Shary Flenniken is the daughter of an archconservative
Rear Admiral in the United States Navy. If there really were such
a thing as a political chart with a right
and left wing, she would be off the map. Cartoonists draw fire from
Raised in Alaska, Panama and Seattle, she attended
a commercial art school in Seattle that was located in the top 3 floors
over a bank ...which tells you a lot about their orientation. The
pinnacle of success for graduates was working for the local Yellow
|When A Man Loves A Walnut: And
Even More Misheard Lyrics
Courtesy of Fireside, © 1997
One day, while attending an anti-Vietnam war demonstration, Shary
was recruited by a fledgling underground newspaper. Suddenly, she
had found an ethical alternative to designing perky Seven-Up advertising.
She produced full-page illustrations of her favorite third world poetry.
She drew cartoons advocating freedom of choice and hitchhiking.
Sky River Rock Festivals had become a regional tradition since the
mid-sixties. In 1970, Sky
River covered 160 acres for 11 days outside of Portland, Oregon.
Shary attended on assignment to produce a daily Sky River Newsletter
on a mimeograph machine positioned on the back of an old pick-up truck.
There she met three cartoonists who changed her destiny.
Bobby London and Ted Richards had come to Sky River from Berkeley,
California where they had been drawing comic strips for the radical
underground newspaper The Berkeley Barb.
The by-then infamous Dan O'Neill had been fired three times from the
San Francisco Chronicle for taking outrageous risks in his syndicated
comic strip Odd
Headquartered in a geodesic camping structure that was once a lid
for an extinct missile silo, the cartoonists produced the now-collectable,
4 page Sky River Funnies.
The cartoonists later regrouped in the San Francisco warehouse district
to embark on a mission conceived by O'Neill as a crusade against the
industrial complex and inspired by Richard Shickel's classic book,
The Air Pirates, as they called themselves themselves (derived from
the title of a Disney
Big Little Book) produced three controversial and illicit comic
books for which Disney
sued them at the request of a Disney copyright licensee.
Shary participated somewhat reluctantly, as the real enthusiasm for
this project had been born in the early childhood mouse-love fantasies
O'Neill and Bobby
This revolutionary art group was supported primarily by the life savings
of member Gary
Hallgren had been part owner of the groundbreaking Splendid Sign Company
in Seattle. He and co-founder Doug Fast (who remained in Seattle and
went on to design the Starbucks Coffee logo) were, and still are,
masterful artists with a profound sense of style.
The real attraction of the Air Pirates odyssey was the salon atmosphere
in the series of warehouses occupied by the group. The cartoonists
taught and learned from each other almost constantly. There was little
food or sleep. They discussed politics and pen points with equal seriousness.
They traveled in a protective pack when they went out to forage for
meals or a place to take a shower. O'Neill introduced Improvisational
Theater exercises that he adapted for writing comic pages. These
were emotional, mind-bending tests of the artist's ability to relinquish
their ego in order to participate in a team project. Not all passed.
The lessons were not always easy to swallow. One primary edict holds
true today… "Develop a character and build your comic strip around
its characters." Shary's long-running Trots and Bonnie comic strip
was a result of that directive, born from memories of growing up in
the saccharine Seattle suburb called Magnolia with her dog, Bonnie.
San Francisco, 1971, was still attracting a constant influx of legendary
cartoonists and artists. There were parties, scandals, ego battles
and artistic conflicts. It was a world of scruffy pot smoking intellectuals
obsessed with not "selling out" their artistic freedom by making any
kind of a decent living from their artwork. Just considering a trip
to New York City at that time invited a series of cross-legged criticism
sessions about the dangers of the establishment-run media.
This deliberately wretched world was thrown into an uproar when the
Bode sauntered in wearing tight black leather pants and frosted
nail polish. Vaughn was too successful and slick to ever really be
accepted into the San Francisco underground comics scene but his comic
Wizard went on to become a popular mainstay in the National Lampoon
Funny Pages. It was drawn in a style adopted by adoring graffiti artist
fans all over the world and although Vaughn died tragically in the
mid seventies, his legacy can still be seen today on subway walls,
boxcars and advertising art.
The atmosphere was too intense to last forever.
Events evolved as news of the Air Pirates lawsuit traveled across
the country to New York, where the National
Lampoon magazine's founders were beginning to search for new talent.
|National Lampoon October 1978 Entertainment
Courtesy National Lampoon, Inc., © 1978
Shary and her husband Bobby London had moved out of the communal warehouse
to a tiny cottage that had been constructed as post-earthquake emergency
housing in the eighteen hundreds.
There they were visited by Michel Choquette, a National Lampoon editor
who was recruiting contributers for a book entitled The Someday Funnies
which, although never completed, was to feature a cover drawing of
Lee Harvey Oswald being shot on television with a typical American
family watching and remarking "Someday we'll look back on this and
This project led to a romantic trip across Canada by rail and six
months of crashing with Bobby's parents in Queens. It was there that
Bobby taught Shary the fine art of getting work in the cartoon world.
"You visit. You hang out. Try not to drool in public."
They visited and hung out with the likes of...
Doug Kenny: insecure and brilliant, boasting an IQ over 185. He took
the Harvard Lampoon to its national audience with the talented and
very dignified Henry Beard.
Chris Miller: Shary's favorite writer. Impossibly handsome.
Anne Beatts: The girlfriend of Michel Choquette, Chris Miller and
Michael O'Donohue She is reported to have walked off the end of a
dock and into a lake one moonlit night when she wasn't wearing her
Michael O'Donohugh: Quirky, original and caustic. He kept the skin
of someone's pet collie in his apartment.
Tony Hendra: He and his partner had come to the US from England to
be the "Beatles of comedy".
Sean Kelly: erudite intellectual poet with a piercing sense of humor.
Brian McConnachie: the multi-talented Clark Gable of comedy
Jerry Sussman: gutsy fugitive from Madison Avenue, husband of the
beautiful Elaine Louie whose parents owned upscale Louie's Restaurant
Terry Southern: quiet and mysterious author of the incomparable Dr.
Strangelove Ed Subitsky... hysterically funny and unassuming.
Randy Enos: wonderful and nice, the quintessential cartoonist.
Gahan Wilson: Dressed like a banker in gorgeous Cashmere sport coats.
Jeff Jones: incredibly good looking great businessman who really did
like women with big hips.
Mike Kaluta: charming, warm and complicated
Charles Rodrigues: who draws the most wonderfully twisted cartoons
in the world while living an apparently normal life in rural Massachusetts.
Matty Simmons: father figure to all, co-owner of the magazine and
There was no formal contract with National Lampoon, but an understanding
that the two West Coast cartoonists would each send a fresh comic
strip to New York every month. Feeling secure with their new dual
income of $350 a month, the couple moved back to idyllic, suburban
They visited New York regularly, often to attend Comic Conventions.
The Air Pirates were possibly the first group of artists to set up
their drawing boards and draw sketches upon request as attendees looked
The Flenniken/London marriage pooped out several years later. Bobby
returned to the east coast to pursue a notable cartooning career in
national newspaper syndication, Playboy Magazine and with the Walt
Disney marketing organization.
Shary pursued the sun - to California and Florida.
|Trots And Bonnie in National Lampoon's September
1976 The Latest Issue Courtesy National Lampoon,
Inc., © 1976
The editors at National Lampoon continued to purchase her Trots and
Bonnie Comic strip, which ran in their Funny Pages Section. Additionally
they had begun to invite her to submit longer comic stories related
to the magazine's monthly topic, such as Work or Back To School.
Shary also produced a series of books and articles at this time (including
Drought Chic, Sketchbook).
P.J. O'Rourke was one of the few National Lampoon editors who had
not attended Harvard University. He brought a refreshing and straightforward
form of humor to the magazine. When he became editor in chief, he
sought to bring more of what might be called his "Midwestern middleclass"
sensibility to the magazine. He enlisted John Hughes, now a film producer,
and Shary, one of only two women editors ever hired by the magazine.
Shary turned a page and moved lock, stock, VW bus and blind dog to
New York City.
She was a working editor at this time... writing features while at
the same time recruiting other contributors and reviewing their work.
She was responsible for introducing and encouraging solid talents
such as Rick Geary, Jane Brucker, Mimi Pond and Charles Vess among
She attended both the Republican and Democratic political conventions
Her merchandising strategy produced the magazines most popular items.
* She co wrote the United Artists production National Lampoon's Movie
Madness, a feature film that has become a cult classic, perhaps best
know for actor Robbie Benson's heartfelt performance of the song Feelings.
Shary left the magazine shortly after the death of Doug Kenney, one
of the magazine's three founders. PJ ORourke left not long after that
to pursue a brilliant career as an independent columnist, author,
curmudgeon and raconteur. John Hughes moved on to writing and producing
some of America's most popular movies. Ted Mann and fellow editor
Todd Carroll went on to make a film of their short story, "O.C. and
Stiggs" with Producer and Director Robert Altman.
Shary explored NYC for another eight years writing movie scripts and
outlines for Walt Disney, Paramount, and National Lampoon. She illustrated
Nice Guys Sleep Alone, Bruce Feirstein's sequel to the best selling
Real Men Don't Eat Quiche, produced animatic art for television and
advertising, and appeared in Ron Mann's feature length documentary,
Comic Book Confidential. She developed a comic version of the popular
Nickelodeon TV series You Can't Do That On Television for King Features
Syndicate, created Amy the Agent for Whittle Publications' Travel
Life Magazine, and went to court to draw a real life cartoon series
for American Lawyer Magazine.
Meanwhile, she continued the Trots and Bonnie series in Lampoon as
well as other comic stories and articles for the magazine. At this
time, two collections of her work were published in Paris by Comics
USA. Trots and Bonnie and Sexe & Amour - both in French.
In 1987 she married Bruce Jay Paskow, a member of the Grammy Award
nominated Electric Folk band, The
Washington Squares. The band toured the country and played with
the Beach Boys, Belinda Carlisle, Peter, Paul and Mary, and the Kingston
Trio. Bruce also loved to sit in on occasion with Jorma Kaukonen and
Jack Casady of Hot Tuna.
Shary's dad had passed away in 1975. Her mom joined him in 1989. Shary
and Bruce moved from Manhattan to the family home in Seattle. They
thrived there, Bruce continuing to write and perform with the Squares
while also branching out to produce album projects with the folk rock
Bruce passed away in 1995.
Shary has continued freelancing for various magazines and books including:
New York Law School
various Paradox Press books
She has designed CD Roms, animated productions and avatars for Microsoft
Shary Flenniken is currently in the middle of several projects including
film work, a childrens book, an adventure novel and three websites.