Sid Couchey, best known around the comics industry for his work with Harvey comics, particularly on Richie Rich, Little Lotta and Little Dot, died this past Sunday. Tom Spurgeon has a fine piece on Sid over at Comics Reporter, with links you should check out.
Sid was also a large presence in the northeastern tip of New York State, where I lived for a little over a dozen years in the late 80s and throughout the 90s. He and his wife Ruth had a place in Essex with a nice view of Lake Champlain, and Sid did a lot of cartooning appearances for schools and local events.
He would also drop by the newsroom from time to time to talk baseball with the editors and, while things are often too busy for that sort of socializing, Sid was such a good guy that he had a dispensation, and, in addition to the report of his death, the paper also featured this appreciation.
My own friendship, and collaboration, with Sid came about in 1997, a few years after I'd left the newsroom and begun doing educational work in the schools. I was "readership services manager," which meant I also served on the boards of a local history museum, Literacy Volunteers and the United Way, and would field phone calls from readers looking for something or other.
One such call sent me to scrolling through the microfilmed archives from 1964, and, while I was looking for whatever the reader was trying to track down, I saw that the paper, as part of the 150th Anniversary of the War of 1812, had run a series of cartoons by Sid on the history of the Champlain Valley, from the arrival of Champlain up to the Battle of Plattsburgh that foiled Britain's push to the south in that war.
Knowing that Sid was not only still alive at 78 but still lively enough to pop up in the building from time to time, I filed the series away in my mind as something to ask him about and maybe do something with.
Shortly thereafter, a circulation manager with a talent for combining over-extension with buck-passing managed to put my educational program five grand in the hole and leave me holding the (empty) bag.
At that point, I called Sid and found out that not only did he remember the series, but he still had all the original art work, plus a small booklet reprinting the cartoons.
I began selling sponsorships to my program, to be acknowledged within a new edition of Sid's cartoon history of the region, and Sid began updating a very few places where changing times required it.
I was delighted that the changes required were going to be minimal. Common decency aside, we had in our circulation area one of the most significantly militant Indian communities in North America, the Mohawk reserve of Akwesasne. They're nice folks and I've always gotten along with them, but then I've never gone out of my way to deliberately insult them.
It didn't mean stripping the series of all humor. For example, Sid had spoofed the controversy over use of Indians during the Revolution, and that deserved to stand, especially since it was more at the expense of Parliament than the native soldiers:
But there were a few places where Sid had described fighting as "savage," which could easily and with no loss of his intention be changed, so that, in this panel from the French and Indian Wars, the adjective becomes bloody -- equally descriptive without the implication of anyone being subhuman.
It was fun to see the backshop get behind this project. So much of what they did was kind of on a dull, repetitive "time to make the donuts" basis that they enjoyed a chance to do work on something more creative. A staff artist took one of the panels ...
... extended its vertical borders and added color to create a cover for the book:
One advantage to having these panels gathered into a book over their original appearances as separate pieces running weekly is that the more didactic pieces were balanced by the gag panels and less talky episodes.
In the meantime, Sid had turned various illustrations from the series into small dingbats with which to make a map for the center spread, which the backshop colored much better than this cobbled-together scan will indicate. (Not only did I need to join together the parts that didn't fit, but the ink bleed-through on the pulp newsprint is more evident here than when you hold it in your hands)
The 32-page, 8.5x11" book was inserted into an edition of the paper, with extra copies distributed to classrooms. It was extremely popular with our regular readers and the teachers enjoyed having it as well.
And it erased the debt that fool circ manager had saddled my program with.
Which made it a winner all around, but the best part was that I got to work with a very charming, funny man who loved cartooning, loved kids nearly as much and just got such a kick out of life that he stuck around for another 15 years.
It's hard to justify mourning anyone who lives to be 92 years old, particularly when he seems to have done everything he wanted to do and most of those things more than once.
But the world is a little duller place without him.
On the other hand, the last time I was in Plattsburgh I saw that the newspaper has not only reprinted the booklet, but in a slightly larger format and on much better paper. It's no longer a fundraiser for the now all-but-moribund educational program, but at least one teacher has a copy because she's scanned it and you can see all the panels here.
Sid won't be creating any new comics, but he's left more than a few behind, and I'm glad to have been a part of that.