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The Rules of Attraction

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The Look of Love: The Rise and Fall of the Photo-Realistic Newspaper Strip, 1946-1970

Sunday Dec 10 1967

In this beautiful 1967 example of the cartoonist's skill, taken from R.C. Harvey's essential Children of the Yellow Kid (1998), we see what made 3-G and Kotzky so memorable.  Kotzky always emphasized nailing character with a loose, expressive line that had no equal in the industry, then or now, using a #3 sable brush for figure work and a #290 pen point (the same as Drake) for heads. The story at times could be just as expressive. Late at night on a cold December night,  two roommates talk of current romantic turmoil.  The apartment is a warm, safe retreat. Dark-haired Margo is protective yet still spars with her friend, while Lu Ann  is childlike and fragile--note how fine, clean and soft her blonde hair looks.  Inexperienced Lu Ann needs good advice, but also is less inclined to take it. A perfect Soap Opera dilemma.  

Strip Promotion, circa 1975Remembering The Girls Next Door: Alex Kotzky and Apartment 3-G

Apartment 3-G, at its best in the Nick Dallis-Alex Kotzky era, captured the most elusive of times, the first apartment, the first job, the joys and sorrows of living among close friends in an exciting city, 2 AM conversations and breakfast gossip,  the youthful, brief, evanescent  moment when a new neighbor meant unmatched portent and thrilling promise. Certainly Alex Kotzky's art was up to challenge.  Perhaps more so than any other artist, he rendered women the way they imagined themselves to be. As stylish and tasteful. Sexy without effort. Emotionally accessible yet independent. Strong and intelligent. Thus his female cast had a vitality, a1962 promotion personality, that matched the headlong rush into careers and life. 

Such mastery comes with a hefty price, especially the massive amount of research required in a photo strip. In a recent article written by Kotzky's son Brian, who assisted then succeeded his father as the artist on 3-G, the son reveals "as far back as I can remember, Dad did nothing but work. No vacations, no hobbies, no sitting around reading the Sunday paper--it was a life spent at the drawing board."  The elder Kotzky once admitted, "My ambition is to find a quicker way to do my strip and take a three day vacation."  Kotzky never found that time away from his studio for more than 35 years.  When he died on September 26, 1996, at seventy three, in New York City of a massive stroke, he still had a half-finished Sunday page on his drawing board.  


2nd Week, Friday, 1961

2nd Week, Saturday, 1961

3rd Week, Monday, 1961

Tuesday, 3rd Week, 1961

Top, The girls settle into their new apartment at the close of the second and beginning of the third week of the strip in May 1961and excitedly discuss their initial glimpse of a neighbor, one apartment over in 3H, a strange man by the name of Papagoras.  Tommy and Margo are old hands and previous roommates, but for Lu Ann Wright, her first apartment is a heady rush.  The strip's initial conflict is her  naiveté set against the harsh city. To see these big, tall, beautiful, four column dailies, a size which takes up 2/3 of a newspaper's single page width, is likewise dazzling.  These early strips show Kotzky using a fine stroke, almost dry brush feathering for bouncy hair, pronounced deep blacks, and Drake-derived undressing-dressing cheesecake to lure new readers. The 1961 original art above, the last three panels of a very early Sunday, comes from the collection of Ken Carson. Bottom, from 1963.


Alex Kotsky and son Brian 1958Kid Eternity  

Like many of the other artists of this era, Alexander S. Kotzky was a city boy, born on September 11, 1923 in the Bronx, the son of Helen and Theodor Kotzky.

He attended, as would Leonard Starr two years later, the Manhattan High School for Art and Music and then the Art Students League under George Bridgeman--Stan Drake who was two years Kotzky's senior had just left--as well as the Pratt Institute for a year. Kotzky eyed becoming a big-league illustrator, but World War II's manpower drain allowed him the opportunity to immediately earn a living with his blossoming talent in comic books. One day in 1940 he answered a newspaper ad for an artist and before long, while still in art school, Kotzky was penciling for Chad Grothkopf on DC titles like Johnny Quick, Sandman, Three Aces, and Detective Chimp (sometimes using the alias "Grotsky") and doing backgrounds for Will Eisner'sA Kotsky Cover 1944 weekly Sunday supplement for The Spirit.  At this point, he looked very much like a crude Lou Fine whom Kotzky inked for Eisner's shop and idolized, even trailing Fine out of the city to work for a period of time.  Eventually, the draft found and plucked Kotzky away for service with the Army's Fourth Divison from the fall of 1943 to early 1946.

When he returned to New York and the commercial art world, again like Starr, an intense comic book period followed, mostly for Quality Publishing from 1947 and now under the guidance of studio mainstay Jack Cole, including various covers and penciling Blackhawk, Dollman, Espionage, Kid Eternity, Manhunter, Plastic Man, along with inking such titles as Quicksilver, Torchy, Uncle Sam and True Crime Great Lover Romances #17 August 1954 Comics.  Art Spiegleman in his recent book on Cole claims Kotzky and John Spranger were the best of the Cole mimics. Kotzky's time with older artist, whom the "worshipful" Kotzky termed "a wild man mentally," earned the young man some notoriety as he worked with Cole during "Murder, Morphine, and Me," the True Crime comic that Frederic Wertham singled out in Seduction of the Innocent (1954) and a year later drew a New York State Legislature report on censorship and comics. 

Kotzky leaves comics as many did in 1950 and heads for the security and money of advertising at Johnstone and Cushing.  Here at Cushing from 1953-1960, he was among the many artists who would define the photo-style through its golden age.  Kotzky remained there through the 50s, handling comic strip illustration for Dodge and Ford and illustrations for medical magazines and science fiction digests. He never strays too far from comics and comic strips, showing the talent for mimicry he had earlier displayed at Quality: a four year stint on and off ghosting Milton Caniff on Steve Canyon (1955-59), one of the first ghosts on Juliet Jones (1956-57 dailies and Sundays. For awhile in 1957--four months mid year?--the Sunday belonged completely to Kotzky. This example, 6-24-56), and a late 50s stint on John Cullen Murphy's Big Ben Bolt. (In 1965, Kotzky would work again for his old friend Lou Fine on Peter Scratch and had a brief job ghosting on Rex Morgan, MD in 1980.) 

The Caniff connection would prove to be especially worthwhile.  Kotzky's only solo strip during this period was a widely distributed (60 major markets nationwide) Sunday with writer AllenA Kotzsky Steve Canyon 1959 Saunders (Mary Worth and Steve Roper) for Phillip Morris cigarettes called Duke Handy, running for half of 1958, April to October, an adventure continuity about a blue collar "two fisted redheaded hero" who smoked when he wasn't setting things straight or roaming from town to town. Kotzky inherited it when Caniff bowed out in prepublication.   

Undoubtedly, it was the Duke Handy experience with Saunders, the reliable ghosting, and the sure-Duke Handy 5-25-58fire romance credentials of a stint on Juliet Jones that prompted Publishers Syndicate head Harold Anderson to look Kotzky's way when a new idea about three young women sharing an apartment came in late 1958 from veteran writer Dallis.  Dallis, who had earlier created and scripted Rex Morgan, MD in 1948 and then did the same on Judge Parker in 1952, once recalled about his new brainchild, "I had been nurturing the idea of such a strip for a long time, but it required an artist who could do a more illustrative type of art and was especially adept in drawing women."

That artist was Alex Kotzky and 36 months later--after considerable discussion with Dallis and delayed an additional nine months because of the appearance and subsequent quick failure of another soaper, Honor Eden-- Apartment 3-G made its debut on May 8, 1961. It is still running today, 40 years later, in over 100 newspapers.


Kotzky married his wife Emma in September 1946. Kotzky's son Brian, shown above at four, began helping out his father when he was ten. Brian eventually succeeded his father as 3G's artist in 1996 but turned over the strip to Frank Bolle three years later in order to become a high school social science teacher.  The elder Kotzky ghosted both the daily and Sunday Steve Canyon throughout the late 50s.  1958's Duke Handy is in the Caniff mode too, a real man's man who often grabs a smoke to gather his thoughts before leaping into action or talking bluntly.  Handy was part of Philip Morris' long term strategy to reposition filtered cigarettes as a hyper-masculine product, a campaign that began with 1955's "Tattooed Man" to eventually become the cowboy of postwar pop culture, the Marlboro Man. (A Duke Handy can be seen in the photo of Kotzky and Brian, above, lying below the desk lamp.) Duke Handy  is often gleefully cited as an example of unscrupulous marketing for children by tobacco companies but that is just plain wrong.  The stories, which ran about 8 weeks, were meant for adult males.  The example shown ran 5-25-58.  The strip contained one main "cigarette" panel and various Phillip Morris placements, but told a fast-moving, tight story.  Kotzky prepared the strip as a half full and Phillip Morris ran it all over the country in different formats.  

Pretty as a Picture

Lucy, mid 50s

Joan Collins, circa 1955

Tuesday Weld, circa 1961


Ignore the big hair. Here, from 1966, temporary roommate Beth looks worried, steady,  practical Tommie bemused, and hopeless romantic Margo lost in reverie. Kotzky used celebrity photographs as reference.  Tommie was based on Lucille Ball,  Margo on the young Joan Collins and Lu Ann on Tuesday Weld.  His bold loose line lessened the immediate likeness and over time the faces became a distillation of the familiar features, but what Kotzky never lost was the ability to portray character through expression, gesture, and clothing that was just as revealing as behavior and dialogue--an ability shrinking column size didn't affect. It just made him work harder on getting it right.  Lucy had one of the most recognizable faces in America, yet no one ever remarked on the inspiration.  His use of later day Dynasty star Collins came from her early American films like 1958's Rally Around the Flag, Boys where Collins co-starred with a 15 year old Tuesday Weld.  Weld had just begun to appear as Thalia on the Many Loves of Dobie Gillis as Kotzky developed the strip visually through 1959-1960. Tommie eventually lost the bee-hive and Lu Ann the schoolgirl bangs, but Margo has retained the drawn back bun.  Although the female real life models weren't identified in Kotzky's lifetime, everyone correctly suspected that fatherly Professor Aristotle Papagoras was eventually a "dead ringer" for another "Papa," Ernest Hemingway.  

1-1-78Every artist has handled the issue of reference differently.  Raymond reportedly used models and took reference photographs, but those examples that survive I understand are staged publicity stills, not real reference.  We can see his use of Cooper Studio swipes--and those artists certainly used photos--but Raymond did not use Polaroids or an art-o-graph. Thus Rip Kirby has a relatively small stock of expressions all the way through to the Prentice era. Drake utilized Polaroids of himself and friends and applied features on top of the face or figure.  He had great range of expression, but his people tended to look alike and he was limited in how much he could deviate from the photograph.  Williamson had to sidestep his use of friends, neighbors and his own features in his reference photos by the use of props and disguises, sunglasses, hats, physical abnormalities, to hide the instances of the same models appearing in consecutive stories.  

Abgail "Tommie" Thompson Daily 2-28-75Kotzky had Drake's range of expression but with far more variety in body types and faces. Kotzky readily admitted Drake was the standard, saying in a 1991 interview how his newspaper style evolved: "Well I knew I would do something in Drake's style because I felt that he animated his stuff more.  He was very dramatic in his storytelling, very dramatic.  As a matter of fact, when he started his strip I thought he would wipe out Raymond's work, I thought it was that good."  

What Kotzky meant by animation were the changes made a cartoonist to move his characters to fit the story.  Studying Drake for B/W science fiction illustrations and later ghosting for the Sundays had given him how to do the photo style, yet Kotzky also saw what kept the other artist from wider appreciation. Drake didn't change the proportions of the photographed reference figure, especially male figures, so it always looked like a traced photograph even though it was so much more than that.  Kotzky used photo reference as much or more than any of the artists of this period, but when given the chance on his own strip, he would be different.

His son Brian revealed recently in a Cartoonist PROfiles article just how different.    

11-19-72 Half Tab




In 1970 the strip changed its name to The Girls in Apartment 3-G--although most believe the " 3-G" already signified "three girls"--to emphasize the youth angle and the logo gained the familiar triple head underscore.   Unbelievably, Kotzky didn't use stats for it until 1975. (Each week the trio is slightly different in rendering from the Sunday before.)  The 3 head template remained when the original name was restored in 1977 and is still used today.  Lu Ann, even in the glory days, never had much of a portrait.  There's not much to work with. Her minute head is only 2/3 of the other two. Kotzky occasionally used background assistants--notably Tex Blaisdell and Creig Flessel--but the most critical element, the people, was his alone. For a period in the fall of 1978, when Kotzsky was recovering from a liver ailment, the strip was ghosted.

Margo MaGee, 2-3-75Kotzky would rough out the week from the script given to him by Dallis then would go off to find "the right reference files," four layers in all. The first layer was the use of celebrity photographs--celebrities because of the ample supply available--for faces. Whenever a new guest star was introduced, Kotzky would spend considerable time finding the right actor to cast then developing how his version of the character would appear in his strip, his vibrant line masking the identity of the real person used. The second layer was instant photographs for body positions, the animation of the gesture into story, drafting family and friends for posing duty. Brian noted his father didn't deviate from using the camera until the very end of the strip. The third layer, mostly for women, was the transposition of the latest fashions from glossy magazines, necessary because the girls always had to look stylish and up to date.  The fourth and final layer was the use of photo scrap for concrete details-- telephones, lamps, desks, purses and briefcases, stairways and mailboxes.  

3-26-72 It was this technique that enabled Kotzky to maintain a solid likeness no matter what the expression or point of view and to have immediately recognizable characters that looked substantially different from the rest of the cast, story in and story out. It meant, according to Brian, his father's studio reference was "a fire hazard, spilling out of file cabinets, balanced precariously skyward, so that maneuvering . . . was an exercise in negotiating the narrow corridors between mountains of scrap."  It was also this incredibly complex and time consuming technique that kept him imprisoned in the studio.  

Lu Ann Powers, 13-30-75Apartment 3-G had a variety to its talking heads that no other soap matched during the era.  Kotzky's focus was always on people, told with expressive line weight and telling gesture.  In looking over the dailies and Sundays, even in the 60s, one is struck by how sparingly we see the densely inked aerial shots of the other strips, the hard edge cityscapes, houses, front stoops, storefronts, Times Square or Central Park, even automobiles. Such establishing shots of course are used by Kotzky but not to the degree others relied on.  It meant no timesaving stats too.  

When the Big Squeeze came in the 70s with its reduced size, Kotzky redoubled his efforts to make expressions carry the story.  He believed, as no other photo artist did, the smaller canvas up to a point  actually made him a better cartoonist.  

And he was right.  

4-30-72 Half Tab


The Gentleman Caller.  In a scene played countless times, the new man arrives and finds the other two ready to size him up and give rote answers to the eternal 3-G question, "How can three attractive women . . . not be married?" How indeed. Each roommate had her own love life.  No double dates or competition with friends, although they joked about such fierce competition existing, as in the closing panel of this Sunday.  No explanation is given why Lu Ann has pink hair here.  Professor Papagoras was in-all-but-name the fourth roommate and really the single most important man in each girl's life. As the audience stand in, he appeared in many stories with whatever roommate held center stage that particular sequence.  He had his own romantic entanglements, as in the 1977 story above right.  And, as a man of considerable history before life next to 3-G, often his colorful past or profession was a convenient path by which the next set of characters would find themselves at the girl's front door. 




Apartment 3-G Part Two: My Favorite Year










That 60s Girl