The 50’s Through the Eyes of Frank Miller

 

“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.” 

Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

When I saw the book below at an estate sale a few months ago, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Frank Miller was a household name in Iowa as I was growing up–and for good reasons.

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For those who don’t know, Frank Miller was a Pulitzer Prize winning “cartoonist” for The Des Moines Register for three decades. In 1983 The Register published a book presenting selected works from his years at the paper.

To introduce those who don’t know him and those of us who want to know more about him, let me share what James Flansburg said about him in the introduction:

“Frank Miller captured the essence of Iowa. He was a cartoonist and proud of it. But also from 1953 to 1983 his pen and brushes produced hundreds of sketches and paintings that caught the beauty of the state and the anomaly of man’s trying to harness nature…

…Frank Miller didn’t really draw for the readers of The Register and the 30 other papers in which he was syndicated. He drew for an audience of one: Frank Miller…He was one of those rare beings who got paid for doing what he otherwise who’d have been doing for nothing…

…In that sense–unassuming, but not humble, aware of his talent but not crowing about it, convinced of his rightness but recognizing other views–Frank Miller appears to be a study in huge indifference. He lost interest in a work the instant it was finished…

…people didn’t like the cartoons he liked and liked the ones he didn’t very much care for. My guess, for example, is that he didn’t much like his Pulitzer Prize winning cartoon.So the way a Frank Miller would handle that would be to say as little as possible. “I think I’ve drawn better cartoons,” he said…

…We sat side by side int The Register newsroom for a long while–he illustrated  my political column for many years–and I never knew he had an alcohol problem until the day he told me he’d be gone for a while because he was going to put himself into the hospital for the cure. (It was the beginning of what he regarded as his most important work in the last several years of his life, helping alcoholics try to repair their shattered lives). Nor did many people know about it when his right elbow gave out–cartoonists are subject to something like tennis elbow because of the fine detail work of drawing–and he started to teach himself to draw with his left hand…

…Miller’s first dealing with The Register demonstrated his qualities as an affable, rational person who knew how to play whatever cards fate dealt. After army service in World War II Europe and study at the University of Kansas and Kansas City Art Institute, Miller had followed his father as a staff artist at the Kansas City Star. IN November of 1951, Register editor Kenneth MacDonald wrote Miller to ask if Miller was interested in a Register job for which he’d been recommended by his old teacher Karl Mattern, the noted artist. “Last May I was called to active duty with he Army Reserves,” said Miler’s reply, “and as I write I am in San Francisco ready to ship to Korea.” On his letter was an ink sketch of a sergeant in full combat gear. “Damn. An I always did like Des Moines,” said the caption. Miller laughed at the situation that would have had almost anyone else raving…

…Eighteen months later Miller was on The Register payroll and on his way to becoming as important a figure in Iowa’s day-to-day life as The Register’s first front page cartoonist, Jay N. (Ding) Darling…

…Miller never sided with a political figure–issues yes–individuals no–and Miller was not particularly interested in knowing or even meeting the great and near-great…His letter file would have been a valuable find for an autograph hunter or maybe even a scholar. But Miller wasn’t interested. He threw them away after reading them…

…When I cleaned out his desk and boxed his belongings after his death, I found, among other things, two letters and one photograph…

…The photograph and one of the letters were from Gene McCarthy and were carefully preserved. The other letter was from President Lyndon Johnson and it was in relatively good condition except for the dozens of brown ring stains from the coffee cups that Miller had set on it over the years.

Some of the cartoons for the 1950’s:

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The more things change, the more they remain the same. ~Jean Baptiste Alphonse Karr

I am…

B…simply being. 

~Peace~

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