Ken Struck and Tootles
April 12, 2011
A few years ago I was finally able to track down almost all of the Weirdo magazines. They sat on my bedroom floor in a neat stack as I excitedly but carefully read through each issue that I had acquired. Cartoonists that are now my heroes saw early exposure in Weirdo. It had an impeccable knack for finding and publishing people that went on to do some of the greatest work in comics. A dangerous feeling magazine, it was the kind of comic anthology that would publish an incarcerated man’s comics drawn from behind bars, or proudly feature drawings from crazed lunatics. Basically, Weirdo magazine was the outsider publication to an industry that served the outsider.
Beginning its life in 1981 and lasting until 1993, most of Weirdo magazine’s cartoonists were amateurs or what we would now describe as outsider artists. Expressing their own desperation through their individual voices with complete artistic freedom. Being in Weirdo magazine allowed many upstarts to see their work in print alongside Robert Crumb, a god to every generation of artists for nearly 50 years! Artists from all over the world became fanatical about appearing inside Weirdo’s covers. Crumb himself was the creator and editor, before handing the reigns over to future superstar cartoonist Peter Bagge, who then after a while gave it back to the Crumb family where Aline Kominsky Crumb took over as Weirdo yay or nay sayer. Finally, she grew tired of the editing duties as well and the magazine’s throat was slit.
It was in the magazine’s time with Peter Bagge serving as editor that Tootles,
a seemingly happy comic about the day to day life of a little stick figure named Tootles, who smiled throughout his little life’s tragedies, appeared in the letters section.
For eight issues Tootles appeared with a few other small comics strips by other favorites of mine Mary Fleener and Steven creator Doug Allen. It was in great company and it became the first thing I looked for as I continued my Weirdo comics education. But who was “K. Struck?” I couldn’t find any comics by K. Struck in the used bookstores or comic shops around me. I just had these little doses of his Tootles comics and nothing more. After some digging around I discovered the “K. Struck” was Ken Struck, a cartoonist living in New Jersey. I went to Peter Bagge to see what he remembered about Ken’s output to which he offered:
“Other than Tootles I think he may have had one or two more ambitious strips in other anthologies in the early – mid 80s. I honestly think Tootles was all he ever made a dime off of (literally).”
Mr. Bagge then suggested that I find Ken Struck on Facebook, and that little piece of advice paid off. Without too much poking around I had found Ken. Excitedly I heaped praise and was able to ask a few questions about the obscure comic strip before finally being ignored by the great tootles artist.
NVS:How long did you have to submit to Weirdo before you were accepted?
KS: I had sent Tootles to Crumb but never heard anything. I met Peter Bagge through a mutual friend right before he moved to Seattle.He liked the strip and ran it in 8 issues.
NVS: Do you remember what the magazine paid its artists back then?
KS: Since Tootles only took up a quarter of a page, I got around $15 – 20 bucks. I believe the page rate was $50.
NVS: What kind of kid were you when you were drawing Tootles back then?
KS: Well, in short, I was a jersey bumpkin commuting to SVA in the big bad 80s. Boozing and drugging as much as possible while studying comics with Eisner, Kurtzman, and especially Spiegelman.
Tootles and his little life all happened 26 years ago. His little smile first saw print the year that I was born. It’s very possible that young Ken Struck didn’t foresee anybody reading and enjoying his obscure comic strip even this far into the future. Thus is the power of print that I fear will be lost with the future. Will the things that I draw and post on the internet have that kind of potential for rediscovery? I’m not sure….
We’ll talk about it in 26 years.