It was mid-October at Hawkins Photography and Framing, and the book event was crowded with people. Some knew the famous cartoonist. Some didn’t. A handful had their own stories to tell about the local legend. A scattered few actually starred in the comics.
One woman at the event, for instance, showed Anderson a strip that was inspired by a story she’d told Montana.
“Her relative ran out of gas right when her car was on the railroad tracks. … Bob took that and embellished it. He drew that story into the comic strip,” Anderson said.
Another local, Alan Israel, worked as a pharmacist in the area. He too made a few appearances in Archie, and he brought those strips to the launch.
Anderson was ecstatic to see this enthusiasm about her newest book. She was equally pleased to hear stories and reminiscences about Montana. But she wasn’t all that surprised.
“Of course, he’s most known for Archie because that was his job and he did it well, but his self worth came from all of these other things,” Anderson said.
He was a family man and did a lot for the Meredith community. He traveled overseas to entertain American troops. He featured the historic Belknap Mill in a 1973 Sunday Archie in attempt to help preserve it from demolition. He “broke all kinds of fundraising records” for Easter Seals, Anderson said.
“Not everybody remembers that,” Anderson said. “It catches people by surprise. But that’s what I wanted to get across in writing this book. … Readers of the book will see so much more to the cartoonist who drew Archie.”
The idea to write about Bob Montana came about a few years back while Anderson was working on her first book, History of Gunstock, which was published by the History Press in 2011. She attained a small taste of the Lakes Region legacy when she read an old article about Montana’s visits to Gunstock for inspiration.
“Then, at Christmas time, I was wrapping a collection of old Archie comic strips from the ’40s for my son. I flipped through it and saw the Gunstock comic strip included in the book. It shocked me,” Anderson said. “I looked through the rest of the book and saw lots of references to Lake Winnipesaukee, sailing, and hiking in the mountains around here.”
She proposed a new book to her editor detailing Bob Montana’s time in New England, and her editor gave her the go-ahead to start when History of Gunstock was finished. Anderson reached out to Lynn Montana, Bob Montana’s daughter, who is the owner of Montana Framing. Lynn not only gave Anderson her blessing, but she also offered a few contact suggestions. She shared with Anderson the artist’s high school diary and old photos, and she told Anderson stories about her father.
This relationship was crucial for the book, Anderson said.
“If you go online, the only things you’ll find about Bob Montana is that he went to school in Haverhill and that he’s a comic strip artist. You might find one line, that he lived with his family in Meredith, but there’s nothing else out there,” Anderson said.
What Anderson learned is that Montana spent a great deal of time in New Hampshire and had a unique upbringing. He toured with his family in a
vaudeville routine across the country and overseas — his father, Raymond, played the banjo, while Bob and his sister, Ruth, danced, sang and performed rope tricks. Montana knew from a very young age that he wanted to be an artist. He went to high school in Haverhill for three years before the family moved to Manchester, where he spent much of his senior year acting in plays and designing sets.
One of the more striking things Anderson learned about Montana was how closely Archie resembled him.
“He drew from who he was and what he did, especially in high school,” Anderson said. “If you look at the early pictures of Bob Montana, you’d see he even looks like Archie.”
Anderson’s son, Dean, helped her during research; they spent hours in the library looking up and reading old newspapers Montana drew for. They spent a lot of time laughing.
“When I was growing up, everyone read Archie. … I would love to see Bob Montana’s humor rediscovered by younger generations,” Anderson said.