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Mel Casson passes away at age 87

Mel Casson

Mel Casson, writer and illustrator for the Redeye comic strip passed away last week at the age of 87 of Alzheimer’s disease.

For nearly 20 years, Mel illustrated “Redeye,” a parody strip about a 19th century tribe of Native Americans, for King Features Syndicate. When cartoonist Bill Yates, who wrote the “Redeye” scripts, retired in 1999, Mel assumed full writing and drawing duties of the strip.

Mel was born in Boston on July 25, 1920. He was encouraged by his father to pursue a career in art. Seventeen-year-old Mel was the youngest cartoonist ever to sign a contract with the Saturday Evening Post. He received a scholarship to the Art Students League in New York City and while there, his artwork began to appear regularly in the Saturday Evening Post, Esquire, The New York Times, Ladies Home Journal, and nearly every other major magazine.

Mel enlisted in the infantry for service in World War II and made the Normandy Landing on D-Day. His commander was killed instantly upon reaching Omaha Beach, making Casson next in line to lead the attack. Mel successfully led his men through the assault without casualties and went on to participate in all the major campaigns in Europe. For his valor, he was promoted to the rank of Captain and decorated with five battle stars: two Bronze stars, the Croix de Guerre and two Purple Hearts.

After returning home from service, Mel’s first strip was Jeff Crockett for the Herald Tribune Syndicate, which appeared between 1948 and 1952.

His career at the drawing board was interrupted once again when the Communists invaded South Korea and he was recalled to active duty. After an honorable discharge, Mel’s career at the drawing board resumed once again with the creation of the children’s panels Sparky and Angel for the Publisher/Chicago Sun Times Syndicate, which ran between 1953 and 1966. He co-created with cartoonists Alfred James and Alfred Andriola (Kerry Drake) on the strip It’s Me Dilly from 1958 to 1962.

He was a writer-producer for ABC-TV where he created the television shows “Draw Me a Laugh” and “You Be the Judge.”

He had five cartoon books published, including the anthology “Ever Since Adam and Eve” for McGraw Hill, the Whole Kids Catalogue, and the Guinness Record Keeper. His cartoons appeared in every national magazine and his drawings in advertisements for IBM, GE, Kodak and Black & Decker.

In the 1970’s, Mel worked with cartoonist William F. Brown on the trendy Mixed Singles strip, which later evolved into Boomer and appeared until 1981 with United Feature Syndicate. In 1990, Mel became the new artist of the internationally famous Redeye daily comic for King Features Syndicate, which he took over from its creator, Gordon Bess. Mel worked with Bill Yates on the panel until 1999.

He is survived by his wife, Mary Lee Culver Casson, a former opera singer and actress, daughter Culver and grandchildren Remington Paris Cheffer and Lulu Culver Cheffer.

Correction: In the original King Features’ press release, the family had indicated that instead of sending flowers that a donation be made to Alzheimerâ??s Association. I made the assumption that Mel had passed away due to Alzheimers, which according to Rick Stromoski, in the comment section of this story, may not be the case.

Community Comments

#1 Randy Glasbergen
May/30/2008
@ 7:11 am

Mixed Singles was a new strip when I first became interested in cartooning. I was probably 14-15 years old and the strip was clearly aimed at an older audience, but I was a big fan and definitely influenced by his work at the time. I’m sorry to hear of his passing.

#2 Rick Stromoski
May/30/2008
@ 8:24 am

I saw Mel Casson on a pretty regular basis for the past 10 years or so at CT chapter NCS meetings as well as most recently in March when the chapter juried a Reuben division. He showed no signs of Alzheimers at all. He was still driving as of March. Perhaps there’s been some misinformation dispensed in the pipeline.

Mel was an amazing story teller about the old guard. He told a story where he was assigned to illustrate an artists junket trip on the Orient Express for a magazine whose name escapes me at the moment. There were dozens of famous politicos, actors and artists on this trip. As he lingered on the platform in Paris as the train debarked and mostly all passengers had left, he noticed a small figure from the other end of the train walking towards him. As the figure grew closer his heart began to race as he saw that it was Pablo Picasso. Picasso approached him and wordlessly gestured to Mell to show him what he was drawing. As Mel displayed his sketch, Picasso gave no expression but one word…”Eh”…then turned and walked away.

His knowledge of cartooning was vast and he ALWAYS had a kind word and a willing ear. I liked him alot and everyone who knew him will miss him.

#3 John Sheppard
May/30/2008
@ 4:06 pm

My sister lives a few blocks from Mr. Casson. While visiting her 2 summers ago, I decided to go over and intorduce myself. He welcomed me in, showed me his studio, original art collection and coveted Milt Caniff drawing table. He was very gracious and we chatted for about 40 minutes. He was a class act.

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