Jon Eikenberg, 43, creator of award-winning comic

May 28, 2001|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

Jon S. Eikenberg, an award-winning Baltimore artist who created a syndicated cartoon about one man's struggle with AIDS, died Thursday of the disease at his parents' New Freedom, Pa., home. He was 43.

Mr. Eikenberg, who lived in Bolton Hill, created the satirical cartoon "The Endearing End of Emmett" in 1995.

It was syndicated in gay magazines and newspapers nationwide and in 1998 won first place in the Vice Versa Awards for Excellence in the Gay and Lesbian Press.

"He used his art as a way to bring hope and humor to people who had very little ... of either in their lives, through his comic strip and his art," said Joe Myers, vice president and vice chairman of AIDS Action Baltimore, an organization that raises money for people with the disease.

Mr. Myers described Mr. Eikenberg as "a very brave person who rarely thought of his own needs. He was very self-effacing when it came to his own illness."

In the past few years he worked as a contributing editor and art critic for the Baltimore Alternative and Mid-Atlantic Gay Life Newspapers, said his sister Julie Volker of Ruxton.

Mr. Eikenberg, who studied art as a child at Maryland Institute, College of Art, grew up in Randallstown, where he graduated from Randallstown High School in the 1970s.

His high school art teacher, Ed Smith, remembered him as a talented illustrator who created a satirical comic book of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" with a "disco '70s" twist.

"Alice had long, straight hair, high bubble-toed platform shoes. ... It was funny because it was clever," said Mr. Smith, now retired.

For years, Mr. Smith said, he used Mr. Eikenberg's work in a slide show to teach other students "how to interpret a narration."

Mr. Eikenberg attended the Philadelphia College of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia.

He moved back to Baltimore in 1992, when he began showing his paintings and illustrations at local galleries.

In 1995, he created "The Endearing End of Emmett" "as a response to his own dealings with HIV," said his sister.

She described the cartoon as being provocative, sometimes with a "rather sardonic, ironic sort of wit ... it was pretty strong," she said.

In a 1995 Associated Press interview, Mr. Eikenberg expressed his fear of giving acquired immune deficiency syndrome to his infant nieces and nephews.

He translated that fear into a cartoon, showing himself wearing latex gloves and a surgical mask with a smiley face.

The caption on the cartoon described how his character, Emmett, felt about his newborn nephew: "Emmett adored him but didn't touch -- if only he could smell his hair."

Mr. Eikenberg once wrote of his art: "If I can raise awareness about the disease just a little, then that helps me to rise to the occasion of my own individual dilemma and give a little twisted acknowledgment to other people with AIDS in doing so. ... This is my way of confronting AIDS."

Mr. Eikenberg was also active in raising money and donating his artwork to AIDS Action Baltimore, the Chase-Brexton Health Center in Mount Vernon, the Harundale Youth and Family Services, and Artscape.

In addition to his sister, he is survived by his parents, John R. and Mildred P. Eikenberg of New Freedom, Pa.; sisters Patricia Carle of Halifax, Pa., Susan Miles of Indialantic, Fla., and Jeanne Brignall of York, Pa.; a brother, James Eikenberg of San Francisco; longtime friend Steve Gollegly of Baltimore; and 10 nieces and nephews.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow at St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church, 315 Constitution Ave., New Freedom, Pa.

Contributions can be made to HERO, 1734 Maryland Ave., Baltimore 21201.

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