Saturday Morning Muse — Conchy

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From time to time Steve and I will blog on Saturdays about our great cartoon influences.  I’ll kick off our blog’s irregular-uncopyrighted feature with this short musing on a great muse of mine…

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I grew up in a little town along the Space Coast of Florida called Satellite Beach in the 60s and 70s.  As a kid, I adored a little-known strip about a beachcomber named, “Conchy” (pron: KONK-ee).  “Conchy” was always one of my favorite comic strips and still is.  It was self-syndicated and ran in the daily color comics (rare then) of our local paper FLORIDA TODAY (called TODAY back then) from 1970 until 1977.

Conchy’s creator, Jim Childress, worked in the art department at TODAY, just up Hwy. A1A from our house and across the Indian River Lagoon in Cocoa, FL.  I remember at age 18 reading about him taking his own life one evening on the beach in Cocoa Beach in 1977, and being heartbroken never having the chance to meet Jim to tell him that he was one of my pagan gods.
I like to credit Jim Childress as one of the great influences on my road to a career as a professional cartoonist.
Apart from “Dustin,” I also draw editorial cartoons for FLORIDA TODAY, and sadly there are no longtime staffers left who knew Jim, but I am lucky enough to possess a “Conchy” original cartoon that a cartoonist friend of mine gave me years later.  I still marvel at the beautiful, tiny masterpiece.
-Posted by Jeff
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12 thoughts on “Saturday Morning Muse — Conchy

  1. Hi Jeff,

    Doing a random search for “Jim Childress” online, I came upon your post today.

    I met Jim when I was a 15-year-old high school student, and he was working as staff cartoonist for the now defunct “Charlotte News” in Charlotte, NC. Jim was introduced to me by Doug Marlette (creator of “Kudzo”) who was a young editorial cartoonist at the “Charlotte Observer,” which also housed the “News.” I had been introduced to Doug by a high school history teacher, who took a liking to me and saw potential in my drawings.

    To make a long story short, Jim took me under his wing and I became his unofficial apprentice. He really put me through the paces, and at 15 I was publishing my own cartoons in local weekly newspapers. Jim taught me everything I would ever need to know about cartooning.

    I would visit him at the “News” at least once weekly. At the time, he was self-syndicating Conchy, for which he had a hard time finding a syndicate because he would never lower his standards. The syndicates thought that “Conchy” was too intellectual, but Jim wouldn’t budge. After years of going it on his own, he was finally picked up by a syndicate.

    Before then, however, as you know, he moved to Florida. Though it was heartbreaking, for Jim was truly my mentor, I helped him pack for the move. When I was at his house in NC helping with the move, he gave me originals of all the illustration work he did at the “News” (which I have kept all these many years).

    After his move, I went off to college, where (as you might expect) I soon was staff cartoonist for the school newspaper. It was not long after I started college that I got the news of Jim’s suicide. I was stopped in my tracks. It tore me apart, for I knew how much he loved his wife and kids. I was also angry, for he meant so much to his family. I just couldn’t understand it. I quit drawing for more than a year.

    When I returned to cartooning, I took with me a lesson that Jim never knew that he taught me: that lesson was to not take cartooning too seriously, for Jim really did take it way too seriously. If you’re not having fun, I learned, you’re not cartooning.

    I’m glad to know that he has such a positive influence on you and your work. He would be proud. I still miss him.

    Cheers!
    Charlie Lawing

    • Wow, Charlie. Such a great story. Thanks so much for sharing it on our blog. Are you still cartooning? With a mentor/friend like Jim Childress, your work must ROCK.

  2. I knew Jim Childress as a child. My dad was his Sgt in the Army. He & my dad were both artists, and there was much discussion about cartooning, politics, and other grownup things I didn’t care about then. What I did care about was “Big Jim”, as he was called. He never came to the house without making a big fuss over my little sister & myself. Years after my dad retired from the Army, they met occasionally (we lived in NC). My dad never was able to make a living from his artwork, but was very proud of Jim’s success. I cherished the few strips I saw over the years.
    I realized when I was little that he was a special person, and it saddens me to learn of his lonely end.
    I wish I had a more cartoon-intensive memory, but the memories he left me are of an outstandingly nice grownup. What few strips I have seen over the years add to the very positive impression I had of Big Jim.

    • Thanks for passing along your happy memories, Sumiko. Everyone I’ve ever met who knew Jim says the same thing, what a sweet man he was.

  3. My Name is Guy W. Childress and am the son of James Childress. I never knew there was any literature on my father until i was informed roughly about two years ago. It gives me a warm glowing feeling inside when i read the great things that people say about him. Yes he was a gentle giant, I do miss him terribly and wish that his condition could have been detected and corrected before the incident that took his life. I wish he could see and enjoy his beautiful grandchildren.

    • Golly, Guy. So good to hear from you! Your Dad was a major influence on me. I adored “Conchy” as a kid, and treasure the original strip I have — along with our wedding photos and important papers, it’s one of the first things to go into our hurricane evacuation kit. I also posess the two Conchy books as well, dog-earred by my constant leafing through. So glad you liked the write up.

    • I got to meet James Childress when he was at Merritt Square, in Merritt Island, where he personally drew me a Conchy illustration on Today Newspaper letterhead. I was about 11 years old and totally enamored. Around that time, he invited readers to submit “Mung” puns, for his Mung cartoons, which were triangular characters with eyes. He would illustrate the pun submissions each week, such as “Pyra-mungs”, and “Mung-gomery Wards”. It was exciting to see my submission published and illustrated by him. He also had a weekly spin-off, I believe called the “Beach-comers” (not totally sure if that was the title, it was a long time ago), about a beach family. I looked forward to reading it every day. The last Beachcomer strip had the caption “Come Saturday Morning, I’m going away with my friends”, the lyrics from the song. He died on a Saturday morning. I felt a part of me was gone.

    • Wow. Toni. So great of you to chime in. As you can see by all above, your Dad was a huge influence on me… Best to you and yours!

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