A Loving Dedication to Mr Strauss

I sometimes wonder if he's still alive... that wonderful old coot. Mr Myron (Mike) Strauss was my cartooning teacher at the High School of Art and Design back in the late 70s. His voice never rose above a whispery squeak, and his unassuming, laid-back demeanor gave off the impression that his class was going to be one of the easy ones - which pretty much it was. Certainly not because Strauss was any sort of push-over, but because his approach to his own curriculum was more of a requirement he did begrudgingly, and clearly not his preferred method of teaching. What was, seemed more or less not to teach at all - but to let you draw whatever you wanted. "Draw, draw and draw" he used to say, and to the delight of his students that was pretty much his only real assignment.

Sure, he went through all the usual projects - lessons in lettering, the three panel comic strip, the full page color spread and my first introduction to zip-a-tone, the now out-dated method of comic-art screen tone application. But he knew that if he let his students draw as much as they wanted, whatever they wanted, that they'd eventually find their own signature styles - and when he saw something you did that he particularly liked he'd look you in the eye and say "...you're a genius." When someone else within earshot asked "what about me, Strauss?" he'd say "You, I'm not so sure." He was one funny guy.

On occasion he'd bring in something he did during his days as an advertising illustrator, and you'd be reminded quickly that despite his apparent lackadaisical attitude toward his somewhat of a sham teaching job, that he was once a man whose talents could quickly put most swarmy-assed art students back in their place. He knew his stuff. But more than that, Strauss showed through daily example that a sense of humor was everything. Without it you might as well just call it a day and go home.

I can recall one time in the late 80s, for one reason or the other, I revisited Strauss in his classroom. He was still there, wearing his cowboy boots and thumbing through a magazine as his students sat drawing. I was wondering if he was going to remember me. I'm not really sure if he did, although after I introduced myself he said "yes" and then kept repeating my last name like a mantra. He might've just been trying to be polite, I'm not certain.

Anyway, just to give you an idea of what kind of funny and influential man he was - here are a few of my favorite Mr Strauss memories... Enjoy....

Mr Strauss memory #1...

One day Mr. Strauss gave a drawing assignment that had the class pretty deep in thought - so it was very quiet while everyone's heads were down, drawing attentively. Christian de Mesones (a fellow classmate who others might remember as the guy who dressed up as Gene Simmons of KISS at Halloween) was sitting right in front of Strauss. Strauss put him there as a punishment of some type or so that he could keep a closer eye on him. Anyway, Strauss always liked to suck on sucking candies and he must've accidentally swallowed one - or it went down his windpipe... so he began to suffocate. However, he calmly passed a note to Chris which read "I'M CHOKING!" and Chris read it, said "Oh shit!" and jumped up. Then he grabbed Strauss from behind and gave him one of those Heimlich maneuvers and the candy came shooting out across the room. After that life-saving incident Chris felt Strauss owed him and he could goof off as much as possible and still not get a failing mark. A few weeks later, the test results were handed out from some recent art test Strauss had given - and Chris saw he failed it. He said to Strauss "Hey man, you can't fail me! I saved your LIFE!" and Strauss said, "That's why I failed you - WHO WANTS TO LIVE?" - - True story!!

With Chris in '78, obscuring his face from the paparazzi.

Mr Strauss memory #2...

Strauss would often sing or hum during class - and on occasion he would say things (to no one in particular, just any recipient within earshot)... one thing he did cracked me up during another quiet moment. He said (again to no one in particular) "You know when you know YOU'VE MADE IT?" Most of us looked up as if to say, "no, ...when?" Then he swung his legs up over the desk and let them land on top of it with a loud THUD THUD!!! and said "When you can afford to buy boots like THESE!!!!

A self-portrait of Strauss from Chris' Memory Book.

Big lug saves man with big heart

Incidentally, as a follow-up story to that first Strauss memory... another A&D classmate of mine, Guy Gonzales remembers, "Chris couldn't draw to save his life, but the way he tells it, Strauss did pass him, but they kept it secret, since Chris failed miserably. I heard that candy incident so many times form Chris himself, and he always emerges the hero, the big lug (he's a phenomenal bass player though; he even played with Roberta Flack)."

Well, now the secret is out, Strauss, wherever you are. God bless you and THANKS for the memories...

Another A&Der remembers Strauss (and others)...

Bruce Handler
The Handler Design Group, Inc.

Added February 17, 2011 - used with permission.

I came across your site while googling Mr. Strauss from A&D. To my surprise, there was someone else who remembered him and put his memories down in words of a teacher, who I thought became an art teacher because he wasn't good enough to go out in the real world and earn a living. Like yourself, I was completly taken back when I saw some of his commercial art, specificaly his comic art for a romance book.

Let me backtrack a little bit. Mr. Strauss began teaching in the fall of 1968 and I was in his class for isometric drawing. He was round shouldered, had a lisp, bad or uncool haircut and sometimes goofed around too much. I was interested in cartooning, always have been and hung out with a group that made it in the comic field, even though I couldn't figure out how they got jobs. More later.

One day, Mr. Strauss brought in oversized pencil drawings on heavy vellum with gray wash that he did for this romance comic book to show the use of perspective. I nearly fell off my chair while I poured over every pencil detail of this girl making out with a good looking guy that reminded me of Jack Lord. The drawings were fantastic and showed the skill and talent of a top notch illustrator. In fact, he was one of the best and if you walked past him in the hallway, he looked like anything else. Maybe he placed himself in his work. Either way, I had a hell of a lot more respect for him after that. Wish I could remember more stories about him.

Krigstein, Naegele, Hollingsworh, Weissman, Bellin, Thatti (spelled wrong), Eliscue were just some of the best talent in the art field. Ben Clements is still my mentor with Naegle. I always had a good paying summer job for Ben Clements teaching painting at USDAN on Long Island. He was a great painter, letterer, designer and taught me painting by removing me from the typing class. Naegle, to me did it all and was an intellectual who I will always respect and remember fondly. I do recall finding out that Krigstein drew the horror comics for EC and didn't want to answer my questions. He would dodge us in the hallways.

In one of my classes, there was Ron Wilson (drew for Marvel), Alan Kupperberg (drew for DC and Marvel). Alan was a pain in the ass kind of guy. He bugged everyone and was never a good cartoonist in my opinion. Drawing lessons would have helped him instead of copying the work of others for comic books. Too bad, he did have talent, just never developed as far as he could. Also in that class was Steve Mitchelle, great inker and friend of Alan, Stu Smiley, producer of many comic shows, agent of Robin Williams and producer of "Everyone loves Raymond". Larry Jacobs was a very talented cartoonist who became better known on the TV show "Welcome Back Kotter", he played Boom Boom Washington.

I became a designer, still working for myself and had the pleasure of working on projects with Jack Davis, who lived a town over from us. Great guy and very fast. I would say he's the king of cartooning and I'm fortunate to own several of his works.

Best regards and good luck,
Bruce Handler

...and in a follow-up letter Bruce continues...

...You have to admit that A&D was a great school back in the day and there were top notch teachers that had real experience in the design/illustration and advertising.

Remember Mr. Feurgerson? He was the first black advertising man I ever met. I figured he was just another gym or math teacher. Nothing special... till he brought in storyboards for a beer campaign that he did. The sketches were the same quality as anyone in the business.

Mr Neaegle was a translator during WW2 in a Nebraska POW camp. He donated all his paintings during that time and they are on display. His fine art work is in several collections around the world and he's still busy. Helmut Krone was a friend of his at Industrial Arts and I metioned that to Helmut, after arranging a meeting through his wife to meet him. (my first job was at DDB.) He recalled was fellow classmate. Helmut did the first VW ads that are in the AD Hall of Fame. Same with Avis, Audi, Polaroid, etc.

Larry Jacobs was just pure cool guy in class... and would have been a great artist if he stayed with it.

Jack Davis is someone who I was glad to have met and work with during the 1970's and 1980's. My first meeting with him was for a toy package. I arrived at his house early in the morning in 1977. After ringing his doorbell, I waited several minutes and he opened the door in his pjs and robe. His office was in what was a stone garage in the back of the house and right on the 9th hole of the Scarsdale Golf course. He also had a fax machine back then. Over the years he gave me some original artwork and let me hold onto the work we did together. For a guy who came out of horror comics and Mad magazine, his house was Ethan Allen style but the pieces were real and everything about him was conservative. He attended church, donated to anyone that asked for help, gave advice to students and more importantly, never had a bad word about anyone... even the ones that screwed him.

Do you recall Mr. Taylor? He taught illustration and one day I was buying some used books in White plains from the Salvation Army. It was written by Mr. Bieglism (I know I spelled his name wrong) and bought it for a quarter. There's Mr. Taylor doing a beer ad that showed a young guy drinking a beer. The illustration was realistic and all I did was stare at it. This is the same Mr. Taylor (pretty sure after doing some research years ago) that drew for Playboy.

I wish I kept in touch with them.

Oh, here's another Strauss story. One day, after we were working on a class assignment, he must have been bored and took out a Spaldin ball and bounced it in front of himself while tryng to catch it with his baggy pants. That was weird.

Standing outside A&D in 2009.

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