Comic strip fans of all generations will have the unique opportunity to check out the history of the genre at the Ellenville Public Library and Museum and meet our own hometown cartoonist at the opening reception on Saturday, August 3. R. Robert Pollak will exhibit 35 or so classic works of cartoon art; some examples of his own creations, like Ellen’s Adventures at the Shadowland; and many classic strips such as Buck Rogers, Brenda Starr, On Stage, Steve Roper, Robin Malone, Dateline Danger, Winnie Winkle, Dickie Dare, Little Iodine and Flash Gordon, all drawn by the greats.
In fact, Pollak may possess the ultimate comic strip collection in his personal archives. The author, educator, illustrator, art director and member of the New York Cartoonists’ Hall of Fame has been clipping his favorites from both daily and Sunday newspapers for decades. “A Cavalcade of American Newspaper Comic Strip Art” celebrates this iconic artform, as well as the community that nurtured him. “My family’s lived here since about 1956. I went to school here, and then I went to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn for illustration and art direction.”
After graduation, Pollak first plied his craft in visual merchandising in New York City, then as a corporate art director, then as a manager in a Fifth Avenue store. “Then I became a Common Branch teacher for fifth grade – math, English, social studies – teaching all subjects, including art. I always brought art and cartoons and interesting things into the classroom for the kids to get excited about. And because of my love for cartoons from early childhood, when I started working on different projects with the students, such as letter-writing and language arts skills, we wrote to many of the cartoon artists that I knew. They became our pen pals in class. A lot of my students got to meet famous cartoonists when they came to my school and did demonstrations. One was Fred Lasswell, who did Barney Google and Snuffy Smith. One of those Snuffy Smiths will be in the show.
“Every Sunday paper I could get, I started clipping them at the age of 13. So, from 1966 to 1970, when I went to college, I have clips in albums. A lot of these people, I was fortunate to meet.” He mentions Milton Caniff, who created Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon, with whom Pollak became good friends. “And Dale Messick, the creator of Brenda Starr, Reporter. She inspired me to write and draw, and to think about cliffhangers. My students wrote to her and she wrote back, sending every single student a picture and a note. She was wonderful.”
His love for cartoons and pen-and-ink work spilled over into hero worship of the artists who created them. “When I was a kid, the cartoonists who had big characters were like celebrities in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Later on, when the newspapers started to shrink, so did the space for comic strips. It still exists. A friend who’s also in the National Cartoon Society, Joe Staton [who lives in Kingston], draws the Dick Tracy strip; it’s online and still in several newspapers that carry adventure strips.
“The last few years I was teaching, I started doing Ellen’s Adventures at the Shadowland for the Ellenville Journal, now the Shawangunk Journal.” His connection to the town and the theater – where he saw his first movie, 101 Dalmatians – comes through in his work. “Ellen is an actress from New York, but she comes to Ellenville and has all these adventures. Creating my own comic strip was a homage to all the old cartoonists I’d met and to the town of Ellenville. Ellen meets aliens, and they go back in time and into the future. This strip was in the Shawangunk Journal off and on for about five years.”
Pollak penned three separate books and a coloring book of her adventures, now all compiled by Red Stylo Media in a graphic novel, which shows up at big shows like Comic Con in New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago and the National Cartoonists’ Society’s annual festival in Huntington Beach. And he’s as enthusiastic about exhibiting from his extensive collection as he is creating his stories and characters.
“A Cavalcade of American Newspaper Comic Strip Art” will be on exhibit at the library gallery for three months, beginning August 3 and running until the end of October. Library hours are Monday through Wednesday from 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Thursday and Friday until 6 p.m., and Saturday until 3 p.m. Don’t miss it.
American Newspaper Comic Strip Art opening, Saturday, August 3, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Ellenville Public Library & Museum, 40 Center St., Ellenville; (845) 647-5530, http://eplm.org/museum.