Bunny from the Funnies: Cartoonist Bunny Hoest
By Tom Ward
One of my favorite comic strips from the 1970’s is ‘The Lockhorns’ which is in nearly every newspaper I read when on the road….I still follow it to this day.
The strip is written by Bunny Hoest and drawn by John Reiner. Recently my friend Joe Giella, who is a legendary artist in both the comic book & comic strip industry, told me about a club that he’s a member which meets the last Thursday of every month in Long Island, New York called ‘The Berndt Toast Gang.’ It’s a group of fellow cartoonists that get together one of which is Bunny Hoest.
Giella knew that I was a long time admirer of her strip and was kind enough to get me in touch with her.
When I finally had the opportunity to speak to Bunny Hoest the first thing she told me about was the ‘The Berndt Toast Gang’.
Hoest said, “The last Thursday of every month we meet in a restaurant in Long Island. It’s such great fun because cartoonists love to get together because we all work alone which is kind of isolating. Nobody that doesn’t work in the cartooning field understands this as people don’t get it. We really look forward to our meetings which are very well attended and cartoonists know how to enjoy a good party. There’s a camaraderie as we are all for one like when one cartoonist gets a break or an award everyone is really happy for them. These people are so talented it’s mind boggling and I’m in awe of all their talent and they’re so casual about it. I don’t think they realize what an enormous gift they have and that makes them very modest. Then the last Thursday in June that restaurant owner and all these cartoonists with their families come to my house and we have a big get together which they’ve named the ‘Bunny Bash’. It’s gotten so big that Tom Richmond of Mad Magazine who lives in Minnesota and the Keane’s (Family Circus) from California have all showed up at my house as honorary Berndt Toasters.”
During our conversation Bunny mentioned to me that both she and artist John Reiner received the Gold Key award which is a big honor from the Cartoonist Society last year.
Hoest said, “Everybody was thrilled for us and there wasn’t any of the envy that is in other professions when one guy gets the prize. Everybody feels like we’ve all won that what we do has been recognized as a fine art form. That’s very energizing to me and makes me feel great. The Reuben award is our cartoonist of the year honor. It’s like the Oscar and there is one in every category and we’ve won that one several times.” Artist John Reiner came aboard in 1986 to start drawing the strip when Hoest’s husband Bill the creator of the Lockhorns became ill from complications with Cancer.
Hoest recalled, “He was just a kid in his twenties back then and my husband Bill had just been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. We were doing 6 features at that point and Bill and I were knocking ourselves out because we were trying to build this house we call the castle where we hold the Berndt toast parties called the ‘Bunny Bash’. John had just stopped working for Mort Drucker. Mort called us and said if we need help (because he knew Bill was on chemo) that I know this amazing kid who can draw anything in any style and he’s smart. So we called John and that’s another thing about the cartoonists is that everybody pitched in. We received calls from the biggest cartoonists in the country who told us that they would ghost our features for us to tie you over. I found that just amazing. How many professions would help to take on somebody else’s work.”
Hoest continued, “John, who’s a Long Island guy, lives near me. He drives to my house where I have a big studio here. The interesting thing is that he works at night by choice. He has always had a sleeping disorder or something where he can’t work in the day. He sleeps in the day and at night he is wide awake and brilliantly electrifying. I’m exactly the opposite where I’ve already done a day’s work and I get up at 5 or 5:30 and I try to do stuff before the phone starts ringing. John usually leaves the house around 5 am so sometimes we cross paths and sometimes we don’t. He comes in the evening to start work at 5 or 6 and he works all through the night. On Monday night we have a steady dinner date that is like written in stone because sometimes we don’t see each other throughout the week. We discuss different ideas and things that have been happening.”
What is your inspiration for the strip? “A lot of my friends who are cartoonists use their own lives in their strips, but I never do autobiography. Everything I do is based on observation of other people. I never had a husband like Leroy. The only thing that I picked up from my life is I’m a rotten cook. In the strip Loretta is a terrible cook. Most of the cooking stuff is a little more personal, but everything else is based upon what I’m observing and hearing from other couples who provide me with all the inspiration I need. I will never run out of ideas. In fact, I have a file of ideas that if I don’t think of something else for the next 5 years I’m all set because of this whole back log of possibilities that I can turn into cartoons.”
Hoest added, “I get the ideas and all the gags that come in from fans and friends from all over the world that are all fresh and wonderful. Then I put them into a file and do a layout and we know the sets now because the strip is 40 plus years old. We know what their living room looks like and their kitchen and their friends house and so forth. I’m a former English teacher so I describe things like she enters stage left. Then John draws it up in his brilliant way who I consider one of the best artists working in cartoons today. I’ll say Leroy is at the table or the stove and then I write the caption and John draws it up and I do all the rough editing. We don’t use computers to scan or cut and paste. We do it literally with pencils and rough copy applying it to Strathmore paper. I think that I’m one of the dinosaurs because I don’t think King Features gets a lot of original art anymore. I believe I’m one of the last people that isn’t just scanning the strip in and this is John’s choice. I think we’re the last of the generation of doing literally hands on artwork that can be framed and hung in a museum. I have many originals that John has drawn hanging in my house. Also, I have many pieces of art from other cartoonists that have sent me beautiful work like portraits and caricatures of me.”
Growing up did you aspirations to be in the cartoon business?
Hoest emphatically said, “No! never. I had an exciting childhood and I never dreamed I would be doing cartoons so that shows you life is full of surprises. My mother was an Opera singer who went to Julliard school of music. My dad who was an ear, nose and throat specialist invented the nose clip for swimmers. I remember in my dad’s waiting room he had a lot of magazines like doctors do and I used to look through them and I would see the names of cartoonists like Bill Hoest who they called the ‘Hoest of the Post’ every weekend in the Saturday Evening Post because his cartoons would be there. I vividly remember seeing his signature and I never dreamed I would one day be married to him. It was like reading a fairy tale to find the prince which was so funny. My background is as an English teacher which I have a Masters degree and a PHD so I was trained in words as a language person. Bill wanted to put together a book with his collection of his work so I thought I could help him do that. I met him through tennis as we were both tennis players. He had played tennis at our racquet club. Somebody told him that I was an English teacher and introduced us and I told him that I could put the book together for him. I thought how bad could that be looking at a 1,000 cartoons and picking out a 150 to put into a book. It was a wonderful opportunity and Bill was such a peach of a man besides being a very good tennis player. We got married in 1972 and after that I ended up putting 27 books together. It is amazing to me that my life has turned out like this.”
Besides the Lockhorns this dynamic duo turned out numerous other comic strips like: Laugh Parade, Howard Huge, Bumper Snickers, Agatha Crumm, What a Guy! and Bunny’s Short Tales.
Bunny told me that Parade magazine had 50 million readers back then when their cartoon Howard Huge ran in it. Also, she mentioned that the strip runs in 27 countries and has been translated into 18 languages. According to the syndicate King Features that publishes numerous cartoons, The Lockhorns comic strip appears in 500 newspapers worldwide.
When you’re not working on the strip what do you do for entertainment? Hoest replied, “I’m really a words and music person. I just wrote the score and the lyrics for a Lockhorns play. For 50 years I’ve been singing in the Huntington Choral Society and all of the cartoonists come to my concerts. My son calls me ‘the resource’ because he says, “You’re the institutional memory of the all of these groups because you started with them when you were just a kid.”
“I live close enough to New York city that I have subscriptions to Metropolitan Opera and the New York City Philharmonic so I can get all the cultural enrichment I want. I’m happy to say that I have a very busy and rich full life.”
Fellow cartoonist Joe Giella said it best when I asked him about the impact that Bunny has had on the lives of people who know her.
Giella stated, “I’m very fond of her. She’s really a nice lady. She’s kind of the den mother of our group (Berndt Toast Gang).Suffice it to say everyone loves her.”
So next time your reading the comics checkout the Lockhorns written by a funny lady named Bunny whose humor is always on the money.
Tom Ward can be reached at www.teetimewithtom.com