Ed Wexler’s caricatures of Oscar and Emmy Awards nominees in the Hollywood Reporter led to the Los Angeles resident receiving calls from people around the world, even some of the actors that he had so eloquently exaggerated.
“All of a sudden, a lot of people saw my stuff, and it was very prominent in Hollywood especially,” he said of the work he did for the entertainment magazine.
But decades before Wexler drew spreads of Hollywood’s most prominent movie stars in the pages of a big-time publication, his teenage self was hilariously depicting Oceanside High School teachers for the Sider Press, the school’s student newspaper. “They’d let me make fun of them to a pretty large degree,” he recalled. “I really got away with a lot.”
Wexler, 61, grew up in Brooklyn and Queens, but moved to Oceanside during his high school years, during which he said he recognized his dream of becoming a cartoonist. “I consider myself an Oceanside guy,” Wexler noted. “I sort of came into understanding who I was when I was in Oceanside.”
Inspired by cartoons in Mad Magazine, Wexler helped illustrate OHS’s school paper, which exists today only as an online source for news. “I wasn’t good at anything else actually,” he laughed. “Certainly not being a student.”
Barry Kaplan, who spent 37 years at OHS as an English, speech and drama teacher, as well as the theater director, recalled Wexler’s quirkiness, and the unique artistic talent that he exhibited as a teenager. “He was always very mature, but he saw things with humor, and it was fun to be around him,” Kaplan said.
And how could he forget the drawing Wexler did of he and his co-workers? “I certainly was amazed that he found all of the most salient characteristics of all of my colleagues,” Kaplan said. “It was just so easy to recognize, and of course as a caricaturist, he was able to expand on that and whatever flaws we had, he was able to point out.”
The chairwoman of Oceanside’s English department at the time — known to Wexler only as Mrs. Sullivan — is depicted next to Kaplan with a shocked look on her face as she looks at the pornographic magazine that a fellow teacher holds open in front of her.
“It was really irreverent, and I think somebody really should have said something to me,” Wexler admitted. “That was too far.” He remembered passing her in the hall on the way to class one day after the cartoon had been published. “I’ll just never forget the look she gave me.”
After graduating Oceanside High School in 1973, Wexler began working on animated commercials while attending the Cooper Union, a private college in Manhattan. In 1977, he moved to Los Angeles, where the animation business was booming.
On the west coast, he got his start working for Ralph Bakshi — creator of the country’s first X-rated animated feature film, “Fritz the Cat” — as an animator for Lord of the Rings, which was released in 1978. He then jumped around to different studios, illustrating some of the most iconic characters in commercials, including Tony the Tiger, Snap, Crackle and Pop, Sugar Bear and the Keebler Elves.
When the Walt Disney Company jumpstarted its television animation division in 1985, Wexler was one of the first ones hired. There, he helped develop some of Disney’s first animated series, like “Adventures of the Gummi Bears,” “DuckTales” and “Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers,” and later worked on “Little Einsteins.”
Wexler soon became part of the small team tasked with developing special projects for Disney, including commercials and other ventures, like “Great Minds Think For Themselves,” a series of 90-second spots that began in 1997, starring Aladdin’s spirited sidekick — the kind of friend the street rat ain’t never had. The series, during which the Genie highlighted some of the greatest thinkers in history, combined traditional character animation with desktop animation — a cutting-edge method at the time — and Wexler was nominated for an Emmy.
His voice came alive as he recalled working with Robin Williams, the voice of the Genie, for three straight days in a San Francisco studio, which he dubbed the highlight of his career.
“We would share a turkey sandwich for lunch, and he’d joke around, and play wrestle and talk in funny voices,” Wexler said of the late actor and comedian. “…He would do the material as written, and he’d start improvising. He’d start getting dirty, and the more dirty improvisation he did, the more I’d laugh, and the more it would encourage him to do more. We weren’t getting any work done and it was getting really vulgar, but it was hysterical.”
Despite 26 years at Disney, where Wexler still works as a designer, he has also drawn cartoons on the side throughout his career. He spent about a decade drawing weekly editorial cartoons for U.S. News & World Report, and also drew for the Los Angeles Times. His gig doing special awards show previews for the Hollywood Reporter, which he said got him a lot of positive attention, lasted for about a dozen years.
“I get an immediate impression when I look at somebody; something always stands out,” Wexler said. “Like, oh, he’s the guy with the big nose, or here’s the guy with the funny chin, and I start from there …”
Wexler’s latest project with Disney is “Mickey and the Roadster Racers,” and he said he plans to retire in a few years and begin making books of his work.
But until then, he continues to find joy in his craft. Earlier this year, he started contributing cartoons to DarylCagel.com, and his first syndicated cartoon featured a “crazy and erratic” man, who has become one of his new favorite subjects to depict.
“Trump’s a lot of fun these days,” Wexler said, reveling in the architecture of his hair: long at the temples, and waxed back. “It’s just the stupidest thing ever. I love it.”