newspaper career started at age 17, when he ran away from Custer City, Oklahoma,
to work for the Kansas city Star. After a stint there and with the Chicago
American, he moved to the Associated Press (he was on the AP re-touch desk
the day the first photos of the Hindenberg disaster came in over the wire.)
His first cartoon was a character called "Puffy the Pig" which the
AP began running in 1930. (it was later taken over briefly by Milt Caniff).
came up with "Oh Diana" (sometimes called "Diana Dean")
for the AP a year later, then gave it up to launch Modest Maidens. the AP
rarely killed a feature back then, just let it shrink and die, so Puffy the
Pig continued until the war, and Modest Maidens (sometimes" Modern Maidens")
was carried on by a succession of cartoonists including Virginia Clark, Wood
Calley, Phil Berubi, Vernon Reick and finally, Jay Allen, until '68. During
his AP days my dad also drew a cartoon called "Beauty & the Beach"
with an AP writer named Betty Clark.
Maidens started to become popular, my dad was lured to King Features by old
man Hearst's personal secretary, who offered him double what he'd been getting
paid (just like the scene of Orson Welles stealing the rival newspaper's talent
in "Citizen Kane".) My dad started Glamor Girls for King that October.
By then he'd contracted mild TB from his hard-living years in NYC, and soon
migrated to Tucson, AZ, from which after the war he moved to California and
met my mom. They built a house on Pt. Dume in Malibu, where I grew up, in
1948. (The nice thing about being syndicated back then was that you could
work wherever there was a post office; now I guess you can work anywhere there's
a computer and Internet access.
Maidens, Glamor Girls and Don Flowers died almost simultaneously in 1968.
At it's height , Glamor Girls had close to 300 papers around the US and overseas,
but that number dwindled in later years. My dad's deal with King was 50/50,
and near the end, with so few papers carrying the feature (the folding of
the big Hearst dailies like the LA Examiner didn't help) his monthly checks
were down to a pittance. One collection of his work was published by Avon
in the late '50's, and his panels appeared sporadically (swiped or reprinted
under license from King) in pin-up art anthologies around the world for years.
Though never so well-known as Russell Patterson, my dad was regarded my many
as Patterson's equal as an artist. In fact, author/cartoonist Coulton Waugh
devoted a page-and-a-half and two reproductions (one Glamor Girls, on Modest
Maidens) to Don Flowers in his classic history "The Comics" (Macmillan,
'47) and wrote that he had the finest line ever bequeathed to a cartoonist:
it dances; it snaps gracefully back and fourth; the touches relate."
used Venus #4 pencils, a mix of pointed and circular bib pens, Windsor Newton
brushes and Higgins India Ink. When the ink dried, he went over the 3-ply
Strathmore with an ArtGum to erase the penciled underdrawing, then mailed
the package of daily panels or Sunday pages to King in NY. The Sundays were
colored there, then proofs were sent back to my dad. I'll always remember
him shaking erasures off those big Sunday originals...it sounded just like
thunder. (Years ago, I had reason to recall this to a friend who also knew
of the drawing talent of my son Butch. "Will Butch make thunder, too,
someday?", she asked. I think that he will, but in a different creative
I do know
firsthand that my dad inspired some prominent latter-day cartoonists. Shortly
after he died, for instance, King, which carried his work for 30-odd years,
forwarded a request for an original from Sergio Aragones, Mad Magazine contributor
and creator of "Groo the Barbarian". (By then KFS had shipped all
originals back to their artists, for lack of storage space.) I sent Sergio
some dailies, and got back a letter in which he said that as a young boy growing
up in Mexico, he's learned to draw women by copying my dad's style from panels
that ran down there in a Spanish-language humor magazine called "Ja-Ja".
(I later met Sergio at a Portland, OR cartoon show, and we swapped more originals.)
had close connections to his more famous contemporaries: He knew both Al Capp
and Milt Caniff at the AP, and recalled how he and Capp would go down to the
automat and pool their change to buy lunch. Caniff and he remained friends
for years, and Caniff continued to correspond with my mom after my dad died.
a heavy drinker, my dad resumed smoking a few years before his death, committing
what was probably a form of suicide (he'd already had a lung removed after
being stricken with emphysema.) He passed away in a care unit near Santa
Monica, which was the last place I saw him alive (I arrived too late the day
he died, but we said the important things to each other before the end.)
probably have the largest inventory of Don Flowers Dailies and Sundays in
captivity, and last year I self-published a small run of a little book of
his wedding cartoons titled "Standing on Ceremony."