I have no idea how Tom Skulan, owner of a comic book store in Albany called FantaCo, where I worked for several years, got John Caldwell to allow us to publish one of his books. Mug Shots: A splendid collection of cartoons by John Caldwell came out in September 1980, just in time for the second FantaCon convention. The book was a 64-page trade paperback, with a wraparound cover by Caldwell.
I was surprised because I knew John’s work, if not his name, from the magazine NATIONAL LAMPOON, from which some of the strips had previously appeared, along with the SATURDAY REVIEW. Yet John was willing to let a publisher with a minimal record put out his book.
I should note that the sales were not terribly robust, but only because it didn’t appeal to the superhero-driven comic distributors we were dealing with. My personal copy is nearby the computer in our home office.
And John Caldwell not only showed up at FantaCon that year, and a few other events, he was a witty, pleasant, not at all arrogant guy. My friend Bill Anderson wrote: “I’m immeasurably saddened to learn of the death of the wonderfully funny and friendly John Caldwell. Meeting, and getting to spend time with, John was a highlight of the early FantaCons for me. Here [below, is one of] two drawings I own by John: a huge sign that he drew for his table at FantaCon (which I literally yanked from his hands as he attempted to throw it away after the convention).”
He was also known locally for that great cover he did for the Blotto album Combo Akimbo. One of the Blotto folks, Sarge remembers John.
On Facebook, MAD magazine expressed its profound sadness as well at the “passing of longtime MAD writer/artist John ‘Hammerhead’ Caldwell:
“John became one of ‘The Usual Gang of Idiots’ in October 1978, MAD #202. Over the years he contributed hundreds of pages to the magazine. He received the enduring nickname ‘Hammerhead’ after mailing a piece of his original cover artwork to the MAD offices wrapped between two flimsy pieces of cheap cardboard, the kind you would expect to get when buying a dress shirt at the Dollar Store. The artwork was almost destroyed in the mail.”
The last time I saw John was an unexpected meeting at the Albany Institute of History and Art a few years back. He remembered the guy who shipped out those Mug Shots for FantaCo. One fan wrote: “I have a whole case [of Mug Shots] buried away.” We both thought that John Caldwell, with his off-center sense of humor, would have appreciated the joke.