Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Number 1134: Fred Rhoads's cautionary tale

Fred Rhoads drew Sad Sack for Harvey Comics. He worked out of his home in Arizona, mailing in his work. In the late '70s when Harvey stopped sending him assignments he applied for unemployment compensation, only to find he wasn't considered an employee of Harvey. They claimed he was an independent contractor doing work for hire. It resulted in Rhoads filing a lawsuit against Harvey which eventually cost him everything. In the end the publisher won.

For decades artists signed away their work, never got payment for reprints, didn't get medical benefits or retirement. Rhoads' story is a cautionary tale for artists to understand what they are really signing when they endorse their paycheck.

Sad Sack, created during World War II by cartoonist George Baker, was stuck in an Army where he never got a promotion, was under constant harassment, a target of his ass-kicking sergeant and overbearing officers. (Not unlike Mort Walker's later Beetle Bailey.) I like Rhoads's writing and drawing. I chose these stories to show because they are more fantasy than typical G.I.-humor.

According to some accounts Rhoads drew 9,500 pages for Harvey from the '50s to the '70s. He died in 2000.

From Sad Sack #220 (1971):

I think Rhoads slipped one by the censors. In the last panel of page one of "Hair Raising Tale" Sack says, “I don't like the smell of this,” while standing under the horse’s tail. Ha-ha!

From Sad Sack and the Sarge #90 (1971):

Hairy Green Eyeball posted a story from a 1964 issue of Sad Sack where Sack became on alien abductee! Link to the posting with the story here.


Chuck Wells said...

Pappy, I sure looked at alot of Sad Sack issues, but never really liked the comic or the character.

Gumba G Gadwa said...

The humor drains away a bit when you learn the fate of the artist.

I did like the medieval tale; especially drawn in 71 during the Vietnam War, it seems to have an anti-war metaphor in there (though I might just be reading into it.) Also, the best joke of the bunch: "what shall we plunge", "ow, my head"!

Mykal Banta said...

Pappy: Boy, is that sad about Fred Rhoades. I did not know about his legal troubles, and your post led me to further research. As you say, the unsuccessful lawsuit cost him everything - house, life savings - everything. Sadder still, the wonderful cartoonist developed and eventually died from Alzheimer's. All terribly, terribly sad. Very disillusioning to imagine Harvey would allow this.

Well, at least he left us an incredible legacy of great cartooning. Some of his best seen here.

Pappy said...

Hey, guys, thanks for the comments. Rhoads has a style that takes a little getting used to. The stiff characters bothered me for a while, but when I started getting into the whole thing I was able to appreciate what he was doing.

Speaking of stiffed, a lot of talent got stiffed by comic book publishers, but all of them were old school, weren't they? Even Bill Gaines, who paid better than anyone, owned the artwork and kept it. Most of the artists in that era I believe just accepted the status quo. Rhoads was a different case because he was apparently under the impression he was an actual employee of Harvey Comics, working through the mail. How that happened or why he thought that I don't know. He certainly drew long enough for them he probably should have figured it out, or maybe the subject never came up...? It seems strange to me, anyway. Did he draw a salary or was he paid by the page? That I don't know.

The story of his court case is probably available somewhere, but from what I remember, Neal Adams testified for him. Ultimately it didn't help his case, but it raised Adams up in my estimation.

Chuck, sorry this post didn't come up to your standards, but I've said before if you don't like it come back in a couple of days and hopefully I'll be showing something you'll appreciate. Thanks for the comment anyway. I'm always happy to hear from those who care enough to drop a note.

rnigma said...

I used to read and enjoy the Sad Sack comics when I was a kid. In my opinion, Fred Rhoads was to Sad Sack what Carl Barks was to the Disney ducks. Of course I didn't know Rhoads' name but his stories stood out.
Later on I got to see George Baker's original Sack cartoons that he drew for Yank magazine during WW2 and learned the origin of his name (short for "sad sack of sh-t"). Of course, Baker drew the covers for the Sad Sack comics till he died.
It was indeed sad how Rhoads was treated. Perhaps his losing the suit was influenced by the fact that Sad Sack was not his creation.

(And I wonder if he was related to Randy Rhoads of Black Sabbath?)

Chris Smigliano said...

I used to read SAD SACK when I was younger. In fact, I had a ton of the comics. Of all the SACK comics, Rhoads definitely did the best stories, In fact, the humor was quite adult and he got away with stuff you'd never believe you'd see in a Harvey Comic.

HEH said...

"The humor drains away a bit when you learn the fate of the artist"

Indeed. Whattabummer for Rhoads. Thanks for the post and the fascinating, but sad background info, Pappy.

rnigma said...

Chris, since you drew "For Art's Sake" for CBG, you may recall that Rhoads briefly drew his own CBG comic - I believe it was called "Off the Road" or something to that effect.

Pappy said...

rnigma, Pappy here: I remember Rhoads doing panels for CBG. He also did editorial cartoons for his Arizona newspaper.

Jimmy Razor said...

I agree that Sad Sack could be quite adult in it's humor, especially with plenty of jokes about military inequality and government waste. Around 1972, Fred Rhoads started slipping bits of "bathroom" humor into his strips. My favorite story of this nature was "Men With Guts," where Sad Sack fell into the camp sewer system. All rescue attempts failed due to Lieutenant Packrat's incompetence and Sarge's weak stomach. Yes, the Sarge "gets ill" on Sad Sack twice!