HERB MIGNERY, COWBOY CARTOONIST
And Master of Cartooning Horses
I WENT TO A LOCAL “postcard and paper” show a few weeks ago. And, as always, I hope to find a long-neglected treasure among the “paper.” The postcards are intriguing and I usually buy a few by Ray Walters (which we’ll display in Opus 402). But “paper” is mostly magazines and books, and this time, I found a genuine treasure— an entire book of cowboy cartoons by Herb Mignery, who could draw cartoon horses like nobody I know of. Mignery’s subject is the modern day cowboy, so pickup trucks figure in the visual material as well as horses. I’m attaching a gallery of examples culled from the book.
Herb Mignery was born November 7, 1937 in Nebraska and raised on his family’s working cattle ranch near Bartlett. The Mignerys had worked that ranch for a hundred years. Herb drew from an early age and kept right on with it. After college, he worked as an illustrator in the U.S. Army, stationed in Hawaii. After his stint was up, he returned to Nebraska and worked as a commercial artist for Cornhusker Press. He also did freelance work for True West magazine and a couple of advertising agencies. In 1968, he started doing an annual cartoon calendar called Cowtoons.
Dick Spencer, the publisher of Western Horseman magazine, says of Mignery and his work: “Herb has been there. It shows in his work, and the folks who laugh the longest and the loudest at his cartoons are those who have lived it. Cowboys must have a sense of humor. It’s a tough enough life with it, and almost unbearable without it.”
In many of his cartoons, Mignery used a lanky big-foot character named Clyde, who, says Baxter Black, the cowboy poet and philosopher, “is the workaday cowboy. He’s the everyday cowman on a starved-out ranch somewhere hear Bartlett, Nebraska and Gerlach, Nevada. He’s every one of us who ever fed a pen of long-eared yearlin’s, got bucked offa green colt or watched a hailstorm wipe out a year’s grain crop.”
In 1985, Cornhusker Press brought out a collection of Mignery’s calendar cowpoke comedy, The Best of Mignery —more than 80 Cowtoons selected from a 15-year run of the calendar. Spencer summed up the content:
“If you’ve got spur-marks on your boots or sweat-stains on your hat band, you won’t be able to put this book down. Or if you’ve just got one little drop o’western blood circulatin’ around somewhere in your veins, you’re in for some laughs. If you’re wearing a big belt buckle, loosen your belt. You could hurt yourself on some of the belly-laughs you’ll find in this book.”
Well, I wouldn’t go quite that far. Mignery’s cayuses in the calendar-reprint book aren’t quite as boney and bucky (and funny) as they are in the Western Horseman book from which I poached the images a few paragraphs ago. And the calendar drawings appear only in black with gray tones and brown colored parts.
But the book alerted me to a peculiarity in Mignery’s pictures. He “trademarks” his cartoons: each one of them is marked with two visual oddities—a patch of crossed bandages and a pair of eyeballs, peering out of a dark corner or shady spot somewhere in the drawing. I’ve scanned a sample of each onto one final Mignery color picture, this one of himself sketching under a tree. Herein, the pair of eyeballs looks out as us from a hole in the old tree, and his sketchpad paper is patched. But the trademarks aren’t always so obvious; go back to the short gallery of his colored cartoons or the samples from The Best book and see how many of each you can find in those cartoons.
And while you’re at it, observe the miscellaneous hilarity that Mignery sprinkles on his cartoons—small burrowing animals peeking out of their holes, false teeth in the dust gripping a cigar, apple cores, and an occasional mouse. Not to mention all the puns lettered on to walls or pickup trucks.
Oh—and notice the rabbit behind the tree in the Mignery self-portrait. The rabbit shows up every now and then. And at least once, he’s wearing horn-rimmed glasses just like my Cahoots wears. As far as I know, Mignery has never seen one of my rabbit-embossed cartoons. But we were born in the same year. So who knows?
Mignery doesn’t do much cartooning any more. In 1975, he opened his own studio and began to sculpt in bronze, an activity that soon became a full-time career—cartooning’s loss.
Mignery has completed many monumental bronzes dealing with subjects related to his early life on the ranch, and he has won several awards. He is a past president of the Cowboy Artists of America.