad Foldees! Insult Cards! Monster Alphabet! Groovy Names! Flower Power Alphabet! I can't remember them all, but they usually had a new project every few months, throughout the sixties.
Dad's lifelong journey from a backwoods one-room schoolhouse doodler to a famous New York illustrator had reached the retirement age. He knew he was a great illustrator, he loved his craft and he was proud to belong to the noble tradition of painters. But instead of fading off into irrelevance, destiny delivered one last wacky package to Norm's doorstep! In 1967, there came one more, final painting project, that proved to be the most popular of his lifetime.
Dad was a life-long cynic, so he was the perfect advocate for skewering braggarts, especially when they were advertisers, puffed up with boastful hot air! Norm did most of the cooking, shopping and housekeeping in our family, so he was always over-worked. His frustrations often led to public scenes at the Food-A-Rama grocery store on Broadway. To my howlingly painful embarrassment, he would pick up a jar of Skippy Peanut Butter and proclaim, "NEW AND IMPROVED FORMULA, EH? WHAT THEY SHOULD REALLY PRINT ON THESE JARS IS 'WE FOUND A CHEAPER WAY TO MAKE THIS CRAP, AND WE'RE GONNA SELL IT FOR MORE!'"
The Wacky Pack's popular success was very satisfying to him, especially after storing up so many years of contempt for dishonest media men. He finally got paid to paint and to complain at the same time. It was the perfect job! Here at long last, he finally had a soapbox to preach on, and the creative freedom to say what he liked and an immense audience to entertain with different Wacky projects for the next 12 years.
The Topps office was a no-frills filthy old factory building, all smudged-up with printer's ink and the stench of snubbed-out cigars, spittoons and pencil shavings, a perfect reflection of their penny-pinching low-overhead approach to business, but one day in 1977, Dad went in to deliver some of the last Wackies, and he was stunned to see they'd redone the whole place with polished conference tables, hardwood paneling and lavish interior decorations. When Dad asked, "What the hell happened here?", they said, "I hope you like it, because you paid for all this!" That finally brought it home for him. He calculated that Wacky Packages made Topps millions of dollars, but his only benefit, beyond the $50 freelance fee for each artwork, was the pride in knowing his work was so popular. He longed for recognition, just as all artists do, but in his case these were no delusions of grandeur - for those "fifteen minutes" (1967 to 1980) his Wacky Packs really were as famous as the Beatles. Topps must be strictly possessive, because even Tim Burton's 1996 movie, "Mars Attacks", gave Norm no credit.
As Dad would say, "That's just the way it goes, kiddo! I wouldn't know what to do with that much money if I had it! As far as the fame goes, I won't care about posterity when I'm dead, which should be about any minute now! That's for you to worry about, David! I had a lot of good clean fun! I could do whatever I wanted. I could stay home and paint all day and not have some god-damned front-office-guy breathing down my neck!" Despite this frustration, it was still a thrill for Dad to watch the Wacky Pack Fad triumphantly acknowledged on the TV news and the popular press. In fact, when New York Magazine ran a cover article on the Wacky Packs on Oct 1st 1973, Norm said, "Well, after 50 years in the business, I finally made it to the SLICKS!"
It's no wonder that Dad would smile and say, "My favorite, I think was the Wacky Packs. I had a successful career as an artist, but the first time my kids thought an artist was important, was when I put out a bubblegum card! I liked doing them because my kids were finally proud of their ol' man!"
Norm Saunders brought a rich heritage of painting to many generations. As long as 20th Century American illustration is collected, the pulps, paperbacks, men's magazines, comics and trading cards with the Norman Saunders touch will always be the classics. The creativity in his paintings will enrich our culture for generations to come. His love of painting shows through in every one. His saucy sense of humor and open-minded interest in life and his scorn for pomposity, made him a charmingly wise and outrageous character. He understood the value of the care and hard work he put into his creative efforts, and he knew that he was one of America's best illustrators. His spirit left his body on March 7th 1989. As I go on through life without him, it's hard to always miss him, but I'm lucky he left behind so many great paintings, which are filled with a colorful spirit that I'm proud to say was my ol' man!
by David Saunders -January, 2002
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