One thing that I really dislike about Internet culture is the quick use of RIP to announce someone has passed away. Seems too short.
So one of the best parts of doing this book was finding, meeting, and becoming friends with old-timers who knew Jerry and Joe back in the old days. Sure, I was supposed to be objective, but some of these people were just to great to ignore.
But meeting these people also meant, for some, eventually having to say goodbye.
Today is Opening Day for the Cleveland Indians and I am thinking of my pal Sid Couchey.
Sid Couchey was born in Cleveland, Ohio on May 24, 1919. As a kid, he loved Flash Gordon. After taking some cartoon correspondence courses and after a lot of drawing on his own, he moved to New York and graduated from what would become the prestigious School of Visual Arts. He did backgrounds for animal comics, some ghosting here and there, and was eventually hired by Harvey where he worked on Little Lotta, Little Dot, and Richie Rich for a decade, usually uncredited. Sid, who didn’t create these characters and rarely signed his work, made them his own by doing the impossible by adding even more personality to the wonderful Harvey style. His work would reach out to readers everywhere (including me) through Harvey’s reprint editions, collections, and digests.
In his later years, Sid became an icon of Essex, New York. He became locally famous for drawing Champy, the mythical (?) sea creature of Lake Champlain. His mural of Champy done tongue-in-cheek in the “Style of The Old Masters” stretches across the wall of the Ticonderoga Cartoon Museum. He signed his later work with a signature spider.
I never met Sid in person, but we were friends on the phone and in letters, long after he told me what I needed to know and gave me something for the book that became, in many ways, the last word on Joe Shuster for me. But that was just work stuff. Sid was the biggest and most optimistic Cleveland Indians fan I have ever met. “This is the year!” he would say, even during a 3-game drought, on my voicemail in a booming voice. He told me that the single bravest thing he ever did in his life was to wear his Cleveland Indians hat to school when he moved to New York City — who was still sore that the Tribe had ended Joe Dimaggio’s famous hitting streak. In his later years, Sid drew up baseball cards of himself and even invented a loose Hall of Fame for celebrity people who were chosen to pitch a first game ball (which he had done, proudly, at an Indians/Expos game in 2002 — he read the catcher’s signs with binoculars). He sent me a bunch of these cards, all original drawings on the promise that I “send them back sometime,” which I did.
Sid never once talked about credit, royalties, or copyright in his conversations with me. He just laughed, talked about spring training, and sent me a painting of Richie Rich saying “Go Tribe!” that is framed right behind me as I type this. That is the kind of guy he was. Whenever I came home from school and saw a big, doodled-up envelope from Sid, it became, automatically, a really good day. Sid was one of those guys who you never had to ask anything of – you just received.
As I was typing his lengthy endnote for the book last August — I went online to check out his birthdate, just to make sure I had it right, and was totally shocked when his death notice came up on the screen. I didn’t even know he was sick. On my desk, my to-do list said “Write Sid,” written down near the bottom.
Sid died at age 92, on March 11, in South Carolina, where he spent the winters with Ruth, his wife of 52 years.
He proposed to her in a comic.
Thinking of you tonight, Sid. As I type this, the Tribe has just beaten the Toronto Blue Jays, 4-1. Maybe this year, pal. I’ve got a good feeling.