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Joe Wehrle Jr

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Joe Wehrle, Jr. 1941–2017

It’s hard to believe that two years ago today Joe Wehrle, Jr. passed. Just days after completing his cover portrait of Rick Ollerman for The Digest Enthusiast No. 7.

Joe in his studio.

The photo shows Joe at the drawing board in his home studio surrounded by drawings of Fawn, reference material, and comic strip originals. The comic strips on his board are for “Houseboat Summer,” an unfinished project that first sparked his imagination in 2014. He wore the Mickey Mouse watch on his wrist every day, even between battery changes.

Joe Wehrle, Jr. (pronounced “Wer-lee”) was a big part of The Digest Enthusiast right from the start. He wrote articles, contributed stories, and created illustrations—including five of our first seven covers. Just days after the last issue wrapped, Joe passed away, suddenly, the victim of a stroke.
He died at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh on Sunday, December 10, 2017. He was 76.

Joe was born February 16, 1941, to Ruth and Joe Wehrle, Sr. in Punxsutawney, where he grew up and lived his life. He taught school for a few years as a young adult but worked as a freelance artist for most of his career. He married Karen Wilson in 1967 and collaborated with her on many of his creative endeavors for nearly 44 years. She was the model for many of his illustrations, most notably Fawn the Dark Eyed, and assisted him with the Cartoon Trader adzine in 1989. An occasional cartoonist herself, Karen was an avid blogger and an active seller on eBay. She preceded Joe in death on September 6, 2010.

Joe’s fiction continues to appear in The Digest Enthusiast courtesy of Jillian Rouse. In January 2020, issue No. 11 will feature Joe’s “Zymurgy for Aliens” with an illustration by Michael Neno. Joe’s bibliography appears on the Larque Press website.

Cauliflower Catnip Merch

Cauliflower Catnip embroidered patch

Excerpt from the tribute: “The Creative Works of Joe Wehrle, Jr.” from The Digest Enthusiast No. 8, June 2018:

Shown here are the Cauliflower Catnip pinback button, embroidered patch, and plaster bust.

Joe stayed in touch with Harlan Ellison after Clarion, and in early 2017 sent him a copy of an H.P. Lovecraft portrait he’d drawn. Ellison responded, “What a hell of a portrait of Lovecraft! Still, I like the little pinback even more!”

Cauliflower Catnip pinback button

After casting a few of the CC busts, Joe found their production too time consuming, so only a handful were made. He tried hand-painting them but found the irregular surface of the plaster was too difficult to cover.

Cauliflower Catnip plaster bust

Joe’s bibliography appears on the Larque Press website.

Groundhog Files

Groundhog Files

Excerpt from the tribute: “The Creative Works of Joe Wehrle, Jr.” from The Digest Enthusiast No. 8, June 2018:

In 1991, Joe Wehrle, Jr. produced a mini comic loosely based on the famous Punxsutawney Groundhog, featuring a groundhog detective. “I think it was a bit too far off the beaten path for most of the local populace. Most would rather have had a coloring book,” said Joe. Groundhog Files was a 24-page comic that Joe produced in a limited run. In 2015, Joe reprinted the comic at about one-half of its original digest-size.

Most of Joe’s self-published works were hand-bound. Quantities were low, which makes them rare and highly collectible. If you’re lucky enough to find a copy of one, I advise you to grab it. His publications were always something truly special.

Joe’s bibliography appears on the Larque Press website.

Cartoon Trader

Cartoon Trader

Excerpt from my tribute, “The Creative Works of Joe Wehrle, Jr.” from The Digest Enthusiast No. 8, June 2018:

“In 1989, my wife Karen and I came up with the idea of producing a monthly Cartoon Trader, which would focus on the buying and selling of newspaper comic strips, the way the Comics Buyer’s Guide mainly concerns itself with comic books. Unfortunately, we were never able to get enough ads to make it a really substantial-looking monthly or to make it the self-supporting venture we’d hoped for, so we had to discontinue it after just a few issues. We did create several continuing features for the magazine, though—classic cartoonist trading cards, retrospectives, paper dolls (Trina Robbins sent us some outfits!) and a monthly page of original comic strips.”

Today, Cartoon Trader’s ads offer only a passing glance at yesterday’s prices, but Joe and Karen loaded each Trader with such charming original content it’s still fun to read today.

Joe’s bibliography appears on the Larque Press website.

Cauliflower Catnip: Pearls of Peril

Cauliflower Catnip: Pearls of Peril

Excerpt from my tribute, “The Creative Works of Joe Wehrle, Jr.” from The Digest Enthusiast No. 8, June 2018:

I first became aware of Joe’s work in 1981 when he published the Big Little Book, Cauliflower Catnip: Pearls of Peril, advertised in Alan Light’s The Buyer’s Guide. The book remains one of the most impressive self-published productions I’ve ever seen. I asked Joe about the project’s evolution.

“I guess Cauliflower Catnip is kind of an amalgam of many influences.” The anthropomorphic dogs of Thomas Aloysius Dorgan (TAD) comic strips, the hardboiled detective fiction of Nero Wolfe, and the sound of Thomas “Fats” Waller’s voice.

“I began to explore who Cauliflower Catnip was in a series of one-panel cartoons. I’ve long suspected that I’m too slow to do a regular daily strip unless I get an assistant or the concept is extremely simple. I enjoyed turning out the panels, but I could see they’d go nowhere. Besides, I wanted a detective story continuity with Cauliflower. How could I progress the suspense by drawing single panels? Had anyone ever done something like that? Of course they had—and called the results Big Little Books!

“So—how to get other people interested in Cauliflower, too? The character cavorted, full-blown, inside my head, and I felt I could sense the mood of the story and the type of cronies and adversaries he would encounter. But I hadn’t yet written a word of it.

The Buyer’s Guide had fairly inexpensive ad rates at the time, and I had some old comic stuff to sell. So I created a block ad, with my sale items at the bottom, and a single-panel cartoon above, to scale with the old Big Little Book pages, with short text paragraphs to the right. For several weeks, I don’t know how many, a comic panel and corresponding text appeared in every issue of TBG, andI started to get encouraging mail from fans. As we approached the end of the story, I began to solicit advance orders for the actual book.”

Joe’s bibliography appears on the Larque Press website.

Wehrle and Warren

"Monster Bait" splashpage

Excerpt from “The Creative Works of Joe Wehrle, Jr.” from The Digest Enthusiast No. 8, June 2018.

“Around that time [early 1970s] I also illustrated one script for Warren Publications’ Vampirella, and wrote one for them which was beautifully delineated by Esteban Maroto. I found Warren Pubs hard to deal with, though, slow with the money and critical of the work, although I thought I did a fairly good job for my first pro comics work. They ran the Wehrle/Maroto story over and over, but I never saw a nickel after the $12.00 or so they originally paid for the script.”

Joe’s first story, “Monster Bait,” written by Don Glut, appeared in Vampirella No. 9 (Jan. 1971). “Wolf Hunt” written by Joe and illustrated by Esteban Maroto first appeared in Vampirella No. 14 (Nov. 1971).

Joe’s bibliography appears on the Larque Press website.

Fawn the Dark Eyed comic strip

Joe Wehrle Jr, The Digest Enthusiast, Clarion, Sense of Wonder, Fawn the Dark Eyed, The Menomonee Falls Gazette No. 42

Joe Wehrle, Jr.’s story “The Bandemar” appeared in the first Clarion anthology and the comic version in Bill Schelly’s Sense of Wonder No. 12.

“Several years later,” Joe explained, “I resurrected the idea, and Fawn, with a slightly different storyline, was published for 36 weeks in The Menomonee Falls Gazette from Wisconsin, an all-comic newspaper.

“Toward the end [of Fawn’s run], I got those commissions from Lava Mt. Records to do H. P. Lovecraft portraits for their record jackets, and those took a lot of time, so the Gazette guys were alternating Fawn with something else on a bi-weekly basis. Then their paper just sort of fizzled out. They continued to run a handful of strips that they had al- ready paid for in their Comic Reader, but they were completely broke as far as the Gazette was concerned. It’s probably a wonder they were able to publish as many issues as they did.”

The cover of The Menomonee Falls Gazette No. 142, September 1974, featured the debut of the Fawn the Dark Eyed comic strip. The strip appeared in issues 142–161, 163–171, 173–176, 178, 179, 181, 183, and 188.

Joe’s bibliography appears on the Larque Press website.

Clarion: One

Sense of Wonder No. 12
Sense of Wonder No. 12

Excerpt from “The Creative Works of Joe Wehrle, Jr.” from The Digest Enthusiast No. 8, June 2018.

“The Bandemar” was part of the first Clarion anthology, written by the workshop’s lecturers and alumni, published by Signet in 1971. Joe also drew a four-page wordless comic version that appeared in Sense of Wonder No. 12. By this time, Fawn, who encounters the bandemar, was modeled after Karen Wehrle and appears with lighter hair.

In 1981, the story was translated into German (“Der Bandemar”) for Germany’s Science-Fiction Story Reader.

Sense of Wonder No. 12 back
Sense of Wonder No. 12 back cover

The story and the comic version appear together in The Digest Enthusiast No. 9, Jan. 2019.

Joe’s bibliography appears on the Larque Press website.

Joe Wehrle, Jr. at Clarion

Where is Janice Gantry?

Excerpt from “The Creative Works of Joe Wehrle, Jr.” from The Digest Enthusiast No. 8, June 2018. His story, “Kromaflies,” appears in The Digest Enthusiast No. 10, June 2019. (Quotes gleaned from Joe’s interviews or correspondence.)

In 1968, Robin Scott Wilson organized the first Clarion Writers’ Workshop for fantasy and science fiction at the Clarion State College in Pennsylvania. The staff of visiting lecturers during its first year included Judith Merril, Fritz Leiber, Harlan Ellison, Kate Wilhelm, and Damon Knight. Joe Wehrle, Jr. was one of several students lucky enough to attend.

“When I attended the workshop in 1968 (with Karen and five-month-old Jill outside on a blanket among the trees),” Joe said, “Harlan Ellison told us, ‘I know we’re talking science fiction writing here, but if you want to study a really good modern writing style, you guys should be reading John D. MacDonald.’ Two I particularly remember enjoying are Dead Low Tide and Where is Janice Gantry, and his dozen or so Travis McGee stories are all very good too. The last one, The Lonely Silver Rain, is compelling, because, along with the mystery, Travis discovers and gets to know a daughter he had no idea existed.”

While at the workshop, Joe told me in 2010: “I wrote a story called ‘Kromaflies,’ which Robin Scott Wilson liked, Fritz Leiber felt showed that I had put a lot of thought into the development of the society I wrote about, and Harlan Ellison pretty much hated, although he did agree I was a ‘plotter,’ which was high praise from Harlan, who had no patience with anyone who wrote off the top of their head with no object in mind.”

Joe’s bibliography appears on the Larque Press website.

Kromaflies

Galaxy and If

Galaxy Oct. 1968
Galaxy Oct. 1968

Excerpt from “The Creative Works of Joe Wehrle, Jr.” from The Digest Enthusiast No. 8, June 2018. (Quotes gleened from Joe’s interviews or correspondence.)

“My first professional work involved doing spot illustrations for Galaxy and If digest science fiction magazines,” Joe said in 2010. “I had done comics and other stuff for fanzines, and I sent some clips to Frederik Pohl around 1967, asking if I could get some work from his magazines. He replied that he liked what I had sent, but could I show him something a little more subdued? So I worked up a small folio of illustrations that I felt were more in keeping with the style of those two magazines. Fred said ‘OK!’ and directed his staff to begin sending me galley proofs of stories slated for upcoming issues.

“The galleys were arriving regularly in the mail. I was really on my way! Then Galaxy Publications was sold, and the new editors sent me nothing more.”

Joe’s artwork appears in:
Galaxy Jun–Aug, & Oct. 1968
If May–Aug. 1968
Joe’s bibliography appears on the Larque Press website.