Mom, with Ed and me, 1953; with Ed and Herb, 1958; with Grandpa Houk, 1964; 'Favorite Football Player', 1969; shouting encouragement, 1970

"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up."
- Pablo Picasso (1881 - 1973)

C.H. 'John' Burgraff Ben, 1953 Julia Burgraff

I was born in Portsmouth, Virginia on November 28, 1952, the second son of Clarence H. ("John") Burgraff, a career Navy man with a drinking problem, and Julia Houk, a deeply religious woman who could PUT UP with alcoholic sailors!

My early life was spent travelling with my family from one Naval assignment to another, and trying to avoid getting slugged by my frequently intoxicated and quick-tempered father.

My brothers and I dealt with Dad in different ways; Ed, my older brother, received a lot of media attention from an ability to read at three, and was a natural athlete who would always be out forming teams and playing baseball. With a shared love of sports, and being firstborn, he had, perhaps, the easiest time of it.

Herb, my younger brother, was INCREDIBLY cute, but was wild and reckless, and even more hot-tempered than my Dad. He quickly picked up gangs of his own, wherever Dad was stationed, and found creative ways to get into mischief!

I was more sensitive and introverted than my brothers, and disliked sports, qualities that did little to endear me to my father, but I had a stubborn streak, a sense of humor, and a gift...

Still Not Walking, 1954 Ben, Ed, and Herb, Christmas, 1956 Ben, Ed, and Herb, 1959
New Castle, PA, 1954 (left); Christmas in Norfolk, VA, 1956 (center); Memphis, TN, 1959 (right); I'm at the left in both pictures with my brothers...

I can't remember a time when I couldn't draw! Not stick figures, or geometric trees and houses, but rendered portraits that usually captured the likeness of the person I was drawing. The skill was entirely self-taught; my father banned Mad Magazine (the era's best source for caricatures) from our home (calling it "godless"), and belittled my passion to draw as "sissy", although my mother encouraged me. Nobody knew quite what to make of my talent, but assumed it was just a another phase I was going through ("potty training...draws pictures...goes to school...gets a life...")

At six, though, because of a glitch in the educational system (in order to start first grade, a child had to be six by October 1; my birthday was at the end of November), I found myself alone, and bored. I found a campaign card for Tom Troop, a candidate for the Memphis, Tennessee City Council, with a photo on it, and I made a pencil sketch of the likeness. Mom (as always, my biggest supporter) was so impressed by the results that she called him, and after viewing it, he purchased the drawing for $5. (He asked for more artwork, as well, but I told him not to bug me, 'cuz I was a little kid!)

at ten...I'd already been selling drawings for 4 years!

With my artistic talents acknowledged by others, whole new avenues opened for me. Dad, despite his distain of my 'hobby', figured out a way to take advantage of it, taking me to bars, where I'd draw patrons on bar napkins, who'd buy him beers (When I got older, I got the free beers, and I told Dad to learn how to draw!) With a crowd behind me whenever I drew, I gradually gained self-confidence, and the 'gift of gab' that would be essential tools for a caricaturist!

A few of the 60s Drawings...

I was doing high school yearbook illustrations and murals while in elementary school, won a lot of art competitions, and did a portrait of the Governor of Tennessee, when I was 10, that ended up with his memoirs at the National Archives.

Graduation Photo, 1971 Class Artist, 1971 Dad, 1970

In junior and senior high school, I was the school cartoonist, and drew long, elaborate comic books featuring classmates. There were more awards, and more recognition. By the end of my Junior year at Wheaton High School, I was approached by both the Parsons School of Design and the Corcoran School of Art to continue my education. Unfortunately, this brought my father into the picture.

Dad couldn't accept the idea of a son of his being a professional "artiste" (firmly believing that creative people were all homosexual, deviates, or kidding!), and refused to even look at any student loan materials with me, snapping "It's nobody's G**D***** BUSINESS how much I make!" Realizing I was the only son who planned to attend college, he decided I would attend the United States Naval Academy, instead, which provided free tuition and endless prestige for him. Reluctantly, I agreed to compete for a spot at the Academy, and was the eighth alternate for the state of Maryland, in 1970.

Undeterred, Dad then announced I'd attend Bullard Naval Prep School (sponsored by his American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars Posts), upon my high school graduation, and would compete again for a slot at Annapolis the following year. Becoming a Naval officer had never been MY ambition, however, so I finally put my foot down and refused to pursue his Naval Academy fantasy any further, even after Dad raised hell and swore he'd never help me attend any other college (a decision he never waivered from, the rest of his life).

1971, at home
Feeling rebellious in 1971...Notice the long hair and stubble on my chin!