"Berry's World," by Jim Berry (1969; courtesy of NEA)
“Berry’s World,” by Jim Berry (1969; courtesy of NEA)

 

THE MAN was as warm and welcoming as his cartoon feature, drawing you out with a line of gentle questioning, and punctuating the exchange with reassuring wit.

In so many ways, to read Jim Berry was to meet Jim Berry.

“Berry’s World,” the syndicated single-panel feature that he drew for 40 years, beginning in 1963, was a remarkably steady stream of thoughtful observational humor that — like the unfussy art itself — rarely seemed to strain for the laugh. Each gag, as steady as a top golfer’s approach shots, just “landed.” Precision meets concision.

"Berry's World" (courtesy of NEA) “Berry’s World” (2000; courtesy of NEA)

“Berry’s World” could often be topical, sometimes obliquely, but with enough of a personal “slice” and viewpoint of life that Jim became president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists. (Even glancing topicality, of course, can lead to controversy; according to lore, a passing reference to Scientology in a ’70s gag once greatly inflamed founder L. Ron Hubbard.)

“Berry’s World” could employ stock gag scenarios reminiscent of the New Yorker’s cartoon archives — say, a spin on a doomsday sandwich-board toter — but Jim’s twist forever felt fresh. His peers agreed, and he was a five-time recipient of National Cartoonists Society honors, as well as a National Headliners Club Award.

Syndicated by the NEA, Berry’s cartoons were distributed to about 1,000 papers at the feature’s peak, and the artist proudly said he never missed a deadline, as he created roughly 15,000 published works.

James Osmyn Berry was born in 1932 in Chicago, studied business administration and art at Ohio Wesleyan, and split his time between residing in Massachusetts and Florida.

Mr. Berry died last Friday in Boynton Beach, Fla., at age 83; his wife of nearly six decades, Heather D. Berry died last year. They are survived by two sons, a daughter-in-law and four grandchildren.

Several years before he retired his feature in 2003, I had the true pleasure to be seated next to Jim at a National Cartoonists Society ceremony. I was the newly signed talent, and he was the reassuring veteran. He was warm. He was witty. And, mostly, he was eminently welcoming.

Having long read “Berry’s World,” I expected nothing less.

(A memorial service will be Friday in Florida; the Massachusetts graveside service date will be announced later.)