1940's Bathing Beauty by Dick LaBonte

Wear a Wistful Smile

When I was a boy in Illinois, Chester Gould lived in our town. And I shall never forget the excitement in 1931 when he started to draw Dick Tracy. Small boys hung around his house, hoping he would emerge and give them autographs. Those of us who could draw were ablaze with ambition to become comic strip artists. We sketched Tracy endlessly: his beak of a nose, his sharp jutting chin, his tough slash of a mouth. And the snap-brimmed hat and turned-up coat collar had to be just so. By the time I was 12, I could draw Dick Tracy better then Gould could.

Then there was Carl Ed (pronounced Eeed). He, too, lived nearby and was one of my father's bowling colleagues. Carl Ed drew Harold Teen. I would hang around the lanes, egging Ed into drawing for me on the backs of score sheets: bow-tied Pop Jenks, the proprietor of the Sugar Bowl soda fountain. I went home and did likewise.

And there you have the answer to the question I often am asked: "How long have you been doing what you do?"

It was Helen Bradley's work that suggested both the mission I undertook and the style it required: to evoke the imagined seashore of simpler and gentler times, when the girls on the beach were clothed in total mystery, with their hair piled tauntingly high. When diversions were quiet and kids grew up with nature. And everyone moved slowly. And the sun was probably sunnier. And water probably tasted like water. When you look at my pictures, you are not supposed to wear a serious expression. You are expected to smile, perhaps wistfully and with a sense of loss. Often while I paint I laugh aloud. You have my permission to do likewise...Dick LaBonté

Excerpt from At the Shore with Dick LaBonté, a coffee table book with color preproductions of over thirty of his paintings, written by the artist. This book is no longer available. Dick LaBonté's new book will be available through LaBonté Prints in April of 2002.

(text and illustrations copyright 1993 by Richard H. LaBonté)
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