Biography




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 all directions.

When A Man Loves A Walnut: And Even More Misheard Lyrics
Courtesy of Fireside, © 1997
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 Pages.

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 Bodkins.

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 military industrial complex and inspired by Richard Shickel's classic book, The Disney Version.

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 of Dan O'Neill and Bobby London.

This revolutionary art group was supported primarily by the life savings of member Gary Hallgren.

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 beautiful Vaughn 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 strip Cheech 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.

National Lampoon October 1978 Entertainment Issue
Courtesy National Lampoon, Inc., © 1978
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.

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 laugh."

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 glasses.

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 in Seattle.

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 publishing genius.

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 Seattle.

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 on.

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.

Trots And Bonnie in National Lampoon's September 1976 The Latest Issue Courtesy National Lampoon, Inc., © 1976
Shary pursued the sun - to California and Florida.

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 others.

She attended both the Republican and Democratic political conventions in 1980.

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 legend P.F. Sloan.

Bruce passed away in 1995.

Shary has continued freelancing for various magazines and books including:

• Mad
• Premiere
• Harvey
• Kidstar
• Freezone
• Details
• Savant Woman
• New York Law School
• Seattle Magazine
• various Paradox Press books

She has designed CD Roms, animated productions and avatars for Microsoft Communications.

Shary Flenniken is currently in the middle of several projects including film work, a childrens book, an adventure novel and three websites.