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Explosion In A Blue Jeans Factory

More from my cartoonist buddy, Randy Enos.

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As the 20th century prepared to give up the ghost in October of 1999, a remarkable thing happened. Thanks to the hard work of the famous illustrator Brad Holland, Dugald Stermer and others, the Illustrators Partnership had been formed. They realized that the illustration business was changing and morphing and that all the illustrators should probably meet and discuss and learn about how to go forward. We all decided to hold a convention, a giant powwow, a conference where things could be hashed out. Illustrators had never had a convention before. It was decided that we would all meet in Santa Fe. I grabbed my wife and we got on a plane to New Mexico along with over 600 other illustrators from the U.S. and a few from other countries, most with wives, husbands, girlfriends, and boyfriends. My closest friend Gene Hoffman and wife drove down from Colorado.

Some of us had rooms in the big Santa Fe hotel where all of the seminars were being held. When we arrived at the hotel, there was another convention just leaving. They were all young people with “Bayer” tags on them. They were bright-eyed, clean cut, well dressed young folks with new attractive luggage. As we approached the elevator, it disgorged a swarm of them checking out. After we unloaded our luggage in our room, we went back down to the lobby where we witnessed the most astonishing sight. The two factions, the departing Bayer people and the incoming illustrators were crisscrossing in the big lobby. I was watching the open mouthed reactions of the hotel employees as this neat, clean, well dressed outgoing parade of young Bayers passed the rag-tag, bearded, long-haired scruffy illustrators who were disgorged from the cabs lugging their beat-up brown leather luggage across the lobby floor. I could hear them thinking, “What the hell is this? What are we in for?”

The suits and dresses got into the cabs that were depositing a virtual sea of denim. Every illustrator was dressed in blue denim it seemed. The best way to describe the scene was that it was like an explosion in a blue jeans factory.

Later, after everyone was settled in, we all assembled in a big room adjacent to a lecture hall. We had our name tags and everyone was curious as to just who was there so we all roamed the room discovering old friends and spotting some super-star illustrators that we only knew by name and reputation. Now this feat was not easy to accomplish because whoever had made up the name tags made a fatal mistake.

Illustrators recognize each other by last names mostly… or first and last names together, not just by Bob or Jim or Jack. The person who was responsible for the name tags had printed them out with very large first names and very very small last names underneath. So you had to go up to a Jack, for instance, and come very close and squint at the name tag to see the tiny “Unruh” underneath. Some of us had never met others or had not seen them for a long time which was the case of the gentleman who approached me and had to lean down to within inches of my tag to read “Randall… Enos, ” Oh, Randy!” It was Dugald Stermer who I hadn’t seen for many years. But, just then, we were all called to go into the lecture hall for the opening introductory speeches.

I sat there in the middle of a sea of 600 illustrators and was surprised to see that it was Dugald who took the stage as the first welcomer to the conference. Then, the biggest shock of my life happened. The VERY FIRST two words out his mouth were… RANDALL… ENOS!  He parodied himself squinting down as he had moments before to see my tag. And then he followed up with, “Who in the hell printed out these name tags?”

Later, most of us amended our tags by hand-writing our last names over the tiny printed one (see my attached photo of my name tag. You can barely see the tiny “Enos”).

Gene Hoffman and I stayed in the hotel for the three days (the wives went out riding the plateaus with cowboys), to meet all our heroes and reconnect with old friends and attend all the seminars. We were both terrible groupies. The first evening found us in a lovely hotel lounge drinking with our colleagues and listening to the piano music. The piano player was rendering old standards and my wife, who is a terrific singer, was singing along because she knows the words to every song that’s ever been written. He called her up next to him and gave her a mic. For the next couple of evenings she performed for everyone.

On the last day there we did venture out on the street for the first time and I had fun with the shop keepers and people in the restaurants explaining that even though I wore a big turquoise ring, Navajo watch, my hair in a long braid, Indian earrings, cowboy boots and Stetson, I had never before ventured west and was a rock-bound New Englander who had grown up eating clam chowder and lobster.

Same story in New York as we ambled out into the airport looking all the world like hicks from the west comin’ ta see the big city.

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Read many more of Randy’s cartooning memories:

The Garden of Earthly Delights

Happy Times in the Morgue

I was the Green Canary

Born in a Volcano

When I was a Famous Chinese Watercolorist

My Most Unusual Art Job

A Duck Goes Into a Grocery Store

A Day With Jonathan Winters and Carol Burnett

Illustrating the Sea

Why I Started Drawing

The Fastest Illustrator in the World!

Me and the GhostBusters

The Bohemian Bohemian

Take it Off … Take it ALL Off!

I Eat Standing Up

The Funniest Cartoon I’ve Ever Seen

The Beatles had a Few Good Tunes

Andy Warhol Meets King Kong

Jacques and the Cowboy

The Gray Lady (The New York Times)

The BIG Eye

Historic Max’s

The Real Moby Dick

The Norman Conquests

Man’s Achievements in an Ever Expanding Universe

How to Murder Your Wife

I Yam What I Yam

The Smallest Cartoon Characters in the World

Chicken Gutz

Brought to You in Living Black and White

The Hooker and the Rabbit

Art School Days in the Whorehouse

The Card Trick that Caused a Divorce

The Mysterious Mr. Quist

Monty Python Comes to Town

Riding the Rails

The Pyramid of Success

The Day I Chased the Bus

The Other Ol’ Blue Eyes

8th Grade and Harold von Schmidt

Rembrandt of the Skies

The Funniest Man I’ve Ever Known

Read “I’m Your Bunny, Wanda –Part One”

Read “I’m Your Bunny, Wanda –Part Two”

Famous Artists Visit the Famous Artists School

Randy Remembers Tomi Ungerer

Randy’s Overnight Parade

The Bullpen

Famous Artists Schools

Dik Browne: Hot Golfer

Randy and the National Lampoon

Randy’s Only Great Idea

A Brief Visit to Outer Space

Enos, Love and Westport

Randy Remembers the NCS

Blog Newsletter Syndicate

The Funniest Man I’ve Ever Known

Somewhere back in the 70’s I was awakened one early morning by a phone call. The gruff, low voice said, “Is this Randall Enos the illustrator?” When I answered in the affirmative, he went on, “This is Gene Hoffman.” This was a familiar name to me. I had seen his illustrations and sometimes our work had been featured side by side in Graphis, the international art magazine based in Switzerland.

Gene Hoffman by Randy Enos

He went on to tell me that he knew a lot of the illustrators in Westport and that he had always wanted to look me up because he knew I lived there. He said he was in town visiting. I asked him where he was and he said, “The Sherwood Diner”. It was only a few minutes from my house. I rushed over and entered and spotted a heavy-set “mountain- man”- looking bearded fellow in bib overalls.

I sat down with him and said, “Let’s have breakfast”. The waitress came over and asked what we wanted. Gene, reading from the menu, said, “Two eggs any style, toast and coffee”. She asked how he wanted the eggs done and he replied, “Any style!” When she pressed him further on how the eggs were to be done he finally answered, “Basted. Just put a little basting stitch around the edge.” At mid-meal the waitress returned to ask how everything was. Gene answered, “Well, I don’t know about this trouble in the Middle East”. Right then and there I decided that Gene should stay and visit us for a while. I took him home and introduced him to my Leann.

We owned two houses in Westport at that time and we were renting one out. We told Gene that we had to go over to the other house to clean up a bit because we were expecting a new tenant. He said, “Let me help. I can do the work of two men … Laurel and Hardy!”

So began my years and years long friendship with my best friend, who lived in Colorado. Gene always had me laughing. He told me that when he was young, he was so lonely that his mother had to tie a pork chop around his neck to get the dog to play with him. When he got to know me better, he said that I was as useful as a screen door on a submarine. When I would call him and ask if he was busy, he’d say, “I’m as busy as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.”  These bon mots would just flow out of him constantly. One time in a telephone conversation, I said that it looked like Ted Kennedy might run for President. Without missing a beat, Gene said, “Well, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it!”

Every year or so, Gene would spend a week or two with us. We got to know each other and our comedic rhythms so well that when we would go out to the supermarket etc., we would entertain cashiers, bag boys, store managers and the like with non-stop patter that sometimes had surprising results. We were in a beauty salon picking up some hair conditioner that I liked and our conversation was clicking along so well at one point that a woman under a dryer laughed so hard that she actually fell off her chair onto the floor. Another time, we were in restaurant with a girlfriend of Leann’s who asked Gene what his “sign” was. With no hesitation, he said, “Feces!” A woman at an adjoining table fell forward and landed with her face in her soup. I am not exaggerating.

Hoffman was known for illustrations made of an assembly of found parts; this crab was an award winner.

People in stores would say, “Are you guys a comedy team?”

Everywhere we went, Gene would chat up anyone we came into contact with. Everyone loved him and he was genuinely interested in every person he met from a famous cartoonist to the kid picking up the shopping carts at the grocery store parking lot.

When Gene would win a gold medal at the Society of Illustrators, he would come in from Colorado and take me as his date to the award ceremony. One time, he was at the podium receiving the gold medal and said, “Gosh, I can’t wait to get this home and have it bronzed!”

Sometimes his witticisms would fly high over the heads of the recipient as in the case of the guard at the Museum of Modern Art. When we got there, we found the employees on a picket line. We didn’t want to cross it so we spent over an hour conversing with all the strikers. Finally we each gave them a $10 donation to their organization and asked their permission to cross the picket line because we hadn’t seen the museum for a long time. They cheered us on. We went directly to the garden to see the Rodin Balzac sculpture. It wasn’t there! We asked a young guard standing nearby. He said he didn’t know because he had just started the job that morning.

“Survived the hazing of the frosh, have you?” Gene said.

WHOOOOOSH… right over the kid’s head.

Speaking of “Whoosh”, Gene and I had a running secret joke between us. He mentioned one time that a friend of his had said that everything was to no avail because it’s all going to be sucked into a black hole someday. So, every time Gene and I would be at an art show (and we went to many) and I would look at a label and say, “Oh look, it’s an original silverpoint drawing on acid-free, museum-quality, non-perishable hand-made paper”, we would both pass our hands over our heads and go “WOOOOOOOSH!” Into the black hole it goes.

At the Modern, we came to a room that had an installation artist’s wooden bed in the middle. In earshot of the serious-looking guard, I said, “I’m going to lie down a bit, Gene, I’m real tired!” The guard wasted no time in rushing over and telling me sternly that I better not even think about touching that bed. Well, we talked to the guard for  a while and when we finally departed, he actually hugged us both.

Gene could tell the most amazing jokes. He knew elaborate obscure Russian ones that he would grandly embellish with minute detail as to the decoration on a Faberge drinking cup and so forth. The best joke teller that I have ever heard.

Randy Writes: When the judges vote on a piece to make the final judgement, they use poker chips. My friend Murray Tinkelman was on the jury for this piece and he said that when they tried to tally up how many poker chips were on the poster as it lay on the table they couldn’t tell because the chips blended in with all shapes in the Indian face, some of which were poker chips, I think. They had to crouch down and look at it from an angle.

Gene was a graphic designer, cartoonist, illustrator, sculptor, and composer. He was the most well-read person I have ever met. His skiing posters were so important to Colorado that the mayor of Denver once declared an official “Gene Hoffman Day”.



When Gene would go to an event where we would get those little name tags that said “My name is…”, Gene would always write in “of German origin.”

His medium of choice for most of his later work was constructions made solely from the things people throw away… rusty nails, Tide bottles, paper clips, plastic forks, drinking straws etc.. When I’d take walks with him, he would stop and pick up old rusty things and fill his pockets with them.

The last time he visited me, I awoke to find him not in the house but out in the middle of the driveway staring at something that was very tiny in his hand. I approached and he called my attention to this tiny tiny little sprout gripped between his large fingers.

“Look at this, Randy, look how beautiful it is… look at those little veins!”

The last joke he ever told me was the one about the skeleton that goes into a bar and orders a beer and a mop.

When he had a heart attack and died, I wrote an obituary for him that was posted at the Society and eventually found its way to the internet where his daughter saw it. In it, I referred to “the late Gene Hoffman”. To show that the acorn doesn’t land far from the tree, his daughter wrote to me to say, “Randy, you know my father was never late to anything”.

Randy Enos

Email Randy


More about Gene Hoffman here.


Read more more of Randy’s cartooning memories:

Rembrandt of the Skies

Read “I’m Your Bunny, Wanda –Part One”

Read “I’m Your Bunny, Wanda –Part Two”

Famous Artists Visit the Famous Artists School

Randy Remembers Tomi Ungerer

Randy’s Overnight Parade

Famous Artists Schools

Dik Browne: Hot Golfer

Randy and the National Lampoon

Randy’s Only Great Idea

A Brief Visit to Outer Space

Enos, Love and Westport

Randy Remembers the National Cartoonists Society