Yes. I make fun of Rex Morgan, M.D. But I kid because I love. I am in awe of the following, and I hope I don’t get into trouble for posting these articles here, but they are so pro-fan and thoughtful, I don’t want to risk them disappearing into the ether:
“REX’S BIGGEST FAN: Man’s comic collection spans 6 decades”
By Michael Holtzman, Herald News Staff Reporter
May 11, 2009
FALL RIVER, MA – Every two weeks, when his son Normand arrives with a bundle at his fourth-floor apartment on Quequechan Street, Joseph Deschenes knows the collection he began 61 years ago yesterday will grow.
For those comic strip readers not well-versed in the comings and goings of one Rex Morgan, M.D., and his nurse-wife, the former June Gale, the 87-year-old Deschenes has a story or two to tell.
Recently, when he looked over the latest two-week stack of “Rex Morgan” serial strips he’s been cutting out of The Herald News for nearly his entire adult life, Deschenes noted the date and knew the anniversary was approaching: May 10, 1948, the first strip ever printed.
The original’s right there, in the first of his 43 three-ring binders. It shows a more gaunt Dr. Morgan, wearing a felt hat of the times, driving to pick up his nurse girlfriend, decades (in real time) before he married her and before the first story ends mysteriously with Gale shooting someone.
Deschenes’ scrapbooks, several on the kitchen table, others stacked nearby in a closet, separate the 152 individual stories that have marked beginnings and endings, he said.
The collector — who starts each story on a loose-leaf page, and tacks down each successive strip just beneath the previous one so the small newsprint rectangles can lift up in series as some photo albums allow — records how many strips make up each story. They range from 70 or so days (“Story 1” and “Story 10”) to 220 days (Story 21).
His favorite strip was “Story 124” when, in 1995, Morgan’s nurse becomes his wife. “Every now and then I take a book out and read the story,” Deschenes said.
“I just like Rex Morgan,” Deschenes said. “To me, he looks the same after 61 years.”
The strip was created by Dr. Nicholas P. Dallis, a Scottsdale, Ariz., psychiatrist who wanted to educate the public about medicine while entertaining them. From the outset, Dallis, writing under the pseudonym Dal Curtis, teamed with illustrator Marvin Bradley with background art assistance by Frank Edgington. In 1984, Tony DiPreta replaced Bradley and Graham Nolan succeeded DiPreta in 2000. Dallis retired in 1990 and died the following year. His assistant Woody Wilson took over the writing and teams with Nolan on the daily strip.
Last week, with Lisa Alves adding snippets to her grandfather’s memories of Rex Morgan collecting, Deschenes succinctly updates the story line of one of America’s most beloved “doctors.” Though a part of an older generation’s serial comics, recent statistics show “Rex Morgan” is read by 30 million Americans in about 300 newspapers.
In the recent “Story 152: Day 127,” Rex and Gale and their 5-year-old daughter Sarah are on a cruise, where the little girl finds some clues that lead her to a stowaway. It’s a boy her age, Willy, whom she hides in her cabin before her parents find out.
“It’s a good story,” Deschenes said, remembering how Sarah spotted food crumbs on deck to rouse suspicion, the kind of opening to make readers wonder what’s around the corner.
With thin white hair, the decorated World War II veteran has his brown trousers held up by suspenders, wears a sleeveless matching cardigan and sits comfortably at the table in leather moccasins without socks.
How did 152 story lines, 43 binders and 61 years of collecting start?
First, the lifelong city resident, who split 40-plus years of work as a weaver in the Thomas French Mill on Stevens Street and Lapre Turkey Farm on Elsbree Street, told how he met his wife.
After he enlisted in the 117th Infantry Regiment on April 9, 1943, he proudly sent his military picture to his sister, who worked in the Kerr Mill. He heard back that the former Rita Boucher, who worked with his sister, “wants to meet you. She fell in love with me in my uniform,” Deschenes said.
When his wife died 13 years ago, it was only a week after they celebrated 50 years of marriage. With a son and daughter, Deschenes has four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Among his World War II medals was a bronze star for crawling under a German tank in France to place a grenade in it. It successfully exploded, his granddaughter said.
After the war, the couple lived their first few married years with his in-laws. One day in May 1948, his father-in-law said, “ ‘Oh, Joe, next week The Herald News is going to start publishing Rex Morgan, a doctor.’” Deschenes said of the start of his Rex Morgan collection, adding that he had at one point collected comic books.
His wife objected — too much clutter. Her father overruled. And a lifelong collection began.
But the cutting out and pasting of the daily strips at home was short-lived after the Deschenes moved to their own place.
“She didn’t know he had them in the car!” exclaimed his granddaughter of a two-year period when Rex Morgan remained under wraps in the old Dodge.
“My wife, she was the boss. I was the boss when she wasn’t around,” Deschenes said laughing. But his wife relented. When he sold the car, she found where he kept the scrapbooks, and allowed some space inside their home.
That lasted another 25 years or so until Deschenes encountered a bigger problem: On April 21, 1980, The Herald News replaced “Rex Morgan.” The gap lasted a scant two weeks.
Readers protested intensely to pulling the strip, including one older woman who reportedly called the then-editor to ask: “Are you the editor who decided to kill Dr. Morgan?”
But no one’s argument for restoring the strip was more compelling than Deschenes’, according to the news story from 29 years ago. When Managing Editor Charles Hewitt heard about his 32 years of “Rex Morgan” scrapbooks, he said such loyalty could not be denied. He restored the strip, wrote a personal note to Deschenes on May 5, 1980 — the day the comic returned — and mailed him the missing “Rex Morgan” strips to keep the collection complete.
As he continues every two weeks to update the lives of Rex, Gale and Sarah Morgan, and their dog Abbey, the elderly Deschenes, who likes to read magazines and take walks, said this lifelong collection won’t disappear.
Last year, when his married granddaughter, Kerrie Parsons of Dartmouth, visited, “I showed her ‘Rex Morgan,’” he said. Told the decades of fastidiously compiled comic strips might one day be thrown out, Parsons protested. “She said, ‘Oh, no. Can I have them?’ ”
Rex Morgan’s dedicated fan was delighted.
[ The original link can be found here: http://www.wickedlocal.com/fall-river/news/x1194165529/REXS-BIGGEST-FAN-Mans-comic-collection-spans-6-decades, and there’s a video of Mr. Deshenes, too: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mb74ndO2HSE&eurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.wickedlocal.com%2Ffall-river%2Fnews%2Fx1194165529%2FREXS-BIGGEST-FAN-Mans-comic-collection-spans-6-decades&feature=player_embedded ]
If you think that’s great (don’t real actors, celebrities and doctors wish they had such loyal fan bases?), read on:
“The doctor delivers: Comic strip collector surprised by Rex Morgan artist”
By Michael Holtzman, Herald News Staff Reporter
Jun 21, 2009
Fall River, MA–Artist Graham Nolan has never met World War II veteran and comic strip collector Joseph Deschenes.
Nolan, though, had reasons to give the older city man something supremely personal to both of them.
The lightweight package came during the past couple of weeks via Federal Express from the Buffalo, N.Y., area. Inside were images that were, perhaps, more familiar to the 87-year-old Deschenes than anyone in the country.
“For Joseph Deschenes — Rex’s biggest fan. Best wishes,” wrote the artist, his last name in a box, just as it appears in hundreds of newspapers running the “Rex Morgan, M.D.” daily comic strip, drawn by Nolan since 2000 and written by Woody Wilson since 1995.
Nolan mailed Deschenes his week of May 4-10 blown-up strips of his original black and white, pen and ink, lifelike drawings on white poster board. The six strips for daily papers were two or three panels across, the Sunday a triple-decker. On that last one, Nolan wrote: “To Joe, thanks for your service to our country. Best,” and the Nolan box with the year ’09.
It was on May 10 of this year “Rex Morgan” celebrated 61 years of publication since the late psychiatrist Nicholas P. Dallis created the strip in 1948. As The Herald News story that ran May 11 said, Joseph Deschenes has cut and pasted every single “Rex Morgan” strip those 61 years, a total of 152 story lines contained in neat order in 43 loose-leaf binders.
For a couple of years he kept the collected strips in the trunk of his car, afraid of his wife’s reaction. Later, as a middle-aged man, he persuaded the managing editor at The Herald News not to drop the serial comic about the popular doctor and his nurse girlfriend June Gale (before they married).
Nolan learned about that Deschenes story when a media friend from West Virginia sent him a link to it. That day he set out to find his address in Fall River, wanting to “show a token of my thanks,” he said.
“I have never heard of a complete collection of a strip that dates back as far as Rex, so what you have is something special,” Nolan would write Deschanes on his turquoise Compass Comics letterhead.
Calling himself a lifelong World War II aficionado, Nolan said he was taught to “have the highest regard for their service and what they went through.” He said the country is losing those veterans at a rate of about 1,000 a day. “We’re coming to the end of an age,” he said.
With Deschenes having spent 2½ years fighting with the 117th Army Regiment in Europe, where he was injured and a decorated soldier, and also fought at the Battle of the Bulge, Nolan said he wanted to thank him for dedication on two fronts: “your service to our great country” and devotion to the Rex Morgan strip.
Graham Nolan, 47, the son of a homicide detective, grew up in Long Island hearing his share of adventurous stories. His first comics were published in 1985 for DC Comics, and he’s drawn his share of action and mystery comics, including “Batman” and “The Phantom.” He continues to freelance for DC and Marvel comics and search out special projects.
Joseph Deschenes, who lives alone in the Flint area, where he likes to take walks and see his family, remembers being surprised one day a couple of weeks ago by a knock at his fourth-floor apartment. It was the Federal Express carrier with a package.
He looked at the bold comic frames drawn by the artist, stacked upon his small table, a special slice of his life with Rex Morgan these 61 years. “This will be a nice souvenir,” Deschenes said in a soft voice. “I want to thank him for sending me the art work. It was nice to hear from him.”
[ Here’s the link to the article, with photos of Fan and Artist: http://www.heraldnews.com/news/x488806570/The-doctor-delivers ]
Wowowowowowow! Graham Nolan is One Cool Dude, and thanks to reporter Michael Holtzman for giving us the rest of the story!