Saturday, March 22, 2008

 

Herriman Saturday




Herriman continues to chronicle the saga of a rainy January 1907, first with a sports cartoon on the 15th. Abe Attel and Harry Baker, preparing for their fight on the 18th, are having trouble getting their training done in the rain. This is Herriman's only cartoon on the fight between Abe "the Fighting Hebrew" Attell and Harry Baker so I'll let the cat out of the bag that Attell cleaned Baker's clock.

On the 16th we have a cartoon that serves to remind us that electric powered vehicles were common in the early days of the automobile. Enough so, in fact, that the auto show put together an electric light display as part of the attraction. But who are J. Hazen Hyde and Leon Tomaso Shettler??

Herriman then takes a couple days off, returning on the 19th with a pair of cartoons. The first is a graphic memorandum of a local fishing club meeting. Not anything terribly interesting here, so I'll take the opportunity to tell a Bible story (no, really!). If you read a lot of cartoons from the early part of the century you'll see the name Ananias bandied about quite a bit, like here. Unless you're well-versed in Bible lore this might be a stumper for you.

Ananias was a fellow who had some land for sale and he promised the apostles that he'd give all the profits to them. Once the land was sold he got greedy and decided he'd like to hang on to a bit of that dough. So he went to the apostle Peter and handed over a portion of the loot, claiming it was all the profit from the sale. Peter smelled a rat and told Ananias that it would have been hunky-dory for him to hold out on the Lord, but he was gonna fry for lying about it. Ananias drops dead on the spot, smited (smote? smitten?) but good.

So when you see these references to Ananias in old cartoons, and they do pop up constantly, translate it to a foolish liar.

Final cartoon continues the story of LA's gas supply woes. This cartoon implies that the Los Angeles Gas Company offered itself up for sale for municipal ownership. I can't find any contemporary news stories that mention this, but it's a definite possibility because a new rival, City Gas Company, was at the moment setting up shop in L.A. The new company, though, turned out to be weak competition even for the fouled up LA Gas Company. I'm sure we'll be seeing more cartoons on the subject from George.

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Friday, March 21, 2008

 

News of Yore: Rube Goldberg Gets a Little Cranky


[from The Cartoonist, Summer 1957]

When I am asked to be a guest on radio or television I am always re­quested to "bring along one of your in­ventions".

The invention phase of my varied career seems to expand with the years, so I now believe that in another gener­ation or two my bust will find a place alongside that of Galileo or da Vinci. But this disturbs me quite a little. I have done other things of which I am not completely ashamed—like using hu­man contrasts in a series (in verse, no less) called "Life's Little Jokes", which I believe furnished the inspiration for the use of queer names for principal cartoon characters and placing them in situations which contradict all the laws of logic.

For instance:

A bird by the name of Bicarbonate Lang
Liked to spend every night with a sociable gang;
While a gink by the name of Appendix McCloud
Sat alone every night, for he hated the crowd.
But, Lang, the poor guy, went and married a spouse
Who would not allow one of his friends in the house;
While, in marriage, McCloud also misery found—
for his wife had her relatives hang­ing around.

I need not say that any resemblance to Keats or Byron is purely coincidental.

I have also expounded certain general philosophies under the title, "They all look good when they're far away" and "Now that you've got it what are you gonna do with it?," to say nothing about having changed the trend of sculpture, architecture, balloon tires and interior decoration—especially chande­liers featuring acrobats defying the law of gravity.

Which leads me to the confession that for over twenty years I have been doing editorial cartoons. In some I have approached world problems with great reverence and in others have exposed dictators, aggressors, murderers and mil­itary upstarts to withering ridicule. But somehow those who remember my per­iods of insane "art" seem to think this is only a brief period of hibernation until I catch my breath for another go at the wild type of psychopathic car­tooning.

Let me assure these good souls that I take my political cartooning rather seriously and enjoy my identification with the world-shattering events of the day. I am still hoping for the return of the time when a political cartoon can swing an election or send those who abuse the trust of the people to a pro­longed stretch on the rock pile.

At the moment I still wonder how effective the present-day editorial cartoon is. I receive letters commenting favorably and adversely on some of my editorial efforts, showing that somebody reads them. But I regret to say I still wonder whether the political cartoon is largely a decoration for the editorial page- plus something that can be purloined by the Sunday paper around the country and spread over their editorial sections without benefit of remuneration to the cartoonist. It is generally considered an honor for an editorial cartoonist to have his work reproduced in Sunday papers and magazines. Inasmuch as it is uneth­ical to steal a comic strip, I am hoping that some day we editorial men can likewise be rewarded for reprints with a pack of cigarettes or a salami sandwich. We still wonder who reads our political cartoons - certainly not our friends. They are too busy looking at their own work. Let me admonish young cartoon­ists not to expect their friends or fam­ilies to follow their work. These tyros must seek their glory elsewhere.

When I was working out in San Francisco I used to spend part of my lunch hour standing in front of a cigar store with a friend of mine. I finally went to New York, where my cartoons won wide recognition. Five years later I returned to San Francisco for a visit, expecting to be received like a con­quering hero. I went to the old cigar store and I found my friend still stand­ing in his favorite place. He looked at me and said, "Hello, Rube. Have you been sick? I haven't seen you around in a couple of weeks."

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

 

Obscurity of the Day: Mother Cod Jingles

Mother Cod Jingles was an activity, rhyme and puzzle feature that ran in the New York Herald from January 18 to February 22 1903. It was created by Marie Overton Corbin and Charles Buxton Going.

Charles was quite the renaissance man -- he was a nationally known industrial engineer, but he also wrote a number of books of poetry, a few volumes on history, and several childrens books with his eventual wife-to-be, Marie.

My guess is that in this feature Charles handled the versifying and Marie the puzzles. The drawings seem to have been by various hands (in our sample the half-page drawing is by Willard Bonte, the drawings accompanying the poem by someone else who supplied some scratchy initials -- F.I.B.?). How the authors got together with these artists is unknown -- were they Herald staffers, or were they in the employ of Going and Corbin?

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Hello! I've been following your blog for a while with enjoyment. I thought you might be interested to know about a publication that's currently in the comic book stores, called "Comic Strip Masterpieces". It's reprints of old comic strips, and you can download a PDF of the first issue at http://www.fantagraphics.com/downloads/COMICSTRIPMASTERPIECES.pdf I don't know if there's a second issue yet.
 
Sorry to get off subject again--but you were such a help on a previous question that maybe you can help with something that's been driving me nuts for awhile! There was a strip I remember reading about 1999 or so about a lumberjack and his friends. For the life of me I just can't think of what it was called or how to find it with a keyword search anywhere. Can you give me any hints? I do remember it was hysterically funny at the time since it tended to be a little political also.
 
Could you be thinking of Liberty Meadows -- not a lumberjack but a park ranger?

--Allan
 
No, not that one--though it's screamingly funny too! Don't think this one ran very long, and my memory may be playing tricks on me about the characters. I'm pretty sure there was a lumberjack or park ranger, and maybe some talking animals?
 
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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

 

Obscurity of the Day: Boon Dock






No, this isn't Boondocks, the controversial comic strip by Aaron McGruder. Boon Dock, a self-syndicated effort by George Breisacher, couldn't generate any controversy if it had been trying -- it had a bewildering array of characters that Breisacher didn't really bother to introduce to readers. If these strips above leave you wondering what in the world the strip was about, who the characters are supposed to be, and what their relationship to each other is, join the club. I've read a month of the strip from the first year and I'm no closer to being able to explain anything about this strip than I was before.

Breisacher is best known for his short stint on Mutt and Jeff, where he did pall bearer duty for the strip in its final two years. A shame, too, because Breisacher actually put a spin on the strip that I thought worked pretty well. Breisacher later was president of the National Cartoonists Society from 1997-99.

Boon Dock started sometime in 1972 and I can vouch for it running until at least 1973 -- an obit says that it ran in the Oakland (MI) Press until 1975. It may have been a replacement, or even a renaming, of Breisacher's previous self-syndicated feature, Man on the Street. Does anyone know more about this obscurity? Or for that matter has anyone seen or have samples of the feature he did for the Charlotte Observer titled The First 200?

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This strip was reprinted in the Menomonee Falls Guardian. One of the two self-syndicated strips they ran (the other being "Conchy" by James Childress)
 
I still have a complete set of those old Menomenee Falls Guardians in a box in my basement and I remember Boon Dock and Conchy very well. It was always interesting to see Breisacher show up, phoenix-like, through the years. One rumor I heard years ago that maybe you could clear up: Did Conchy creator James Childress commit suicide? I remember hearing that as a kid and I never saw his cartoons show up elsewhere which surprised me because Conchy was very engaging and had loads of potential.
 
Sadly, James Childress did indeed commit suicide in January 1977. He was going through financial problems and marital troubles at the time.
 
I just barely remember Breisacher's take on Mutt and jeff, right before it ended- yet I never see any examples anymore. I keep looking for it, out of curiosity.
 
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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

 

News of Yore: The Origin of Dondi

[from The Cartoonist, Summer 1957]

My search for the perfect collaborator came to a sudden and successful con­clusion on a lovely May morning in 1954, in storybook Heidelberg. How clearly its details pierce the dimming mists of time! I was at breakfast with a diminutive artist, name of Hasen. Casually I remarked on the excellence of our Spiegel Eier. He wept. My in­terest was piqued. "Why do you weep?" I inquired. "Because the Spiegel Eier tastes so good," he simpered.

That was all. But, it was everything! Here indeed was the understanding heart for which I would have combed the world!

Why should I, famed boulevardier, have such an interest in this sweet, motherly creature? I'm glad you asked that question, Bub. To answer it, I must harken back to the fall of 1952. I was sojourning in the historical Joan of Arc country with travel agents, Posen and Holman. Wherever we went, we were surrounded by hordes of ill-kempt street gamins, the pitiful backwash of war. They pleaded for chocolate and cigarettes.

One small boy attached himself to me." I could no more elude little Fran­cois than outrun my own shadow. In Paris, however, my break came. While Francois bent over to shag a butt-snipe, I hopped aboard a plane for Naples. Of course, my flight was useless. As I stepped off the runway at Naples air­port, there stood Francois grinning as he chomped happily on a second-hand cud of American gum.

Nino (that was now his name) be­came emboldened. He began to call me "Onkel Gus" and demanded I take him to America.

Now, I must confess I'm not made of iron. I've always had a soft spot in my head for kids, and I realized I was be­ginning to weaken. Feverishly I hailed a passing C47 and landed some five hours later in Marrakesh, Morocco.

Yes, you guessed it! There, he was called Kee-Wee, the shoeshine boy. But, now he was my waif!
The die was cast. I became resigned to my responsibility as foster father. Thus began my search for a motherly collaborator who would insure the youngster a happy, gainful life in God's country.

Leaving Morocco in an old djellaba, I headed for Heidelberg and my fateful breakfast with Irwin Hasen.

Little Heinz was wistfully waiting behind a nearby vat of Steinhager. At my joyful signal, he joined us.

With Hasen, it was love at first sight! He is, as you know, somewhat smaller than a dear little waif. So it was with great difficulty he managed to handle the lad on his knee. (Indeed, for a moment it seemed that Heinz would succeed in dandling Hasen.) But, in spite of our difficulties we were most happy fellows.

Then came our most fateful decision. How were we three going to enter the U. S. on just two passports? The full story can now be told because Dondi (his American name) is a citizen by Act of Congress!

We racked our brains to no avail until Dondi, bright little tyke, came up with the perfect plan. It was simplicity itself!

We disguised Dondi as Hasen. Thus, the boy entered the U. S. on Hasen's passport. You ask, "How did Hasen get in?" Easy. I casually carried him past the immigration authorities in an old duffle bag.

One more date in the saga of our collaboration fell on September 26, 1955. An important executive named Moe Reilly gave Dondi a job. "How's he doing?" you ask. Modesty forces me to admit that the kid is getting along so well that Hasen and I are now living the life of Reilly.

In case you care, this is how we col­laborate. I lock myself in a small-type room (you know where). Two days later I stagger out with a whole roll— er, ream of scribbling. These brain squeezings I then boil down into the written material for six daily strips and a Sunday page. Since I can't typewrite, I prepare two clean longhand copies, one of which I relay to Hasen. He takes it from there (and beautifully!). The other copy goes to editor Moe Reilly.

Once a month Hasen, Moe Reilly and I have food and beverages together to discuss Dondi's future plights. We en­joy these bacchanalian revels very much because the Syndicate pays for them.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

 

Obscurity of the Day: Wimpy's Zoo's Who


I'm utterly fascinated by toppers (those companion features that accompany Sunday strips), and the odder the better. Here's a pretty nifty one titled Wimpy's Zoo's Who. This panel, sort of a topper to a topper, accompanied the main companion strip Sappo to the 'main event' Thimble Theatre (better known as Popeye to the hoi polloi).

This little activity panel featured oddball beastie designs that could be cut out and made into 3-D figures. I bet these fearsome creatures terrorized their share of army men on the living room floor in their day.

Wimpy's Zoo's Who is from a period when toppers were beginning to fall into disuse. After the topper's glory days in the 20s to mid-30s, Sunday sections began to feature more ads and half page strips. These came at the expense of toppers, and they get scarcer and scarcer until many become rare finds by the 40s.

You'll hear historians say that the topper strip was a victim of World War II paper shortages. Don't believe a word of it -- it's the ads that killed full page strips, and that killed the topper. World War II only exacerbated an already bad situation.

Wimpy's Zoo's Who started accompanying Thimble Theatre on November 20 1938 and was replaced by a different panel feature, Play-Store, after December 1 1940. The topper was only included when Thimble Theatre was printed as a full, the tab version didn't include toppers at all.

Doc Winner probably handled the art chores at the beginning and then was replaced by Bela Zaboly sometime in 1939. After Segar's run on the strip ended Thimble Theatre was unsigned until the end of 1939, so exact dates for the artists are unknown.

EDIT: Cole Johnson, whose noggin apparently doesn't leak like a sieve as does mine, reminds me that Bud Sagendorf claimed in "Popeye - The First 50 Years" that he, along with writer Joe Musial, did all the activity panels starting with Wiggle Line Movie (the predecessor of Wimpy's Zoo's Who). Thanks for setting me back on the straight and narrow Cole! You're my very own brain spam filter!

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

 

Jim Ivey's Sunday Comics

Order Jim Ivey's new book Cartoons I Liked at Lulu.com or order direct from Ivey and get the book autographed with a free original sketch.

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Jim introduced me to the incredible work of Ann Telnaes a couple of years ago. Jim's right, she is amazing!
 
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