Jack Mendelsohn was a talented, versatile and productive 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 humoristic comic books, but is best remembered for his charming strip 'Jacky's Diary', 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. Its deliberate crude and naïve drawing style preceeded the similarly pseudo-infantile style of comics artists like Cal Schenkel, Gary Panter and Mark Marek.
Jack Mendelsohn was born in Brooklyn, New York City, in 1926. 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. A high school dropout and Navy enlistee, Mendelsohn began his career in comics after World War II as a freelance gag cartoonist for magazines like the Saturday Evening Post. He was a productive scriptwriter for funny animal, humor and fantasy comic books by Quality, Dell and DC namely 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 for 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). In later years Mendelsohn also worked for Tower Comics, where he wrote the 'Archie Comics' rip-off 'Tippy Teen' (1965-1969) by Samm Schwartz.
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 also worked for one of Mad's first rip-off magazines, Panic, who tried to mimick its satirical style. Panic (1954-1956) ran for 12 issues and was edited by William M. Gaines and Al Feldstein at E.C. Comics, the very same company that also published Mad! Mendelsohn was one of the main writers and his contributions appeared in its 7th up to 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).
After Panic, Mendelsohn would eventually write for Mad itself too, albeit only for a brief period. Between 1961 and 1962 he wrote two articles illustrated by Bob Clarke, namely 'Karate' (issue #65, September 1961) and 'Superstitions' (issue #75, December 1962) and one 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.
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 did 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'.
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 it was written by a toddler. 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 fact that it was written by an adult. As simple as writing and drawing such a deliberately infantile comic may seem there was still an art to it. Mendelsohn 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 actual children. Similarly, the primitive lay-out is still comprehensible to read. 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 also had a comic book publication. In 2014 the entire series were collected in book form, 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 they had to change the title to 'Jacky's Wacky World' for legal reasons. Mendelsohn directed them 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. Despite his description none of these shorts were ever nominated for an Academy Award.
In 1966 he 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 HB 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 did come to appreciate the campiness of it all. 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 that would later inspire Filmation's popular and critically acclaimed series 'Fat Albert & The Cosby Kids' (1972-1985). In the 1980s he also counted 'Muppet Babies' (1984-1985), 'Dennis the Menace' (1986, based on Hank Ketcham's eponymous comic strip), 'Teddy Ruxpin' (1987) and 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' (1988-1991) (1991-1993) among his writing and story-editing credits. 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).
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. He passed away after suffering from lung cancer on 25 January 2017, at the age of 90.