Thursday, May 21, 2015
Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: Fred Schwab
Frederick “Fred” Schwab was born in New York, New York, on August 25, 1917. His birth date is from the Social Security Death Index, and other sources confirm the year, such as his military enlistment, a public record at Ancestry.com and census records. Sources that have his birth year as 1920 are incorrect. Volume one of Contemporary Graphic Artists (1986) has a excellent profile of Schwab despite the birth year error.
In the 1920 U.S. Federal Census, Schwab was the only child, age two years and four months, of John, a baker, and Josephine. They lived in Manhattan, New York City at 238 East 89th Street. His father was Austrian and his mother Hungarian. Contemporary Graphic Artists had the same names for his parents, and parenthetically noted that his father was a painter.
In the following census the family remained in Manhattan but at a different address, 50 West 93rd Street. Schwab was twelve years old and had a sister, Wilhelmina.
According to Contemporary Graphic Artists, Schwab’s comic book career began in 1936 as a staff artist at Chesler Publishing Company. Walking around midtown Manhattan, approximately nineteen-year-old Schwab saw a sign that read, “cartoonists wanted,” and entered the office. The man asked Schwab what his favorite drawing subject was. When he answered cowboys, a western script was handed to him by Harry “A” Chesler.
The 1940 census recorded Schwab as a cartoonist residing with his parents and sister at 1741 York Avenue in Manhattan. He had four years of high school and, in 1939, earned a thousand dollars working for publications.
In 1938 he left Chesler and freelanced in the comics industry until 1942. On January 6, 1942, Schwab enlisted in the army at Fort Dix, New Jersey. His record said he was single and a commercial artist who had four years of high school. He stood five feet eight inches and weighed 148 pounds. According to Contemporary Graphic Artists, he served in the Air Force from 1942 to 1945, and drew cartoons for the newspaper Yank and posters for the Air Force.
After the war he attended the Art Students League from 1946 to 1947, and returned to freelancing as a comic book artist, cartoonist, and advertising illustrator until 1960. For the next twenty years he was a New York Times staff artist. Then in 1980 he returned to being a freelance cartoonist and advertising artist.
Schwab was the fourth and last artist to draw Lady Luck, from May 5 to November 3, 1946, which was a backup feature in the Spirit comic book insert. He was preceded by Chuck Mazoujian, Nick Cardy and Klaus Nordling.
On April 1, 1956, Schwab married Barbara Frick. Their engagement was reported in the New York Times, February 2, which said he attended New York University. Contemporary Graphic Artists did not mention the university as part of his education.
A 1976 public record at Ancestry.com said his birth was August 25, 1917 and address at “411 E 53rd St Apt 15j, New York, NY, 10022-5112.” Essentially the same address was in Contemporary Graphic Artists.
In The Life and Art of Murphy Anderson (2003), Anderson said his memories of Schwab:
Jack Cole and Fred Schwab are two of my favorite artists. Before he got onto Plastic Man, Jack Cole used to work side-by-side with Fred, and Fred said they used to try to top each other with crazy ideas. Who could do the craziest, most far-out stuff. Fred was just marvelous. I wish he could have continued in the direction he was going with his comic book stuff because it was just fantastic. He worked for Harry Chesler on some of the very earliest comics, and he worked for Charlie Biro for awhile and then did filler pages all around the field, two- and three-, four-page stuff. It was sort of an outgrowth of E.C. Segar’s style on Popeye. The characters were just crazy. He did Herlock Sholmes and Doctor Potsam, I remember some of his stuff was so awful. The puns were bad. There was one character that was a walking pun. That was Cowboy Jake of the Bar-Mitzvah Ranch. All the horses would have patches on their rumps.
Fred worked for Will [Eisner], some. He always did some worked for Will. I think he did Lady Luck for a little while, in addition to Klaus Nordling. Nordling did most of it after Nick Viscardi and Chuck Mazoujian were off the thing. But Fred would come in, occasionally, to Will. I never met him then, but I know he kept in touch with Will. Then he dropped out of the comics altogether and took a staff job with The New York Times. He worked in their art department for many, many years.About his art Schwab said:
…As for cartooning I am self-taught. I rely upon my sense of humor for ideas. I’ve never taken life seriously; I see humor in everything, in life’s errors, absurdities, pretensions, discomforts, embarrassments, as well as in its inherent unpredictability. All these may appear tragic to some, they seem comical to me….Schwab passed away May 13, 2000, in New York City. A death notice was published in the New York Times, May 28:
Schwab–Fred, 82, of 411 East 53 Street died on May 13, 2000. Mr. Schwab was born educated and resided in New York. He served in World War II as a photo journalist. He was a retired graphic illustrator for the New York Times and a freelance cartoonist. Mr. Schwab was the widower of Barbara Frick and is survived by his niece Rosemarie Sankowsky of Wayland, Massachusetts. A private family service was held last week.
Schwab–Fred. The New York Times records with deep sorrow the passing of Fred Schwab, associated with The Times from 1947 until retiring in 1979.
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