Tucked in a large zippered portfolio that was given to me by a pretty and wealthy girl when I was in college — but that’s a different memory, let’s not get diverted by other memories quite yet….
In that large zippered portfolio, I have a poster that a friend gave me in high school. “BANANA MAN” says the poster in large, cheerful letters. Above that is a cartoon portrait of a caped superhero, arms crossed, big goofy grin over his big goofy chin, a bulbous nose, stern eyes gazing out from behind a bright yellow mask loosely tied behind his head, all under a mop of unruly black hair. The poster is a lithograph drawn and printed by the guy who gave it to me, and there’s his signature in the bottom right corner: Karl E. Friberg.
Karl was a year ahead of me in high school, about the only student from art class I hung out with outside of class. Karl was always drawing Banana Man cartoons, some of which ran in the high school newspaper, and I admired and copied his drawing style to the best of my ability. We had a free period together at some point, and I remember watching him bring out the “Banana Box,” a slim box filled with an unruly collection of drawing implements: pencils, pens, erasers, a ruler, felt-tip markers. As soon as I saw it I started assembling my own portable box of drawing implements.
“I’m going to make a lithograph of Banana Man,” Karl announced one day. He was taking an industrial arts class in printing. “I’m making Banana Man T-shirts.” Wow! What could be better than a Banana Man T-shirt! A few days later, Karl appeared with an armful of T-shirts, shouted, “Laundry!” and tossed me a Banana Man T-shirt. God knows what happened to that T-shirt, but he also gave me the Banana Man poster which is still in my portfolio….
Karl graduated from high school a few months later, and I completely lost touch with him. Did he go on to a career in commercial art as he dreamed of doing? Does he still draw Banana Man? After he graduated, I inherited his place as the cartoonist in the high school newspaper, and I drew a humorous melodrama called “Rabbit Man,” the main character of which was a shorter, dumpier, stupider version of Banana Man. I never was as good a cartoonist as Karl had been.
It’s worth mentioning that Karl Friberg’s Banana Man predates the British cartoon character Bananaman by four or five years.
FYI – I’m still a huge fan of Rabbit Man, and somewhere I have the Rabbit Man strip that you drew for my college dorm room. I wouldn’t knock your cartoonist abilities – you’re pretty darn good, and funny, too.