Cartoonist Declares War on GI Joes, Violent Toys

Times Staff Writer

Bob Staake is a man given to satisfying his occasional obsessions.

The Redondo Beach free-lance writer and cartoonist is the father of little Ryan Paul Staake, an 18-month-old who is a bit too young for GI Joes and Hulk Hogan dolls or plastic replicas of M-16s.

But Staake, 28, is thinking ahead.

While recently working on a piece about Christmas toys for the Easy Reader, a South Bay weekly, Staake learned some things that he found very upsetting.

"Do you know that sales of war toys are up 350% since 1982?" he asked rhetorically. "Or that of the six top selling toys in the country, five are war-related? Or that toys--many of them war and violence toys--are part of a $1-billion industry?

"I got obsessed by the whole thing," he said.

Recent Precedent

Staake, looking for a way to fight the trend of violent toys, found his answer in the precedent set recently by another cartoonist whose fame and readership extend a bit beyond Staake's.

Just a few weeks ago, "Doonesbury" creator Gary Trudeau enlisted the help of fellow cartoonists Charles Schultz ("Peanuts") and Milton Caniff ("Steve Canyon") to promote a Thanksgiving campaign against worldwide hunger. As a result, 175 syndicated cartoonists reminded the nation that not everyone was enjoying a holiday feast.

Staake is attempting something similar for Christmas.

He got editorial cartoonists Paul Conrad of The Times, Bill Schorr of the Herald Examiner and Tony Auth of the Philadelphia Inquirer to sign a letter asking 125 fellow cartoonists to join his crusade against war toys.

Staake and Ryan's mother--Paulette Fehlig, an advertising saleswoman for the Easy Reader--stuffed and licked the envelopes and got their publisher to pay the postage. Copies of the letter went out last week.

Campaign's Effectiveness

So far, says Staake, it's difficult to gauge the effectiveness of the campaign. Schorr has done an anti-war strip, and a few tear-sheets have come in from other political cartoonists from across the nation, Staake said.

A check with several prominent cartoonists this week indicated a mixed but mildly favorable reaction to Staake's attempt.

Ed Stein of Denver's Rocky Mountain News, secretary of the American Assn. of Editorial Cartoonists, called it "a fine idea," but not particularly new. "I've done it in the past and I think every cartoonist has touched on it," he said.

Conrad, though he signed the letter, has not yet come up with a cartoon on the theme. "If one comes along, all right I'll do it," he said.

Already Did Cartoon

Jack Ohman of the Oregonian in Portland said that the letter got to him a couple of weeks after he drew a cartoon that poked fun at war toys. "There was a press conference in Washington with a mothers' group throwing Gobots and Hulk Hogans into the garbage can and I did it then," he said.

Jeff MacNelly of the Chicago Tribune hasn't been inspired by Staake's letter. In fact, he hasn't seen it. MacNelly admitted that it may be buried under a stack of mail. "This time of year, I kind of give up reading my mail except for Christmas cards," he said.

As for Staake, he says he is hoping for the best in his effort to protect little Ryan from the war toys of the future.

Staake's immediate concerns for his infant son are not quite so profound. "You've got to excuse me," he said, ending a telephone chat on the topic, "He's just thrown up into my typewriter."

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