This QSL has a long history — several decades’ worth of history, in fact.
It started in the 1980s when I illustrated one of the first of many QST articles written by technical whiz Eric Nichols, KL7AJ. That cartoon must have made an impression, because a few years ago when Eric wrote his book “The Opus of Amateur Radio Knowledge and Lore,” he asked me to illustrate it. I was honored to do so. Eric has been a friend and advocate ever since. (“Opus” is a great book, by the way. If you love ham radio and you like Dave Barry-style humor, you’ll like this book.)
One cartoon — illustrating several generations of ham radio — must have particularly caught Eric’s eye because I snuck Jeeves into it.
Who’s Jeeves, you may ask?
Jeeves, every ham’s fantasy assistant, was a recurring character in cartoons drawn by Phil Gildersleeve, W1CJD, for QST. Gildersleeve — or “Gil,” as he signed his cartoons — drew thousands of cartoons for League publications from the 1930s until shortly before his death in 1966. His work helped define the look of League publications for many years, and it was as good as or better than the work of any other professional cartoonist of his day, ham or not. In my opinion, Gil was the greatest ham-radio cartoonist of all time, bar none.
Jeeves’ rise from the dead gave Eric an idea: Why not create some new Jeeves cartoons, casting the butler as a Rip Van Winkle character? In other words, the hobby had changed but Jeeves hadn’t, and therein would lie the humor. And with the ARRL’s 100th anniversary fast approaching, surely QST would be interested in printing some new Jeeves cartoons.
I agreed, so I set about creating a new Jeeves cartoon very much in Gil’s style from one of a stack of ideas Eric sent me. I pored over dozens of old Gil cartoons, doing my best to make the illustration look as if he’d drawn and lettered it himself. Even though I was working with regular markers and brush markers (Gil likely used pen and India ink), I think I came pretty close.
Unfortunately, QST wasn’t interested.
In a short reply to Eric, QST managing editor Becky Schoenfeld, W1BXY, wrote “While it is well executed, its ‘throwback’ style is something we try to minimize in QST, as we really need to be looking ahead and not behind us.” She later answered me personally with a longer email, emphasizing that “(QST editor) Steve Ford and I have been mandated by upper management to keep the magazine’s focus as current as possible.”
I was terribly disappointed. Still, I could understand League management’s logic even if I didn’t agree with it. If you were licensed before the mid-1970s as both Eric and I were and read League publications, Gil’s cartoons were inextricably tied to your earliest experiences of the hobby. But if you were licensed after the mid-1970s — about the time QST’s format changed and Gil’s work disappeared from print almost entirely — you’d likely have no idea who Gil or Jeeves were. You may not even have cared. And there are a lot of hams who’ve gotten their licenses since the mid-1970s.
Problem was, I had this beautiful cartoon without a home — that is, until Eric asked me a few months ago to create a QSL for him. I suggested using the Gil cartoon. Eric agreed. The cartoon had finally found a home.
I decided to design the card as a love letter to the League publications we both remembered, right down to the red-and-black color scheme, the draftsman-style hand-lettered call sign and the Futura typography. That it looks like the League book I studied to earn my Novice ticket is no coincidence.
There was one final touch that not even Eric noticed until last week. The call sign on those QSLs that Jeeves is frantically filling out? That’s Gil’s call sign.
For sentimental reasons, this is one of my favorite QSLs.