artist as brand, cartoonist, cartoons, digital media, digital painting, dogs, drawing, Harvey comics, illustration, illustrators journal, innovation, levinland, Little Dot, Little Lotta, nude sketch, Richie Rich, Sid Couchy, this week in digital media on blogtalk radio
A must see video primer for would be and working cartoonists.
One of the unsung heroes of the golden age of comic books. Sid provided the boomer generation with imagery and antics through his work with Harvey comics. We may not have known his name but we sure knew his work. Whether it was Richie Rich, Little Lotta or Little Dot we were entrance with his very brilliant and humorous artwork.
Sid Couchey (May 24, 1919 – March 11, 2012) was an American comic book artist best known for his illustration work on the Harvey Comics characters Richie Rich, Little Lotta and Little Dot. His style is known for big, friendly faces and a sharp sense of visual humor. Couchey was born in Cleveland, Ohio. He counts Milton Caniff’s Steve Canyon, Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon and Howard Pyle among his influences.
After enrolling in the Landon School of Illustration and Cartooning, a correspondence course out of Cleveland, he continued to practice his craft on the back of his school papers. When he was 14, he wrote to Walt Disney, and “asked when I should come… I’ve sharpened my pencils… I’m ready.” However, Disney told Couchey that they weren’t quite ready for him.
Couchey graduated from the Art Career School and the Cartoonists and Illustrators School (which became The School of Visual Arts), both located in New York City. For his first job after art school, Couchey assisted John Lehti on the comic strips Tommy of the Big Top andTales from the Great Book. In his home, Sid displays an original piece from the Great Book strip, in which he appears as the census taker and scribe for the Pharaoh.
In the early 1950s, Couchey worked on backgrounds for the Lassie, Big Town and Howdy Doody TV tie-in books. His first complete work was published in Hoot Gibson #6 and several Couchey-illustrated stories appear in Heroic Comics, published by Famous Funnies. His stories were printed in Issues #62, 70, 71, 74, 75, 76, 78, 80 and 82.
In the mid-1950s, Couchey answered an advertisement in The New York Times and thus briefly became an assistant for Joe Shuster, the co-creator of Superman. After several planning sessions in Couchey’s Ninth Avenue apartment, Shuster came up with “another alien baby” named Golly Galloo. Although “Galloo never flew,” Couchey still had many of Shuster’s original tracing-paper sketches for this character.
Sid Couchey’s “big break” came when Harvey Comics advertised for cartoonists. A few of Couchey’s fellow art school graduates, who had started an art studio of their own, told him about the advertisements. According to Couchey…
|“||My first interview at Harvey Comics was with the man who turned out to be the elder statesman of Harvey cartoonists, Warren Kremer. He created all the spec sheets for the various characters and was a remarkably imaginative and accurate artist. I came there fresh out of art school. ‘Green’ is more appropriate than ‘fresh,’ but fortunately, Warren was also patient. He taught me what I needed to know about the Harvey kids so that I could go back up home to Essex, New York, (with my new bride, Ruth) and send my artwork to Harvey Comics. Editor Sid Jacobson was always good to me and Leon Harvey, on one of the few occasions that I saw him, had pictures taken of himself with my family.||”|
At Harvey, Couchey’s artwork began appearing in the Little Dot, Little Lotta and Richie Rich titles throughout the 1950s and 1960s, with reprints appearing for many years. Couchey did not create these famous Harvey characters — but he did have the opportunity to change attitudes or events. According to Couchey, “One time, they had Little Lotta facing a mean bulldog and the script called for her to bash or kick him — and I didn’t think that was in keeping with her character, so I changed that to have her subdue it in a somewhat less brutal way like tossing him in a thicket, or something.”
In the early 1980s, Couchey provided spot illustrations for Good Old Days magazine. In the spring of 1994, Couchey received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Kansas City Comics Convention. The other honorees included John Byrne, George Pérez, and Lee Falk, who bore a striking resemblance to Couchey. Couchey and Falk played on this, and dressed alike during the convention for their fans.
Couchey kept busy with local artwork, especially with many cartoons devoted to Champ, the Monster of Lake Champlain. A second cousin to Scotland’s “Nessie”, Champy has been sighted for centuries in the Port Henry region of Lake Champlain, even by Samuel de Champlain himself (who described the creature as a 20-foot (6.1 m)-long serpent with the head of a horse).
In addition to his work with Champy, Couchey also contributed artwork to alcohol-awareness programs for the State of Vermont. In the mid-1980s, Dr. John K. Worden and his University of Vermont team invited Sid and Vermonter Jim Starbuck to create a “spokestoon” to deter alcohol abuse—thus, the noble character of Rascal Raccoon emerged. Around that time, Jim Heltz of Green Mountain Video worked with Couchey to create the “Drinking Dog/Cool Cat” series as part of an alcohol-awareness program for the State of Vermont. These characters were featured in various posters and animated TV spots to present an anti-alcohol message to children.
On June 21, 2002, thanks to the efforts of Calvin Castine, well-known radio personality Gordie Little, and the Montreal Expos baseball organization, Couchey (a notorious Cleveland Indians fan) got his chance to throw out the first pitch at an Expos-Indians game. Cal Castine promoted the event and covered every action-packed moment of Couchey’s pitch. Couchey also made his own baseball cards, featuring a “bobblehead” Sid.
In honor of this landmark event, Couchey was inducted into the First Ball Pitchers’ Hall of Fame with a Proclamation from Judge Lewis. Currently, Couchey (head of the selection committee) and Dave Dravecky are the only two honorees in this Hall of Fame. The hallowed Hall is located in Jim’s Pretty Good Bookstore in Whallonsburg, New York, which is also the meeting place for the (in)famous Do-Nothing Club.
Until recently Couchey and his wife Ruth still made appearances at book signings and comic-book conventions, in addition to visiting cartoon museums and libraries. Recently, Couchey has completed a series of paintings that echo his professional training—Champy in the Style of the Old Masters, which has been on display in Plattsburgh and at the Ticonderoga Cartoon Museum, both located in New York State. In this collection, Couchey portrays the famous lake-serpent as he would have been painted by Seurat and Picasso, among others.
Cartoonists and comic-book artists love to add in-jokes to their work, and Couchey is no exception. He included local references in dozens of books. The residents of northern New York State would be surprised to find the names of nearby towns in the pages of a Harvey book. In one Little Lotta story, Couchey drew a strip around an athletic contest between the towns of Keeseville and Willsboro. Years later, Couchey met a basketball coach from Keeseville, who had been wondering “how the heck [our town] ever got in that comic and why they had to lose to Willsboro!” This story, entitled “Not Qualified”, appears in Little Dot’s Uncles & Aunts #8.
In the April 1960 (Vol. 1, No. 55) issue of Little Dot, Sid Couchey appears in a Little Lotta strip entitled “Problem Child”, along with his then-fiancée Ruth Horne. According to his wife, Couchey proposed to her with that story. They were married on November 14, 1959. Sid and Ruth Couchey lived in Inman, South Carolina and Essex, New York, and have two children—Brian and Laura—and many grandchildren.
In February 2012, Couchey was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma. The aggressive cancer took hold quickly, and Couchey died on March 11, 2012, aged 92. He was survived by his wife of 52 years, Ruth; their two children; and many grandchildren.