Illustration|Illustration No. 70
An American artist, most famous for creating the poster for the film Jaws
Matthew Kastel

Stacked unceremoniously in a box among other mementos from Roger Kastel’s career can be found a well-preserved copy of his first paid job as an artist. It’s a full-sized comic book designed to teach industrial workers how to perform their trade better.

As his son, I’m quite familiar with my father’s work—or at least thought I was—but this found work was new to me. I’m shocked at how sophisticated these early cartoons are, especially considering Dad was only 15 years old at the time. I recall what I was doing with my life at the same age, and the comparison embarrasses me.

As an early dusk falls outside my father’s Massachusetts home on the short days between Christmas and New Year’s, I pull up a seat next to Dad, each of us within an easy arm’s length of eggnogs with a spot of whiskey in them.

My father is best known for his Jaws and Empire Strikes Back movie posters and countless illustrations of best-selling and popular books. Now entering his seventy-third year of being a professional artist, he has enjoyed an extraordinary career. At age 88 he is still painting and is still sought out frequently by the media and those in the memorabilia business for interviews and public appearances.

For the next several hours I do something long overdue: interview him, partly for family history and partly to preserve a little bit of Americana because, after all, he is a man who produced some of the most recognizable images of the 20th century. I push the record button and begin talking with a man who tries to come off as unremarkable. But I know better, and have known so for a long time.

Dad applied for his first paying job at the suggestion of neighbor and early mentor, cartoonist Tom Hickey. As advanced as his drawings were for someone of his tender age, Dad casually mentions, “I also had to create the characters,” which made his youthful endeavors even more impressive.

At an early age he wanted to be a cartoonist and draw comic books when he grew up. “I loved the comic book artists and all the cartoonists. It was a wonderful age, and I was inspired by Alex Raymond who did Flash Gordon and Rip Kirby.”

While still in high school, Roger commuted into Manhattan during the summer from his parents’ home in White Plains to attend the Art Students League. To fund his art education, he caddied at a local golf course.

“The first summer I studied anatomy,” he recalls, something he readily admits he lacked the knowledge of and technique for at that point. He was in classes taught by famous artists Sidney E. Dickenson, Edwin Dickens, and Robert Beverly Hale, although Kastel admits they rarely ever taught, and their lectures were mostly given by monitors in the class.

With the help of Bob Baron, a friend and fellow artist, Dad eventually got into one of the classes taught by Frank Reilly, one of the most sought after and influential instructors at the school. This was in the postwar era and Dad, literally a kid, found himself in the same class with ex-GIs, many of whom had also studied with Reilly before the war. Dad was in awe of the returning GIs, who, he remembers, were “fantastic artists” and much further along as artists.

Paperback cover illustration, 1963

To take full benefit of all the accomplished artists around him, Dad used great logic, “I always would sit behind someone who was good, to see how he did it.”

If you grew up in the Kastel household, you were well aware of Frank Reilly’s name, and when Dad spoke of him it was in reverent tones. Dad wasn’t alone in his admiration for Reilly, as many other students at the Art Students League during that era felt the same way.

“Mr. Reilly could teach you how to draw, and he could teach you how to paint. If you asked him a question, he would have the answer. He would teach by lecture every Tuesday and Thursday—very intense lectures,” Kastel adds with emphasis.

“My drawings were lousy; I was a kid. Some guys in class could draw so beautifully. Mr. Reilly wouldn’t say your drawings were terrible, he would say, ‘do this, correct that,’ and I would work on what was bad on my drawing.”

Paperback cover illustration, 1963

The Korean War interrupted Dad’s education at the Art Students League, and he enlisted in the Navy. The Navy saw fit to train Dad in lithography, which is the process of printing. When stationed in Miramar in San Diego the lithographers were put into the photo lab. He and his fellow lithographers couldn’t figure out the military logic behind this, and the best they could conclude was, “Lithography … photography. We guessed the Navy thought they sounded similar, so they should be together.”

“As we were being given a tour of the photo lab we were going through a room, and one of the guys in the room asked, ‘Are any of you guys an artist?’”

“I raised my hand and said, ‘Me, me, me!’ That’s how I got into the Art Department.” From that modest beginning, Dad eventually got to ply his trade doing various artwork and cartoons for the Navy over the course of his four years in the service.

Adventure, December 1964

Once out of the Navy he considered staying in California. “I loved California. There was a great school, The Art Center, and a lot of illustrators came from there. But I also wanted to get back to New York City.” He then ran into a buddy he had known since boot camp, who was heading back to New York, and Dad decided to drive back East with him. “I was home for a week or two, and I was reading the New York Times and saw a job for a Studio Assistant. It was for the Harry Watts Studios. I showed my portfolio to the Studio Manager who said, ‘Yeah kid, you’ll do.’ I wound up sweeping floors, delivering illustrations, retouching and cutting mats.”

My next question was going to be, if he thought being a studio assistant and sweeping the floors was beneath him. Before I can even ask, Dad’s eyes light up as he beat me to it saying, “I loved it.”

He learned many valuable lessons on the job that would serve him well later, including how to meet Art Directors. Before going out to deliver his first painting, the Studio Manager warned him, “You’ll get into agencies and meet many Art Directors. And when you do, the Art Director is going to ask, ‘What do you think?’ And you’re going to say, ‘I love it!’”

With Dad, for the most part, this was true. Because Harry Watts Studios, in his own words, “had some fantastic artists,” which included Paul Burns, Mark Miller, and Frank Lacono, to name a few.

Reflecting back 60 years, Dad says with a touch of sadness, “This was the last classic era of the magazine illustrator.”

Eventually, Dad moved up and got a job in Reddy Kilowatt’s four-man art department doing paste-ups and black-and-white cartoons of Reddy. Reddy Kilowatt was a cartoon character designed to educate the public on energy generation and conservation. During this period he got to work with Reddy Kilowatt’s stalwart Charlie Bader, who Dad calls a “sensational cartoonist.”

Adventure, August 1965

Perhaps the best thing about the job was Reddy Kilowatt’s work hours, “It was 9-5,” he said, “when no artists worked 9-5.” This schedule would become important as Dad re-enrolled in the Art Students League and attended night school for several more years. The formula was tiring but simple: work during the day at Reddy Kilowatt and go to school five nights a week at the Art Students League, studying under none other than Frank Reilly.

“Reilly was a great lecturer,” Dad emphasizes. “He studied with people trained in the atelier tradition,” which dates back to the Renaissance where a master painter would teach a select group of pupils.

This teaching method resonated well with Kastel. “It was so different than high school or the military. This is something I really wanted to do, and just the way I wanted to do it. I could work at my own pace. If I had a problem, I knew I could work my way out of it, and there would be people to help you. There never was a test. Attendance was never taken. You came in, and it was up to you.”

Among a few of the many known artists, Dad got to know and befriend while he attended the Art Students League included James Bama, Carl Hantman, and Peter Maxx.

It was at the Art Students League that Dad sold his first illustration. “Reilly would have what was called professional problems. This was work assigned by people like book publishers, and they always paid for the best artwork.”

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine


ROBERT OSONITSCH: The Illustrator's Photographer

A few of the major illustrators during the time of Steve Holland’s reign as king of the paperback covers shot their own reference photos.

4 mins read
Illustration No. 73


Zoë Mozert was born Alice Adelaide Moser in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on April 27, 1907. Her father was Fred William Moser, a mechanical engineer of German ancestry, and her mother was Jessie Mable Hatfield of Ohio.

10+ mins read
Illustration No. 73


AF/VK. These four initials were my only clue as to the source of the fantastic Pontiac ad illustrations I found in my dad’s old National Geographic magazines.

3 mins read
Illustration No. 73

STEVE HOLLAND: The World's Greatest Illustration Art Model

Thomas Steven Holland was born January 8, 1925, in Seattle Washington, and died on May 10, 1997, at age 72 in Humboldt County, California following a brief illness. He was married three times and had two children from his first marriage, a son named Claude and a daughter, Nicole.

4 mins read
Illustration No. 73


Pulp magazines covered numerous genres, including fantasy, crime, Westerns, science-fiction, horror, action, and war. Cover art designs ran the gamut, but often many would feature half-naked young women—there was even a genre devoted exclusively to the subject—the girlie pulps.

9 mins read
Illustration No. 73

MORTON ROBERTS: A Brief Life at Yale

Morton Roberts was one of the rising stars in the late 50's and early 60's.

6 mins read
Illustration No. 70


American painter and illustrator Joe Bowler and his creations

10+ mins read
Illustration No. 70


An American artist, most famous for creating the poster for the film Jaws

10+ mins read
Illustration No. 70

It's the shark that gets them.

Movies that made us to watch again and again

10+ mins read
Illustration No. 70


Margary Edna McMein was born in Quincy, Illinois on January 25, 1888. (Various sources list her date of birth as 1890, and a few as 1889—once McMein moved to New York she decided to trim a few years from her age.)

10+ mins read
Illustration No. 69


SEAL team found plans to take out jets, trains & ships

2 mins read
May 16, 2022


The actor thinks audiences just want to be surprised. He'd do (almost) anything to oblige.

10+ mins read
New York magazine
May 9-22, 2022

Do the U.S. Navy's Aircraft Carriers Still Rule the Seas?

USS Gerald R. Ford steams in the Atlantic Ocean in 2019. The newest U.S. aircraft carrier cost a hefty $13 billion to develop

3 mins read
Popular Mechanics
May - June 2022


In October 2021, Christopher Fisher, a 26-year-old, Texas-born endurance athlete living in Breckenridge, Colorado, climbed a whopping 400,332 vertical feet in one month. That’s the equivalent of summiting a 13,000-foot peak from sea level every day for 31 straight days. It’s likely a world record, too (he’s submitting it to Guinness), and maybe just a bit, well, crazy. Here’s what Fisher had to say about the feat.

2 mins read
January 2022

How I Became One of 37,000 Homeless Veterans

Service in the Navy was supposed to guarantee a good civilian job later and access to needed medical care. It didn’t

7 mins read
November 26, 2021



9 mins read
American Outdoor Guide
October 2021

Not Your Average Space Cadet

NASA astronaut and former Navy SEAL CHRIS CASSIDY never shies from a challenge. Here’s how he stays tenacious.

2 mins read
Men's Journal
March - April 2021

Five Minutes With… Reilly Opelka and Tommy Paul

In the Paul-Opelka household, the two pros have their eating down to a science. “Tommy never cooks,” says Reilly. “If my second roommate doesn’t cook, we just order out.”

2 mins read
May - June 2021



5 mins read
Soap Opera Digest
February 01, 2021

No Matchy-Matchy Allowed

Pattern play adds interest and fun to a bedroom.

1 min read
Cottages and Bungalows
February-March 2021