Tuesday, April 7, 2009

An Interview with Doug Is Featured in The Oregonian

Playboy Cartoonist Doug Sneyd

Posted by Steve Duin, The Oregonian April 05, 2009 21:49PM

Categories: Art, Comics

My most memorable Playboy collection? They lounged in the bathroom of a house at Hilton Head, where Dr. R.S. Birckhead had retired after a long and distinguished career in Gauley Bridge, West Virginia. The good doctor -- we called him "Showboat" -- was my college roommate's father; he had a nasty tennis game, a wicked sense of humor, and a memorable set of Playboys in his guest bathroom. I still remember individual covers and pictorials from the days when my college buddies -- Jim, Mac and Buckwheat -- and I landed at Hilton Head for a weekend of nonsensical athletic competition. And you better believe I remember the best of Doug Sneyd.

With all due respect to Buck Brown, Jack Cole and Gahan Wilson, Sneyd's cartoons best captured the spirit of Hef's magazine. The women were gorgeous, sweet and available. The gags were almost as good ... such as the waitress in a summer theater setting addressing an equally attractive guest at a table outside Ye Boar's Head Tavern: "You did Shakespeare in the park? Big deal -- last week I did him in the hayloft." Or the woman calmly reflecting to her bed partner, "I didn't feel the Earth move, but I think I had an Elvis sighting."

Sneyd brought six of those originals to Emerald City ComiCon this weekend, each priced at $9,000 or more. I suspect Showboat -- who died several years back -- would have bought one, but I settled for a 30-minute conversation with a cartoonist whose work has appeared in Playboy for the last 45 years.

And next time, be more careful ...

Sneyd grew up in Guelph, Ontario and was drawing straight out of the gate. He was still in his teens in the late '40s when he took the Famous Artists Course. "I was one of seven kids," he notes, "My parents didn't have the money to send me to art school." He cruised through the first 17 lessons of the correspondence course, then noted the title of the 18th: "Earn While You Learn."

Sneyd took the hint: "I stopped doing the course and started doing magazine work." One of his first assignments was to do a series of murals featuring the Pickwick characters from Dickens. "They paid me $900. That was a lot of money. I bought a car. A Vauxhall. Red leather seats. Those bulbous front fenders."

He had a fairly extensive resume in magazine and textbook illustration when Sneyd brought his portfolio to Chicago in 1963. He somehow ended up in the office of Playboy's art director. "He loved my work," Sneyd recalls, "but he didn't want me to do illustrations. He wanted me to do cartoons. I said, 'That's not my cup of tea' ... and then he told me what those cartoons paid. 'THAT,' I said, "is my cup of tea.'"

The back cover of Doug Snyed's "Unpublished," showing the series of roughs that lead to the completed cartoon.

Sneyd no longer does his own gags -- he relies on a quintet of gag writers, including a music instructor, Chris Kemp, and a carpenter named Pudge McDivitt -- but he insists he's still trying to draw "the girl next door. They're pretty well cut from the same rope. I just try to get them to look gorgeous. Someone I'd like to know. You need an element of humor there. She's got to carry the gag."

There's little doubt, Sneyd says, as to the crucial element of a successful cartoon: "Facial expression is everything." Each time he showed me a cartoon in which he'd transformed the original image with rubber cement and a fresh triangle of watercolor board, the alteration was pasted not atop his next-door neighbor's hips or chest but over her face. "It's the look. The look on her face," Sneyd said. "Her attitude is so very important ... and I'll draw them several times before I get it right."

Sneyd, who spent a dozen years doing editorial cartoons for the Toronto Star, has branched out on a number of occasions, including the creation of a 48-minute film ("Black-eyed Susan") on spousal abuse. At Comic-Con this summer, he will unveil the cover art for a new CD by Sad Salamanders titled "Bikinis and Martinis." And he's hoping that someone, someday, will publish a full retrospective of his work.

The kind of book, I suppose, that will end up on the coffee tables of Hilton Head, and not the guest bathrooms.

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