Lawrence native who created LHS’ Chesty Lion and drew classic holiday stories, Mad magazine pieces dies

A Lawrence native who became a giant in the animation and cartooning field has died.

Paul Coker, Jr. died in Santa Fe, New Mexico at the age of 93, according to a statement released by his family on Friday.

Coker was born in Lawrence in 1929 and studied drawing and painting at the University of Kansas before becoming well known in the world of animation for works ranging from holiday classics to pieces in Mad Magazine.

Coker worked as as designer on the classic Frosty the Snowman animated television special that is broadcast annually, plus numerous other projects for the Rankin/Bass Production Company. In a recent article, the Hollywood trade journal Deadline said Coker worked as a character designer or production designer on more than a dozen holiday specials, including “Frosty the Snowman” in 1969, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” in 1970, “Here Comes Peter Cottontail” in 1971, and several offshoots of the Frosty the Snowman franchise.

For Mad magazine, Coker — who began working with the publication in 1961 — was well known for the “Horrifying Cliches” feature and also illustrated many of the magazines parodies of popular movies or TV shows, Deadline reported.

Locally, Lawrence residents continue to see Coker’s work on a regular basis. He is credited with drawing Chesty the Lion, which is the mascot of Lawrence High School. While the school had used a Lion as a mascot for decades, several histories of LHS report that it was Coker in 1946 who drew the Chesty the Lion mascot that is still used today.

After studying at KU, Coker went to work at Kansas City’s Hallmark Cards as a greeting card designer. He continued to be associated with Hallmark for decades, Deadline reported.

He is survived by a wife of 33 years, Rosemary Smithson, and stepdaughters Lee Smithson Burd and Carol Smithson, according to Deadline.

photo by: Lawrence Journal-World File Photo

Paul Coker appeared in a Journal-World article on Dec 25, 1962, while visiting his parents in Lawrence.

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