Monday, July 3, 2023

Comics: Ralph Komisarow, Letterer

Ralph Lawrence Komisarow was born on May 26, 1920, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, according to his birth certificate and World War II draft card at His parents were Harry Komisarow (1883–1940) and Mary Schefman (1893–1975).

The 1930 United States Census said Komisarow, his parents, older brother, Donald, and maternal grandparents were Fort Wayne residents at 1614 Alabama Avenue. His Russian father was the vice president of a wholesale fruit company. 

Komisarow attended North Side High School. He was staff cartoonist on the school’s newspaper, The Northerner, and mentioned many times: September 1935 – June 1936; September 1936 – June 1937; September 1937 – June 1938; September 1938 – June 1939; September 1939 – June 1940; Komisarow graduated in 1939 and planned to attend Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. 

The Legend, 1939 yearbook

In the 1940 census Komisarow lived with his parents in Fort Wayne at 4502 South Wayne Avenue. The census said he completed his first year of college. 

The Northerner, September 20, 1940, said Komisarow studied art at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. 
Former North Side Art Student Wins Recognition
Recognition for his art work was given to Ralph Komisarow, North Side student. Many of his drawings, including designs and decorative problems, were exhibited at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts on June 6, 7, 8 and 9.

Ralph is continuing his study of art at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, where he will enroll this fall as a sophomore. He is specializing in commercial art and expects to engage in advertising work later. While in school he has done art work for an outside paper and other free lance work.
The News-Sentinel (Fort Wayne, Indiana), May 26, 1941, said Komisarow was in the Student Exhibition of the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. 
Ralph Komisarow, 4502 South Wayne Avenue, a student at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, will have an exhibit of his drawings on display at the forthcoming Student Exhibition of the school, June 5, 6, 7 and 8. Komisarow is studying commercial art at the school this year. 

The Student Exhibition is being held in connection with the 40th year anniversary celebration of the academy. The galleries of the school will be open to visitors on all four days from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
On July 1, 1941, Komisarow signed his World War II draft card. He lived in New York City at 336 West End Avenue. Some time later the address was updated to 300 West 72nd Street which was his brother’s address. Komisarow was a student at the Phoenix Art Institute. He was described as five feet nine inches, 131 pounds, with gray eyes and blonde hair. It’s not clear if he served during the war. 

1945 Manhattan, New York City Directory

Who’s Who of American Comic Books 1928–1999 said Komisarow was a letterer who worked in the comic book field beginning the the 1940s. He may have lettered for his cartoonist brother, Don. The Grand Comics Database has a checklist of Don’s work. 

According to the 1950 census, Komisarow lived with his widow mother in New York at 505 West 72nd Street. He was an advertising artist. 

The Komisarow brothers were the subject of a tax suit as reported in Art Direction, January 1957. 
Artist Wins Tax Suit
Cartoonist held not subject to New York State Unincorporated Business Tax

The New York State Tax Commission has handed down a decision holding that Don and Ralph Komisarow, commercial artists operating as a partnership, were not liable for the Unincorporated Business Tax. The Commissioners found that they were engaged in the practice of a profession and not conducting a business.

Efforts on the part of artists in New York state to win professional status recognition have previously been unsuccessful. Such status effects a tax savings which has long been enjoyed by architects, doctors, lawyers and some other professionals. The situation has been of particular interest to New York state artists who in recent years were hit with bills, net only for current business tax, but for several years back payments. Previous successful claims were usually based on the artist establishing some specialty such as industrial design, but the strictly advertising artist has heretofore been unsuccessful before the tax commission.

A Precedent, a Hope

The Komisarow case offers a precedent and hope for others to appeal their cases and to establish their professional status. For additional background articles on this problem see Art Direction, February 1956, pages 54-58; March i954, pages 12-14. August 1954, page 5; February 1955, pages 38-39.

The Komisarows were represented at he hearing before the Commission by Mrs. Sarah L. Day, an attorney who was at that time with the accountants for the taxpayers. Mrs. Day presented two expert witnesses, — Dr. George McNeil, at the time of the hearing the Dean of the Evening Art School at Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, but now with the University of California at Berkeley, and LaVern Mock, a well-known art director, illustrator, and former president of he Artists Guild of N. Y.

Don Komisarow testified that he had had art schooling at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and American Academy in Chicago; that he had for some years worked for King Features as an illustrator of important news stories; and that he now did advertising comic strips for “blue chip” accounts as well as other work in the commercial art field. Dr. McNeil and Mr. Mock examined samples of Komisarow’s work and testified that, in their opinion, based on their experience and training, it required professional training and artistic talent to create such work. Dr. McNeil also stated that commercial art was a profession and that Pratt Institute, as well as other institutions of learning, offered a degree in that field.

Commission Unanimous

Based upon the testimony of the witnesses, the Tax Commission unanimously held that the artists were engaged in the practice of a profession and were therefore not subject to the New York State Unincorporated Business Tax.

We have just learned about this important decision and hasten to bring it to the attention of other free-lance artists who may be in a similar situation. Heretofore the State has gone along with exempting artists in the fine arts field from this additional tax burden, but has refused to recognize commercial artists as having a professional status. The decision is particularly significant because the Komisarows’ work is in such an obviously commercial segment of art, —the advertising comic strip, and Ralph Komisarow, one of the partners, is a specialist in lettering, which he studied at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts.

Other points brought out at the hearing were that “more than 80% of the taxpayer’s income being derived from personal services rendered to clients, that capital was not a material income producing factor in the production of taxpayers’ income.” ... “and that all his income in the practice of his work comes from personal services which he renders producing the art work. In his studio, he has drawing boards and materials to turn out such work but could do the same at his home.”

It was also pointed out that “there are no employees in the studio except Donald or Ralph Komisarow.” Actually, this fact had little bearing on the decision, as the Walter Dorwin Teaque case, won by the industrial designer years ago, involved an organization at the time of over 50 employees. The heart of the matter is that personal services rather than capital was the income producer.

Mr. Mock, in testifying for the professional capabilities of the Komisarows’, explained how the Artists Guild and other groups are trying to devise a means whereby professional status for the artist could be determined once and for all.
It’s not clear how long Komisarow worked in advertising. Apparently he never married. 

Komisarow passed away on  June 8, 1997. The Social Security Death Index said his last residence was New York City. Komisarow was laid to rest at Lindenwood Cemetery

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