Along with three others, whose names I forget, Tracey Moribund is one of the foremost four most forgotten cartoonists of the Twentieth Century. His life was a triumph of great laziness over mediocre talent which saw him ignored by some of the most exclusive literary and artistic circles of New York in the Twenties. ‘If you’re going to be overlooked, be overlooked by the best’ he said. It is almost a betrayal, therefore, that such an illustrious-traitor as myself should chronicle him here, but he only experiences his vague vogue with me because he is cheaper to collect than other, better, cartoonists, and I’m counting on no one reading this.
Moribund was blessed with more early years than most of us are lucky enough to enjoy: thirty seven of them to be exact. Some believe that this is where he developed his fixation with the female bosom, but as his mother died young and his father was pigeon chested we can only assume that his interest was based on diligent research in the annals of the Bibliotheque Pornographique.1
Upon reaching maturity, Moribund realised that it was time to put away childish things and only take them out again on special occasions or when he was feeling blue. He formulated an ambition to become a kept man and took out an advert in The Daily Grind:
Wanted: wealthy widows; widowers; divorcees gay or otherwise to keep moribund young man in the style to which he hopes to become accustomed. Answers engraved on a silver cigarette case to Box 33.
He was sent, instead, a camel with the number of a suite at the Waldorf2 and the message (mistakenly plagiarised from the ads) ‘You’re never alone with one of these’ branded onto its rump, quite near the hump. The message came from ‘Baby’ Bel Geddes, the lonely but fabulously wealthy cheese exporter (‘I ain’t just any Roquefort seller’).3 Moribund duly went up to see him, the pair discovered a mutual disinterest in skiing and were mates for life.
Now that Moribund was well set up he decided to have the best mid-life crisis that money could buy, but was thrown out of various self-help groups and rehab centres when it was discovered that he wasn’t actually addicted to anything: ‘And don’t come back till you’re a steaming lush’ he was told at Alcoholics Are Us. To help develop his drinking problem Baby thought he should get into the ‘rag trade’4 but Tracey fancied himself as a sophisticate, when he wasn’t busy just plain fancying himself, and started up a string of magazines which he was proud to claim had all folded within a month. However, he came to the attention of Vagina Monologge, a nasty gossip writer who was one of the infamous, sorry, unfamous Fifth Rate Columnists when he tripped over her while they were both dancing drunkenly on the bar of Bar Black Sheep and she bent to tie her shoelace.5 She had ambitions to better herself, she had designs on being fourth rate and in Moribund saw her ticket to mediocrity. Together they founded The New York Schmo6 and strung out careers that should both have been strung up at birth.
Self-adoration aside7, initially the only things that either Moribund or Monologge were good at were getting into fist fights with Dorothy Parker, and procrastination: ‘Oh that new diatribe can wait till tomorrow’. However, as the years went by and The New York Schmo became just another despised part of New York life, Vagina surpassed herself to become a really first rate bitch8 and Tracey developed a beautifully minimalist drawing style which he claimed came from the need ‘to work quickly before I fall asleep at the drawing board and commit inadvertent hara-kiri on my pencil’. I myself have been greatly influenced by the style but find that I can’t pull it off in a quick couple of wrist flicks; rather needing much longer strokes, tongue protruding, eyes slit till I’ve nearly gone blind with it. This is the wrong approach: Moribund himself said that too much (or any) concentration was anathema to him. However, the tortuously composed little poems such as Blood Letting and Sartorial Note in which he sometimes indulged give the lie to this.
Moribund had added his support to the campaign for America to join the second conflagration in the hope that everyone would go to Europe and leave him in peace. He didn’t find the result particularly quiet and spent the war years sitting under his desk hoping to go deaf. Vagina became a war correspondent, writing to both Eva Braun and Mussolini.
The New York Schmo was just the sort of bland rubbish that was required in the Cold Age following the war, and was firmly established as a repository of half-wit. Monologge, considering it now not nearly fatuous enough, moved into television where she sailed into the blissful obscurity of minor celebrity. ‘It’s marvellous’ she said, ‘Before, complete strangers used to hear me ranting in bars and throw drinks over me. Now they ask for my autograph first.’
Moribund gradually slipped out of cartooning and into a big armchair. Monologge said of him, ‘Senility will be a blessing, at least then he’ll have an excuse’. Suddenly, to everyone’s surprise, he rediscovered himself as a serious artist, executing huge ponderous works in tar.9 His contemporaries instantly recognised these heavy works, and were thus able to get out of the way if they saw them coming.
Exhausted by his forays into tar (is it art or just an anagram?), Tracey Moribund became careless with his drinking and died in a collision with a dry martini. Bel Geddes, ever faithful to his pet artist, proclaimed himself heartbroken and stricken with grief but, as VM noted, he didn’t have the decency to die from it. They were married a week later.
‘Genius is an overused word, especially when I’m talking about myself’ – Moribund. I therefore refrain from repeating it again here. Let me content myself merely with proclaiming that my work is consistently better than Moribund’s wooden legacy, with a higher quality of draughtsmanship and far more ink. This is not sacrilege; as Tracey himself would often put it: ‘May the best man win, especially if he's somebody else’.