Cartoonist inspires
isle comic artist

Dave Thorne praises
John Gallagher’s work

Never underestimate the power of a few ink lines and a funny idea. Dave Thorne, the Yoda of Hawaii cartoonists, was bowled over by the clever, straightforward gag cartoons that were once abundant in family magazines like the Saturday Evening Post. There was one cartoonist whose work was so consistently funny that Thorne became a fan.

"Some of the funniest pictures ever drawn were created by John Gallagher," Thorne recalled. "Whenever I saw a Saturday Evening Post, or True or Argosy magazine, the first things I aimed for was the cartoons, and those with the name Gallagher on them were among my very favorites. Just looking at those funny people and animals and situations brought laughter and joy and a great feeling of uplift to me."

Thorne, a relentless collector and scholar of the comic art, as well as a talented cartoonist himself, began to clip and save his favorite Gallaghers. "We corresponded a bit, and around 1978, I asked this funny, talented resident of Upper Saddle River, New Jersey -- and two-time winner of the National Cartoonists Association Gag Cartoonist of the year award -- to do a book of his cartoons.

"In fact, I hounded him several times about it. There are whole generations growing up without ever having seen a John Gallagher cartoon," Thorne said. "Unthinkable!"

Thorne often used Gallagher's cartoons in his cartooning classes at the University of Hawaii, as well as at lectures on the subject. Because Gallagher kept putting any book project off, while gently deflecting Thorne's enthusiasm, the Hawaii artist took matters into his own hands.

"I began pawing through my files of old cartoons clipped from publications and my collection of cartoon books. I found around 35 of them -- not enough to do a book.

"I called the serials unit of the Honolulu main public library and the librarian said it would be all right for me to look through their collection of periodicals. So, every day, for weeks, I'd literally run four blocks over to the library on my lunch hour and down into the basement and back into the stacks and thumb through as many Saturday Evening Posts as lunchtime would permit. I'd stuff the 10 or 15 I'd found into a paper bag, check them out, and run back to work," Thorne said. "I lost a lot of calories during this period."

Thorne, then an illustrator with the Department of Education, would velox the collected cartoons, making 200 examples his goal. "I reached that number before I was able to close the gap of the '50s and '60s. I decided to organize them chronologically. Then came the paste-up and finding a good place to have copies made, as well as writing a forward and dedication on the first few pages."

Thorne made only two copies. When it was bound, he kept one and mailed the other to Gallagher in time for Christmas 1980.

"I told him that now he could see what it's like to have a collection of his cartoons published, would he please do something about it?" laughed Thorne. "After he received the book, he wrote me a wonderful thank-you letter saying that he'd never had anyone do anything like this for him before, and he was overwhelmed.

"He did add, however, that he really didn't want to do a book, as he didn't like to relive the past, and besides, he didn't have the time to do it, and if he had the time, he'd rather go fishing. He did mention, however, that if he ever would do one, he'd want me to be the editor. I thought that was nice."

A couple of weeks ago, Gallagher's son Mike, also a cartoonist, called Thorne to let him know Gallagher had died on St. Patrick's Day. "A fitting day for an Irishman to go," Mike said. "We thought you'd like to know, since you were his No. 1 fan."

"Mike said that at the funeral, they had placed the book I'd made for John by his casket," said Thorne, with a catch in his voice. "He said the book was considered a family heirloom, and has been kept on the coffee table for all these years.

"It was my turn to be overwhelmed. What an incredible honor! I'd had no idea that the book had meant so much to John and his family. I'm amazed that they thought so much of it. It's humbling to know that it had such an impact on one of my fondest cartoon heroes.

"I cannot tell you how much that call meant to me."

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