Irwin Caplan

Irwin Caplan

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Irwin Caplan nicknamed Cap, was an American illustrator, painter, designer and cartoonist, best known as the creator of The Saturday Evening Post
The Saturday Evening Post
The Saturday Evening Post is a bimonthly American magazine. It was published weekly under this title from 1897 until 1969, and quarterly and then bimonthly from 1971.-History:...

cartoon series, Famous Last Words, which led to newspaper syndication of the feature in 1956.

Caplan grew up in Seattle's Madison Park neighborhood where his parents took note of his drawings and enrolled him in art classes. As a teenager, Caplan won $10 in a citywide poster contest, and at Garfield High School, he illustrated the 1935 yearbook, The Arrow. He painted murals of a circus and Paul Bunyan
Paul Bunyan
Paul Bunyan is a lumberjack figure in North American folklore and tradition. One of the most famous and popular North American folklore heroes, he is usually described as a giant as well as a lumberjack of unusual skill, and is often accompanied in stories by his animal companion, Babe the Blue...

 on walls of the school, where he graduated in 1937.

At the University of Washington
University of Washington
University of Washington is a public research university, founded in 1861 in Seattle, Washington, United States. The UW is the largest university in the Northwest and the oldest public university on the West Coast. The university has three campuses, with its largest campus in the University...

, after he spent three years contributing to Columns, the University's humor magazine, the staff wanted him to be the editor. However, the faculty claimed the magazine needed "new blood" and designated as editor Lynn Scholes of Steilacoom, Washington
Steilacoom, Washington
Steilacoom is a town in Pierce County, Washington, United States. The population was 5,985 at the 2010 census. Steilacoom is on the coast of Puget Sound, on a branch not visible on the map to the right...

, who had never worked on the magazine. This led to an emotional incident at the annual publications banquet in which the magazine's first female editor, Saxon Miller of Vancouver
Vancouver is a coastal seaport city on the mainland of British Columbia, Canada. It is the hub of Greater Vancouver, which, with over 2.3 million residents, is the third most populous metropolitan area in the country,...

, refused to introduce Scholes and walked out, calling Scholes a "hand-picked editor" with no experience compared to Caplan.


The following year, after graduating from the University of Washington with a fine arts degree, Caplan served during World War II as an Army illustrator, contributing to several military publications. Beginning in the Tank Force, he advanced to the Army Intelligence art department. When a Signal Corps editorial artist watched Caplan draw a cartoon and commented, “You know you can sell that stuff,” Caplin put it in the mail and sold it to Collier's
Collier's Weekly
Collier's Weekly was an American magazine founded by Peter Fenelon Collier and published from 1888 to 1957. With the passage of decades, the title was shortened to Collier's....

, launching his career as a cartoonist.

Cartoons, illustrations and paintings

Irwin and Madeline Caplan were married in 1948 when he returned to Seattle, where he teamed with illustrator Ted Rand and five other artists to form Graphic Studios, creating corporate logos and a variety of advertising artwork. In addition to such accounts as the Pacific Northwest Bell Telephone, Bardahl and the Mutual Life Insurance Company, Caplan also illustrated the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair poster (sponsored by the Frederick & Nelson department store), plus work for the Seattle World’s Fair Alaska Pavilion. He was the art director for Spokane’s Expo ’74.

In the late 1940s through the early 1960s, Caplan's distinctive, crisp cartoon style appeared in Collier's, Esquire
Esquire (magazine)
Esquire is a men's magazine, published in the U.S. by the Hearst Corporation. Founded in 1932, it flourished during the Great Depression under the guidance of founder and editor Arnold Gingrich.-History:...

, Liberty, Life
Life (magazine)
Life generally refers to three American magazines:*A humor and general interest magazine published from 1883 to 1936. Time founder Henry Luce bought the magazine in 1936 solely so that he could acquire the rights to its name....

, Parade
Parade (magazine)
Parade is an American nationwide Sunday newspaper magazine, distributed in more than 500 newspapers in the United States. It was founded in 1941 and is owned by Advance Publications. The most widely read magazine in the U.S., Parade has a circulation of 32.2 million and a readership of nearly 70...

and other leading publications. For the Sunday supplement magazine
Sunday magazine
A Sunday magazine is a publication inserted into a Sunday newspaper. It also has been known as a Sunday supplement, Sunday newspaper magazine or Sunday magazine section...

 This Week, he contributed a regular weekly thematic grouping of cartoons, sometimes in the form of a vertical comic strip
Comic strip
A comic strip is a sequence of drawings arranged in interrelated panels to display brief humor or form a narrative, often serialized, with text in balloons and captions....

. In addition to Famous Last Words, his other syndicated feature was 48 States of Mind.

Caplan's paintings were exhibited at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., and his work was in the permanent collections of the Seattle Art Museum and the Henry Gallery. He taught art at the University of Washington School of Art and at Seattle Central Community College.
Caplan lived in Seattle with his wife and three children. He maintained a summer residence on Vashon Island in Washington's Puget Sound. In January 1966, following heavy rains in the Pacific Northwest, a mudslide pushed his Vashon home 25 yards from its foundation, dumping much of the house into Puget Sound. An image of Caplan's remaining wreckage was distributed to newspapers as an AP Wirephoto under the headlines, "Mudslide Carries Half a House into Puget Sound" and "It's Now a Split Level".


In 1972, he received the National Cartoonists Society
National Cartoonists Society
The National Cartoonists Society is an organization of professional cartoonists in the United States. It presents the National Cartoonists Society Awards. The Society was born in 1946 when groups of cartoonists got together to entertain the troops...

's Advertising and Illustration Award, followed by the 1981 Advertising Award. In November 1999, his artwork was exhibited at Tacoma
Tacoma, Washington
Tacoma is a mid-sized urban port city and the county seat of Pierce County, Washington, United States. The city is on Washington's Puget Sound, southwest of Seattle, northeast of the state capital, Olympia, and northwest of Mount Rainier National Park. The population was 198,397, according to...

's Random Modern Gallery in its "Northwest Art 1920-1962" survey exhibition.

In 2005, the murals he painted in 1937 survived a renovation of Garfield High School. One small section showing two trapeze artists was left in place where it had been painted directly on concrete. Portions painted on plaster adhered to clay tile were removed because of seismic safety concerns. Divided into four-by-four foot sections, the plaster paintings were framed and auctioned. Caplan went back to look at the murals in 2003 and commented:
I was very surprised. I didn’t think they would stay in as good condition and have as much impact as they actually have. One story I remember from painting them was using a “flit
Flit is the brand name for an insecticide.The original product, launched in 1923 and mainly intended for killing flies and mosquitoes, was mineral oil based and manufactured by the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey before the company, now part of ExxonMobil, renamed itself first Esso and later...

” gun. We didn’t have airbrush in those days, and there was a lot of area to be covered. A flit gun is used to spray insecticide, but I dumped the insecticide out and used it to spray color. It had a pump action and a little bucket that hung suspended along the tube. I painted during art periods, spraying away, and the kids in the class, when they sneezed, they would sneeze in color.

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