Wednesday, December 26, 2012

 

Ink-Slinger Profiles: Jack Kent


John Wellington “Jack” Kent was born in Burlington, Iowa, on March 10, 1920, according to Who’s Who in America, Volume 34, 1966–1967. Kent’s son said: “...Born John Zurawski to first-generation Polish and Austrian parents in Iowa, he became Jack Kent when his dad, a traveling linoleum salesman, relocated to Texas in 1926 and changed his name to something his customers could more easily remember.” His parents were Ralph and Marguerite, and he attended public and private schools in various states. The Fifth Book of Junior Authors & Illustrators, Volume 5 (1983) published his autobiographical sketch which began: “All children scribble. Most outgrow it. I never did. I scribbled in Burlington, Iowa, where I was born.”

The 1925 Iowa State Census recorded the Zurawski family of four (Mary, the new addition) in Davenport, Iowa, at 315 East 15 Street.

In the 1930 U.S. Federal Census, the Kent family lived in Houston, Texas at 2011 Bartlett. His father was floor covering salesman. The Mobile Press and Register (Alabama), December 3, 1978, said he “spent his early years in Chicago, and ‘was raised and educated from here to there all over the United States.’ ” A fan of Tom McNamara, Kent sent numerous letters and cards to him: undated letter; 1934 letterChristmas card.


The 1940 census recorded him in San Antonio, Texas, at 323 Adams Street. He had three years of high school and was a staff cartoonist at an insurance company. The San Antonio Light (Texas), May 29, 1951, said: “…Jack received much of his schooling in San Antonio. He attended the Highland Park Elementary school and Thomas Nelson Page Junior High. Then he went to Tech High in Dallas.” According to Comic Strip Artists in American Newspapers, 1945-1980 (2003), he “…was without formal training in art, but at 15 he began to sell cartoons to magazines, including Collier’s. He wanted to emulate George Herriman…” During World War II, Kent served in the army field artillery from 1941 to 1945; at his discharge he was a first lieutenant. Who’s Who said he produced free-lance cartoons for various magazines from 1945 to 1950.

Herald Statesman 11/17/1950

His comic strip, King Aroo, debuted November 1950; it was distributed by the McClure Syndicate. 
Newsweek, July 14, 1952, explained how Kent’s war-time service figured in King Aroo

The King’s Tagalog
Comic-strip addicts, probably as a survival technique, quickly get used to the strange words of their favorite characters. So, when Wanda Witch, one of the weird figures who inhabit a batty land called Myopia in the McClure Syndicate’s strip King Aroo, began mouthing strange incantations, most readers just went on to the next balloon.

To the editors of The Philippine-American Advocate, a new monthly tabloid in San Francisco, however. Wanda’s incantation conjured up something quite meaningful. Last week, in its first issue, The Advocate explained that the chant, “halika, multo, madali, madly,” is purest Tagalog for “come here, ghost, quickly, quickly.” It was not the first time nor the last time that King Aroo characters would chatter in the native language. Jack Kent, the Texan who draws the strip, had studied the language while overseas in the Philippines with the Army. Moreover, for the witch talk, he had even checked the Tagalog with authorities at the National Language Institute of the Philippines.


In 1952 Doubleday published a collection of King Aroo strips with an introduction by Gilbert Seldes who wrote: “Jack Kent brings to the small company of fantasists the primary faculty of being able to create a compact universe that adheres strictly to a logic of its own.” 

In the Springfield Union (Massachusetts), June 25, 1951, columnist Walter Winchell noted Kent’s pursuit of Leigh Allen, who was in the Broadway production South Pacific: “…Sends her a red rose daily, neatly boxed, which arrives just before curtaintime backstage…” His marriage to Juliet Bridgman, on September 27, was reported in the Chicago Tribune, October 2, 1952. Who’s Who said he remarried to June Kilstrofte, June 9, 1954. In the Mobile Press and Register, Kent said, “…In 1954 a gal reporter from the San Antonio Express came to interview me and we got married and lived happily ever after….” Their son, John Jr., was born in July 1955. Kent’s father passed away February 4, 1959, according to the Texas Death Index at Ancestry.com.

Who’s Who said his address, in the mid-1960s, was 103 West Johnson Street, San Antonio. When King Aroo ended in June 1965, American National Biography, Volume 12 (1999) said: “…Kent returned to the uncertain career of a freelancer, selling greeting-card designs to Hallmark Cards and advertising art and cartoons to a wide variety of publications, from Humpty Dumpty, the Saturday Evening Post, and Collier’s to Playboy, and at times supplementing his meager earnings by driving trucks….”

His second published comics work was the one-time seasonal strip, Why Christmas Almost Wasn’t, in December 1968. That same year saw the publication of his first book, Just Only Jack, the first of over 60 books.

Fifth Book of Junior Authors & Illustrators said: “…Kent’s art was exhibited in the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston, in 1975, and his work is part of the Kerlan Collection. He is a member of the National Cartoonists Society, the American Institute of Graphic Artists, the Authors Guild, and the Authors League of America.”

Kent passed away October 10, 1985, in San Antonio. A profile by his son is here. Another profile is here. In 2010, the Library of American Comics published King Aroo Volume 1: 1950–1952, and it has Bruce Canwell’s biography of Kent, from his birth to 1952; volume two is forthcoming. King Aroo original art can be viewed here.

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