Big Boy cartoonist Manny Stallman dies here at 70

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When a 1991 stroke caused cartoonist Manny Stallman's right hand to intermittently go numb, he didn't let it stop him. He simply took it upon himself to learn to draw with his left hand.

After making that switch, he had trouble drawing the tightly controlled figures he had created for years as a leading artist in what has been called the Golden Age of Comics. So he took advantage of the larger figures he could draw, transposing them onto a blackboard to help teach English and citizenship classes to Russian immigrants at the Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto.

Despite additional health problems that included diabetes and congestive heart failure, he also led classes for Chinese immigrants and taught computer-aided drawing to disabled children.

"Manny decided to stop focusing on what he had been able to do before his strokes," says his wife, Jane Stallman. "He decided to start `where I am' and do whatever he could with whatever capacity he had. His life goal was to make someone smile each day."

Those who know Stallman, who died June 7 at age 70 at home in Sunnyvale, say he accomplished that goal with abandon — both through his prodigious artistry and witty, engaging ways.

At a drawing group he participated in for the last several years through Stanford University's continuing education program, "he delighted everyone," instructor Larry Lippold says.

"People would come to him and people would look for him. On the days he didn't come because of his illness, we would miss him."

Born and raised in Brooklyn, Stallman was an accomplished artist whose portrait of pianist Vladimir Horowitz graced the inside of New York's Carnegie Hall when the musician returned to the stage after a prolonged absence.

"There was a lyrical, sensual side to his drawing that was not comic or cartoonish," Lippold says. "In class, he was always making these very lovely compositions. His pages were like tapestries."

Still, Stallman is best known for his comics, which he drew from age 5 until the day he died. On his last day, he crafted cartoon cards for friends.

Some of Stallman's comics explicitly tackled anti-Semitism and racism; his character "the Raven" was the first comic super hero with a mission to fight the denigration of anyone who was "different."

He also prepared a book on prejudice for the Anti-Defamation League, though that compilation was never published because the director of the project died.

For 17 years, Stallman wrote and drew the stories for "The Adventures of Big Boy," a comic book created for the famed restaurant chain of the same name. Those comics are estimated to have reached more than 5 million children a month. For the Big Boy comics, Stallman chose themes he thought would uplift, inspire and educate.

Whatever the theme, Stallman's comics, as well as many of his other endeavors, were marked by humor.

After moving to the Bay Area more than four years ago, in fact, he performed stand-up comedy for the senior program at the ALSJCC and for senior programs in Los Gatos.

"Everyone who Manny touched smiled," his wife says. "There is no one I have ever met who was more loving and loved than Manny."

A memorial service for Stallman was held June 14 at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Sunnyvale.

Stallman is survived by his wife, Jane; his brother, Lou Stallman; and his children, Andrew Stallman and Sharon Stallman Platt. He is also survived by grandchildren Linda and Ryan Platt.

The family asks that contributions in Stallman's name be made to the senior program at the Albert L. Schultz JCC, 655 Arastradero Rd., Palo Alto, CA 94306; the Anti-Defamation League, 720 Market St. Suite 800, S.F., CA 94102; the American Diabetes Association, 631 Howard St., Suite 520, S.F., CA 94105; or the American Heart Association, 120 Montgomery St., S.F., CA 94104.

Leslie Katz
Leslie Katz

Leslie Katz is the former culture editor at CNET and a former J. staff writer. Follow her on Twitter @lesatnews.