New exhibit honors Salem cartoonist


SALEM, Ohio – Collected works of Salem cartoonist/artist Ed Sullivan is on display at the Salem Historical Society Museum during February.

Sullivan, a freelance cartoonist and fine artist whose cartoons have appeared in “The Saturday Evening Post,” “Ladies Home Journal,” and other periodicals and books, is well known to local fans of the former comic strips “Priscilla’s Pop” and “Out Our Way”.

He is also known for his popular set of prints of historic Salem which hang in many local businesses and homes.

These four prints, which include the old Town Hall and Fourth Street School, were reproduced on T-shirts for the last four Salem Jubilees as a fund-raiser for the Chamber of Commerce and personally autographed by the artist during the Jubilees.

Started early. Cartooning began in earnest for Sullivan at age 15 when his family relocated to Akron from his hometown of Gardner. Mass. He drew cartoons for his high school newspaper and won a first prize of $5 for one that was published in a national student newspaper, “The National Echo.”

After graduation from Akron’s Garfield High in 1948, Sullivan continued drawing cartoons part time while working for several local firms.

At 21 he began a comic strip called “The Googans,” a family-oriented strip roughly based upon J.R. Williams’ “Out Our Way” about the Willet family.

Prized possession. It ran for eight years in the Cleveland “Catholic Universe Bulletin.” Sullivan had greatly admired Williams’ work and a friend had given him an original J.R. Williams cartoon which became the young cartoonist’s most prized possession, never dreaming that one day he would be selected by a national syndicate to draw the actual Williams characters he so greatly admired.

On Sullivan’s 24th birthday, he sold his first cartoon to “The Saturday Evening Post” and submitted to them regularly thereafter.

They bought a number of his cartoons and reprinted two of them in a 1954 collection of Post cartoons called “Honey, I’m Home!”

In 1958, Sullivan, a then-recent convert to Catholicism. entered St. Paul’s Seminary in Staten Island, N.Y.

I n his blood. Cartooning, however, was “in his blood” and he soon was drawing cartoons about seminary life. These grew in popularity and became known as “Sem Beams” – a light-hearted look at the trials of young men aspiring to the priesthood.

The series ran in the Cleveland “Universe Bulletin,” the “Youngstown Catholic Exponent” and the “Toledo Chronicle.”

“Sem Beams” continued until Ed left the seminary in 1966, then gradually evolved into a more general commentary on Christian foibles, finally becoming “Beyond the Stained Glass, ” the weekly cartoon panel he now self-syndicates to 31 diocesan newspapers across the United States and in Canada. The cartoon panel is reprinted in many church bulletins.

New career. After leaving the seminary Sullivan joined the staff of the Youngstown diocesan paper, “The Catholic Exponent” working as a reporter and continuing his freelance and religious cartoons. While on an assignment he met his future wife, Gerry Van Hovel, a kindergarten teacher living in Canfield.

In 1968, Argus Communications of Chicago published the first collection of Sullivan Cartoons and called it “Laughter Through An Open Window.”

The publisher’s foreword noted that “… since we humans so often tend to take ourselves too seriously, we need a very human artist like Ed Sullivan to bring us back to reality with a few deft pen strokes and words.”

Cartoon collections. A second cartoon collection called “A Gift of Laughter” was first published locally in 1989, and then by Alba House in 1992.

In 1968 while “doodling” during a phone call Sullivan created a woebegone fish and decided to name him “Walter.” The sketch evolved into a poignant adult fable called “Walter Fish” which was to touch the hearts of many.

Modestly published by Alba House of Canfield, the little book became popular in the United States, Canada, Australia and other countries. It was widely used in nursing schools and by the U.S. Army in communication classes.

Clergy also used it as sermon material. Eventually it was made into a filmstrip with discussion guide, and later an animated film.

Then came marriage. Sullivan married in 1969 and moved to Salem in 1971. That same year, while trying to sell a comic strip to Newspaper Enterprise Association, a syndicate then based in Cleveland, the editors rejected his strip but were impressed with his artwork and in a fateful twist, asked if he would do the Sunday page of “Our Our Way – the Willets.”

Neg Cochran, who had taken over the strip when J.R. Williams died in 1957, was retiring. Sullivan kept the Sunday “Out Our Way” Willet family alive and well until 1974 when the syndicate decided to retire the strip.

The syndicate then offered Sullivan the daily strip, “Priscilla’s Pop” while its creator Al Vermeer continued drawing the Sunday page. After Vermeer’s retirement in 1976, Sullivan drew both the daily and Sunday strips until the syndicate discontinued “Priscilla’s Pop” in 1983.

Sullivan then worked as a freelance graphic artist/cartoonist creating two new strips: “Twit” and “Dee Sharp.” Neither found a market.

While continuing to draw the “Beyond the Stained Glass” cartoons, he rejoined the Catholic Exponent staff in 1989 as associate editor until retiring in 1998.

In his “leisure” he has rediscovered the joy of watercolors, sketching, doing commissioned work, and planning children’s books.

Still free-lancing, Sullivan laments the shrinking markets in newspapers and general interest magazines.

Included in the exhibit at the Historical Society Museum will be many of Sullivan’s original cartoons, copies of the “Out Our Way” and Priscilla’s Pop” strips, his watercolors, extraordinary pencil drawings, his inimitable “Inkstoppers,” greeting cards, and fund-raising creations commissioned by various organizations.

Meet the artist. The exhibit will open to the public throughout February. Sullivan will be present each Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m.


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