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Dave Karlen returns after a far too long absence with this wonderful interview of Pete Hoffman. Hoffman is one of the venerable elder statesmen of comic strips and this discussion offers a rare look at his life and career. For other articles by Dave, please go to:

  

 

 

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     Jeff Cobb was one of the hardest hitting journalists in comics.

     Making his debut on June 28, 1954, this blonde, clean cut, two fisted, newspaper reporter worked for the
Daily Guardian, and like other traditional comic strip newsmen, got into every conceivable situation, from searching for the abominable snowman, to hunting down international war criminals.

     Cobb survived hundreds of adventures, including losing his right eye in one chilling storyline, only to become a more popular character, with his distinctive black eye patch,
for the rest of the series.

     Over its twenty-four year run, "Jeff Cobb" ran in one-hundred national papers as well as South America and Canada before the feature was picked up for reprint syndication in Europe.

     I discovered the feature in the
Menomonee Falls Gazette and was immediately impressed by the clean line work of the strip's creator, Pete Hoffman. Some time later, I was introduced to Hoffman by his friend and fellow artist Harold Ledoux, illustrator of the syndicated strip, "Judge Parker".
                                                                      from The Street Enterprises
                                                                          Benefit Portfolio
(1975)


     I have always wanted to talk with Hoffman about "Cobb" and his life as an artist and, after a few phone conversations, he agreed to an interview. Additionally, I am pleased to say that I will be helping Mr. Hoffman sell some of his classic "Jeff Cobb" original art on my website,
Dave Karlen Original Art.

     This interview, which I hope you enjoy, was conducted by mail and copyedited by the artist. My special thanks to Mr. Hoffman for his input and inspiration on this article.                   
        
-- Dave Karlen
                                                                     


DAVE KARLEN: You're from Toledo, Ohio originally? You must enjoy the area since you have lived there all your life. Can you tell me something about your childhood and family?

PETE HOFFMAN: I was the youngest of four children (two brothers in a sister) and, excluding two major bouts with pneumonia, had a quite normal childhood.

DK: I heard you had no formal art training but that your older brother got you interested in art. Did you do any early work in school?

HOFFMAN: My oldest brother drew very well and starting as a kindergartner, I imitated him, and that's how I got interested. I've provided a photocopy of my first published drawing at age four in the Toledo Morning Times (note: Hoffman was born February 22, 1919). The teacher submitted it...it was of cowboys and Indians and horses. They seemed to think it was worth running. Drawing was something I just loved to do. I wore out many pencils throughout elementary school and was one of several cartoonists of my high school newspaper and yearbook. I never took an art lesson other than an art appreciation class in college.

DK: Who were your major artistic influences? Any specific cartoonists or illustrators?


HOFFMAN:
My major influences, art wise, were from an early age all sorts of newspaper comics, (strips, editorial, and sports cartoons) and from a wide range of cartoonists. During the World War II era, my favorite editorial cartoonist was, without question, David Low of the London Daily Mail. He's still my all-time favorite.
                                                                                                                                           David Low cartoon
                                                        from the Evening Standard (Dec. 9, 1941)

DK: You majored in advertising and marketing at the University of Toledo's College of Business Administration. Did you go straight into illustration after finishing school?


HOFFMAN:
Before graduating from the University of Toledo in 1941, I was the cartoonist on the campus weekly (The Campus Collegian) and art editor of the yearbook (The Blockhouse). Also, during that period, I drew some occasional sports cartoons for the Toledo Blade. After graduation, I worked as an advertising artist for Tiedtke's department store (then the most widely known store in Toledo). Three weeks after Pearl Harbor, I entered military service.

DK: During the war you served as a captain in the Army air corps. Did you draw for any Army publications?
  Hoffman with originals of Jeff Cobb,
Why We Say and Blockhouse artwork.
    (from the UT ALUMNUS, 1985 Bill Hartough)

HOFFMAN: I went into World War II as a private and came home a captain. My assigned duties did not give me much time for drawing other than for my personal satisfaction.

DK: How did you start working for Allen Saunders ghosting Steve Roper? Did you enjoy working on that strip?

HOFFMAN: I first met Allen Saunders and his partner Elmer Woggon while a student cartoonist. After the war, I stopped by their studio and was asked to work on the Chief Wahoo and Steve Roper strip (later shortened to Steve Roper). They were familiar with my work on The Collegian, and were impressed with the character illustrations of my service buddies I had drawn during the war. Apparently they saw something in them, and they asked me to go to work for them. This was because the strip was in a transition stage and a more illustrative style of drawing was desired. My style fit their needs. I enjoyed ghost-drawing the characters for nearly nine years.

                                     
                                      Steve Roper
(
November 1, 1953)

DK: Were there other artists in the Toledo area besides Allen Saunders and Harold LeDoux?

HOFFMAN: At one time, this was was really the hot bed of cartooning.There were many artists and writers in Toledo who produced syndicated serials while I was working on Roper. Among them were Allen Saunders, Elmer Woggon, Bill Woggon, Dr. Nick Dallas, Frank Edgington, Dan Heilman, Harold LeDoux, Jim Seed, Walt Buchanan, etc.

DK: What other projects have you worked on beside your two strips? I know you did an illustrated booklet for the American Farm Bureau, and recently a children's book on the American Presidents. You also illustrated approximately twenty-five reunion brochures for the University of Toledo Office of Alumni Relations and accept other freelance work occasionally.

HOFFMAN: Included in my free lance work was a Tarzan comic book, four educational comic books, and other assignments too numerous to mention.

DK: After ghosting Steve Roper you decided to create you own strip. How did you come up with the idea for Jeff Cobb?

HOFFMAN: The idea for a newspaper based strip was initiated by the head of General Features Corporation, George Little. I became deeply involved and my suggestion for the name of the strip was later approved. I think, like most people, I got a little ambitious to try it on my own.

                                      
                                       Jeff Cobb
(September 6, 1965)

DK: Was it difficult to both write and draw Cobb compared to just drawing a feature? Did you enjoy more the writing or illustration of your strip? Where did you get your story ideas?

HOFFMAN: It was quite time consuming to both write and draw a continuity strip but I did enjoy doing it. Although I consider good writing more important to sustain a strip's success, I've always had a soft spot for the drawing end. I took a little dramatic license, but for the most part my ideas for Cobb were inspired by articles from the front page of our daily newspapers. I never ran out of story ideas. I felt that was something that had not been done at the time. But I've always felt that the comic page is basically for entertainment. So I had to take dramatic license, stressed characterization, add some humor when appropriate, and, of course, a pretty girl's presence always helped!

DK: In 1955 you started a Sunday page but it only lasted a few years. Was it just too much work to do both six dailies and a Sunday a week?

HOFFMAN: Because writing and drawing the Cobb Sunday page (with a separate story line) combined with the daily strips, plus illustrating the Why We Say panel feature all made it quite difficult to meet my deadlines, we decided to discontinue the Sunday page.

DK: Your hero was a handsome young investigative reporter for the Daily Guardian newspaper. About halfway through the series, in the sixties, he was investigating an arson case, prowling through the ruins of a building that had been damaged heavily by fire, looking for clues that might link the fire to an arsonist, when without warning the roof caved in injuring his eye. When Jeff lost his vision in one eye and started to use an eye patch, was there any resistance from the syndicate or fans about this change?

HOFFMAN: I decided he should keep the eye patch because it made him look more distinctive. One assistant editor thought Cobb's eye patch was horrendous. He was overruled and no fans ever objected.

DK: You wrote over one-hundred episodes of Jeff Cobb, between 1954 and 1978. Was there a favorite storyline from the series which was the most memorable or important to you?

        'pre-eyepatch' Jeff Cobb
             (January 18, 1964)

HOFFMAN: Looking back, it's difficult is pick out one favorite story. I gave them all my best shot. He was beaten up, shot at, and anything you can think of, it happened to this person. But Jeff got through. He had to keep his creator eating regularly, I guess. The strip was a great part of my life, it took up twenty-four years of it.

DK: You created many characters, but also would often use the likeness of a famous person or two in your strip. Did any of these celebrities ever comment about your work?

HOFFMAN: Cobb's city editor looked like union leader John L. Lewis and other characters resembled Goldie Hawn, Pierre Salinger, Aristotle Onassis, Joe Namath, and Bob Hope. The dog in the feature was based on my own, Candy. I have always felt that one of the main selling points of the strip is the characterization of the people. If the characters are in-teresting, that is timeless. Quite a
few readers did comment on the resemblance between certain public figures and characters in the Cobb strip. But, no objections ever came to my attention.

DK: Did you ever have any assistants on the strip? Did Allen Saunders contribute to any storylines when you had problems with deadlines?

HOFFMAN: To save time, I hired some part-time local help on lettering and backgrounds during the first few years of Cobb. Hopefully, some of Allen Saunders' expertise rubbed off on me when I worked on Steve Roper, but when I left to create Cobb for a competing syndicate, I neither asked nor received any writing help from my former employer. I have never missed a deadline and I think that is what gave me more satisfaction than anything else.

DK: Your style of art has a photo realistic look, crisp and clean, with an attention to fine line detail. Were you influenced by any photographers or film makers?

HOFFMAN: Like most cartoonists my drawing style changed and evolved gradually through the years ... mainly by constant drawing and absorbing many influences including film making.

DK: At its peak, the feature ran in more than one-hundred domestic newspapers as well as South American, Canada, and Europe. When the strip ended its national run in 1975, it was marketed abroad for an additional three years. In 1989, Cobb was distributed internationally by Editors Press Service. The arrangement that recycled the vintage strips ended by mutual agreement after five years, and your syndicate proofs were returned. But I read you recently received royalties from one paper in Sollentuna, Sweden. Would you say Sweden has some of your biggest Jeff Cobb fans?    

        
                                           Jeff Cobb in Norwegian

HOFFMAN: Cobb appeared in various countries around the world. As I recall, I'd say the largest fan response came from Sweden. The (royalty) wasn't much, but it surprised me. I still receive occasional mail from that country.

DK: Can you tell me something about your work habits? Do you prefer to use the pen over the brush? Do you dislike the use of zip-a-tone? I don't recall seeing any on your strips.

HOFFMAN: I prefer a balance between pen and brush. Also the sharp contrast of black and white to the half-tone look of zip-a-tone (which I have used).                                  Hoffman holds a sketch of fellow                                                                    World War II servicemen while an                                                                    original Jeff Cobb strip rests on his                                                                                   drawing board.
                                                                          (The Toledo Blade August 19,1986)


I remained single throughout my life probably because I was married to the drawing board. I worked long hours seven days a week to meet the three deadlines to produce the daily and Sunday Jeff Cobb strip plus the Why We Say panel. I think most cartoonists, without realizing it as they go along, change their style over the years. The drawing technique, I hope, improved.



DK:
The other one panel educational feature you worked on explained the history behind certain words and phrases like "to be in your shoes" and "Scotland Yard." The strip was called Why We Say. Can you tell me a little about this feature?

HOFFMAN: In 1950, I was asked to help the sliding Why We Say panel feature. With the research and writing of New Yorker Robert L. Morgan, as assistant editor of General Features Corporation, we managed to keep the feature alive for twenty-eight more years. It appeared in book form in 1955.

          Why We Say (May 17, 1968)

DK:
When did you join the National Cartoonists Association? Have you won any artistic awards? I know you donated some of your work to the University of Toledo.

HOFFMAN: Sponsored by Allen Saunders, Elmer Woggon, and Walt Buchanan, I joined the National Cartoonists Society in 1955. Aside from much appreciated compliments (and I'm sure, criticisms) I'm not aware of receiving any particular awards. As for donations, I gave sixty-six original strips comprising a complete eleven week episode plus approximately fifty additional strips from the fifties through the seventies to show the evolution of Cobb over the years. Much of my work has gone to aid the University of Toledo's alumni projects. Originals of my work are included in the permanent collections of the International Museum of Cartoon Art, Ohio State University's Cartoon Research Library, and the University of Toledo Archives.

DK: When both features ended in 1978 you went into semi-retirement. Do you miss not having a daily strip?

HOFFMAN: I don't miss the grind but I do miss the creative part. I still think I draw as well as I used to, and I still think I can contribute something.

       
                                                                                    University of Toledo                                                                                  Alumnus Magazine cover
                                                                                           (Spring 1994)


© 2004
Dave Karlen