Images © Todd Klein
My friend Tim Walker was visiting this weekend and today we got to reminiscing about the brief years we spent together in the Bedminster Township Elementary School in Bedminster, NJ. I arrived at the school in the spring of 1960, entering the 3rd grade near the end of the school year, Tim joined my class in 4th grade, and left at the end of 6th grade to attend a private school. Another good friend, Tom Burden, joined my class in 7th grade, and we graduated together and continued to the same high school. Tim and I remained friends, visiting each other often, and Tom was soon included. The three of us played music together for fun, calling ourselves “The Three T’s.”
While at the Bedminster School, my abilities as an artist were noticed, and I was soon working for English teacher Mrs. Thompson on the school’s literary magazine, “The Bed-Post.” By 7th grade I was the Art Editor, drawing the covers and lots of interior story titles and illustrations. The cover above was a favorite of those I did. The entire magazine was printed using a mimeograph machine, a very clumsy and difficult way to print things, but relatively cheap, and often used by schools, as well as early fanzine publishers. Text was typed onto a letter-size mimeograph stencil, and any artwork had to be drawn on the remaining areas of the stencil with a stylus. This was very tricky, as too much pressure would rip a hole in the stencil, while too little made the lines very light or nonexistent. Getting just the right pressure was something you had to learn by trial and error. It was also not easy to see exactly what you had already drawn. My art skills were not that good, really, but considering the medium, not so bad either. The insides were printed on cheap recycled paper, but the covers were printed on higher quality white paper, as above, and each one was hand-painted with poster paints. I know I did a lot of that myself, but I’m sure I had help. How many of these were needed for each issue I don’t recall, but I’m guessing at least 100.
This issue I went all out, and also did a painted cover on the back. Hey, I was a kid, I was enthusiastic! And note my early lettering skills on both covers.
Here’s something that was written by the editor of this issue, Ed Hughes, and probably originally drawn by him, but copied onto the stencil by me, I think. Sort of presages the kind of tricks with letter forms I’d be doing later in comics.
I also wrote stories for the magazine. Much of the contents of “The Bed-Post” came from class assignments, but Mrs. Thompson encouraged any students who enjoyed writing to submit stories and poems for extra credit, and she often used them in the magazine. This 1963 three-page fantasy was popular enough that it got reprinted a few years later in a “best-of” edition. I was twelve when I wrote it.
Tim and I looked through my copies of the magazine, and enjoyed reading our own works there, and the works of classmates. Tim had this poem in the same issue as my story. “I’m surprised how dark it is,” he commented. Other poems by him were, too. He decided he was reacting against the general happy tone of most contributions, trying for something different.
Tom Burden must have impressed Mrs. Thompson with his writing skills, because he became the Editor of the magazine in our 8th grade year. Above is his first editorial, illustrated by me. Not sure why there’s a blank space below, something was supposed to go in there, but was apparently left out. Oh, editor…?
One lesson I learned doing title lettering for the magazine was the importance of proofreading your work. This was pretty embarrassing…! The lettering throughout is nothing great, but I was young and the tools were not helping me any.
Between us, Tim and I recalled many things about those times at Bedminster Township School, and while we shared some memories, we each had gaps the other could fill. My favorite teacher was the English teacher and advisor for “The Bed-Post,” Mrs. Thompson, who Tim didn’t remember much about. Probably my best friend on the staff was the librarian, Dorothy Grady. Not surprising, since I was a constant reader and in the library often. On the other hand, our 6th grade homeroom teacher, Mr. Keane, I don’t recall at all, though Tim remembers him well.
I was not the best student, but I did okay. I continued to enjoy art in high school, though I always thought I had a better chance of getting somewhere with writing. Didn’t work out that way, but I’m very happy with the path my career took, and grateful to still have friends and contacts from this early time, about 50 years ago.