Friday, October 05, 2012

 

Ink-Slinger Profiles: Boody Rogers


Gordon “Boody” Rogers was born in Hobart, Indian Territory, Oklahoma on September 8, 1904, according to Wikipedia; it and Who’s Who of American Comic Book Artists 1928–1999 have his name as “Gordon G. Rogers”. According to his autobiography, Homeless Bound, the Rogers family moved frequently, to wherever his father opened a cafe. In 1908 he lived in Mangum, Oklahoma. 


He has not been found in the 1910 U.S. Federal Census. In 1911, he lived in Dalhart, Texas. No dates mentioned but he moved on to Wichita Falls, Texas followed by Childress, Texas where his mother’s parents lived; next stop Kansas City then August Kansas; back in Oklahoma at Ringling then Dundee. In 1917 he was in Pitcher, Oklahoma where he joined the Boy Scouts. His next move was to Enid, Oklahoma. The end of World War I found him in Ranger, Texas, then Breckenridge followed by Mexia, Texas and Whizbang, Oklahoma.

Rogers has not been found in the 1920 U.S. Federal Census. In 1922 his mother died in Pioneer, Texas. His father decided he should stay in Childress, Texas and live with his maternal grandparents and attend high school. After graduating he moved to Chicago for art school. He said:
I paid my tuition for the summer course and asked the lady if she knew anyone I might split the rent with. She introduced me to another student from Texas, Buford Tune, who later was to draw the feature, “Dottie Dripple.” Tune and I found a room on the near north side, and each moved in his one suitcase.
Roger left Chicago in late fall, and spent Christmas and New Year’s in Texas. He and Fred Merritt drove to Tucson, Arizona to attend the University of Arizona. Rogers was the art editor of the university magazine, Kitty Kat, and “was in the first art class the University had.” For part of the summer, he was in California. He returned to Arizona and stayed in school until Christmas, then moved on. Back in Chicago, he shared a room with Sig Hilker. Rogers recalled: 
Carey Orr and john T. McCutcheon were the two editorial cartoonists for the Chicago Tribune. They had two of the three offices on the top floor of the Tribune tower. 
Mr. Orr had been one of our instructors the first summer I was at the Academy of Fine Arts, so I went up to see him quite often.
When Sig left Chicago, Rogers moved in with Zack Mosley and Frank Engli. The three of them and Jerry Bosch were invited by Orr to take lessons at his home, in Evanston, on Monday nights. They left art school and studied at Orr’s place through the winter.

In 1928, Rogers drove from Wink, Texas to Childress, Texas where he proposed and married his school sweetheart, Mary. He said:
Mary and I finally got $300 together and lit a shuck for New York City…we rode the train. We rented a room in a brownstone house on 49th Street, right where the side door of the Music Hall Theatre is now….

A friend had told me that Dell Publications was starting a comic book. The offices were at 100 Fifth Avenue. I thought I’d just walk over because we were only a block from the Fifth. I walked—and walked‚ and walked!…At last I came to their building. It was just before the arch in Greenwich Village.

I showed my one page of ”Rock Age Roy” to the editor. He bought it! There was nothing to this cartoon business—it was a cinch. Then I did some other things—“Deadwood Gulch,” “Campus Clowns,” “Sancho and the Don,” and some puzzle pages. Dell bought them all. We soon had enough money to eat three meals a day.

I didn’t realize it then, but I was working on the first comic book ever published. It was the right idea, but the wrong format. It was more like a tabloid paper than the small comic books of today. It only lasted a year, but, thank God, it got us started in New York City.
Rogers has not been found in the 1930 U.S. Federal Census. His Deadwood Gulch appeared in Dell Publishing’s The Funnies here and here.

In The Funnies: 100 Years of American Comic Strips (1995), Ron Goulart wrote:
…Helping [Zack] Mosley in the early years of the strip [Smiling’ Jack] (a daily was added in 1936) was Gordon “Boody” Rogers. Mosely became a licensed pilot himself and syndicate publicity often called him “the flying cartoonist.” While he was up in his plane, Rogers was manning the drawing board.
The Depression sent Mary back to Texas while Rogers looked for work. He roomed with Bil Dwyer in Greenwich Village, around the corner from Engli and his roommate. Soon, Rogers was on a bus to Texas. After a series of odd jobs, Rogers had seventy-five dollars and took a bus back to New York, where he ran into Mosley, who asked him to help on the daily Smilin’ Jack. (They collaborated on a comics page, as a wedding gift to an unidentified friend or colleague, which can be viewed at Heritage Auctions.)

In the 1940 census, his name was recorded as “R. Gordon Rogers”; he and wife, Mary, lived in Great Neck, New York at “13 & 25 Middle Neck Road and North Station Plaza”. According to the census, his occupation was newspaper cartoonist, and 1935 residence was in Childress, Texas. About a week after he was enumerated in the census, his strip, Sparky Watts, debuted on April 29, 1940, according to Don Markstein’s Toonopedia. On June 30, 1942, as “Boody Gordon Rogers”, he enlisted in the army at Fort Jay on Governors Island in New York City. He had one year of college. The Brooklyn Eagle (New York), May 31, 1942, explained what happened to Sparky.
Miss Sparky Watts? Here’s Why He’s GoneAlthough he’s been out of the paper nearly a month, people still write in to know what became of Sparky Watts. If you know your Eagle comics you know that Sparky was the wide-eyed young fellow who was so filled up with cosmic rays that he could fly without wings, or push over a brick house with a flick of his finger. When he last appeared in the Eagle he was in a sinking Nazi submarine he’d captured. 
A lot of people write in to ask if Sparky was drowned. We can’t answer that, for we don’t know. Sparky’s creator, Boody Rogers, probably knows, but Boody won’t tell. Boody just quit drawing Sparky because in Boody’s own words, “I’m exchanging my ink bottle for a pair of army shoes, because some one has to make the world safe for future cartoonists.” 
He’s Joined UpIn other words, Boody Rogers has joined the army. Maybe, while he’s in service, he’ll think of a way to get Sparky out of the predicament in which he left him—comic characters have a way of surviving fearful disasters, you know. 
By joining the army Boody is carrying on a not uneventful career since his birth in Indian Territory, now part of Oklahoma. He was educated in Texas and at the University of Arizona. He likes to look back on his university career like this: “Give me a girl, a model T, a full moon and two hours on the desert and those who still root for the Giants can have the Polo Grounds with the Yankee Stadium thrown in.” A sort of Arizona-Dodger fan, you see. 
He Sought GoldAfter an unsuccessful attempt to impress New York with his art work in 1928, Boody went to California to seek gold. All he found was hunger and callouses, so he spent the next few years at a lot of different jobs in a lot of different places. Then he created Sparky but the thought of Hitler bothered him. 
“There can be only one answer,” says Boody, “either people like Hitler must be erased or people like me can’t survive. So I’ve enlisted in the army. I’ve had my physical examination and my blood test showed 60 percent wild plum jelly, 30 percent watermelon juice and 10 percent India drawing ink—so they say I’m O.K. I’ll see you in Berlin—or deep in the heart of Tokio.” 
So now readers who’ve been worrying about Sparky know why he disappeared from the Eagle’s daily comic page.

According to Homeless Bound, Rogers, after five weeks in Camp Upton, in Yaphank, Long Island, New York, was sent by rail to Camp Croft, near Spartansburg, South Carolina. He recalled:
…Every week we would be marched to some building, and, one by one, be taken before a board of officers to be interviewed…. 
When I went in, I was set down in front of six officers. No one said anything for what seemed like an hour. They all just looked at me while a colonel read a sheet of paper…. 
Finally, the colonel looked up. “I see you drew ‘Sparky Watts’ and also worked on ‘Smilin’ Jack’—right?” 
“Yes, sir, that’s correct, sir.” 
Then they all started asking questions: “Do you know the guy who draws ‘Smoky Stover,’ ‘Gasoline Alley,’ ‘Terry and the Pirates’—how much money does Zack Mosley make?” We talked  about cartooning for half an hour—nothing about whether or not I thought I’d make a good officer.

He was sent to Fort Hood, Texas for Officer Candidate School to become a tank destroyer officer. Rogers said:
I was put on an instruction team at Ft. Hood. I taught camouflage, aircraft identification, and field sanitation to a complete regiment. We didn’t have many training charts then, so I painted a few for myself. I’d flip the charts to illustrate the subject I was teaching, and ever so often I’d flip a sheet and it would be a picture of a nude girl in full pink color. The troops would laugh and whistle. It kept them awake. 
Many years later, a big fellow walked into my store in Phoenix. He asked if I was the same Boody Rogers who had been at Ft. Hood. I said I was. 
“I thought so. You used to be my instructor.” 
“Don’t hit me!” I threw up my hands in mock horror. 
“Don’t worry,” he said. “When we read on the schedule that you were going to be our teacher, we knew we were going to have some fun.”

After his service, Rogers resumed work in comic books, including a Sparky Watts title. The Grand Comics Database has his credits.

In the early 1950s, Rogers moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where he operated an art supply store. The Prescott Evening Courier (Arizona), May 6, 1952, published a photo of hospital patient, Don C. Oka, a World War II veteran, who won a National Cartoonist Society prize. He was unable to accept it in New York, so four Arizona cartoonists, Reg Manning, Gus Arriola, Walt Ditzen and Rogers presented the prize to him at the hospital. The Pacific Stars and Stripes, July 27, 1952, published a photo of Oka and the cartoonists.


Pacific Stars and Stripes July 27, 1952

Ancestry.com has Phoenix directories. He was not listed in 1952; the directories from 1953 through 1955 are not available. His home address in 1956 was 2007 East Cypress, and his art store was at 207 East Van Buren. Directories from 1961 and beyond are not available. His advertisement (below) in the Arizona Republic, June 19, 1960, had his business address as 201 East Van Buren.

Arizona Republic 6/19/1960

A half-page article, with a photograph of Rogers and a female customer, was published in the Arizona Republic’s Sunday magazine, Arizona Days and Ways, July 27, 1958.

He Frames ArtistsBoody Rogers’s job is a frame-up! 
Rogers frames the darndest things. Recently it was 50 silver dollars, to help celebrate a 50th wedding anniversary. And not so long ago he framed a big boll of cotton on black velour paper in a French provincial-framed shadow box. Rogers never did find out why his customer thought the cotton boll deserved to be preserved for posterity. He can tell you exactly why a golf club went into a frame the following week, though. Its owner wasn’t reticent about explaining how he made the hole in one. 
Most of Rogers’s business, of course, is framing pictures. He used to be a well-known cartoonist around Phoenix, and his shop full of frames at Van Buren and 2nd Street is a gathering place for amateur and professional artists. 
Rogers is great on encouraging beginning artists. One elderly gentleman whose doctor ordered him to take up painting for recreational therapy, complied with the prescription, cussing all the way as he acquired paints, brushes and canvas. A week later he was back for a frame, happy as a pig in clover. 
“I was spending all my time worrying about ‘the blues,’ ” he said. “Now I’m worrying about ‘blues.” Great improvement, eh, Rogers?” 
Fashions in frames change, reports Rogers. For a long time severe, simple lines were in vogue. Now more ornate, carved frames are coming back in style, and the shop has added a good supply of more elaborate frames to meet the demand. 
“I just sell ’em,” says Rogers, calmly. “I don’t have to dust ’em.”


The Amarillo Globe-Times (Texas), October 29, 1970, reported his contribution of a drawing to his high school alma mater’s book, The Bobcats: A History of Childress High School Football. Columnist Putt Powell wrote: “…It has a clever sketch of a Bobcat on the cover. It was drawn by Boody Rogers. He was quarterback of the Bobcats from 1922–25. He’s now the cartoonist for the syndicated comic strip, ‘Sparky Watts.’ He lives in Phoenix.” Rogers was quoted in the Globe-Times, December 16, 1976, when his alma mater was in the Texas AA state title game at Texas Stadium.

...Perhaps the second-biggest fan of Childress football in town is “Boody” Rogers, who quarterbacked the 1922 through 1925 editions of the Bobcats. When Boody speaks, the Bobcat mania gets knew deep—and no interrupts. It’s as though the “Great Bobcat in the Sky” is beginning to speak. 
“For a high school kid to play in that (Texas) stadium is somethin’, ain’t it,” Boody said. “Right there where the Dallas Cowboys play.” 
…When Boody gets through with his analysis of the Bobcats 1976, he reverts to the past. 
“When I played for the Bobcats, I never carried the ball that everyone there wasn’t standing,“ he said with a sly grin. “But that’s because there wasn’t any damn chair anywhere. 
“Once I carried the ball for a touchdown and when I got to the goal line, the whole crowd was running faster than I was,” he added.

(Childress lost to Rockdale, 23–6; scroll down to number 3)

At some point he moved back to Childress where his address was 205 4th Street SE. His autobiography, Homeless Bound, was published in 1984. Upon the book’s release, the Associated Press profiled him. Rogers recalled his memories of Dick Tracy’s creator, Chester Gould, in the Bonham Daily Favorite (Texas), July 8, 1990.


Cover and title page

Photo from the book

Rogers passed away February 6, 1996, in Childress, Texas. His death was noted in papers including the Sarasota Herald-Tribune (Florida). In 2009, Fantagraphics Books published Boody. The Bizarre Comics of Boody Rogers. A free PDF of a Sparky Watts story is here.

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