The influential cartoonist is finally getting his much-deserved due.
In 1967, a stomach was interviewed about its digestive woes in a TV commercial for Alka-Seltzer, the effervescent cure for indigestion. Who could predict that a talking organ would change television advertising? Its creator, the illustrator R.O. Blechman, had a hunch it would. The nervous stomach was an instant success, and viewers were charmed by its subtle hilarity, rendered with Blechman's signature, shaky, comic line.
Last Friday, Blechman, 81, was inducted into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame, which includes America's most illustrious practitioners from Norman Rockwell to Rube Goldberg, along with Edward Gorey, Ludwig Bemelmans, John Collier, and Nancy Stahl. That it took so long for him to be inducted is puzzling—but better late and during his still-productive lifetime than never.
You have all seen Blechman's work. Once ubiquitous in magazines, newspapers, and animated television commercials, he has minted his share of iconic images, not the least a New Yorker cover (turned into a poster) that celebrated the bright lights atop the city's great skyscrapers. His distinct, nervous line has been copied many times without capturing the true essence of his work, which lies in expressiveness of his characters.
Blechman's art foregoes slapstick. His work is genuinely humane. No one has ever duplicated the human qualities of his everyman (or everystomach). For his inventive animation, Blechman uses voices that give imbue his lines with multifaceted personalities. (I always associate Blechman's figures with Max von Sydow's dulcet voice. What other cartoonist can trigger such voices in the head?) This ability to invest emotion onto scratchy homunculi comes from his painstaking attention to gestured detail.