Saturday, September 06, 2008

 

Herriman Saturday


We'll get back to Herriman's new strip in next Saturday's blog offering, but today we have Herriman's cartoons from the Sunday April 21st edition of the Examiner. Herriman contributes a pair of cartoons, one to the automotive section and one to the Sunday Hearst editorial.

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Friday, September 05, 2008

 

Stripper's Guide Bookshelf: Little Orphan Annie Volume One


Harold Gray's Little Orphan Annie Volume 1: Will Tomorrow Ever Come?

IDW Publishing, 2008
ISBN 978-1-60010-140-3
385 pages, hardcover, 9" x 11 1/4", $39.99


It may come as a surprise to those who aren't devoted fans of Little Orphan Annie, but this is an extraordinary collection for the simple fact that the book begins with the very first sequence of the strip. So what? Well, when Little Orphan Annie began it appeared in only one paper in the world, the New York Daily News. That alone would make the early strips rare, but compounding that rarity is that the Daily News was considered a trashy tabloid and so it was never collected and bound by libraries. If there are no libraries collecting the papers, and then later disposing them, there are no opportunities for collectors to amass runs of the original tearsheets. The only known run of the first months of the strip is in the Daily News' own microfilm copies, and that microfilm, which I've had the opportunity to review, is an almost unbelievable mess.

I had the idea of publishing the early Annie strips several years ago and I hit this brick wall myself. Faced with the impossibility of finding these strips in anything vaguely approaching reproducible form I waved the white flag and gave up. Luckily Dean Mullaney and company were not so easily dismayed. They had the bright idea of checking the Harold Gray papers at Boston University and it turned out that the archive included an unexpected treasure -- an almost complete run of the strip right from the beginning. So, putting aside a wee bit of jealousy, I'm thrilled that finally we have the opportunity to read the saga of that little orphan gal right from the start, including the pivotal early days in the orphanage that have been unseen since they were published over 80 years ago.

And what a story it is! Gray was famed for his despicable villains, and his earliest are truly vile. Miss Asthma, who runs the orphanage in which we first meet Annie, is as rotten and nasty as I'd always imagined. Mrs. Bottle, a hag who works in cahoots with Asthma to 'adopt' Annie as slave labor, is similarly chilling. The two, and many who come after in quick succession, as far more repugnant because they represent the sort of characters who were actually known to prey on defenseless children, then and now. A good part of Gray's genius was in blending fantasy and reality so masterfully that the reader finds himself taken in by the narrative hook, line and sinker, the suspension of disbelief so complete that Annie and her travails are viscerally affecting (yes, I admit it, I got misty-eyed a few times). Only rarely in this early work does Gray lose us momentarily with an awkward bit of storytelling or a fudged plotline, a deficiency he would overcome soon. Even a sophisticated reader, determined to scoff at Gray's morality plays as mere histrionic melodrama can't help but get sucked in by the taut storytelling and heart-melting little heroine.

Harold Gray's artwork, almost woodcut-like in its frozen flatness, would seem to be a terrible handicap for an adventure strip. But somehow Gray makes it work. He freely admitted that he had an almost total inability to portray action scenes, and so these static daily tableaus often devolve into soliloquies in which Annie describes the day's activities rather than having the action depicted (by the way, one of Gray's many conceits, yet another that should have hobbled his strip but didn't, was that each day's strip represented one day in Annie's life -- no week-long fight scenes in this strip!). In these early strips Gray is already very close to his mature style, and the only stylistic misses are in some rather generic character designs -- again, shortcomings that he was already well on his way to overcoming.

The book offers an almost ridiculous quantity of strips -- 38 months worth to be specific. While I applaud the publisher for their generosity, I would have gladly traded some of that quantity to rectify two shortcomings. First, although the strips are only reduced by about 15% or so from their original published sizes, Gray's lettering is a bit hard to read due to the compression. Little Orphan Annie was a very text-heavy strip, and Gray's lettering was on the small side to begin with -- the reduction had me squinting on occasion, especially in the early sequences when the lettering wasn't quite as bold as it would become later on. My second objection is to the lack of strip titles. For many strips those daily subtitles are perfunctory, but Gray's were often witty little comments on the day's doings, or editorial commentaries that could change the way the reader interpreted the day's strip. I see no reason that they couldn't have been printed alongside each strip where the book leaves quite a lot of empty space.

My other objection regards the Sundays. The publishers has included a small -- very small -- gallery of selected Sundays from the period. According to the editorial notes most of the Sundays were omitted because they seldom related to the daily plotlines during this period. That much is true. However, some Sundays did advance the plot, sometimes as a pivotal episode in the daily storyline. The publisher claims that these important Sundays are included. That, unfortunately, is only partly true. Some storyline Sundays are indeed included but a number of important ones are not. And in Little Orphan Annie at this time there was no Monday recap to save us if we missed the Sunday. This is an error that's pretty hard to forgive when you're reading along and all of a sudden you're completely mystified at a major gap in the story.

Even the Sundays that are reproduced are a bit of a joke. Each one is 7" tall by 4.5" wide, two to a page. I may not be the eagle-eyed kid I once was, but I don't think many readers could read these strips without a magnifying glass, a crutch that I had to fall back on. Did it not occur to the publisher that they could have printed one Sunday per page, sideways? There's only eleven Sundays included, so would it really have broken the bank to allot them twice that paltry page count? I certainly hope this grievous error in judgment is rectified in subsequent volumes. And if the color is just too expensive I for one would be just as happy seeing the Sundays in black and white. Color was definitely not Gray's strong suit -- in fact I think his later Sundays, from the 30s on, are much more attractive in black and white or with the single spot color that was sometimes used on the Annie Sundays at less affluent papers.

In addition to the strips we also get a fabulous biographical essay on Gray by Jeet Heer. Gray was an infamously private man and Heer has uncovered many interesting and intriguing new facts (new to me, anyway) about the man behind the strip. Very highly recommended reading. And I can't close (or leave well enough alone) without also noting Dean Mullaney's introduction in which he sets the stage for the strip with an impressionistic piece about the 1920s. Oddly, Mullaney sees fit to let loose with an expletive, granted a very mild one, in the first paragraph. I guess I'm one hell of a prude that way, but this seemed very weird to me. Give stuffy librarians an excuse to keep the book off of school shelves, Dean. Goodness knows we don't want to have classic strips fall into the hands of the next generation!

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At least they didn't ruin the strip, as this publisher has done with their DICK TRACY books...talk about cramped, eye-straining unreadability!

I can't read the sub-microbic Sunday strips WITH a magnifying glass!

I'm glad they're breaking away from that damnable tiny book size (copied from Fantagraphics' PEANUTS books) with the ANNIE series. If they can incorporate the Sunday strips at a visible, readable size, I will heartily support this series.
I've given up on the TRACY books. They do Chester Gould's work a great dis-service.
 
Thank you for your inciteful comments. My passion for all that is L.O.A. leaves me anxious to read volumes 2 and 3 when released despite the shortcommings you mentioned about volume 1. The lack of competition in this area leaves avid readers with little choice. In any case I am grateful for whatever L.O.A. crumbs come my way. I would be thrilled if the publisher continues on to volume n when all of Harold Gray's L.O.A. work has been reprinted.
 
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Thursday, September 04, 2008

 

News of Yore 1922: A Day With Tillie's Creator


Tillie's Home Sweet Home

By Dan Carey (Circulation magazine, September 1922)

Russ Westover doesn't work in a studio, he has a home.

When I went to the Westovers in New Rochelle it was with the intention of securing material for a funny story. Surely the creator of Tillie The Toiler, the dainty little stenographic ingenue who makes us all happy daily with his comic strip, would fur­nish a series of laughs during a day at his home. I might as well try to write a funny story about the Fifth Symphony as about Russ Westover's home life. It simply isn't there.

The pretty village of New Rochelle is not "Forty-Five Minutes from Broadway" at all. I felt weeks and weeks away from the noise and grime and tinsel of that glam­orous thoroughfare which frightens so many of us.

Mr. Westover has a regular house and lot with conifers, Japanese maples, deutzias, forsythia and coleus in the front yard, with salvias banked against the side while ferns and woodbine grow next to the house in the rear. Fruit trees are on the lawn of the back yard between the house and the garage. All the family speak of "home." I didn't hear "studio " once.

What a welcome the visitor receives, even from Tim, the Irish terrier, who comes nos­ing and wagging with his ears cocked and his eyes bright with joy. Tim is a regular dog.

So are the boys regular boys. Alden DeLancey, bearing his mother's name and who has the accumulated wisdom of five years, climbs and hugs and plays at gymnastic stunts and teases just as you want a healthy, normal five year old to do, while Russell Channing Westover, Jr. has the manly, unaffected air of a well bred boy of twelve. For a time I thought I would be disappointed by these boys, but they corrected that impression wonderfully after lunch when Chan captured the pot in which the chocolate icing had been made and Alden expressed utter dissatisfaction with the division of the loot. Mother and Daddy sat as an arbitration board while I was a "best mind" and engaged in the process of "watchful waiting." The boys had made good with me.

Mrs. Westover is just exactly the mother you would expect two such boys to have and is just exactly the hostess you would expect to find in such a home. I can't think of any greater compliment that could be paid her.

I didn't interview Russ Westover. I meant to but he started me talking about myself (a thing I am rather good at any­way), and he learned a lot more about me than I did about him. Everytime I made an effort to have him talk about Tillie The Toiler he would begin to speak of Cali­fornia, his native state, and once when I pressed him particularly he brought out a book of beautiful pictures to reinforce his description of the scenery of the west.

Russ Westover likes me. I know it be­cause he offered to help me get a job in California any time I wanted to go. That is the greatest compliment a Californian can pay anyone. When he invites you to settle in his native state he means about the same thing an Easterner means when he offers you a card to his club or suggests that you sign an application for membership in his secret society.

Californians arc admirable. There is a charm, a graciousness and an affability about the women of that state and a manli­ness and a breadth of mind about the men which appeal very much to me.

After lunch the boys went to a magic lan­tern show in the neighborhood while Mr. and Mrs. Westover took me for a stroll through the beautiful, deep woods, opposite their home, where we talked of the trees and shrubs and flowers, and where Mrs. Westover gave us a little of the knowledge she has of such things.

It was all over much too soon. It was so delightful to find an artist who loves the simple, quiet life of a dignified home, where the air of refined domesticity is everywhere, where there is evidence of Mother's touch and Mother's loving care in every nook and corner of the place, and where everything frankly and unaffectedly revolves around the desires of Daddy on his weekly day of rest.

I was determined to find out something about how the creator of Tillie The Toiler works, so while we sat at lunch, "To what do you attribute your unquestioned success in turning out so delightful a series as Tillie The Toiler?"

"My wife is due the credit," he replied. " I never submit an idea for a drawing without first discussing it with her and ob­taining the benefit of her criticism."

So now you have the account of how I went for a funny story about Russ West­over which I did not find and sought an in­terview which I failed to get.

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

 

Obscurity of the Day: The Ambassador

Masterful cartoonist Otto Soglow first made a name for himself with his Little King cartoons done for the New Yorker magazine. That cartoon series began in 1930 and its popularity soon came to the attention of William Randolph Hearst. As usual, what Hearst wants Hearst gets, and Soglow signed a contract with King Features in 1933. Hearst wanted Soglow to continue his Little King series as a Sunday strip for King, but the character was under a contract with the New Yorker until 1934. In the meantime Soglow was directed to create a knockoff of his own character, and that was The Ambassador.

The Ambassador began on May 28 1933 as a series of Hearst Sunday magazine covers, then switched to a regular Sunday comic strip in the Puck section. As you can see above, there is little but the absence of a crown to distinguish the two features. The Ambassador completed his mission as pretender to the throne on September 2 1934, and the following week was replaced by The Little King, which would run until 1975.

The Comics Journal did a reprint series of this strip in issue #286. You can view an excerpt of the accompanying article here on the Journal's site.

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THE AMBASSADOR page was in the Puck sunday comic pages starting 11/26/33.
 
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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

 

Obscurity of the Day: Bruno and Pietro

Sorry for the awful scan on this one. It seems that if an old paper has the least little bit of wrinkling to it that no matter how flat you press it on the scanner the wrinkles somehow prevail and insist on being the star of the show.

This simple but cute strip about a performing bear and his master is well drawn by another of those unjustly forgotten cartoonists, Clarence Rigby. Rigby spent most of his comic stripping years at World Color Printing, where he was one of the few artists who stuck with the company for a long stretch.

It's not hard to believe that for the rural folk who formed most of the audience for the WCP sections this strip about a circus duo was a particular delight. The arrival of the small itinerant circuses of the day, many of which would have featured bear acts much like this duo (sans the ursine loquacity), was an eagerly anticipated event for young and old in these towns. A weekly reminder of those joys in the comic section would be most welcome indeed.

Rigby must have had his own particular fondness for Bruno and Pietro because he produced three separate series of the strip. The first was in 1904 from July 3 to November 6. Our sample above comes from that first run. He returned to the strip in 1906, from March 25 to May 13, and then again in 1908, from October 18 to January 31 1909.

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Hello, Allan-----Were BRUNO AND PIETRO ever shown as part of a circus? I think Pietro is more of a street performer. I've seen many images of Italian organ grinders with trained bears at the turn of the century, much as they would later be exclusively monkeys. ---Cole Johnson.
 
Excellent point Cole. I wasn't certain either. When I was writing the post I initially said he was a hurdy-gurdy man, but then I checked Alfredo Castelli's book and he shows a sample where they are indeed in a circus. I have to agree, though, that the circus was often not the location of the action, or at least it was often not central to the plot, such as it was.

--Allan
 
Really nice, congratulations!
I invite you to visit my work at:
www.ruisousaartworks.blogspot.com
 
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Monday, September 01, 2008

 

News of Yore 1922: McManus, Celebrity Cartoonist

From Circulation, September 1922

This is an account of McManus' week in Detroit—of seven days of hardy public tribute to a man who has filled the world with wholesome laughter; of seven days of wholehearted acclaim, of unstinted welcome, of loud and resounding cheers.

George McManus, creator of "Bringing Up Father" betook himself to Detroit recently in connection with the appearance of his famous cartoon in the Detroit Times. McManus, on leaving New York, believed that the concerns which took him to Detroit might detain him there two days, cer­tainly not more than three.

In figuring to go right out to Detroit and come right back again McManus reckoned without his personal fame.

It was as he stepped off the train at the Michigan Central station that a crescendo of cheers, rolling from a regiment or two of railroad employees massed about the sta­tion and train sheds, told him that his pri­vate character, if he had one, had been left behind in New York.

"Hello, George "—" Hello, Jiggs"— "How is Maggie ?"—and " Where is Dinty Moore ? "

And as McManus looked about him to grasp the reasons for all this, he found that he was the principal personage in a parade.

For the middle west has an outright, uproarious way of doing things not familiar in restrained and dignified New York.

Detroit had planned a parade. With ingratiating but inflexible determination several of her leading citizens laid hands upon our cartoonist and led him to an auto­mobile, and within four minutes he was on his way to the City Hall by a circuitous route, which wound through all the city's main thoroughfares, with all sorts and con­ditions of vociferous Detroiters vociferat­ing from more than two hundred other cars following behind.

Whereafter, under a flawless sky, and on the sunlit steps of the City Hall, he was vested with the freedom of the city and the keys thereof placed in his hands.

To appear successfully, in a community where you are a stranger, as the principal attraction at a series of gatherings, meet­ings, banquets, theatre performances, ball games, band concerts, and rallies, and to say the right thing each time at the right moment and leave behind you a warmth of enthusiasm and an uproar of cheering re­quires more gift than is included in the equipment of even the most versatile of men. It is also incredibly fatiguing. Or so most people will find it.

But not McManus.

"Mr. McManus has a room here," said the clerk of the Hotel Statler when a dele­gation that wanted him for a special meet­ing went there one day to invite him, "but I can't attempt to tell you when you will find him in it. He's on the go day and night; if he sleeps at all I haven't noticed it."

"Oh, well," said McManus when the delegation finally caught up with him, "it isn't as though this were work. I'm having no end of a party! This is really a vaca­tion for me."

Five times he addressed gatherings of children at theatres; joyous, blissful, light-hearted aggregations of boys and girls who roared at his quips and yelled their approval while he drew them cartoons of the famous Jiggs household and told them incidents and anecdotes of the days when he, too, sat on a school bench out in St. Louis, where he was born and grew up. One of these meet­ings overflowed into the open air where, mounted on a motor truck, he tossed away 12,000 ice cream cones and cracked a new joke with every fling.

Between whiles he visited the sick and afflicted in hospitals, infirmaries, asylums and settlement houses, was guest at police and fire headquarters, and dined as "one of the outfit " at the penitentiary of Jack­son County.

A feature of his visit was "Jiggs Day " at all the leading hotels and restaurants, by arrangement among the proprietors of all these places, who made corned beef and cabbage the principal dish on their menus and announced at the top of the cards that Dinty Moore, from his famous kitchen in New York, had telegraphed the necessary recipe.

His last public appearance in Detroit took on something of the character of one of those monster festivals which we read about in chronicles of ancient Rome.

His final day was spent as the guest of the city at a demonstration, of which the main purpose was "to let the people see him." A stand was erected by order of the city council in Grand Circus Park. Mc­Manus rode up to it with the Mayor in the Mayor's official car, with platoons of police preceding and a squadron of cavalry behind. An escort of 3,500 school children took position about the reviewing stand and sang the national anthem. Then Mc­Manus, with the Mayor beside him, re­viewed a parade of clubs, orders, associa­tions and trade unions that was nearly two hours passing that given point. Then he made a speech that was a 'knock out,' in the opinion of all the experts present, and at sundown was escorted to his train.

"Detroit," said he, as the train pulled for New York, "is a real town. If they like you, nothing's too good. I had a street car wait for me once in New York and was told that was high recognition. But here all the wheels of commerce and gov­ernment stopped. That's not only recog­nition but WELCOME."

[Note: the original article was accompanied by a page of photographs which unfortunately were unreproducible. What little of them I can discern, though, assures me that the amazing reception described above did in fact take place more or less as described -- it's not just marketing hype]

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A McManus question. When Google News archive browing, I came across the announcement for the new Sunday page comics section for the Evening Independent and the St. Petersburg Times, published on Sep. 11 1925 and Sep. 12 1925. While the Evening Independent has a rather dull ad (http://tinyurl.com/lp2fl7), the St. Petersbutg Times uses a truly magnificent and large Geo McManus drawing (http://tinyurl.com/ny9o4u). Was this a blow-up of a comic strip panel (seems unlikely to me), or a specially produced drawing? And if the latter, did it appear in many newspapers or in a more limited number? If this is a relatively unknown "Bringing up Father" drawing, I supposed it would be nice to share it with the readers of this blog.
 
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Sunday, August 31, 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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THAT is a classic!
 
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