Thursday, 17 September 2009

Joel Beck

In its first issue of 1966, The Berkeley Barb presented a full page comic section by Joel Beck, new to the Barb but well known in Berkeley. Beck, then 22, developed his extraordinary artistic talent in childhood during a three year period when he had spinal tuberculosis and immobile except for the use of his hands. During these years Joel drew constantly and by his tenth birthday his room was cluttered with his own homemade comic books. After his recovery Joel attended De Anza High School where he was asked to participate in the design of the year book. That year the De Anza yearbook won first place in the yearbook competition for the state of California, and that particular yearbook issue came to be known .as "Joel's book". Lenny of Laredo and other books have remained both popular and collectable. Beck would go and produce a number of posters and handbills for The Jabberwock in exchange for a relaxation of his bar tab.

Kevin Fagan wrote Beck's obituary for the San Francisco Chronicle following his 1999 death:

Joel Beck, whose cutting-edge cartoons in the 1960s in the Berkeley Barb and elsewhere made him one of the founding oddballs of underground comics, died in his sleep of natural causes last week at home in Point Richmond. Mr. Beck, 56, had been ill off and on for years from complications related to tuberculosis and alcoholism, family members said, but he was still inking artworks for fans and advertising clients until the end. The quirky, irreverent humor that spilled from his personality into his pen made him a beloved figure in the tiny Contra Costa County community he had called home for the past two decades. When word of his September 14 death got out, people from all over the area began to show up at Point Richmond's Santa Fe Market, where Mr. Beck often hung out, to drop off mementos. Yesterday, the market's front window was plastered with more than 50 cartoons, letters and articles paying tribute to the artist whose 1960s fame continued to make him a legend long after his career waned. "People just keep bringing this cool stuff in. They loved Joel," said market owner Bob Peckham, a longtime friend. "He was different. He had a great wit."

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