Jacky's Diary, by Jack Mendelsohn

Jack Mendelsohn was a versatile and productive U.S. writer, active both in children's TV series, TV sitcoms, animated cartoons, films as well as comics. He wrote for various U.S. newspaper comics and humorous comic books, but is best remembered for his charming strip 'Jacky's Diary' (1959-1961), which he drew and wrote personally. It mimicked the style and thought process of a little child adapting his so-called diary in comic strip form. Mendelsohn's pastiche was such a convincing oddity that many readers were fooled. The work as still remembered today as one of the more influential parody comics ever created. 

Early life and career
Jack Mendelsohn was born in 1926 in Brooklyn, New York City. His father was Winsor McCay's film agent and one of Mendelsohn's idols was local cartoonist Stan MacGovern. Among his close neighbours were future cartoon legends David Levine and Norman Maurer. After dropping out of high school he enlisted in the Navy during World War II. After the war he became a freelance gag cartoonist for magazines like the Saturday Evening Post. 


Paul Terry's 'Gaston Le Crayon', drawn by Mendelsohn for Mighty Mouse Fun Club Magazine #2.

Comic books
Jack Mendelsohn was a productive scriptwriter for funny animal, humor and fantasy comic books by Quality, Dell and DC. Among the titles he wrote for were Ernie Bushmiller's 'Nancy and Sluggo', Mell Lazarus' 'Miss Peach', Mort Walker's 'Beetle Bailey' and Otto Messmer and Pat Sullivan's 'Felix the Cat'. For DC Comics he wrote Howard Post's comic strip 'Jimminy And The Magic Book' (1947), about a boy who wanders off into his fantasy worlds while reading novels. At Archie Comics he scripted gags for Al Fagaly's 'Super Duck' (1943). Later on, Mendelsohn was present as a writer/artist in the Terrytoons-related comic books by Pines Comics, such as 'Mighty Mouse Fun Club Magazine' (1957) and 'Tom Terrific' (1958). He also wrote and drew all the stories in Dell Publishing's sole 'Miss Peach' comic book (1963), and at Tower Comics scripted the 'Archie Comics' rip-off 'Tippy Teen' (1965-1969) by Samm Schwartz.


'Miss Peach', drawn for Dell's 1963 comic book.

Panic
Mendelsohn moved to Mexico in 1951 and spent most of the decade there. Here he also befriended local cartoonist Sergio Aragonés before he became acquainted with Mad Magazine. Mendelsohn incidentally worked for one of Mad's first rip-off magazines, Panic, incidentally published by Mad's parent company E.C. Comics. Panic (1954-1956) ran for 12 issues and was edited by William M. Gaines and Al Feldstein. Mendelsohn was one of the main writers, alongside Nick Meglin, and his contributions from the 7th up to the 11th issue. They featured parodies drawn by Will Elder, Jack Davis, Joe Orlando and Wallace Wood. Some spoofed TV series ('Zoo Charade', issue #9, June/July 1955, with Joe Orlando), movies ('Gone With The Widow', issue #8, April/May 1955) and novels ('20.000 Leaks Under the Sea', issue #11, October/November 1955), both illustrated by Wood. Whenever comics series were lampooned, Mendelsohn collaborated with Will Elder. Together they tackled  V.T. Hamlin's 'Alley Oop' ('Irving Oops', issue #8, April/ May 1955, with Will Elder), Nicholas P. Dallis' and Marvin Bradley's 'Rex Morgan, M.D.'  ('Rx Migrane M.D.', issue #9 , June/ July 1955, with Will Elder), Roy Crane's 'Captain Easy and Wash Tubbs' ('Captain Izzy and Washt Upps', issue #10, August/ September 1955) and Allen Saunders and Dale Conner's 'Mary Worth' ('Mary Worthless', issue #11, October-November 1955, with Will Elder).

Mad Magazine
After Panic, Mendelsohn would eventually write for Mad too, albeit only briefly. Between 1961 and 1962 he wrote two articles illustrated by Bob Clarke, namely 'Karate' (issue #65, September 1961) and 'Superstitions' (issue #75, December 1962). Another one was drawn by Mort Drucker, titled 'Modern Household Accidents' (issue #66, October 1961). His final two articles, 'Favorite Chinese Dishes of Some Famous Folk' (issue #74, October 1962) and 'Speak and Ye Shall Find (The Answers)' (issue #75, December 1962), ran as running gags all throughout their respective issues.

Jacky's Diary
On 11 January 1959, he began his partially autobiographical comic 'Jacky's Diary' (1959-1961). The comic strip is presented as a diary written by a seven-year old young boy, though in illustrated sequences rather than a text. It describes big events from his viewpoint, such as a trip to the circus, a baseball game, a scouts meeting or having to endure a wedding. Everything is deliberately written and drawn as if a seven-year old kid made it. Crudely drawn doodles, spelling errors, grammar mistakes, naïve observations about the world around him,... It's a charming and spot-on pastiche. In some ways it is very similar to René Goscinny and Sempé's 'Le Petit Nicolas' ('Little Nicolas'), which debuted the same year in France as a series of illustrated novels, although it had appeared earlier in 1955 as an actual comic strip. The main difference is that Sempé's illustrations are not intended to be drawn by the title character and therefore look far more professional. It's also highly doubtful that Mendelsohn was aware of this work when he created 'Jacky's Diary'.

Jacky's Diary, by Jack Mendelsohn

Overall, 'Jacky's Diary' is notable for being the sole comic strip where Mendelsohn also provided the drawings rather than just the text. In this case his lack of drawing expertise worked in his favour. His spoof was so convincing that many readers actually thought a child made it. Some parents even assumed it was some kind of contest for children and sent in comics drawn by their offspring. Yet Mendelsohn never wanted to make a hoax. The title, 'Jacky's Diary, by Jack Mendelsohn, age 32½', practically spelled out the joke. Mendelsohn also didn't just write bad for the sake of it. Jacky's narratives are very clever satire and as enjoyable to adults as they are to children. Similarly, the primitive lay-out is still comprehensible.  Anyone who would compare 'Jacky's Diary' to actual comics drawn by real children, will immediately notice the stylistic difference. 

The strip ran in newspapers through King Features Syndicate and was also published in book format. In 2014 the entire series was reprinted,  with forewords by Mort Walker and Mell Lazarus. 'Jacky's Diary' was also adapted in two animated shorts by the Paramount Studios, namely 'A Leak in the Dike' (1965) and 'The Story of George Washington' (1965), although the title was changed to 'Jacky's Wacky World' for legal reasons. Mendelsohn directed these animated cartoons personally, while Al Eugster was one of the animators who worked on it. In 2015 Mendelsohn made both cartoons available through his personal YouTube Channel. Yet he described them as having been nominated for an Academy Award, while they actually weren't. 

Animation scriptwriting
In 1966 Mendelsohn joined Hanna-Barbera and wrote for many of their children's TV series, including animated versions of George Herriman's 'Krazy Kat' (1963), Mort Walker's 'Beetle Bailey' (1963) and Charles Addams' 'The Addams Family' (1973). Among the most popular series he scripted were 'Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?' (1972-1973) and 'Hong Kong Phooey' (1974). He also co-wrote storylines for the ABC TV cartoon series 'The Beatles' (1965-1969), based off the popularity of the rock band of the same name. This series was notable for actually featuring original Beatles songs, even if the voices were done by American impersonators. The Beatles themselves were quite annoyed with the bad animation and vocal imitations in this series. Later in life John Lennon and George Harrison reappreciated the campiness. Consequently Mendelsohn was also one of the co-screenwriters for the Beatles' animated feature 'Yellow Submarine' (1968), directed by George Dunning and with designs by Heinz Edelmann

Mendelsohn penned storylines for Jay Ward's cartoon studio as well, namely for 'George of the Jungle' (1967) and their animated TV commercials for the 'Cap'n Crunch' cereals. At Filmation he worked on series like 'Sabrina and the Groovy Goolies' (1970) and a TV special based on Bob Montana's Archie Comics named 'Archie and His New Pals' (1969). He also wrote 'Hey, Hey, Hey, It's Fat Albert!' (1969), the TV film which later inspired Filmation's popular and critically acclaimed series  'Fat Albert & The Cosby Kids' (1972-1985). In the 1980s he also counted 'Muppet Babies' (based on Jim Henson's creations, 1984-1985), 'Dennis the Menace' (1986, based on Hank Ketcham's comic strip), 'Teddy Ruxpin' (1987) and 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' (1988-1991) (1991-1993) among his writing and story-editing credits. 

Live-action TV scriptwriting
The creative centipede also found the time to write screenplays for live-action comedy shows like 'Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In' (1968-1969), 'The Carol Burnett Show' (1970-1971), sitcoms like 'Chico and the Man' (1975-1976), 'Three's Company' (1978-1979) and soaps like 'The Love Boat' (1982). He was producer of the TV series 'Carter County' (1977-1978).

Recognition
In 2004 Mendelsohn received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Animation Writers Caucus. Ten years later he received the Bill Finger Award for Excellence in Comic Book Writing.

Death
Jack Mendelsohn passed away in 2017 at age 90, after suffering from lung cancer. The idea of drawing comics in a crude, deliberately naïve, almost childlike style can also be found in the work of artists like Cal Schenkel, Gary Panter, Mark Marek, Haggi and Matt Furie

Jacky's Diary, by Jack Mendelsohn

More Samples of Jacky's Diary on Ger Apeldoorn's blog

Series and books by Jack Mendelsohn in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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