Saturday, March 28, 2009

Robert Lowry @ 90

Robert Lowry (1919-1994) would turn 90 today. Don't expect a presidential proclamation in commemoration of this troubled man's legacy. However, we salute the Little Man Press writer/editor for changing the course of Flora's career, and probably for influencing his art. It all began one day in 1938 when the volatile literary turbine accosted Flora on the Art Academy of Cincinnati campus and demanded the undergrad illustrator serve as art director for his fledgling independent press publication.

"I was intrigued by his verve and the wild look in his eyes," recalled Flora in a 1987 autobiographical essay. "Lowry at the time was only seventeen or eighteen but he had been a child prodigy and was enormously talented. We found an immediate rapport, and I slipped into the harness and became co-founder of the Little Man Press."

GUP: Three Adventures, written by Robert Lowry, cover by Flora, 1942

"Lowry had no money and I had only a string of zeros," Flora explained, "so we decided to sell subscriptions to our nonexistent magazine. We tackled and browbeat everyone we knew on the campus of the University of Cincinnati. It was backbreaking work but we eventually squeezed $300 out of our subscribers and bought a press."

Subscription form, 1939 (collection of Ginnie Hofmann)

"We reasoned that the average little man during the depression might not be able to afford a big expensive magazine, so we published each article or story as a separate booklet and supplied a box so that our little man could assemble his own magazine. The box idea was a brainstorm about two centuries ahead of its time and was soon abandoned in order to avoid bankruptcy."

Box cover, Little Man Press editions, 1939 (collection of Ginnie Hofmann)

"We had only enough type to set two pages at a time. It was thus necessary to learn to calculate space very accurately. We were forced to set and print the first and last pages of our booklets, then break up the type and set the second and the next to last page and so on, until we met in the middle. If we undercalculated I made an illustration to fill the blank space. We didn't dare overcalculate and never did."

Two-page spread, Murderpie, 1939

"Bob was full of juice, a constant eruption, like a volcano," Flora told Lowry biographer Billie Jeyes. "He was constantly testing me, always pushing me to the limits. One day I was at the art academy, and Bob came to see me because he wanted me to do something. I was very busy at the time, and he kept pushing. So I hit him, in the chest. From then on we were on an even keel."

1 comment:

Ernie said...

Thanks for posting this mention of Robert Lowry. It inspired me to finally go out and read a little about him. I had no idea who he was, or what he'd done, outside of his brief association with Flora. Very interesting story, but very unfortunate. Funny how two lives can intersect like that.