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Death claims cartoonist Bill Rechin

May 22, 2011 12:15 am

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Cartoonist Bill Rechin began drawing 'Crock' in 1975. He moved to Spotsylvania County in 1989.

By MICHAEL ZITZ

Bill Rechin had to draw. He was born to do it. That, and to make people laugh.

Luckily for readers of his syndicated comic strips "Crock," "Out of Bounds" and "Pluribus," he never tuned out the little voice in his head.

In the 1940s, when Rechin was attending St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute, a Catholic school in his native Buffalo, N.Y., some of the drawings he did in class were confiscated.

"Put some clothes on those people and you'll become famous," he was told.

He did.

Rechin died at his Spotsylvania County home yesterday of complications of esophageal cancer, surrounded by his children. He was 80.

"He was a cartoonist's cartoonist," said Mel Lazarus, creator of "Momma" and "Miss Peach."

Rechin's signature is the giant nose. His unmistakable characters usually have sloping shoulders and drooping bellies.

There is Vermin P. Crock, the vile, heartless commanding officer. And Jules Schmeese, who is forever facing a firing squad but never shot. And Capt. Preppie, who keeps a lock of his own hair and who, when lost in the desert, cries "Deodorant!" instead of "Water!" And the bootlicking, cowardly Capt. Poulet. And Maggot, the unhygienic legionnaire perpetually digging holes in the sand. And Grout the dog, who likes beer, is always getting kicked out of bars and is the only one who gets the best of Crock. And, of course, the Lost Patrol, wandering aimlessly for all eternity.

"I have fun with what I do," Rechin said in 1990 of what he called "the serious business of the funny pages."

He and his wife, Pat, had just moved to Spotsylvania County, lured there by their son-in-law, Aaron Slater of Slater Homes, who built their dream home in Bloomsbury, a secluded, heavily wooded subdivision. Fellow cartoonists including "Peanuts'" Charles Schulz attended parties there.

In 1975, "The Wizard of Id" creator Brant Parker introduced Rechin to Don Wilder, who had been writing "Crock," a parody of the French Foreign Legion film "Beau Geste," and working with Parker. Parker wanted to devote more time to "The Wizard of Id," and Rechin and Wilder hit it off immediately.

Rechin said he took to Wilder right away "because of the different twist on the way he thinks." When they met, he asked Wilder if there was anything special he wanted to do in life. "Before I die, I'd like to go into a crowded fire hall and yell 'Movie!'" Wilder replied dryly.

Rechin studied advertising design at the Albright School of Art in Buffalo and worked for an engraver before being drafted during the Korean War. In 1952, shortly after induction, he married Patricia Teller, a fellow art school graduate. He was stationed at Fort Belvoir and drew cartoons used in Army training.

His time at Fort Belvoir was an inspiration for "Crock." He said he learned much about "flies, digging foxholes, marching and drilling" that he later put to use in the strip. There he met artist and writer Shel Silverstein, who influenced him.

After being discharged, he made his home in Springfield.

Wilder, who grew up in Knoxville, also spent some time in the Army as an infantry lieutenant. He later spent 17 years with the CIA as a "media specialist."

He said that he drew on his CIA experience for the strip "because it was a humorous organization."

After being discharged, Rechin made his home in Springfield and worked for 20 years as an artist doing projects for NASA and the Department of Defense.

He created the "Johnny Horizon" campaign for the Interior Department, working with Burl Ives.

In 1970 he syndicated his first comic strip, "Pluribus."

Five years later, Parker introduced Rechin to Wilder.

In 1983 the National Cartoonist Society nominated "Crock" as America's best humor strip, along with "Doonesbury" and "Garfield." "Garfield" won. When Rechin got home from the awards banquet, he found a Garfield doll hanging in effigy in front of his house. A note read: "Dear Dad--We hung this little sucker nine times."

In the late '80s President Ronald Reagan honored Rechin and Wilder during a ceremony in the Rose Garden at the White House.

In 1989 Rechin moved to Spotsylvania, and Wilder soon followed. The two men have always been close, and their wives were best friends.

After moving to Spotsylvania, Rechin was a contributor to The Free Lance-Star.

In 1993 Rechin and Wilder won a Reuben Award when "Out of Bounds" was judged the best single-panel cartoon by the National Cartoonists' Society.

Rechin is survived by his seven children, Mari Slater, Kathi Morgan, Jeff Rechin, Lori Sheridan, Bill Rechin, Kris Rechin and Kevin Rechin, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife of 55 years, Pat, and his partner, Wilder.

Rechin's son Kevin plans to continue "Crock," which is currently syndicated by King Features in 200 newspapers in 19 countries.

"We have this whole little world we've created," Bill Rechin said of "Crock."

It was a world he dearly loved.

He said that as he drew his characters, he'd look at them and they'd look back up at him, "and I laugh at that."

Michael Zitz: 540/846-5163
Email: mikez@freelancestar.com





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