Saturday, August 25, 2007

 

Herriman Saturday




This week's Herriman cartoons are from September 29 and 30, 1906, two from each date.

Our first cartoon today, a commemoration of the Angels losing 3-1 to Oakland, is a pretty funny cartoon though a bit slapdash artwise (helped not one bit by a too light photocopy). The only player mentioned that I can find information about online is Eli Cates, who had one year in the majors with the Washington Senators in 1908. Despite racking up a very impressive 2.5 ERA, Cates went 4-8 for the lowly Sens.

Herriman's editorial cartoon on the 29th is far more accomplished art-wise, and continues hammering on the Southern Pacific's role in California government. Note the design on the skirt of the GOP cage - this sort of design detail would become a Herriman trademark in later years.

On the 30th we have a caricature of Henry Huntington, a real estate and trolley baron in the LA area. You can read about him on this Wiki page.

Finally a story illustration, this one from the ongoing column "Confessions of a Grafter". As I've mentioned before, Herriman was producing these on a regular basis, but most, unlike this one, are small spot cartoons.

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Friday, August 24, 2007

 

Obscurity of the Day: Sunday Punk


The 80s and 90s saw a bumper crop of new features penned by editorial cartoonists. Although there's been a long history of comic strip cartoonists starting out in the political cartoon genre, in the old days if they made the leap they typically did it early in their careers and dropped their editorial work if they met with any success.

In the past score of years though, a lot of well-known editorial cartoonists have tried their hands at strips while retaining their editorial cartoon posts. Tom Toles, Jim Borgman, Bill Schorr, Mike Peters, Bruce Beattie, and many others all tried strips with widely varying degrees of success. One of the very least successful, though, was one of the biggest names in editorial cartooning, Patrick Oliphant.

Sunday Punk starred Oliphant's trademark penguin character from his daily editorial cartoons, and the character was pretty much used in the same way in the Sunday-only comic strip -- making wry comments on politics and current events. The strip debuted on March 18 1984, and the latest I've been able to find is from September 16 of the same year, a run of just a little more than six months.

The strip was reasonably good, so it's unclear why it had such a short run. Perhaps Oliphant lost interest in the project, perhaps the sales weren't good, I dunno. I like to think it's just desserts for Oliphant's earlier attitude toward comic strips. He was the guy who yelled foul the longest and loudest when Doonesbury won a Pulitzer in 1975. Oliphant belittled the feature and the form of being unworthy for such recognition. Now less than a decade later he was drawing a comic strip with political content. What goes around comes around?

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Comments:
Why would anyone run Sunday Punk if they were running Oliphant's editorial cartoons in another part of the newspaper? They seem one in the same.
 
"He was the guy who yelled foul the longest and loudest when Doonesbury won a Pulitzer in 1975."

I think you mean "Bloom County." Oliphant slammed the strip when it won Pulitzer. Berke Breathed responded by introducing a character named "Ollie Funt," who had nothing to say except "Reagan Sucks!"
 
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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

 

Stripper's Guide Bookshelf: The Early Years of Mutt & Jeff

The Early Years of Mutt & Jeff
Edited by Jeffrey Lindenblatt, introductory historical essay by Allan Holtz
NBM, 2007
ISBN 1-56163-502-2
$24.95, hardcover, 192 pages

Don't expect a completely dispassionate review of this book. As you can see above, I wrote the introduction for it and I'm frankly pleased as punch to have my scribblings appear in hardcover for the first time. So if you're on the fence about buying the book, jump on across if only as an appreciation for this blog, which I hope has given you many hours of ad-free, fee-free comic strip enjoyment over the years.

Okay, end of begging. On with the review.

Mutt and Jeff wasn't a very good comic strip for much of its existence. Let's get that straight from the outset. If you read M&J from the 1930s onward you were seeing a strip that ran on autopilot. Not to take anything away from Al Smith, the fellow who churned it out year after year, but the strip was obviously out of step with the times, and relied on slapstick humor that went out with vaudeville.

But, oh, those early years! With Bud Fisher, that flawed, lazy, money-grubbing genius, at the helm, this strip was a firecracker. Topical, acerbic and witty, it was a strip written for and read by adults. Sure there was slapstick humor, but Fisher, unencumbered in these early years with newspaper editors who expected kid-friendly material, had his anti-hero duo in the thick of current events. He had them gambling, he had them stealing, he even had them taking drugs!

The selection of strips, a generously huge melange of material from 1909 through 1913, tends toward the non-topical. Probably a good thing for most readers if a little disappointing to me. Editor Lindenblatt does give us some excellent sequences, including Mutt and Jeff going to Mexico to fight in the revolution, and a hilarious run lampooning patent medicines. There's also a good selection of strips covering Mutt's occasional forays as a pro baseball player on real New York teams.

The reproduction, all obviously from excellent source material, is crisp and perfectly legible, a small miracle considering the scarcity of source material from these early years, and the huge size in which these strips originally ran. Nothing in the book, save a few real rarities I supplied in my introduction, had to be retrieved from microfilm, thank goodness. My only nitpick is that the retoucher failed to remove the inevitable flyspecks from the strips. It's not something the typical reader is likely to even notice, but it's a pet peeve with me, and it mars an otherwise gorgeous presentation.

My introduction, which runs twelve pages, tells the amazing story of Fisher's rise in the comic strip biz, including anecdotes and material from hitherto unplumbed or long-forgotten sources. I also discuss the whole A. Piker Clerk issue, coming to some conclusions at variance with the accepted wisdom about that fabled strip. The introduction is illustrated with a goodly number of rare items never before reprinted, including Fisher's very first published cartoon in the San Francisco Chronicle and the final strip of the ersatz Mutt and Jeff version done by Russ Westover.

Some reviewers have complained that the strips in the book are undated. For the record, Jeffrey Lindenblatt is a real stickler for such things, but he had a problem with this book. These early dailies, after Fisher went to New York and the strip was syndicated, were printed at widely varying times in different papers, so there really were no hard and fast release dates to offer, especially when the source material was culled from a number of different sources. On the other hand, the year of issuance certainly could have been given, and if there are further volumes of Mutt & Jeff published (and they will be if the sales on this book merit it) Lindenblatt assures me that the strips will be dated with the release dates from the New York American, the strip's home paper from 1908-1915.

Comments:
Allan: This is exciting news. Does it include the pre-Jeff A. Mutt strips? I agree that the rude, crude early strips are a lot of fun to read.

Regards,
Joe Thompson ;0)
 
Hi Joe -
No, the strips reprinted in this book are from 1909-13. The pre-Jeff strips were mostly reprinted in the Hyperion book back in the late 70s, and this book doesn't re-re-print the contents of that one.

--Allan
 
Would anybody know about the NBM program of reprints? more MUTT AND JEFF or maybe some redesigned release of the complete Roy Crane run WASH OF TUBBS?

LC
 
Hi LC -
Their website is here:

http://www.nbmpub.com/

More Mutt and Jeff is definitely a go if book sales are good on the first one. They are also working on securing rights to several other 'screwball' classic strips, but nothing is 100% definite quite yet.

--Allan
 
For the record: I enjoyed this collection very much; however, at least two of the strips are repeated within the book. Such an editorial error is pretty rare among comic strip collections.
 
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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

 

Obscurity of the Day: Eve's Epigrams



For many years I saw this feature as I was paging through old papers, but looking at the tiny panels one at a time like that I thought the art was boilerplate. The Stripper's Guide index doesn't truck with features that have unchanging art, of course, so I ignored it. It wasn't until I saw a bunch of these run together in a weekly paper that I finally realized that the cartoons do in fact change every day.

Eve's Epigrams featured endless variations on the above portrait along with pithy little sayings. The feature was by Agnes Hucke, who very rarely signed the feature, and it was distributed by Ledger Syndicate. The earliest I've found is from 1923, the likely starting year. The panel was advertised in E&P until 1933, but then, as with many Ledger properties, it seems to have been sold off to cheapo reprint syndicates, because I have samples as late as 1937.

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Comments:
I don't suppose there's any way to see more of these? I had never seen them before but find them funny!
 
Hello, Allan-----I think that Eve is an alien!
 
The inspiration for Dick Tracy's Moon Maid no doubt!

--Allan
 
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Monday, August 20, 2007

 

News of Yore: Association of Cartoonists and Caricaturists Formed


From Art & Life, January 1927

Cartoonists Take Notice
Having taken care of the record­ing of the foibles and fancies of the world for thousands of years, the cartoonists and caricaturists laid off long enough on June 30, this year, to organize an association of their very own—the American Association of Cartoonists and Caricaturists— possibly the first of its kind in the history of mankind.

Eugene Zimmerman, dean of the profession in this country and one of the most powerful political cartoonists of his time, was elected president without a dissenting voice; Bud Fisher, first vice-president; Rube Goldberg, second vice-president; Ed­ward McCullough, third vice-presi­dent; and Freeman H. Hubbard, secretary and editor of the official or­gan, Cartoons Magazine.

In appreciation of the fact that she is the most prominent woman making a comic strip today, and the second to have entered the profession in this country, Albertine Randall, ("In Rabbitboro") was chosen head of the Advisory Board of the new organiza­tion.

Other members of the Board are: Clare A. Briggs, ("Mr. and Mrs.") ; M. M. Branner, ("Winnie Winkle") ; Winsor McCay, ("Little Nemo") ; Eddie McBride, sport cartoonist and art manager of The New York Herald-Tribune syndi­cate; Milt Gross, ("Gross Exaggera­tions") ; Pat Sullivan, ("Felix, the Cat"); Ed Whelan ("Minute Movies") ; Bill Steinke, editorial car­toonist, Newark Evening News; C. H. Wellington, ("Pa's Son-in-Law") ; Paul A. Broady, cartoonist and official photographer A. A. C. C., and Manuel Rosenberg, art edit­or of the Cincinnati Post.

The genesis of the organization came with the spread of the desire on the part of so many young men and young women to enter into the comic field and the pitiful dearth of ideas the majority of them exhibited. The older and wiser people in the game realized that something must be done to stem the tide - not of genius which is always sought - but of wasted time and energy by countless young people.

The flood of youngsters became so great in the big cities that they became an annoyance in every news­paper art department and syndicate office. Thousands and thousands of valuable hours were spent by car­toonists and art managers explaining to them that drawing is simply the means by which the cartoon or comic idea is carried to paper -- that draw­ing without new ideas was folly and a supreme waste of time.

During the past couple of years syndicate heads have had to surround themselves with all the secrecy that surrounds foreign potentates in order to conserve their time for the bene­fit of their employers. The big-time cartoonists and strip-makers -- men like Bud Fisher, Rube Goldberg, Clare Briggs, George McManus, and J. N. Darling—have had to live the most secluded sort of lives in order to avoid the thousands of calls on their time. Some of them refuse to see anyone, experience having taught them that their well-meaning advice was too often ignored by those who sought it.

The principal purpose of the new organization is to act as a clearing­house for the beginners and would-be beginners in the game—some of them having real talent but fumbling for want of proper direction. The Association headquarters, 244-248 West 49th Street, New York City, under the personal direction of Free­man H. Hubbard, will furnish mem­bers with all information and when possible connect them with oppor­tunities to get their chances.

Other reasons for the formation of the organization are to raise the prestige of this ancient and most use­ful profession—to pool the experience of old and young for the benefit of all—to encourage talent—to head off those lacking ability—to investigate reports of fraud or injustice in con­nection with the employment and discharge of cartoonists—to investi­gate fake correspondence schools and mis-branded art supplies and to at­tend to all other matters vital to the best interests of the membership.

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Comments:
Randall (In rabbitboro) is stated on different sources (including lambiek's Comiclopedia) to have been syndicated 1927-29 only. This article from early 1927 seems to contradict this, and I have found an example of March 14, 1924 for this comic strip (http://tinyurl.com/klw8xa) Do you have any info on when this comic strip really debuted?
 
Hi Fram --
Albertine Randall's Dumbunnies (later In Rabbitboro) began in May 1922 and I believe ended its original run in 1927. It was distributed in reprints well into the 1930s.

--Allan
 
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Sunday, August 19, 2007

 

Jim Ivey's Sunday Comics

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Comments:
Jim,

It's good to know that many of life's comforts are still comforting even for the old curmudgeon I hope to age to be.

Craig
 
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