Friday, June 03, 2022
Obscurity of the Day: Oscar
From roughly the second half of the 1950s and through the 1960s, a cartooning style came to prominence for which there is no set name that I know of. Often used in animation and in print cartooning, especially advertising and greeting cards, it seemed to be everywhere. Dave Rusch's Oscar, above, is a great example of it. But what's it called? Beat cartooning? Cool jazz cartooning? Proto-underground? Help me out here, folks.
Anyway, the 24-year old Dave Rusch came out of basically nowhere to land a contract with United Feature Syndicate for his strip Oscar, which debuted on September 12 1960*. His bio in Editor & Publisher tells us that he was brought up in the suburbs of New York City, made quite a splash as a smart kid in school and college, was art editor of a fraternity magazine, and on graduation had recently gone to work as an art director at an ad agency. He also claimed proficiency in painting and playing jazz on various instruments.
This is, as far as I know, Rusch's only known newspaper cartooning work, and it showed good promise. The art, for its time, was strictly downbeat and in the groove, daddy-o. The writing, well, let's say that it was occasionally a bit square, man. Strictly cubesville. He obviously wanted to be edgy and modern, but on his off days he wasn't above cracking open Joe Miller's joke book for hoary old gaglines like "Don't forget your toothbrush."
The dysfunctional family comedy started off with a decent if unspectacular client list, and United Feature must have had high hopes, because they said that a Sunday version was in the offing; but as best I can tell that never happened.
After two years on Oscar, either Rusch or the syndicate decided to call it quits. I'm not sure why, because the client list seems not to have tanked all that badly. The strip ended on October 13 1962*. Interestingly, United Feature's own records say that the strip ended on February 24 of that year, an unusual error in that resource.
What happened to Rusch after Oscar I have no clue, but I imagine the bright young man with the hip cartooning style landed on his feet.
* Source: Editor & Publisher, 8/20/1960.
* Source: Daily Northwest Alabamian.