Bob Oksner’s first-ever convention appearance here in San Diego was a love-fest for fans and professionals alike.
Mark Evanier moderated the panel, a retrospective of the legendary DC humor artist’s career. “If I could draw like this man… well, I’d never get any work done, because I’d be home drawing dirty pictures all the time,” Evanier said in his introduction, a reference to Oksner’s reputation for drawing the beautiful scantily-clad teenage girls that he did so often in his DC cover work.
The interview began with Oksner remniscing about his early days in comics. One of his earliest jobs was a strip called MISS CAIRO JONES, which, Oksner confessed, was his first shot at drawing the beautiful women for which he would later become famous. “Cairo Jones was originally supposed to be a man,” explained Oksner. “It was an adventure strip. Then the syndicate wanted it to be a woman, and I’d never drawn women before! So I went out to the newsstand and bought a bunch of magazines and copied them.”
Oksner also did the majority of DC’s licensed celebrity books in the Silver Age, like BOB HOPE and JERRY LEWIS. He never met either of them, and rarely used photo reference. “It was caricature,” Oksner explained. “That was why I liked Jerry Lewis. He was a wild character, fun to draw. His posture was so spastic. I could do as much character with his posture as I could with the face.”
Oksner did meet one pair of celebrities that he caricatured. “I did an I LOVE LUCY book,” he said. “I met Desi Arnaz a number of times. He was always saying, ‘Handsomer! Draw me handsomer!’ ”
Later, after Lucy and Desi had split, Oksner and his family got to meet Lucy as well. “She invited us backstage at a Broadway show she was doing. Very sweet. Talked with us for about a half hour while she was getting made up to go on stage.”
“Did she ask you to make Desi less handsome?” Evanier asked, slyly.
“No. Maybe that’s why they broke up!” Oksner shot back.
Though he also did a lot of inking work for DC on the Superman books in the 60’s and 70’s, especially Curt swan, Oksner’s first love was always the humor books. “Much more than the super heroes,” Oksner said. “Humor — it’s a way to comment on society.”
And it’s DC’s teen humor books, particularly BINKY, for which Bob Oksner is most fondly remembered. “It was Shelly Mayer got me started. This was in 1947, right after the war, and the word ‘teenager’ had just been invented. Now Shelly, I don’t know how many of you remember his strip ‘Scribbly’ –”
“How many of you remember Scribbly?” Evanier asked the audience, and was answered with a weve of applause. Mark Waid bounded up to the front of the room with copies of SCRIBBLY from his own collection to show the audience. “Visual aids!” quipped Evanier, to which Scott Shaw replied from the back of the room, “Visual Waid!”
After the laughter died down, Oksner continued, “Well, anyway, Mayer wanted a teenage Scribbly. And that became BINKY.”
When Evanier asked if he’d ever gotten in trouble for drawing such sexy pinups for the covers of what were, after all, children’s comics, Oksner replied, “No one ever told me that! I just drew cute girls because I had three cute daughters and a cute wife…. they were my models.”
At this point, Evanier invited Mrs. Oksner, who was sitting in the audience, to stand up and take a bow. She did so, laughing, “Now you can all see how cute I am!”