One of the 20th century’s greatest comedians, Bob Hope, once told his audience how to stay young: “Hang around with older people.”
But for some people like a 97-year old cartoonist Martin Filchock, there aren’t that many peers living for him to hang around.
Filchock, who still resides in comfort on a mountainside in the state of Tennessee, continues to produce and sell cartoons in his 75th year of cartooning.
His goal? Filchock is on a quest. He wants to be listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the oldest working freelance cartoonist.
Filchock has been a widower for three years. His wife, the former Sylvia Boone Thompson of Nolan, met him in New York many years ago while working there as a social worker. Sylvia acquired the middle name of Boone as her mother, Willie J. Boone Thompson, was related to American pioneer Daniel Boone. Her father was Elbert Thompson, who built the first bridge at Nolan – a wooden, swinging bridge.
Sylvia was a sister Everett R. Thompson Sr., who was president of one of this area’s prominent General Motors dealerships, Thompson Pontiac-Buick, GMC Inc.
Filchock and Sylvia had a daughter, Dr. Joann Victoria “Vicki Jo” Filchock, who is carving out a career as a general practitioner in Knoxville, Tenn.
Filchock still has several relatives by marriage living in Mingo and Pike (Ky.) counties including Deborah Thompson Harris (Mrs. Pat Harris), who retired in June after an enviable career in the field of education. She was a former teacher and former principal at Riverside Elementary Schoo and the director of curriculum for the Mingo County school system. Deborah’s brother, Everett R. “Rusty” Thompson, is a nephew of Filchock. Christopher “Chris” Harris, a Williamson attorney and a Pike County magistrate, is his great-newphew.
It could have been a case of sibling rivalry between Martin and his brother, Frank, a former professional football player with the Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Giants and Washington Redskins, who holds the Guiness World Record for throwing the first 100-yard touchdown pass.
Martin Filchock now walks with a permanent stoop from having worked hunched over a drawing board for three-quarters of his life, but it is noted that his sharp mind and fertile imagination can outpace men half his age. His sense of humor is evident,as he rattles off one-liners faster than most standup comedies. His humor also is evident in the clever cartoons he draws and stories he fabricates.
Have you ever picked up a magazine, thumbed through it and observed two nearly identical cartoons beneath a caption, “Defective Detective”? Ånother line challenges the reader to see how many differences he or she can find between the two pictures. In some magazines, there is a cash award for the person detecting the most differences. Martin Filchock is the creator of this feature.
He still draws almost daily, producing comics for about a half-dozen different publications. He noted that the freelance business is dying.
His age does not prevent him from hunting and fishing. In fact, he brags about the eight-point buck he shot on his property some time ago.
Steve Cason, a Hancock County Today reporter, asked Filchock about the secret to his longevity, and the latter responded, “Lots of coffee, dark chocolate and exercise.”
In his workplace at home are stacks of cartoons, newspapers and magazines piled on his drawing board and every available spot. He is an avid newspaper reader, and “I always have been.” His exercise bike is about the only object not weighted down with papers and magazines.
Filchock was presented with a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition on May 6, 2009, “in recognition of outstanding and invaluable service to the community.” A second resolution honors his late wife, Sylvia.
Cason observed that Filchock’s cartoons, drawings and puzzles have appeared in hundreds of newspapers, magazines, comic books and trade journals. Among the most notable are: Reader’s Digest, the Saturday Evening Post, and Highlights for Children.
He also created more than a dozen serialized comics including Otto Graff, Amazing Man, Bob Colby, The CC Kid, The Fireman (one of the earliest super heroes in comic books – for Centaur Comics), The Buzzard and The Owl, and his best known Mighty Man, produced in 1939.
His fertile imagination came up with characters like cowboys, fishermen, hobos and super heroes.
Filchock sold his first cartoon at age 13 to Tibits magazine for $5. It was a few years later that he began drawing for a living.
Besides cartoons, he has an impressive portfolio containing greeting cards, book and magazine covers and even safety posters, according Cason.
He was born Jan. 6, 1912 in Braznell, Pa., and grew up in the coal-mining country of western Pennsylvan-ia. He dropped out of high school later (his father died when Martin was 17), and he pitched for a couple of different baseball teams before injuring his shoulder.
Filchock had just been furloughed from a railroad job his mother got him when he was 17, and seized on to an opportunity to play for a local baseball team. A pitcher, he achieved quite a bit of success and at the age of 20 pitched three games in one week. His first year’s recod was 15 wins and five losses; he even pitched a no-hitter.
“If I didn’t strike out anywhere from 12 to 15 men in a nine-inning game, I thought I didn’t have it,” recalled Filchock during a lengthy 2007 interview for Alter-Ego, a comics fan magazine.
After traveling briefly as a hobo in his early 20s, Filchock worked odd jobs around the country. The experience gave him the idea for one of his first comic strips, Obo Ossie, published in 1932. He also served a stint in the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) which built various projects in Mingo County as well as all over the country during the years of the Great Depression.
Filchock got his first break at Funny Pages in New York, during an era recognized as launching the golden age of comics.
During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army in the Pacific theater of operations, working for a ship’s newspaper. It is said that one of his comics helped change Navy policy regarding hot tea, which the sailors and soldiers did not like. As Filchock describes it, one panel showed a soldier dreaming of cold drinks while drinking hot tea and wearing thick gloves . The point was made and hot tea was dropped from the menu.
Filchock said one year in the early 1960s, he sold more than 700 comics to 102 different publications.
In one of numerous interviews that have spotlighted Filchock, his talent and accomplishments, he said, “I know I made the right decision to stick with cartooning. I’d rather put hours and hours into this, because I enjoy it. It keeps me sharp, I still get into plenty of funny situations that I can sometimnes turn into cartoons, sometimes not.
He moved to Hawkins County, Tenn., from Sarasota, Fla., in 1974. He and his wife used to bowl in a league in Sneedville and have several trophies to show for their skill.
The 97-year-old Filchock still has three years to go before he can claim a spot in Guinness’s Book of World Records. The current record belongs to Al Hirschfeld, who worked until his death in 2003 at the age of 99.