Me and Dad were sitting on the bus stop bench telling knock-knock jokes waiting for Mom when he pointed to the rooftop of a building where there were several men hand-cranking a crane. They were winding a rope that was attached to a safe. There were two more men in an open window below them trying to pull the safe into the building with another rope. Mom spotted us as she came out of the dress shop and waved and headed for the cross walk. We waved back and then watched the rope break and the safe fall end over end landing right side up on top of Mom. We ran to her, but it wasn’t until Dad pulled me away that I realized that she was dead. I was eleven years old.
I go by the name Pincus. That’s it, a one-word name like Elvis, Madonna, or Judas. That’s how I sign my name on each cartoon I draw and it’s how I’m referred to in interviews (the few I’ve given). If some reporter wants to go digging into my past he can come up with the whole story, name and all–but I’m not volunteering the information.
I draw a single-panel cartoon. It’s called “BAM! SQUISH!” and it’s syndicated in over two hundred newspapers in this country alone and I don’t know how many more in twenty-two other countries.
It’s a phenomenon. I’m a phenom. It’s an aberration of our society that for fourteen years I’ve been drawing basically the same cartoon: a person or persons are walking, minding their own business, when BAM! SQUISH! a safe or piano or whatever object de jour falls from above and the reader knows the character is about to be creamed, flattened, pancaked, squished and above all hurt. But this is a comic, so there is never an impact. The falling object is always stopped before that moment. I leave the rest to the imagination. Actual violence would take away from the humor–for most of us anyway.
I use different locales; sometimes country, sometimes city, and often I use other countries. This year’s “Reader’s Choice” Cartoon showed two men, musicians, walking down the street. We know they’re musicians because one’s carrying a large bass and the other a trumpet or some other kind of horn, both in cases. Just above them, free falling, is a man on a stool wearing a tux–tails and all, and he’s playing a grand piano, lid up and candelabras in place. He’s about fifty feet (that’s become my distance of choice) over the musicians’ heads and the caption reads, “I can’t believe Murray quit. Where are we going to find another piano player on such short notice?”
That’s it. That’s the whole cartoon. One single panel. My first published cartoon showed three burglars standing around under a streetlight talking. They are wearing burglar masks and carrying burglar tools–crowbars, hammers, drills, and sticks of dynamite in their back pockets. Two of the burglars are obviously upset with the third. There’s a humongous safe above them and two men are looking out the window of an office building. They are also wearing burglar masks. One man has his hand over his mouth and the other appears to be slapping himself on the forehead. They are both holding the same end of the rope. The caption reads: “What do you mean you left the address at the hideout. Where do you expect us to find a safe at this hour?”
That cartoon is what started Pincus, Inc. These cartoons are on T shirts, coffee mugs, calendars and even trading cards. They are on whatever object people have paid a license for. They call this a cottage industry. Some cottage. I’ve been honored as a cartoonist by my peers and given honorary degrees for speaking at college graduations. For some reason BAM! SQUISH! has captured the hearts and minds of people everywhere. Who really knows what’s going to become a smash hit? Pardon the pun. I’m an okay artist and while my work is not extremely polished, it’s easily understood and recognized.
I must have gotten the art gene from my mother. How ironic. She was always doodling and making funny pictures to hang around the house–often to get her point across. I remember after trying for months to get my father and me to stop leaving our shoes lying around the house she drew a picture of mounds of shoes blocking the entrance to the kitchen. In the dining room were caricatures of the two of us looking forlorn. We were each holding a knife and fork and sitting at an empty table. Mom was standing by the door. The caption read, “I guess its shoes for dinner tonight. Who’d like a sandal? Anyone for a penny loafer?” That put an end to our shoe-dropping phase, but Mom kept the cartoon on the refrigerator door for months after anyway.
How does my father feel about my cartoons? He’s never mentioned them. Dad’s living in Florida and has been for quite a while. We talk every week, but he never asks me about my work–ever. He hasn’t remarried but “keeps company” with Dore, a hot ticket widow from Queens. They have been together longer than he and my mother were. Every once in a while I’ll find a message from Dore on my answering machine. “This morning’s Pincus with the falling Rabbi was great. I could have plotzed. Oh, the power of nine men praying for a tenth to show up for a minion was brilliant.” Dore always likes the irreverent ones the best. They also draw the most letters to the newspapers.
It was the end of May and I was in New York to meet with my agent. He left me alone in his office while he attended to another matter. I looked through his desk drawers and found a pile of Mad Magazines. I had a new respect for Bernie at that moment. His name was really Arnold, but it is my firm and unshakeable belief that any agent worth his salt is named Bernie. I told him that early on and explained to him that if he wanted to represent me he’d have to not only answer to Bernie, but also be Bernie in any form of contact with me.
He laughed. “You guys are all alike,” he said. “Do you think you’re the only client I’m a Bernie for?”
“There are others?” I asked. “Who? How many?”
“You already know too much,” he said. “If I tell you any more I’ll have to kill you.”
While Bernie was out of his office I sat on his windowsill looking down a dozen stories watching a couple argue. They were standing on the corner, the man–head bowed, arms at his side, while the woman was flailing her arms and probably screaming at him because passersby were turning to look at them and some even walked a respectable distance away and stopped to eavesdrop. I watched a taxi speed up trying to make it through a yellow light, while at the same time another cab anticipating a green jumped his red light. They appeared to be playing chicken and were about to collide until at the very last moment one swerved and THWACK! BOOM! the lady with the flailing arms was flying through the air from the running the yellow light taxi, and the man, presumably her husband, was staring down at his shoes, oblivious to what had just happened. Or maybe he wasn’t oblivious, perhaps he was keeping his head bowed in prayer giving thanks to whatever Deity he’d chosen to give credit to. Both the woman and the cab ended up on the opposite corner while the other cab sped off.
I left Bernie a note with some lame excuse for cutting out of our yearly meeting and caught the next Amtrak out of Penn Station to Connecticut and home. That night I drew my three BAM! SQUISH! panels. I always draw them in threes to have a reserve that allows me to take time off whenever I choose. I stayed at my drawing board and sketched out a double panel cartoon of what I had witnessed from Bernie’s office window that morning. The first panel showed a meek man and an overbearing arm-waving woman, and it showed the cabs swerving past each other with one heading towards the couple. “You’re worthless, Walter. All I asked you to do was get us a cab. Was that such a difficult request?” The next panel showed the cab on the curb, the woman flying through the air, and the man staring down at his shoes saying, “Yes, dear.”
“THWACK! BOOM!” came to mind immediately and edged out “YOU’RE WORTHLESS WALTER,” as the name of the new cartoon. Before the month was out Bernie had it running in almost as many papers as BAM! SQUISH! I continue to draw them both but “THWACK! BOOM!” was twice voted cartoon of the year and Saturday Night Live picked it up for an animated short. It also outpaced “BAM! SQUISH!” in the merchandising field and Pincus, Inc. has become really big. I’ve turned down offers from both Ted Turner and Barry Diller to sell the company.
My life is good. I have all the trappings; an apartment on Central Park West, an estate in Greenwich, Connecticut and a Villa in Tuscany. I have a beautiful, devoted, fun-loving wife and two bright interesting children. I have respect from my peers and adulation from my fans.
Last year I went to London to buy my wife a surprise birthday gift–an apartment in the heart of the city. She loves the theater there, and soon the boys will be out of the house and she’ll be able to spend more time in England.
I was in my hotel, tired of being driven around the city all day apartment hunting and didn’t have the strength to get dressed and go out for dinner so I ordered up room service thinking how nice it would be to take a long soak afterwards and relax. While I was eating, the phone rang, and the hotel operator told me to hold for a call from the States. She finally connected me, and I listened silently for what seemed to be an eternity, and then I screamed. I only remember bits and pieces–screaming until my voice faded away, then screaming silently. I was held down on my bed by many arms and distorted faces until the tranquilizer I was given took hold.
I was hospitalized for months and never made it back to the States for the funerals. I sold everything but the New York apartment and paid a fortune to buy the one next door, turning it into my studio. Finally, for the first time in a very long time, I sat at my drawing board. I was slow drawing the first “BAM! SQUISH!” but the next two came quickly and easily as did the three “THWACK! BOOMS!”
Even then I didn’t leave the drawing board. The sun was just beginning to come up as I put the finishing touches on my latest cartoon, “RING! SCREAM!”