News of Yore: 1940 Raeburn Van Buren Profile

Van Buren Talks About Illustrators, Comic Art
By Stephen J. Monchak

There’s room for real art in the newspaper syndicate comic strip field and within the next few years many of America’s top-notch magazine illustrators will be drawing for the nation’s newspaper readers.

“The only reason there aren’t more of them doing strips today is that they haven’t a story idea. Here’s a chance for some smart newspaper men to cash in by writing strip continuity for these artists.”

Meet Raeburn Van Buren
That’s Raeburn Van Buren talking. Up until the summer of 1937 he was one of the nation’s leading magazine illustrators and his work for more than two decades graced the pages of the leading slick paper magazines. But he tossed that work aside to draw a strip. Why?

“I felt I was getting into a rut; I needed a change, a shot in the arm. I wanted to do something different,” he explains.
That’s one way of putting it. But the truth is, he told this column in an interview in his comfortable home in Great Neck, Long Island, last week, he wanted to prove to himself (and to his doubting colleagues) that a strip could tell its own story primarily by illustrations.

He did. His “Abbie an’ Slats” appears in 150 newspapers from coast-to-coast daily and Sunday through United Feature Syndicate distribution.

His Success Formula
The formula? Clever blending of caricature with drama both in story and art, Mr. Van Buren feels. His girls are beauties, as are his landscapes and his authentic American characters click with newspaper readers. Fan mail attests to that. But there still are some illustrators who view strip art as the illegitimate child of the art family, Mr. Van Buren, who is a member of long standing of the illustrious American Society of Illustrators, agrees.

“There’s some basis to that view, of course,” he said, naming a few strips he said he felt had “awful art.” He mentioned a few others which most people in the business agree sell because of the sheer beauty of their drawing.
“It’s like those beautifully drawn things that we will see more and more of when some of the magazine illusators hit on a story that’ll click,” he remarked. Mr. Van Buren writes his own continuity. (Allan’s note: no he didn’t)

Homespun Theme
In his strip, as in his illustrations before, Mr. Van Buren’s theme is the homespun. Replete with blueberry pies, country lanes and the rural life, it is aimed at the good, average American burgher. Mr. Van Buren has stopped magazine illustrating entirely. The only other work coming from his drawing board these days is an advertising comic strip called “Old Judge Robbins.” This he does for the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. A color feature, it appears in many of the country’s Sunday comic sections.

Recently a Hollywood producer saw film possibilities in “Abbie an’ Slats.” His plan was to star Bobby Breen as
“Slats.” The project was dropped after a few meetings, Mr. Van Buren said, because the child star was “hard to handle.”

Mr. Van Buren attributes whatever success he’s had to the early teachings of Harry Wood, veteran art editor of the Kansas City Star. Mr. Van Buren got his first regular art job on the Star.

Newspapers Best Training
“I think a newspaper job under a capable boss is the best training an artist can find anywhere,” he said. He doesn’t think much of art schools. They don’t teach the student to depend on himself, he holds.

“I know students who have been going to art school for 10 years,” he continued. “They’ve no initiative. They do the same thing over and over again. There’s nothing distinctive about the work they turn out.”

Mr. Van Buren first used a drawing board in the sports department of the old Kansas City Journal, now the Journal-Post, as a spare time employee. He sold a drawing to the old Life humor magazine and then went on to New York fired with ambition.

He free-lanced successfully there but traded his artist’s smock for the uniform when the U. S. entered the World War, serving with the 107th Regiment of the 27th Division.

He married Fern Rengo, a girl from “back home,” after the war, later bought the home he now owns in Great Neck and is the very proud father of a 14-year-old son. He works in a little studio in the garage “seven days a week.” His work day is from nine in the morning to 4:30 p.m. or thereabouts. “By that time, all drawn out, I stagger back into the house,” he remarked. He’s got two hobbies, tennis and fishing.

One comment on “News of Yore: 1940 Raeburn Van Buren Profile

  1. Hello,

    Do you happen to have the full citation for this article in Editor and Publisher? I have: Stephen J. Monchak, “Van Buren Talks About Illustrators, Comic Art,” Editor & Publisher Magazine, 1940," but need the page number…

    Thanks for any help!

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