VIDEO: Wilkes-Barre artist Kevin Dougherty using Kickstarter to fund documentary on cartoonist Drew Friedman
Many locals know Kevin Dougherty as the former manager of the beloved Wilkes-Barre music venue Cafe Metro, but he is also a comic artist and animator who has made music videos, wrote and directed “Fuzzball” for Nickelodeon’s animated series “KaBlam!” and created early web cartoon “Juanita & the List.” Now, his latest project may be his biggest yet, with the help of some major celebrities.
Dougherty, a resident of Wilkes-Barre, is using Kickstarter to fund “Vermeer of the Borscht Belt,” a full-length documentary about prolific New York cartoonist and illustrator Drew Friedman. As the project description states:
For years, artist Drew Friedman has chronicled a strange, alternate universe populated by forgotten Hollywood stars, old Jewish comedians, and liver-spotted elevator operators.
“Vermeer of the Borscht Belt” is an in-depth documentary tracing Friedman’s evolution from underground comics to the cover of the New Yorker.
Friedman grew up in the New York literary scene of his father, writer Bruce Jay Friedman, but he was more at home with the Three Stooges, Car 54 and MAD magazine. “Vermeer of the Borscht Belt” traces 50 years of American popular culture through the unique lens of Drew Friedman.
We’ll talk with Friedman’s friends and colleagues, exploring his influences and inspiration. We’ll watch as he transforms a rough sketch into a full-color painting.
And we’ll go on a behind-the-scenes tour of Friedman’s private “Jewseum,” perhaps the world’s largest collection of artifacts devoted exclusively to Jewish comedians.
We can only do this with your help. Our Kickstarter campaign has something for everyone – from DVDs and limited-edition posters to executive producer credits.
“Kevin and I first met 20 years ago when he hired me to create the art for a CD-ROM (remember those?) he was packaging for Simon & Schuster,” Friedman wrote in a recent blog post. “We’ve remained friends ever since.”
Dougherty’s obvious love for Friedman’s detailed, humorous caricature style comes through in his initial Kickstarter video…
…as well as the follow-up, which uses audio from Howard Stern, Marc Maron, and John Goodman to sing the praises of his genius:
Other big names, like Jimmy Kimmel and Penn Jillette, have since come out in support of the documentary with donations and tweets. With 238 backers so far, the crowdfunding campaign has reached over $40,000 of its $50,000 goal with less than two days to go.
After being plugged by The A.V. Club and Boing Boing, Dougherty stopped by Coal Creative last week to make a more personal plea with a video that employs some of his own humor to boost the Kickstarter in its final hours:
If you haven’t donated yet, it’s either now or never, as the movie will only be funded if it reaches its goal by Wednesday, Dec. 14 at 9:21 a.m. If successful, it is expected to be completed by August of 2017.
While Friedman’s celebrated work is instantly recognizable to art and comic book fans, the Kickstarter page also includes a bio that covers the artist’s five-decade career. Reading this, it’s easy to see why a film about him is way overdue:
Drew Friedman’s latest work, “More Heroes of the Comics,” is a sequel to his acclaimed “Heroes of the Comics.” Spanning the birth of the industry to its first few decades, this book has approximately 100 full-color portraits of the legends of American comic books – publishers, editors, and artists. Its subjects are popular and obscure, men and women, and it includes several pioneering artists of color.
Friedman is an award-winning illustrator whose work regularly appears in dozens of major publications. For years he was renowned for his “stippling” style of caricature, employing thousands of pen-marks to achieve photographic verisimilitude, but in recent years, Friedman has switched to painting. His painstaking attention to detail and parodies of Hollywood icons is widely admired.
Friedman’s work has appeared in Entertainment Weekly, Newsweek, Time, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, The New Republic, The New York Observer, Esquire, Raw, Rolling Stone, and Mad Magazine.
Friedman attended New York’s School of Visual Arts from 1978 to 1981, studying under such legendary masters as Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtzman, Edward Sorel, Stan Mack, and Arnold Roth. He launched his career in the 1980s writing and illustrating morbid alternative comics, often collaborating with brother Josh Alan Friedman. These stories depicted various B-list celebrities, such as Abbott and Costello, Tor Johnson, and Joe Franklin, in seedy, absurd, tragicomic situations. Friedman’s work won high praise from Kurt Vonnegut Jr., who compared him to Goya, and Robert Crumb, who wrote, “I wish I had this guy’s talent.”
During the 1980s and early ’90s, Friedman’s comics were published in Heavy Metal, Weirdo, High Times, and National Lampoon. The Friedman brothers published two collections, “Any Similarity to Persons Living or Dead is Purely Coincidental” and “Warts and All.”
In 1986, Friedman introduced a monthly feature, “Private Lives of Public Figures,” for (the now-defunct) Spy magazine; these were collected in a book published by St. Martin’s Press in 1992. He provided illustrations for Howard Stern’s two best-selling books, “Private Parts” and “Miss America.” Friedman served as comics editor for the National Lampoon in 1991 and, since 1994, has provided front-page illustrations for the New York Observer.
In 2006, Friedman published “Old Jewish Comedians,” a collection of portraits of famous and forgotten Jewish comics of film and TV in their old age. Steven Heller, in the New York Times Book Review, proclaimed it “a festival of drawing virtuosity and fabulous craggy faces … Friedman might very well be the Vermeer of the Borscht Belt.” Jerry Lewis chimed in: “Jesus Christ, I love it! Holy moly, what a book!” The following year, he published a collection of newer work, “The Fun Never Stops!,” including many comics co-written by his frequent collaborator and wife, K. Bidus. Booklist tabbed it one of the Ten Best Comics Collections of 2007. “More Old Jewish Comedians” was published in 2008.
A collection of magazine illustrations and fine art portraits, “Too Soon: Famous/Infamous Faces 1995–2010” (Fantagraphics), was published in fall 2010, followed in 2011 by “Drew Friedman’s Sideshow Freaks” (Blast Books), which presented 50 color portraits of strange and bizarre (and real) circus entertainers from bygone years.
Friedman was recognized for his work with the National Cartoonist Society Newspaper Illustration Award for 2000 and was nominated again in 2002 and 2007. That organization also awarded Friedman their “Magazine Illustration Award” for 2000. His work has been included in nine volumes of the American Illustration annual.
Friedman and Bidus share their home with adorable champion beagles.
by Rich Howells
Rich is an award-winning journalist, longtime blogger, adequate photographer, podcast co-host, and practicing poet. He is the founder and editor of NEPA Scene.