“I was just a poor artist. I couldn't afford a 'C.'"
This quip by Jak Smyrl, born Oscar Jackson Smyrl, Jr., in Camden, South Carolina, captures all the charm, humility, and humor of a one-of-a-kind character, beloved cartoonist, artist, and journalist who uniquely rendered his era and place with his pen, brushes, and words. In this long-overdue biography ranging from his humble beginnings to being honored by the South Carolina General Assembly “for his distinguished career as an artist” with thanks for “lightening the heart of uncounted South Carolinians,” his life and legacy is honored, and his love for South Carolina is magnified.
Warm and intimate, this is the story of a gentle and self-effacing man with an uncanny talent and a dry, whip-smart sense of humor that was never cruel but brought people together while enlarging their lives with pleasure. He discovered his talent while young and used it throughout his life to spotlight not only the foibles of the world around him but the goodness he found there as well. It was a good life, well lived yet not without its sorrows—but always infused with an admirable and infectious optimism, a hallmark of his character.
From Smyrl's work illustrating members of his high school football team for a newspaper to his war experiences, and from his struggling-artist days as a student at the University of South Carolina and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh to landing his dream job, where he became “Jak” (without that “C”), as the first staff artist of the State newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina, Joan A. Inabinet and L. Glen Inabinet highlight excerpts from his letters and diaries that offer trenchant insights into the man and his times.
Enhanced by photographs and Smyrl's illustrations, The World of Jak Smyrl presents a remarkable slice of small-town and rural southern life in the 1920s and 30s, moving on to the wider world and the turmoil of World War II through the turn of the millennium. Some artists' lives are worth chronicling because their unique vision and their works are fine-tuned to capturing the flavor of an era and its color—Jak Smyrl's life is one of these.