The Life of a Cartoonist—Morris Weiss

Jerry N. Weiss, a contributor for The Artist’s Magazine, shared a tribute to his father, cartoonist and illustrator Morris Weiss in the newest issue (on newsstands June 7, 2011). The following is an excerpt from “The Artist’s Life.”

Morris Weiss and his wife, Blanche, pose together. Twenty-five years ago their son Jerry painted the portrait of Weiss that's hanging on the wall in this photo.

From Aspiration to Success

One of Weiss’s earliest jobs in cartooning was doing the lettering for the Katzenjammer Kids comic strip; this was followed by a slew of assignments during what is now called the medium’s golden age. Weiss worked as an assistant, lettered, wrote, drew or did all these tasks on comic strips including Mickey Finn, Joe Palooka, Mutt and Jeff and Joe Jinks. In the 1940s and 1950s he worked on teen comic books such as Patsy Walker for Stan Lee (before Lee created the Marvel superheroes).

There were other opportunities, too. At various times Weiss was offered the chance to continue landmark strips such as Terry and the Pirates and Nancy. But After Milton Caniff left Terry to start Steve Canyon, my father declined the offer to take over Terry because he had such great respect for Caniff’s drawing, and didn’t think he could do it justice. He also believed that the requirements of the job would have necessitated the hiring of an assistant, and at the end of the day his profit wouldn’t have justified it anyway.

The opportunity to take over Nancy occurred many years later. After his friend Ernie Bushmiller died, another cartoonist informed Weiss that the syndicate was looking for someone to continue the strip, and wanted to contact him for the job. But by then, he had retired from doing Mickey Finn and was enjoying dealing in American illustration, with no desire to do any more cartooning. That was that, and since the mid 70s he’s been officially retired.

A look at Weiss’s best work, which encompasses many thousands of published drawings, reveals a mastery of the form. He could adapt to the styles of many different cartoons because he was a fluid draftsman with pen and India ink—a medium rarely used today. Weiss used it with both discipline and flair. Varying the quality of the pen’s line, balancing bare spaces with solid blacks, hatching or cross hatching with ease, he constructed artful panels while developing characters ranging from very straight to utterly ridiculous.

Read more about Morris Weiss’s life and career in cartooning in the July/August 2011 issue of The Artist’s Magazine.


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