Still goin' strong
Donnie PItchford grew up like the rest of us from the 50’s and 60’s loving to watch cartoons and reading the Sunday comic strips. Popeye was one of his favorites. He discovered a love for drawing and illustrating these beloved cartoon characters at the age of five. His mom would always put his drawings on the refrigerator. Unlike a lot of kids who grow out of that stage, Donnie did not. He stayed with it and honed his talent. When he was in school, teachers were always asking him to draw posters or create projects to place around the classrooms. He had no formal training until college.
“When I was in junior high, I wrote to George Wildman, one of the cartoonists,” says Pitchford, “and was surprised that he actually wrote me back. We stayed in touch through the years and I would send him sketches and he would give me ideas and suggestions.” He went to Spring Hill High School, but they had no art classes he could take. After graduation, he attended Kilgore College and majored in commercial art, and later got his Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts from SFA. It was at SFA that he got into the history of radio. “Dr. Joe Oliver, a professor at SFA, played a lot of old time radio. I didn’t have a TV back then, so I listened to that. I heard a Lum & Abner episode and thought it was funny. I’d also heard about Lum & Abner from my dad when I was about eight, because he grew up hearing it on national radio. It was really the forerunner to programs like the Andy Griffith Show, the Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres.”
Pitchford received his Master’s in Art/Journalism/Music from UT Tyler in 1985 and landed a job teaching Broadcast Journalism at Carthage High School the same year. He took over the program that was initially started by Earl Cariker. “I would do some cartoon work on the side, but I was just too busy with the program at school. I didn’t get back to it until I retired in 2010.”
Lum & Abner was an old radio show that originated in 1931. Two guys from Arkansas, Chester Lauck and Norris Goff, created it. These guys were only in their 20’s, but they played the parts of the two older men along with eight other characters. Someone heard the show and recommended that they audition in Chicago for NBC. They were a hit and continued the show until 1954. Pitchford’s family was from Arkansas, so his interest in Arkansas history was deep-rooted. “It reminded me a lot of my uncles. The stories were based on people who lived in Pine Ridge, Arkansas. Their characters were exaggerated a bit, but the accents were pretty close.” Pitchford soon began putting his early love for comic strips into practice and drew his first Lum & Abner comic strip. “Everything is by drawn and inked by hand as with traditional comics. The first dozen I created were lettered by hand, but that was taking so long, I needed to speed things up. I scanned my lettering and made a font. When the comic strip was complete, I then scanned it into the computer and used Photoshop to do the coloring.”
The First Arkansas News in Benton, Arkansas, contacted Pitchford and soon began carrying the comic strip in their newspaper. Other Arkansas newspapers soon followed suit. “People said we were crazy and that we weren’t going to be able to sell this thing—it’s an old concept and these characters are in the past. There are still a lot of old time radio fans out there, so we’re going to keep at it. We just finished the 85th week and hope to continue it after that.” To learn more about Lum & Abner, visit these websites: