Al Scaduto, 1928-2007

I hadn’t planned on posting anything about Al Scaduto, the veteran cartoonist who drew the daily syndicated newspaper strip They’ll Do It Every Time, until well into January, but “events,” as they sometimes do, intervened. Recently, an idea I submitted to Scaduto for TDIET (which nearly always worked off of reader suggestions) was accepted, and he slated it to run on January 23. Sadly, the cartoonist died less than two weeks after he sent me an e-mail notifying me that he thought my idea was good and had just worked it up for publication. The copy of the cartoon he sent me in late November, with a personal inscription at the bottom, is now hanging framed on my office wall. I wonder how many more panels he got to draw after that one. It couldn’t have been many.

I’ve loved comic books, comic strips, and cartoons in general since I was a kid. Though the Web is handy enough, I still remember the color strips in the Sunday paper, spread out on the living room floor in all their glory — among them, Gasoline Alley, Pogo, Li’l Abner, Mutt and Jeff, Blondie, and There Oughta Be A Law, some of which continue on today (I figure that by any reasonable reckoning, old Walt from Gasoline Alley must be about 109 by now). I still have a 1971 paperback collection of There Oughta Be A Law, written and drawn by Harry Shorten, who also worked for years on a very different endeavor, Archie comics. In my youth, Law intrigued me with its satirical view of the adult business world; for me, it was a window of sorts into the countless hypocrisies and foolish ways of grownups, many of whom were depicted wearing loud checked jackets, bellbottoms and other forms of early ’70s high fashion, with frequent interjections by Shorten such as “Wyizzit?” and “Howcumzit?” The strip revolved loosely around an office (which business they were engaged in was, of course, never specified) populated by J.P. Bumble, a stereotypical portly, balding, cigar-chomping, three-piece-suit-wearing, short-tempered boss straight out of a 1937 New Yorker cartoon (or a Soviet Russia-era caricature of a capitalist), and his put-upon staff. A forerunner of Dilbert? Well, maybe in a very broad sense.

Although Shorten started Law in the early ’40s, he was undoubtedly influenced by (if not directly plagiarizing) They’ll Do It Every Time, created in 1929 by erstwhile San Francisco sports cartoonist Jimmy Hatlo (1898-1963). Hatlo was later assisted by Bob Dunn, who took over after Hatlo’s death; after Dunn’s own death in 1989, his assistant, Al Scaduto, took over the strip and maintained the illustrated parade of folly right up until his death on December 8, at the age of 79 (just a bit older than TDIET itself). The fact that a man of those years should die shouldn’t be that surprising, yet I still find myself surprised at the news — feeling cheated, even, of years to come of simple daily entertainment I wish he had been around to do.

From the extraordinary outpouring of affection in The Comics Curmudgeon (my comment is #127, by the way), it’s clear that everyone who ever knew Al Scaduto, from his family to the many readers who either had an idea gently rejected, or used to great effect by the man, considered him a kind, considerate gentleman, a wonderful companion and a prized friend. Perhaps the very act of illustrating and satirizing human behavior for decades acted as a vaccination against the worst of human instincts, or even all too common rough edges and thoughtless moments we all know people are capable of.

Or maybe it was just the way he was, from the start.

Many in the Curmudgeon crowd called TDIET a relic of the past, featuring characters stuck in time somewhere between 1955 and 1960 (with attitudes to match), acting out tired traumas for a target audience in their seventies and up — although in fairness, Scaduto occasionally portrayed users of computers and cell phones with his typically good-humored satirical touch, making merry with characters with names like Migraina, Loopina, Dragbutt, Catastra, Wombo and Lugnut. Certainly, the strip drove at least this woman crazy enough to keep up a running blog devoted to disagreeing with it (though I have a feeling she’d developed a secret grudging fondness for old Al well before he passed on — as her memorial note on this cold Sunday makes clear). In the end, a great number of the self-described snarky readers of Curmudgeon took great pride in having an idea accepted in TDIET, and members of Scaduto’s family even contributed to the memorial thread, acknowledging their gratitude for the many messages of condolences and goodwill. (Once again — Wyizzit that this kind of thing always comes too late for the object of the tributes to know how much they’re appreciated? Oh, yeah — because nobody realized it when they were still around. They’ll do it every time.)

To me, TDIET was — is — a necessary anchor to an older, saner time, a link to my childhood and all those beshrouded years that went before I ever was. It appeals to the (pick one) healthy cynic/realist/jokester/crank/student of human nature in all of us. And I’m proud to be a small link in this venerable chain. I hope it continues in some form, and the less it changes, the better.

Rest in peace, Al. You’ll be missed.

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