Tuesday, April 05, 2016
By James Lomuscio
Henry, Hagar the Horrible and Half Hitch shed tears today when they learned their father, Richard Hodgins Jr., the man who brought them to life with pen and ink at his drawing board, died Sunday. He was 84, and he loved life.
That’s how syndicated comic strip artist and editorial cartoonist Dick Hodgins Jr. said he wanted his obituary to begin when he called this writer in early March to say he had inoperable lung cancer.
Hodgins died at his Wilton home from complications caused by cancer treatments, according to his son Richard Hodgins III.
Dick, as he was known, was one of the last of a winnowing cadre of Fairfield County-based cartoonists who daily kept the funny papers filled with gags.
Their ranks had included the late Leonard Starr who drew “Annie,” “Blondie” artist Stan Drake, and “Hagar the Horrible” creator Dik Browne who upon his death bequeathed the drawing of the loveable Viking marauder to Hodgins.
It was a group of artists, who while working in isolation, met regularly to laugh over drinks at the now closed Mario’s Place at the Saugatuck train station, the shuttered Max’s Art Supplies, and for their formal dinners, the now closed Cobbs Mill Inn.
“Great lunches filled with shop-talk, ribald humor and simply good times,” Hodgins said.
Hodgins’ joie de vivre was contagious, even on his deathbed where he and this writer, friends since the 1970s, spent a good part of Friday laughing about the newsroom people we knew in the late 1970s, the drinking, the irreverence, and the deadlines.
Even in his last days, he was still the rascal, loving his craft as a cartoonist, fancying himself a charmer of the ladies and jocular to the end.
But there was enough of a serious side to Hodgins to make him a powerful editorial cartoonist for the New York Daily News in the 1970s. Editorial cartoons he did about the Son of Sam murders gripping New York City were among his most powerful. He left the News in 1979, and showed up in Norwalk with his portfolio at Fairpress, a Gannett newspaper.
“You guys are getting a million dollars worth of talent for peanuts,” the late Rip Kirby cartoonist John Prentice told this writer over coffee at the Westport Pizzeria.
True. Hodgins’ repertoire of work preceded him, but no job was too small since he loved his craft. Staffers were amazed how he could capture the thesis, the distilled essence of an editorial, in a single drawing that left readers thinking.
In 1981 he and this writer won New England Press Association awards for a series on the need for a soup kitchen in Westport, despite the town administration’s reluctance.
Hodgins’ cartoon of then First Selectman Bill Seiden dressed as Scrooge, flailing his walking stick at homeless people and yelling, “A soup kitchen for homeless people in beautiful downtown Westport. ...Bahh, humbug,” floored the judges.
This writer when becoming editor of the Westport News in 1997 was sure to make Hodgins’ cartoons accompany the twice weekly editorials. It typically involved brief discussions, jokes and the next day’s arrival of a cartoon board beyond expectation.
Born May 9, 1931 in Binghamton, N.Y., cartoon ink was in Hodgins’ blood. His father Dick Hodgins Sr. was a cartoonist for the Orlando, Fla. Sentinel.
His family later moved to Queens, N.Y., and when Dick was 12 he sold his first cartoon for $1 to the the old New York Mirror.He later followed his father’s path, drawing cartoons for school newspapers and local merchants.
Following high school, he attended night the Cartoonists and Illustrators School, now the School of Visual Arts, in New York City “while working days producing art for educational slide films and television commercials,” said his son.
An Army hitch as corporal during the Korean Conflict had him editing and drawing for a base newspaper in Osaka, Japan and contributing to Pacific Stars and Stripes.
Upon his discharge, he married his sweetheart Joan Coyle after a nine-year courtship and continued illustration for educational films, said his son.
Hodgins later joined The Associated Press, illustrating feature stories, and it was there that he developed a lasting friendship with the late columnist Hugh Mulligan, who lived in Ridgefield.
At the AP, Hodgins’ work caught the eye of Hank Ketcham, creator of “Dennis the Menace,” who asked him to draw his second comic strip “Half Hitch” for King Features Syndicate, a job Hodgins held from 1970 to 1975.
After that job, he worked as the New York Daily News’ editorial cartoonist for 13 years before leaving in 1979 to work in Connecticut.
Simultaneously Hodgins worked on the daily “Henry” comic between 1983 and 1995, and in 1995 began inking “Hagar the Horrible.” Since he took ill in November, his son Richard had been drawing the Sunday “Hagar.”
He was predeceased by his wife Joan, who died in 1986 after a long battle with cancer. In addition to his son Richard, he is survived by son Jonathan, his wife Victoria and granddaughter Neena of West Haven.
Arrangements will be private, his son said, with the future interment of his urn next to where his wife is buried at Hillside Cemetery in Wilton. His son also said as per his father’s wishes that there would be no memorial service.
“Just raise your glass to him, a little toast to the man,” he said. “That’s all he wanted.”
Posted 04/05/16 at 05:55 PM Permalink
I had the pleasure of knowing Mr. Hodgins for over 30 years and have been friends with his son Richard for the same time, When he used to stop in at Max’s Art Supplies and I heard his voice I immediately stopped what I was doing and went to talk and laugh with him. He was a real presence and when I was fortunate enough to be there when he and the other cartoonists got together it was comedy at it’s best.
In 2008 when my son received his Eagle Scout ranking his son Richard presented my son with a drawing Mr. Hodgins had done of Hagar sitting with a young scout and telling him to, “Do a good turn daily…but don’t tell anyone I said that!”. My son has that framed and hanging proudly.
I truly am going to miss Mr. Hodgins and though I do not drink alcohol, this one time I am going to raise a glass and do a shot to honor him! Jay Cimbak
I remember Dick Hodgins, Jr as a phone friend I met due to knowing his good friend Ron Ferdinand (also a Cartoonist who does Dennis the Menace), You see, a friend of mine, Mike Travinsky of Six Mile Run, PA while serving in the US Navy had control of the comic strip, “Half Hitch” which the Navy bought off of Ketcham back in the late 70’s I believe. Years Later I met my friend Mike while attending a local assembly where I am living in Altoona, Pa. (I was born and raised in Syracuse, NY.) I tried to convince Mike to sell the comic strip (he had only 1/3 of it from the Navy by permission) to a museum; but gave it to me who sold it to The Toonseum in Pittsburgh, Pa. Sadly, I was hoping that The Toonseum would have it displayed before Dick had died, but unfortunately they did not due to finances being a non profit organization! They hope to have it displayed in the next year!
Dick Hodgins, Jr was a very nice gentleman, and I believe an Excellent Artist! I myself am an Artist though no where near the Talent that Dick had one that can fully understand and appreciate his Talent being in that field of Fine Arts also. He will be fully missed!
I do have a Personal Piece of Art of “Hagar the Horrible” from Dick who personalized it to me with the caption “Thanks, Mike!” With much appreciation from Dik Browne’s Hagar the Horrible and Dick Hodgins!” When Dick placed the year on the piece he wrote 20014 instead of 2014. I asked him about it after receiving it, and he said he did not realize he had done it. I said to him, “Dick, you realize you made this artwork even more valuable!?” We both had a good laugh about it.
I will truly miss our conversations on the phone! God Bless his Family and the suffering that they are going through at this time!