Friday, February 8, 2013

Lyle Lahey, 1931-2013

At about 7:15 p.m. Central Time, on Friday, February 8, 2013, Lyle Lahey passed away. Known to many in Wisconsin as an independent (and ever-opinionated) political voice, Lyle was also my stepfather.

I don't remember the first time I met Lyle Lahey, but it was probably during a visit to my mother's office at Brown County Publishing in Denmark, Wisconsin. There, lots of talented albeit underpaid professionals assembled a number of local newspapers and one magazine; the magazine was my mother's brainchild; the newspapers were where Lyle worked as a political cartoonist, editorial page editor, and designer.

At some point, Mom must have taken me down to her friend Lyle's office, and there, amidst his drawing board and reference material and stacks of books and magazines and newspapers, was the tall, lanky political cartoonist whose work I saw every day in the Green Bay News-Chronicle and stories of whom I had heard my mother retell.

Over the years, I saw Lyle numerous times, and he eventually became my stepfather. I knew people in Green Bay, Wisconsin, who subscribed to the News-Chronicle soley because of Lyle's political cartoons. I had a (friendly) argument with a friend in high school who was certain Lyle's last name was pronounced laHEY and who didn't believe me when I said I was pretty sure my own stepfather pronounced his name LAhey. For 35 years, Lyle produced political cartoons on a daily basis for Brown County Publishing and the Green Bay News-Chronicle. He rarely took vacations, he never stopped (he had high respect for Bill Watterson, but I think Lyle thought him to be a bit of a weakling when Watterson called it a day after 10 years of "Calvin and Hobbes"), and he did something that artists almost never do: When he had to decide between producing material that was blander and more commercial so it could be syndicated nationally, he chose to stick to local topics because he felt that the people of Green Bay, Wisconsin, deserved to have a cartoonist who addressed their issues.

Lyle also, many years before, created "Bunky," a weekly comic strip in The Farmer's Friend (another Brown County Publishing newspaper). A year ago, I suggested republishing his "Bunky" comics through the magic of Amazon's print-on-demand service; he and my mother gave their blessing. Now, it's an imperative that that be done. Lyle's desert-dry sense of humor is perfectly transmitted in that strip's mixture of a befuddled space alien, a farm boy, and a sojourn to Maoist China.

Lyle Lahey was the man who sent home from the office a couple dozen issues of Omni magazine for me to devour. He was the man who helped my mother come to terms with it when I came out. He was the man who brought home library books of early Superman, Little Nemo, and (the greatest of all) Krazy Kat. He was the man who was the staff political cartoonist for the smallest daily newspaper in the country to have its own political cartoonist. He was the man who shared copies of Car Design and Comics Scene magazines with me, because he knew we both liked the publisher and I really knew nothing about cars. He was the man who shared Harlan Ellison and thriller books with me. He was the man – the stepfather – who got along great with my father; they traded stacks of car magazines each time they saw each other at frequent family gatherings.

And, like a generation so removed from my own ironic generation, he said what he meant and he took you seriously when you said something serious.

Lyle was a good man, a better man than I am or ever have been. He was, in the best sense of the term, an old-fashioned man. He read widely and a lot; he cared about what he talked about, and when you spoke to him, he always focused on what you were saying.

No man is perfect, but you won't get any admissions from me of errors in Lyle Lahey.

 Rest in peace, Lyle; you've earned it.
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