Published: April 13, 2016
A serious collector who just happens to create funny cartoons about collecting, John Stinger recently put 200 of them together in a book titled The Lighter Side of Collecting (Tanner Publishing, 2016). The intent, says Stinger, a Stewartsville, N.J., resident who is also an award-winning fine artist known for his Bucks County, Penn., scenes, was to shine a humorous light amid the doom and gloom that seems to permeate the antiques and collectibles trade. He spoke with Antiques and The Arts Weekly about his quirky humor and his nonoffensive approach to having a little fun with antiques and the auction world.
Where do your ideas come from?
I guess I’m just a natural wise guy. I’ve always thought in terms of the visual and I’ve always thought in terms of what it would be like if that visual was turned around. And that’s kind of how I come up with my cartoon ideas. Like, sometimes you hear a funny word — for example, I used to collect art glass, and when I first started to collect it I found this beautiful glass called Daum Nancy, which came from France. I would go to an auction and I would hear some of the auctioneers mispronounce the word. It turned up in one of my cartoons with an older auctioneer gently telling a younger auctioneer that “it’s ‘dohm nahncee’ not ‘dumb Nancy.’”
How did you come up with the idea for the cover of your book?
That was the most difficult part — trying to come up with a cover that really communicated what I was trying to do. I said to myself, “John, you’re a collector. What’s the most frustrating thing that you deal with?” And since I’m a dealer and a collector, I’ve always had the problem of wanting to buy, buy, buy; but then there’s that other aspect of being a dealer who says “sell, sell, sell.”
When I was in the Air Force, they named my daily cartoon for the base newspaper “Stinger’s Stunner,” which was distributed to military bases worldwide via the Stars and Stripes. I was stationed at a tactical air command base in Louisiana, and I worked with Lieutenant John McLeish, “the Voice of NASA,” and he and I both worked for the brother of David Susskind, the television producer, who was an Air Force major and a senior pilot. I did the cartoons and feature stories, and then some humorous stories. I’ve always gravitated toward the humorous aspects of everything I’ve been involved with. At some point, Bermuda shorts came into use as part of the everyday uniform and our first sergeant had the hairiest legs that you can ever imagine. So I did a cartoon spoofing a guy with very hairy legs, and he swore up and down that I was making fun of him.
You’ve said that you sold your first antiques-related cartoon in 1973. How did that come about?
I had just started to seriously collect and my wife, Susanne, and I opened up our first shop. Then before we knew it, we developed a love of antiques. On our honeymoon, in fact, we went to an auction. It led me to the realization that I’ve been a cartoonist all my life, maybe I ought to do some cartoons about collecting. I came up with a cartoon where I had these objects speaking to one another — a plain plank bottom chair saying to a heavily carved Victorian rosewood parlor chair, “Show off!” I sent it to an antiques trade magazine, whose editor asked me, after we agreed on a price, if I had more like it — and I was off.
It refers to a single-panel cartoon — black and white pen drawing with or without a caption that helps deliver the joke or “gag.” The New Yorker magazine publishes some of the best general gags. Multipanel cartoons are called “strips” that usually deliver a story with characters. Some are funny, for example, Peanuts; others are serious and cover just about every subject.
What was behind the idea of putting your collection of cartoons into a book?
I’ve been creating and sending out cartoons regularly for the past ten years. I thought it would be nice, especially now when everybody is saying the “antiques business is this, and nobody’s buying brown furniture…” I hear a lot of negative stuff. So I did a cartoon of a collector talking to his four grandfather clocks, telling them, “Because of this economy, I have to let one of you go.” Which sort of characterizes, I think, the whole purpose of the book. I just wanted to bring a little sunshine, a little bit of humor back into the business.
The Lighter Side of Collecting! by John Stinger is available for $15.95, plus shipping. To order, call 908-319-8957 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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