In the 1980’s, all of us at The Practical Theatre Company were very lucky to meet and work with an artist named Gary Whitney. At the time, Gary was partnering with Jay Lynch on the strip Phoebe & The Pigeon People which appeared in the pages of the Chicago Reader – and all of us recent Northwestern University grads had been fans of Gary’s artwork and Jay’s jokes for years before the incomparable Ron and Sydney Crawford introduced us to those two fascinating and talented artists.
Connecting us with Jay and Gary was yet another important social and artistic contribution made by the Crawfords to the PTC. Soon, I will undertake to express the full measure of our collective gratitude to Ron & Syd by blogging the story of their impact on my life, the history of the PTC, and the musical adventures of The Rockme Foundation. I’m pleased to say it’s an ongoing story.
From the moment I first met Gary, I liked him. We all did. Gary was a relatively quiet guy, but he was also very open and warm. He had a big beard and a big sense of humor. I can easily picture him at any number of gatherings at the Crawford’s house or at the John Lennon Auditorium laughing and enjoying the scene. Few of us knew who Gary Whitney really was (other than the guy who drew Phoebe) and Gary wasn’t the kind of guy to toot his own horn – but he, like Jay, was already a fixture in the wild, wild world of underground and alternative comix.
Gary had already been very active in the underground comic scene in the 1970s, contributing to many titles, including Bizarre Sex, Dope Comix, Kitchen Sink Press, Flying Fungus Funnies, and Windy City Comix, among many others. In the 1980’s, we at the Practical Theatre were blessed to have Gary lend his wit and talent to our efforts.
I can’t remember what the first event was for which Gary drew one of his great posters or flyers – but he drew a lot of them. He created a whole series of fabulous flyers to promote appearances by our house band, Riffmaster & The Rockme Foundation. Gary’s posters for the band’s gigs always created excitement, especially within the band. It was so cool to have the guy who drew Phoebe & The Pigeon People make our next gig look so exciting, offbeat and…cool. There’s no better word for it.
Gary also did the poster for The Practical Theatre’s production of Soapbox Sweepstakes, an ongoing satirical look at the 1984 Presidential election, which ran at the John Lennon Auditorium for 30 weeks, from May of ‘84 through election day.
Practical Comix was a childhood dream come true. I’d been an avid reader of comic books since I was a small boy — and in high school during the groovy early 70’s, I became a big fan of underground comics. I even went to Cleveland’s Cooper School of Art one summer in a vain attempt to develop my artistic talents so that I could draw a comic book of my own. Alas, I never became more than a rudimentary cartoonist, but the dream of my own comic book never died. In 1983, Gary Whitney helped to make that dream come true.
What follows is an excerpt from Practical Comix: Special Family Ties Issue. The story is adapted from a sketch that Brad Hall, Gary Kroeger and I wrote for Saturday Night Live. The sketch didn’t make it to air on SNL – but Gary Whitney made it come alive in the pages of Practical Comix.