Richard Guindon had a thing about carp — and potato-shaped people who wore babushkas and ball caps and made off-the-wall statements such as "Polyesters Mate for Life." He ran an edgy St. Paul beatnik coffeehouse in the 1960s, drove a stylish DeLorean in the '80s, loved good wine, black turtlenecks and made people laugh with his irreverent wit.
His beloved syndicated comic strip first ran in the Minneapolis Tribune in the late '60s, then for decades in the Detroit Free Press, and many in the Midwest had at least one of his funny, often-inscrutable comics pasted on their wall or refrigerator — or at least knew someone who did.
The St. Paul native was born Dec. 2, 1935, to parents John Edgar Guindon and Dorothy Lillian (Powell) Guindon. After attending St. Paul schools and the University of Minnesota, he served with the United States Army, touring Europe during 1953-1956, then moved to New York City, where his quirky images took off.
Guindon's six-decade career began at the university's Minnesota Daily, where he penned a cartoon that was described as "social commentary a la Jules Feiffer with a bite." In New York, he was a regular contributor to The Nation, Playboy, Esquire, Down Beat, and one of his favorite gigs, as an underground cartoonist for Paul Krassner's The Realist. That led to syndication at the Minneapolis Tribune and later brought him to Detroit in the early 1980s. During that time he married and divorced twice, fathered a son, Grey, and lived around the world.
Guindon retired from the Detroit Free Press in 2005. Around that time, his oldest friend, the late Irv Letofsky, retired entertainment editor of the Los Angeles Times, talked about the early days in St. Paul, when Guindon owned the Jazz Lab, "a sort of surreptitious coffeehouse on Payne Avenue, which was raided by suspicious St. Paul police one night during a Great Books discussion."
Among the musicians who played there was a young Bob Dylan. Guindon often told the story of his performances, always ending with the mysterious statement, "Yeah, we had to throw Bobby out."
Guindon's pal Letofsky came up with the idea of the two of them doing a comedy show. Along with founder Dudley Riggs, Letofsky and Guindon helped launch the Brave New Workshop in Minneapolis, the nation's longest-running, live-sketch comedy improv company, where they dished up humor inspired by cutting-edge satirists Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl. Guindon and Letofsky wrote most of the material for the early shows.
They also wrote a TV series that was twice optioned but never produced in the late-1970s, a Western spoof called "We've Gotta Get Outta Here," about a Jewish family in Nebraska. Letofsky also said Guindon tried his hand at acting.
But even though Guindon had friends who did well as comedy writers, he knew it wasn't right for him. "I don' t have that sort of aggressiveness that allows you to fight a lot for your work," Guindon said once in an interview. "You better not be too thin-skinned."
Guindon instead chose New York and ended up traveling throughout the Middle East as a correspondent for The Realist until the Israeli six-day war broke out in 1967. Afterward, he returned to Minneapolis, this time at the Tribune as a cartoonist, and then began the grueling yet much-celebrated work of a syndicated cartoonist, first in Minneapolis and later in Detroit.
In an earlier story, former Detroit Free Press Executive Editor Kurt Luedtke lauded Guindon's artistic talents: "The truth about Guindon is that he draws unusually well; a lot of folks miss that, I think, perceiving him as a very funny guy with an offbeat sense of humor who's a cartoonist. Study those panels for a while and you realize that his oblique take on life is just the beginning of a process that really ends with a masterful pen."
On and off for the last four decades, Guindon made Northern Michigan his home, which he called the perfect spot for a guy with his particular disposition: "There's nothing crazier than a bunch of Americans living at the end of a land mass."
Guindon's cartoons are part of the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art and The Ohio State University Cartoon Research Library, and he is listed as a noteworthy cartoonist by Marquis Who's Who. He authored six books, and collectors have sold pieces of his life from galleries and over the Internet for years, none of which ever went to his head.
He understood that his humor had a shelf life, and that many people were baffled by his jokes, which made him laugh. "You get calls from people asking to explain the joke, which I find absolutely flabbergasting, simply because that's the easy part of the paper — what do they do when they get to the editorials?"
And then he reconsidered, adding,: "Nobody gets all of them. That isn't really something I take any pride in at all. You're trying to communicate. What happens is you're stuck with your own sense of humor. I wonder if it's a little too subtle."
Guindon is survived by his son, Grey Burrell Guindon (Lacy); grandson, Will Beers; Grey's sister, Maggie Trott-McDermott (John), and grandchildren, Jack and Sam Trott-McDermott. Also survived by nephew Anthony Turk. Cremation has taken place. No memorial service will be held at this time.
Patty LaNoue Stearns is a former Detroit Free Press staff writer.