Hugh Hefner... cartoonist?

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If you only know him as the old duffer in his pyjamas on The Girls Next Door, get a copy of the pop-culture journal Royal Flush, which contains a fascinating, surprising interview with Playboy founder Hugh Hefner about his love of comics and cartoonists.

I always knew that from the start of Playboy, Hefner personally chose the cartoons the magazine ran, and developed a stable of great artists such as Harvey Kurtzman (one of the key instigators of MAD Magazine) and Jack Cole (the creator of Plastic Man), paying top fees that could compete with publications like The New Yorker and Esquire. I also knew that, flush with the success of Playboy in the late 1950s, he bankrolled a gloriously doomed project, Trump, the first full-color comics magazine. (It lasted only two issues.)

But the Royal Flush interview is a small treasure-trove of information. Hefner tells interviewer (and Flush publisher) Josh Bernstein that by the time he was 16, he was drawing himself in autobiographical comics (reproduced here), using the character-name “Goo Heffer.” (It was also at this age, he says, that he started calling himself “Hef.” I’d daresay no one before the advent of hiphop had the wit and cajones to give himself a cool nickname that would be picked up and used by everyone who wrote about him.)

The Royal Flush interview glows with Hefner’s enthusiasm for comic art, and, clearly recognizing that Bernstein is a sympathetic interviewer, Hefner allowed him to reprint the suicide note that Jack Cole wrote him shortly before killing himself in 1958. (For a portrait of the great, tortured Cole, try finding a copy of Art Spiegelman and Chip Kidd’s Jack Cole and Plastic Man: Forms Stressed To Their Limits.)

These days, if anyone thinks about Playboy cartoons, they might recall the slinky, gauzy drawings of Vargas or the madcap adventures of Kurtzman and Will Elder’s wiggly Little Annie Fanny (right).

little annie f

But as Royal Flush makes clear, Hefner was both an important patron of comic artists and a fan with an expert eye. I wish that, instead of wasting more videotape on The Girls Next Door, someone would make a documentary about Hefner’s place in the history of cartooning.

In the meantime, this Royal Flush interview will have to do, and does so handsomely.

Comments (18 total) Add your comment
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  • EC

    I wasn’t aware of his love for sequential art! That’s pretty awesome.

  • Raymond Pettibon

    “If a man can’t dance, chances are he ain’t much of a cowpoke.”
    -Walt Disney 1952

  • colin

    “I wish that, instead of wasting more videotape on The Girls Next Door, someone would make a documentary about Hefner’s place in the history of cartooning.” Good call. While my wife was watching Girls Next Door they mentioned his scrapbook collection, which is immense and I’m sure covers much more interesting slices of history than just half-naked women. He seems like an archivist in general.

  • mtraptor

    There’s definitely more to Hefner than meets the eye. I watched the Celluloid Closet last night and found it interesting that he was one of the producers.

  • JCity

    I remember reading somewhere that Hef was really good friends with Shel Silverstein, who before writing children’s books, did cartoons for Playboy. Sort of creepy but also sort of cool.

  • Seqvere

    I absolutely LOVE Royal Flush! Haven’t missed an issue since their one-of-a-kind tribute to The Misfits a few issues back (AMAZING illustrations throughout). Overall an incredible little publication…

  • Habey

    While most publications have reduced their content to lists and blurbs, Royal Flush continues to serve up hearty, innovative meat and potatoes, and the Hefner interview is just the latest example.

  • Mr. Squiggles

    Hef and comics? Who knew? I’d like to meet that guy.

  • LarryMotts

    Wow – this magazine is sick -how have I never heard of this??

    Hef, Alice Cooper, Leslie Neilsen, Joan Jett! so so cool

  • Jon Bon

    Wow – great, great article! I’ve heard about Royal Flush – finally breaking through to the masses. Thanks EW!!

  • Harvey Wallbanger

    So is Hef going scoop up Royal Flush as his new magazine? Save print!!

  • Cojo

    Josh Bernstein mentioned at King Con (Brooklyn’s comic convention) last weekend in a Royal Flush panel that Hef invited him to the Playboy Mansion in the coming week. I smell a mash-up.

  • larrymotts

    Royal Flush changed my life, and it can change yours. Pick one up at a news stand near you today. Do it!

  • Six14

    I never miss a publication of Royal Flush it’s an awesome mag and gotta love Hef

  • Hal Yadoon

    Such a cool concept for an article! I guess print has a reason to live…ROYAL FLUSH!

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