'Vic and Nat'ly' (1983 cartoon).

Bunny Matthews was a U.S. cartoonist, writer and painter, enjoying fame in his home town New Orleans with 'Vic and Nat'ly' (1982-2005), a long-running newspaper comic series with locally oriented comedy and dialogues.

Early life and career
Will Bunn Matthews II was born in 1951 in Monroe, Louisiana. At age three, he and his parents moved south to Metairie. A self-taught artist, his main graphic influences were Pablo Picasso, Ed "Big Daddy" Roth and Robert Crumb. Matthews spent a few semesters with the University of New Orleans, but dropped out after failing transitional math three times. Instead, he worked as a janitor in New Orleans and also had a job in a local record shop, Jim Russell Records. Matthews loved blues music, but as a white man his knowledge of African-American culture was very superficial. He often went to distribute records to other, smaller music stores in the city. In these poor, all-black neighborhoods he wasn't always received friendly. At the time, most of New Orleans was still segregated, making racial tensions high. Interviewed by Stephen Faure of Inside Northside magazine, Matthews was amazed that he never got shot, but he nevertheless still had fond memories of that period, calling it his "real" education in African-American culture in New Orleans.

In the 1970s, Matthews got a job as a music journalist and critic for Figaro, a weekly paper that circulated in New Orleans. Becoming a full-time music writer, he also worked for other local papers, like The Times-Picayune, Gambit Weekly and Offbeat. Between 1999 and 2005, he was additionally editor of Offbeat. Plunging into the city's rich musical heritage, he interviewed jazz musicians (Cab Calloway), blues artists (Albert Collins, Professor Longhair), soul artists (Al Green, James Brown), pop artists (Suzi Quatro), rock musicians (Fats Domino, Jonathan Richman, Elvis Costello, Mark E. Smith, Black Flag) and reggae artists (Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Lee "Scratch" Perry). At one point he served as manager for the legendary musician James Booker, of Booker T. & The MG's fame. Matthews also played in a band himself, Bunny and the Playboys, and drew concert posters for local venues like Tipitina's bar.


'F'Sure' (Figaro, 21 January 1980).

F'Sure
In 1968, Matthews started his cartooning career with the alternative newspaper The Word. From the late 1970s until the early 1980s, the weekly magazine Figaro ran his cartoon series 'F'Sure: Actual Dialogue Heard on the Streets of New Orleans'. All episodes were based on conversations he overheard in stores, bars and on the streets. For authenticity, he wrote them in the local New Orleans slang, known as "Yat". In 1978, a selection of episodes were compiled and published in book format. The series established Matthews as a sharp and insightful observer of New Orleans characters, quirks and foibles, and landed him his next cartooning job with the The Times-Picayune newspaper, the comic strip 'Vic and Nat'ly'.

Vic and Nat'ly
On 3 January 1982, Matthews' signature characters Vic and Nat'ly Broussard made their debut in Dixie, the weekly supplement of The Times-Picayune. Vic and Nat'ly are a husband and wife who own a bar and po-boy shop in the Ninth Ward district of New Orleans. Vic is an obnoxious oaf, whose glitzy, nagging wife Nat'ly often puts him into place. Although their last name is French, Vic and Nat'ly are actually from Italian-Sicilian descent. Readers often asked Matthews why their roots were Italian, since New Orleans is known for its large Creole and white French community. He explained that there are also many citizens of Italian descent in the city, people he grew up with. Just like his previous comic 'Fo'Sure', all dialogue in 'Vic and Nat'ly' is written in the Yat dialect. Many gags refer to the city's customs, locations and other phenomena, keeping the strip a local phenomenon.


'Vic and Nat'ly' (1996 cartoon).

Right from the start, 'Vic and Nat'ly' met with polarized reactions. Some readers enjoyed the comic as a recognizable reflection of New Orleanian citizens, others disliked it for being too stereotypical and offensive. Matthews always insisted that he didn't mock people with strong accents: he actually adored  them, since he also spoke with an accent. A 2000 episode of 'Vic and Nat'ly' caused controversy, because of a dream sequence in which Vic visits the annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, but ends up in a Nazi concentration camp. Readers complained, including a local chapter of the Anti-Defamation League, accusing Matthews of poking fun at the Holocaust. Interviewed by Scott Jordan in Gambit (2002), the cartoonist explained that one should be able to joke about anything, even a "sacred cow" like the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

Still, 'Vic and Nat'ly' continued to enjoy local success. Two compilation books were published by Jumawid Press: 'Vic and Nat'ly' (1983) and 'Vic and Nat'ly: Volume II' (1985). The characters have been merchandized on T-shirts, mugs, calendars and shop windows. In 1996, a local baguette company, Leidenheimer Baking, gave the cartoonist a lifetime supply of bread in exchange for permission to use Vic and Nat'ly on their bread trucks. 'Vic and Nat'ly' continued their antics in the magazines Wavelength, Gambit and OffBeat, coming to an end in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina and its flood ravaged the city.


'Vic and Nat'ly' (2003 cartoon).

Paintings and other artwork
At the occasion of the 1984 World's Fair, held in New Orleans, Matthews designed a large mural painting for the New Orleans Pavilion. Some of his paintings are on display in the Louisiana State Museum in Baton Rouge, the Audubon Insectarium in New Orleans and the Historic New Orleans Collection. In addition, Matthews designed album and single covers for musicians like The Radiators, The Cold Cuts, The Neville Brothers, Earl King, Nappy Brown, Hubert Sumlin, Snooks Eaglin, Grady Gaines & The Texas Upsetters, James Booker, The Improvisational Arts Quintet and Anson Funderburgh & The Rockets. In the 1990s, he gave workshops for children in painting and drawing.

Final years and death
For the 2013 documentary 'Bayou Maharajah' (2013), Bunny Matthews was interviewed about rock/blues musician James Booker of Booker T. & The M.G.'s. In 2015, Matthews was diagnosed with a brain tumor. This motivated him to never draw his characters smoking again. He recovered, but a couple of years later, the cancer returned. Since his beloved wife passed away from cancer in 2018, he decided not to seek further treatment for himself. To collect funding for Matthews' medical and living expenses, tribute concerts were organized at Tipitina's bar in New Orleans. In 2021, the cartoonist passed away at age 70 from central nervous system lymphoma.

Series and books by Bunny Matthews you can order today:

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