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May 23, 2011

Bill Rechin, 1930-2011

imageThe cartoonist and graphic designer Bill Rechin passed away at his home in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, on Saturday, May 21, from complications due to esophageal cancer. Rechin was best known for decades of cartooning on Crock, a gag strip in the Parker/Hart vein (Brant Parker was a co-creator) about a group of French Foreign Legionnaires.

Rechin was born in Buffalo, New York. He attended St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute, where he had already begun to draw -- frequently in inappropriate ways at inappropriate times, but always with obvious talent (he was four decades later nominated for a distinguished alumni prize). After graduating high school in 1948, Rechin took classes for advertising design at Albright School of Art. He worked briefly for an engraver after graduating before entering the U.S. Army during the Korean War. He was stationed at For Belvoir in northern Virginia, where he worked on a variety of menial tasks and a few that called on the breadth of his artistic training. By this time he had married fellow former art student Patricia Teller.

Rechin worked for 20 years as an art director in and around Washington, D.C., working on several high-profile government campaigns including the Johnny Horizon material disseminated by the Department of the Interior. Having met and been inspired by Shel Silverstein during his army days, Rechin also kept an eye on and a hand in newspaper strips. He syndicated his first effort, Pluribus, set in the early days of the U.S., in 1970.

Rechin is cited as a co-creator on Crock, which launched in 1975, although at least one source indicates that Rechin was brought in a bit later on in the development process (based on his work on Pluribus) when Brent Parker wanted to reduce his time commitment in order to focus more directly on his existing work. Parker formally left the strip very early in its run, Rechin having bought out his interest.

imageThe writer Don Wilder is listed as the third co-creator of Crock and wrote for the feature until his passing. Rechin and Wilder shared high-profile Washington-area gigs, a similar background in the US military and a sense of humor; they hit it off immediately. The only strip to my memory to trade so extensively in the stock setting made popular by Beau Geste in repeated film efforts during Hollywood's Golden Age, Crock was a modest but solid success from the start, picking up a significant number of clients for Field Enterprises in a difficult, recession-era market. The feature enjoyed an aggressive paperback program through Fawcett, starting with 1977's Crock.

In 1986, Rechin and Wilder launched a second feature, the sports-focused Out Of Bounds.

Crock was a nominee for the National Cartoonist Society Division Award for best humor strip in 1983, losing out to Garfield. Rechin and Wilder shared an NCS Division Award for panel cartoons in 1992 for Out Of Bounds. Rechin served briefly as a national officer for the cartoonists' group and was also a chairman of the D.C. area chapter.

Crock remained a solid performer for the entirety of Rechin's run. The feature garnered some attention during those periods when the U.S. found itself in combat in desert settings -- Wilder and Rechin even added a female soldier to better reflect the growing experiences of young women in the military. Crock was also one of the classic gag strips that some felt suffered as newspaper editors in the 1990s-on focused on disseminating material that would be offensive to absolutely no one that might possibly read their publication. While Crock was never racy, Wilder and Rechin seemed to believe that a great deal of humor was found in running counter to mainstream political and cultural sensitivities.

Out Of Bounds ended in 1993. Wilder died in 2008, after which Rechin created Crock on his own. The Rechin and Wilder families experienced a number of battles with cancer over the last dozen years.

According to the Associated Press article, Crock maintains over 200 clients for syndicate King Features (who acquired it from Field), including newspapers in 19 countries. In 1990 the strip had somewhere around 300 clients.

Rechin's son, Kevin, and his son-in-law, Bob Morgan, are set to continue the strip. Kevin Rechin is a past winner of the NCS division award in illustration, an event his father was on-hand to witness and later called a highlight of his own career. The Rechins had seven children and multiple grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

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