Back in 1977, as a freshman at the Art Institute of Boston, I would often spend lunch hours at the bookstore, scanning the humor section. My favorite books were cartoon collections; the best being by Sam Gross and B. Kliban. I bought as many as I could afford on my meager "allowance." A book I really enjoyed didn’t come out until 1980. It cemented my adoration for both of these cartoonists—and it wasn’t a cartoon book. It was an interview book featuring six of the day’s hottest cartoonists, two of whom were Sam Gross and B. Kliban.

"Jumping Up and Down on the Roof, Throwing Bags of Water on People," by Mark Jacobs (Dolphin Books, 1980), featured extensive interviews with Sam Gross ("Shrunken Heads and Gingerbread Boys") and B. Kliban ("Free Rubber Chickens Regardless of a Person’s Religious Beliefs"), shedding light for the first time on the real-life personalities of my two favorite cartoonists.

B. Kliban Cartoon

The first B. Kliban books I bought were the trio of "Cat" (1975), "Never Eat Anything Bigger Than Your Head" (1976), and "Whack Your Porcupine" (1977), all published by Workman Publishing. I remember bringing them back to one of my Illustration classes at AIB and showing off the funniest gags. As it turned out, almost every page caused uproarious laughter among the small group assembled.

I have more closely modeled my cartoon style after B. Kliban's over the years. Not in any overt sense but simply out of comfort. My natural style and technique have developed to a point that I think it tends to resemble that of Mr. Kliban's. One successful and very famous student of the B. Kliban style is Gary Larson ("The Far Side").


In the ’80s I wrote Mr. Kliban several times. I asked him for advice, asked him to critique some samples, and asked about his influences. His responses were very helpful and quite funny at times. I have included copies of those replies here.

Letter 1 • Page 1

I first wrote to Mr. Kliban in early '86. My letter included the usual "I'm-your-biggest-fan" comments, which he calls "general flattery"—his way of saying, Yeah, yeah, yeah. I found his comments very enlightening. They made me eager to get drawing and they also caused me great anxiety. I'd begun to wonder if I really had the desire that I'd need to succeed. I kept plugging away though, and FREAKS, GEEKS & CHICKEN BEAKS was the result of that "plugging" (Howling at a Bagel too).

I'd sent him some samples of the Fists In The Air book idea I was kicking around at the time. His comments ultimately--and thankfully--served to kill the idea; I just didn’t think there was enough there worth developing. It could’ve worked as an article in a fanzine but probably not a full-scale book.

I'd asked him how he got started and I was very surprised to hear how easy it was for him at the beginning. Had Playboy bought three of MY first fifteen cartoons, I would've wet my pants!

Page 2

I love how he slams "Cathy" and "Garfield" here, labeling them sellouts. I never minded "Garfield" but I hate "Cathy" and never found it funny. Maybe because I'm a guy. (Nah, it's just not funny.)

I've since learned that he was very correct about spending too much time "searching for the magic pen." I'd gone through scores of cartoons and several different pens before settling on the Sharpie Extra Fine Point. It was just a pen I'd grown comfortable with.

I found his honesty very refreshing and his guitar riffs analogy was precisely the wording I could understand at the time, being a 27-year-old metalhead.

Letter 2 • Page 1

In his previous letter Mr. Kliban had said that he wanted to know what I was up to. So I’d written him right back, sending along my copy of his new book, "The Biggest Tongue in Tunisia," for him to sign. I'd just signed up for a cartooning class at the Art Institute of Boston and asked him what he thought of classes since he'd once taught cartooning. It turned out that the class I'd signed up for had to be cancelled due to low enrollment. I was the sole enrollee.

I’ve also learned that Sturgeon's Law of "93% of everything is shit" are words to live by. There are very few people walking around splitting the atom, let alone doing their everday jobs competently.

I'd sent yet another batch of samples. This time a comic strip called Jimmy Riff that I'd done for a KISS fanzine. The strip appeared only twice. Admittedly, it needed some work (a lot). His advice came in quite handy in '97, albeit subconsciously, when I was developing the two main characters for my children's book, Hondo & Skeeter. The story was finished in '97, but the drawings for this book (beyond those of the main characters) remain "under development."

Page 2

He thought he was getting "preachy" here, suggesting females in the strip and commenting on my last panel, but I didn't think he was preaching at all. After all, that's just the kind of feedback I'd written him for. He repeated his invitation to keep in touch. Unfortunately, I never did get around to writing to him again.


When "The Biggest Tongue in Tunisia" came out in May of '86 I picked it up right away and mailed it to B. Kliban along with a letter and a request for an autograph. It came back in the mail a few days later. He'd drawn and signed this original cartoon inside my copy of the book.

Sadly, B. Kliban passed away in 1990. I'd only learned of this by reading a 1993 TV Guide article about actor Bill Bixby who had recently died. The article mentioned his wife Judith, "widow of cartoonist B. Kliban." I was so shocked—and to find out that way was doubly upsetting.

Judith published B. Kliban's final manuscript in 1993 as a book entitled "Advanced Cartooning." Some of his best work, it includes several sketches and "unfinished" pieces.

I will miss his advice. His talent will be missed by all.

B Kliban®Cats