Famed novelist John Updike has died at age 76. Besides winning awards and being one of the best prose stylists of recent American letters, Updike was a friend of comics, having planned to be a cartoonist in his youth, and studied painting for quite a while. Or as Jeet Heer wrote:

Years ago while doing some research at Boston University on the papers of the cartoonist Harold Gray, the creator of the Little Orphan Annie, I came across a fan letter that was unusually eloquent. When I looked at the name of the bottom right hand corner of the type-written page it all became clear: it was a missive sent in 1948 by John Updike, then an aspiring cartoonist, when he was 15 years old. As I got to know Updike’s writing I started to realize that the letter was a simply one thread in a large and comfy biographical quilt. Like almost all American kids of his generation, Updike consumed comics even before he could read, so they were intertwined with his earliest experiences of art. Cartooning appealed to him as a potential vocation and he composed his first fledgling fan letters around 1942, when he was ten. After Updike settled on a literary career, he often returned to comics as a way of giving visual and mnemonic potency to his prose. His most recent writing on cartooning was his review earlier this year in The New Yorker of a much-disputed Charles Schulz biography. (For more on Updike and comics, see the articles I’ve written for the Boston Globe and the Guardian).


  1. Back in the ’90s, I recall the Boston Globe publishing a letter to the editor that Updike had written where he advocated keeping the Spider-Man comic strip in the paper.

  2. Here’s the letter Tom refers to:

    Thursday, October 27, 1994
    I can’t believe that you’re cutting “Spiderman” — the only comic strip in the Globe, except for “Doonesbury” half the time, worth reading. Do think again in making way for what sounds like one more jejune set of unfunny panels pitched at the nonexistent (or at least nonreading) X-generation.
    And what ever happened to “Mac Divot” — the most helpful set of golf tips I ever read?
    Beverly Farms

  3. I saw him speak at Butler University about ten years ago at least. Incredible speaker, great man. He will be sorely missed.

  4. John Updike also did a nice article for McSweeney’s 13, the cartoon issue. He talked about his attempts at becoming a cartoonist and who his faves/influences were.

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