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Epilogue | Don Addis

Former Times cartoonist Don Addis dies

ST. PETERSBURG — More than once, some cartoon Don Addis had drawn would outrage a politician's constituents, who would then vent their displeasure on Mr. Addis or his employers, the Evening Independent and then the St. Petersburg Times.

Then the politician would drop him a note: "Loved the cartoon — can I have the original?"

Mr. Addis kept grinding out black ink drawings for 40 years for both papers, admiring the politicians' thick skin while cultivating one of his own.

Even the occasional death threat didn't bother him, his family said.

A burly man who collected stuffed gorillas and leather football helmets, Mr. Addis treated readers in hundreds of newspapers as well as Playboy magazine to his quirky window on the world, which colleagues describe as that of a "lovable grump."

Mr. Addis, the creator of several nationally syndicated comic strips, including the award-winning Bent Offerings, died Sunday of lung cancer. He was 74.

"He operated at a megahertz not many people do," said daughter Alice Addis, 46. "We thought he was so intelligent that he suffered having to be around us mere mortals."

Even so, the man who loved chess and stocked his bookshelves with skeptical philosophy and the works of Einstein was not above a silly play on words. In one representative frame, a pipe-smoking general with sunglasses holds an empty leash: "Dogless MacArthur."

Mr. Addis started in 1964 as a cartoonist for the Independent, the afternoon paper and direct rival to the Times. The Florida Education Association gave him four straight School Bell Awards, starting in 1969, for "sharp wit and stinging satire."

In 1974, the Times and Independent were named Best Illustrated Newspapers in a statewide contest, with Mr. Addis taking first place in cartooning to third place for the Times' Jack Barrett.

"It was a friendly rivalry," said retired Independent reporter Rick Rutan. "The Times was big-city stuff, and we were the people's newspaper."

Mr. Addis became an important part of the camaraderie at the Independent, where he had established himself as the office curmudgeon. His chess games with reporter Jon Wilson could take weeks to complete.

To bolster morale, he set up a "graffiti board" in the editorial office, encouraging staffers and their bosses to drop by and vent even their smallest frustrations.

"It was things that wouldn't make the newspaper," said Rutan, 83. "Out-of- pocket stuff."

Mr. Addis also worked out of an upstairs studio in his 1920s vintage house in west St. Petersburg. He was a prolific freelancer who sold his first cartoon to Playboy in 1959, his last in 1999. In 1962 he created the magazine's "Symbolic Sex" feature.

He launched several strips for syndication, starting with Briny Deep in 1980. Briny, "a nautical Snuffy Smith in a sea cap," he said, sailed for two years with zany cohorts Salty Scrimshaw and Moby Dip, but ran aground when readers failed to identify.

The Great John L, a strip about a playground fighter that replaced Briny in 1982, was distributed to 700 newspapers and lasted for another few years.

He launched his most successful venture, the single-frame Bent Offerings, in 1988. In 1993, the National Cartoonists Society bestowed its annual award for newspaper panel cartoons to Mr. Addis for the feature.

Readers did not always appreciate his humor. One reader from Wesley Chapel, offended by a cartoon about elderly golfers, called his work "obtuse, silly, or in some cases gratuitously insulting."

Sometimes, the feeling was mutual. Over the decades, Mr. Addis listened to countless readers calling in with ideas for cartoons. "He hated it when they came up with cartoon ideas," Rutan said.

At the same time, Mr. Addis knew he was fortunate to have a job he enjoyed, his family said.

Mr. Addis grew up in Hollywood, Calif., and Hollywood, Fla. As editorial cartoonist for the Alligator at the University of Florida, "he got the message across so effectively it made my editorials superfluous," said Jim Moorhead, the Alligator's editor, who would later join Mr. Addis for years at the Independent.

Though loyal to friends and family, Mr. Addis was not gregarious. While others partied though the holidays, he preferred to stay home with a book, where a welcome mat still reads "GO AWAY." He bought smelts for an egret in the neighborhood, which stalked him regularly.

Mr. Addis died at home, preferring family members to hospice care. A colleague, former Independent editor of editorials Michael Richardson, eulogized Mr. Addis in an e-mail for his "bearable arrogance borne of his genius, his incomparable insight into the foibles of humanity, his occasional flirtations with humility, and in his great years the piercing knack of provoking wit due not merely to mocking the intolerable but piercing the truth."

Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or


Donald G. Addis

Born: Sept. 13, 1935

Died: Nov. 29, 2009

Survivors: daughters Eileen Wilson, Alice Addis and Mary Addis; son Douglas Addis and his wife, Christi; brother Tom Addis; four grandchildren.

Former Times cartoonist Don Addis dies 11/30/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 1, 2009 7:58am]
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