Thursday, December 04, 2008
Obscurity of the Day: The Fred Richardson Comics Page
The Chicago Daily News was the first newspaper in the country to adopt a daily comics page in 1900, but even before that they liked cartoons. The Daily News didn't have a Sunday edition, so they made up for the lack of a color comics section starting on January 2 1897 by assigning Fred Richardson the task of drawing a full page cartoon for either their Saturday or Monday edition.
And what cartoons they were! Fans of Richardson have compared him favorably with Winsor McCay for his incredible design work, and I won't argue with that assessment. The intricate and supremely graceful drawings must have impressed Chicago newspaper readers because a reprint book was issued in 1899, one of the earliest newspaper cartoon reprint books. A Book of Drawings by Fred Richardson now commands pretty heady prices when offered these days -- cheapest I've seen is $375. Anyone looking to buy me a Christmas present feel free to keep this book in mind!
Richardson's cartoons were often full page panels, but he did plenty in the comic strip format as well. He loved drawing animals and many cartoons were populated by his impressionistic takes on various beasties. Ocassionally his cartoons were editorial in nature but even these were couched in terms of wild flights of fancy.
Richardson's work for the Daily News was too good to last, though, and his last page appeared on November 2 1901. He went on to a notable career in illustrating for books and magazines. He did make a return appearance at the Daily News much later on, but that will be a subject for another post. There's no doubt that had he stuck with newspaper funnies we'd today be discussing his work with the same hushed and reverential tones reserved for McCay.
Much thanks to Cole Johnson for sending me the microfilm photocopies from which the above samples were scanned. Trust me, though, that these scans do no justice at all to Richardson, whose intricate designs are far too fine for the lo-res confines of your monitor.
Joe Procopio www.LostArtBooks.com