“Holy Shit! What an Idea!”

In April 1990, the inaugural NSF “Alliance for Undergraduate Education” was held in Ann Arbor. It was a national meeting about undergrad education reform.

One of the intro keynote speakers said that he hoped there would be ideas presented at this meeting that would cause people to rear their heads back and yell out “Holy Shit! What an idea!”

A day or so later…

In our large conference room in the chemistry building, I gave one of the first presentations ever on the (new) undergrad curriculum at Michigan, which we had started that last September 1989.

When the talk was done, the first person in the audience who spoke was Robert (Bob) Lichter, who was just ending his first year as the Executive Director of the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation.

Bob yelled out “Holy Shit! What an idea!”

It’s a great story. He and I were close ever since.

Robert L. Lichter (1941-2018)

As chair of chemistry at Hunter College (1970-1983), a program officer at Research Corporation (1983-1986), and as vice provost for research and graduate studies at SUNY-Stony Brook (1986-1989) Lichter led concerted efforts to increase the numbers of graduate students in all disciplines, including chemistry, from under-represented populations.

Executive Director, Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation, 1989-2002

To broaden the Foundation’s reach and the diversity of its award recipients, Lichter gave guidance about proposal writing to potential applicants from institutions that were disproportionately underrepresented among Dreyfus awardees. This resulted in an increase in the numbers of applications and nominations from these institutions, and a modest increase in the number of awardees.

He was a long-time active member in the American Chemical Society.

Perhaps the three most visible outcomes of his efforts are Dreyfus’s contribution to the Percy Julian film project, “Forgotten Genius”; the ACS Award for Encouraging Disadvantaged students into Careers in the Chemical Sciences; and the ACS Award for Encouraging Women into Careers in the Chemical Sciences.


Ching Chow (02/09/1928)

Ching Chow (02/09/1928)
by Robert Sidney Smith (1877-1935)
3 x 5 inches, ink on board
Coppola Collection

Ching Chow (06/28/1940)
by Stanley Link (1894-1957)
3 x 5 inches, ink on board
Coppola Collection

On January 10, 1927 both Sidney Smith and Stanley Link are attributed with creating the popular daily cartoon Ching Chow, featuring a Chinese man visualized with a stereotype used commonly throughout the early to mid-20thCentury.

With a round face, a long queue sticking straight up from his head and a hugely toothy grin, Ching Chow was the very epitome of the era’s “chinaman” trope. He imparted his wisdom-packed one-liners with what passed at the time for an “Asian-ized” accent. These fortune cookie aphorisms were usually prefaced by “It is truly written…”, “It is wisely said…”, or some similar faux attribution. Sometimes he self-effacingly took credit himself with “In my useless opinion…” or spread it around widely with “Who can deny …”.

Sidney Smith was the “big name” partner in the team that created Ching, and the signature artist, because he was famous as the man behind The Gumps one of the most popular comics of the time. Stanley Link, who is thought to have produced most of the content, worked as his assistant.

Link took over as the signature artist after Smith’s death in 1935. Two years earlier, starting on July 23, 1933 Link started a comic strip of his own, Tiny Tim. This Sunday strip was based on Tim and Dotty Grunt, two siblings who were only two inches tall. The comic was a reader’s favorite, especially among children. Tales about tiny people had fascinated youngers newspaper readers ever since Palmer Cox’s The Brownies in the late 19thC.

Link produced a multi-panel Ching Chow companion strip to Tiny Tim, which ran from October 31, 1943 until the 1950s.

Ching Chow, helmed by various artists after Link’s death in 1957, ran for an unbelievably long period of time, and well into a period when one might have thought that such stereotypes would not have been tolerated (1927-1971, 1975-1990).

Tiny Tim and Ching Chow (03/18/1951)
by Stanley Link (1894-1957)
14 x 20 inches, ink on board
Coppola Collection

“Fantastic Four 76, page 14” (July 1968)

“Fantastic Four 76, page 14” (July 1968)
by Jack Kirby (1917-1994) and Joe Sinnott (1926-)
14 x 21 in., ink on paper
Coppola Collection

Fifty Years Ago!

“Stranded in Sub-Atomica!” is the third of a 4-part story where the FF are chasing down the Silver Surfer, who has taken refuge in the Microverse in an attempt to avoid being dragged back into the service of Galactus. This is the home turf of Psychoman, so there is more happening than a game of hide and seek.

Here, the Fantastic Four (minus the pregnant Sue Richards, who is on leave from the team) have breached the barrier and entered into the Microverse. As they try to follow after the Surfer, they are attacked by the Indestructible One.

There is no escaping the power of late 1960s FF as drawn by Jack Kirby and inked by Joe Sinnott. Every page in these issues stands up as a masterpiece.

“I got five inches in the Times”

“I got five inches in the Times”
by Barbara Shermund (1899-1978)
18 x 22 inches, ink and wash on board
Coppola Collection

Perfect for April 1. I have about 70 examples of Shermund’s work, and she had a terrifically biting (“irreverent & sassy”) sense of humor. Shermund produced 599 cartoons in The New Yorker between the ages of 26-45 (1925-1944).

“Her cartoons were irreverent, sassy, and a true reflection of her times,” writes Liza Donnelly, author of Funny Ladies: The New Yorker’s Greatest Women Cartoonists and their Cartoons.

“Barbara Shermund was one of the more prolific cartoonists of the early New Yorker. Her breezy drawing style and humor reflected the new attitudes of urban women in the twenties and thirties, and she can be considered one of the early feminist cartoonists. The New Yorker sought to appeal to both men and women with its humor, and Shermund, along with other women cartoonists of the magazine, were groundbreakers in that regard, creating cartoons from a woman’s perspective that could be enjoyed by all.”

From Michael Maslin’s (michaelmaslin.com) Ink Spill blog: Barbara Shermund (American, 1899-1978) Barbara Shermund, who died in early September, 1978, had the misfortune of passing away during a newspaper strike that affected the paper of record, The New York Times. An extensive search has turned up just one obituary for her, a four sentence notice that ran in a newspaper covering the New Jersey coastal town where she lived for a number of years toward the end of her life. For someone who contributed hundreds of cartoons and eight covers to The New Yorker Magazine, then went on to become a mainstay at Esquire, four sentences seems a bit slight.

Here then is another notice, a little late, and a little longer. Born in San Francisco in 1899 to artistic parents (her father was an architect), Ms. Shermund studied at The California School of Fine Arts before heading east, at the age of twenty-six, to New York. She told Colliers that her initial visit east became permanent “after she had eaten up her return fare.” In June of that very year, she made her debut at the four month old New Yorker with a cover of a young woman sporting a hip hairdo, eyes closed, resting her arm over a railing, against a black sky peppered with stars. In a year’s time her cartoons, many if not most of which were written by her, were appearing in nearly every issue of the magazine.

Her style had a sway to it that fit the times. Her subjects, executed in pen and ink and wash, were often hip young women, just a bit jaded – the sort that famously inhabited F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise. She once offered up this brief glimpse into her private life, saying she liked “fancy dancing and dogs.”

Shermund traveled widely – Donnelly wrote of her that “she was something of a wanderer, living with friends in the city and the upstate town of Woodstock [NY], never really having a set address.” Eventually she settled down in Sea Bright, New Jersey, a barrier beach town, just about an hour’s drive from New York. The last of her five hundred and ninety-seven drawings in The New Yorker appeared September 16, 1944; her last cover appeared August 5, 1944.

How can it be that there is no Wikipedia entry about her?