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Creator of Ol' Sarge cartoon dies

Published: Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 19:07

Creator of Ol'Sarge, Howard Peter "Pete" Tumlinson, 87, class of 1942, died a week ago in a Calvert nursing home.

He was an American book illustrator and a comic book artist whose work appeared from the late 1940s through the 1950s in titles published by the Marvel Comics predecessors Timely Comics and Atlas Comics.

Tumlinson was a regular on the company's crime, romance and war titles. His work with Marvel Comics includes most of the stories of the Western hero "Kid Colt."

While working on his undergrad, Tumlinson is credited with creating the cartoon character Ol' Sarge, which still represents the University's long-standing military history to the latest generation of Aggies. Portrayed as a rough, tough-looking corps drill sergeant, "Ol' Sarge" remains an unofficial mascot of Texas A&M.

David Chapman, a professor at A&M's Cushing Library, said he met Tumlinson.

"He was a nice guy," Chapman said. "He used to drop by the archives when he would visit campus."

Tumlinson said numerous times he was not the first person to draw Ol' Sarge, but Tumlinson's renditions of the character were the ones that endured through the years.

Ol' Sarge first appeared in 1936 through 1938 sketched by various artists as a nameless prison convict in The Battalion's Humor Magazine.

In 1938 Tumlinson identified the character in a comic as an ex-con from Brooklyn who was considered "too tough" for Arcatraz, and sentenced to A&M. The character was named "Magarkin" later and turned into an upperclassman in the corps who frequently appeared with his freshman buddy "Fish Blotto."

In 1942 Ol' Sarge was again reintroduced as a parody of a popular series of drawings of women known as the "pretty girl" series, this version of Ol Sarge was referred to as "the Tumlinson boy."

Tumlinson's character Ol' Sarge represents a toughness and tenacity that is A&M's military heritage. But in 1942 he appeared as a very feminine caricature. This version of the drill sergeant appeared flamboyant and paradoxically delicately strong.

Ol' Sarge was a popular figure on A&M's campus, but Tumlinson's work on the comic was cut short during his senior year in 1942.

"He was a senior but didn't [graduate in 1942] because of the war years," Chapman said.

Tumlinson, along with a majority of his class, enlisted to serve in World War II. Tumlinson participated in the war as an aviator, and did not return to A&M to resume his education until 1945. He graduated one year later and moved to Bryan.

Despite no longer being enrolled at Texas A&M, Tumlinson continued his comic strip until he was eventually hired to work as a cartoonist in far away New York.

In an interview with the Battalion Sept. 28, 1993, Tomlinson talked about when he realized the influence his cartoon had on A&M culture.

"In the 50s and 60s you'd see cars driving around with these decals of Ol' Sarg," Tumlinson said.

Chapman said that many of the original Ol' Sarge cartoons, along with many jokes that appeared in the Battalion Humor Magazine, would never be printed today. Material that was commonly used in comics in that era is now largely taboo.

Tumlinson, like Rudder and Sul Ross before him, may have grown old and passed away, but his character Ol' Sarge has yet to age a day. Ol' Sarges name and demeanor may have evolved throughout the years, but the spirit of the character that Tumlinson described as an "old general type," continues to persevere. Ol' Sarge is now a widely used symbol of the university that will never show a wrinkle, regardless of how much the world ages and changes around it.

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