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March 12, 2012

RIP Sid Couchey, Cartoonist of 'Richie Rich' and Champy

Artreview1_6I'm sad to pass along the news that Sid Couchey died yesterday at the age of 92. I had occasion to meet and interview this delightful, funny and humble gentleman for an article in 2010. He was not a household-name cartoonist, but fans around the world knew his work, primarily from the 1950s comic book "Richie Rich." It had been translated, he told me, into many languages.

Later, the story of the tow-headed "world's wealthiest kid" — ever clad in a prissy black jacket and oversize bow tie — was reincarnated in an animated TV series and, in 1994, in a film adaptation starring Macauley Culkin. Couchey also drew for the comics "Little Lotta" and "Little Dot," among others. (He proposed to his sweetheart, Ruth, in a "Little Lotta" episode, he told me, some 52 years ago. The couple were married more than 50 years.)

Couchey worked for Harvey Comics (now Harvey Entertainment) in New York City, but lived since 1961 in Essex, N.Y., — a ferry ride from Charlotte, Vt., and quick zip down Rt. 9. When I went to visit him on a warm summer day, Couchey graciously showed me some comic-book archives that collectors would have drooled over, as well as casual piles of other drawings. Many were of Champy, his affectionate nickname for the Lake Champlain monster that residents on either side of the water like to claim as their own.

The denizens of Essex are no exception. "Port Henry thinks it's the home of Champy," Couchey told me. "We say Essex is its summer home." Take that, Vermont.

Couchey was all twinkly blue eyes and self-effacing quips. I might say he was even a little flirty. But that's OK; he was 91. And Ruth was right there the whole time. 

Both of them could not have been sweeter. I don't know who was more tickled that a reporter from Vermont had come to talk about his life. Not that Couchey had faded from the public eye; a founder of the Adirondack Artist Association and still actively making art himself, he was something of a celebrity around Essex. Former New York governor George Pataki, who had a summer home just down the road, had a Couchey-created sign in his front yard. And the cartoonist's renderings of Champy in the style of the great masters (signed by "Sid Seurat Couchey," "Sid Monet Couchey," and so on) were sold in the AAA Gallery in the village.

Couchey was given a well-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994 by the Kansas City Comics Convention. But for a guy who never stopped drawing, he also enjoyed lolling about with his buddies in the Do Nothing Club, a group Couchey cofounded in Essex. "We can talk and eat doughnuts," he informed me. "We can suggest things, but we can't act on them."

After the story about him came out in Seven Days, Couchey sent me one of his Champy illustrations, rendered in pen and watercolor. In this one, a pissed-off monster is tangled in the nets of some hapless fishermen in a rowboat (based on "The Gulf Stream" by Winslow Homer). Gritting his teeth, Champy glares at the men, the water roiling around them. The work is signed "Sid Homer Couchey."

Now, Sid Couchey has signed out. I'm going to miss him.

Photograph by Pamela Polston




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