Saturday, December 13, 2008
Monday, May 20 1907 -- the San Francisco corruption trial continues. For those not up on their Greek mythology (like me), read here about Hercules' sixth labor.
Tuesday, May 21 1907 -- Orval Overall was indeed a great pitcher, though his career was rather short. He was on the Chicago Cubs team for most of his career and went to the World Series with them twice. He's the only pitcher to strike out four batters in one inning in a World Series game. Impossible to strike out four batters, you say? Not at all. Here's how it's done.
Labels: Herriman's LA Examiner Cartoons
Friday, December 12, 2008
Obscurity of the Day: Signor de Pluro
Here's Sidney "The Gumps" Smith's second comic strip (his first was covered in this post waaay back in 20005). Signor de Pluro ran from May 3 1903 to February 7 1904 in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The title was changed to Hector and Geraldine for the last two episodes.
Cole Johnson, who supplied these samples, describes the strip thusly: "Signor de Pluro was another of the countless strips about wacky immigrants. The title "Signor" is Italian, of course, but Sidney Smith made things a bit ambiguous by a lack of any accent for his character, and have him come from a place called "Plunk". Rather than being propelled by fussy politeness and exaggerated good manners as Opper's gentle Europeans Alphonse and Gaston, DePluro was motivated generally by revenge. His efforts were aimed against his romantic rival, Hector, for the hand of the beautiful (?) Geraldine. Things seemed to finally go the Signor's way, with his girl accepting his proposal, but Hector managed to swipe her away at the last moment."
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Obscurity of the Day: Hickory Hollow Folks
The feature was originally titled Toy Talkies when it debuted in 1932 and initially featured a cast of living toys. At that time it was a text feature with color illustrations and ran in a tiny quarter-page format. By 1934 the text feature had been renamed Hickory Hollow Folks and the main characters were now woodland creatures, but it wasn't until 1938 that the feature was transferred to the Sunday comics section and became the more typical Sunday page you see above.
Quermann's creation didn't get much respect in the Post-Dispatch's funnies section. Whenever an ad was run it was invariably Hickory Hollow Folks that got chopped down to a half, third or even quarter page format. Since it was produced locally I can imagine someone dropping by Quermann's desk on a weekly basis to tell him how much space he was being granted for his next episode. Quermann must have loved doing the feature because as a staff artist with other duties I imagine he could have asked to drop it as being too much trouble considering how undervalued it obviously was.
Hickory Hollow Folks ran until 1955 when its creator died 'in harness' as they say. Quermann's feature was a favorite of many St. Louis residents and the classic feature is still sought as a collectible by those who remember it fondly. Unfortunately examples of it are ridiculously hard to come by. Not only did it appear in a single paper, but it ran in a roto section for much of its life (in addition to the 1932-38 magazine section period, the Post-Dispatch revamped their funnies section to use the rotogravure process after the war) and rotogravure paper does not survive well unless stored in ideal conditions. This double-whammy makes the strip a rarity, and even when you do find a cache of them they're often in terrible condition.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Obscurity of the Day: Walt Kelly's Pogo
How can Pogo be an obscurity of the day? When it's the ill-starred revival of 1989-1993 (officially titled Walt Kelly's Pogo), that's how. You'd think that the ill-advised continuation of the original strip after Walt Kelly's death in the 70s would have been lesson enough that newspaper readers insisted that their beloved Pogo be the product of Walt Kelly's fertile imagination, but obviously it wasn't.
It certainly seemed like a good idea at the time. Writer Larry Doyle (later a writer for The Simpsons TV show) was able to give the strip the classic Kelly flavor, and artist Neal Sternecky was a more than capable cartoonist. Both creators understood that the Pogo storylines had to be somewhat simplified for the taste of the current generation of newspaper readers (or at least so syndicate editors preached), and that the art had to be simplified for today's miniscule printing sizes. Given those strictures they did an admirable job of adapting Walt Kelly's classic to a new generation.
What Doyle and Sternecky did to modernize the strip, though, was anathema to fans of the Walt Kelly original. The belly-aching began immediately on the new strip's much-heralded appearance. The two creators were demonized by many old-time fans. Worse, in trying to appeal to old fans the creators did a poor job of introducing the strip to a younger generation that had never seen Pogo, and the die was cast. No one, old fan or new, was willing to give the revival much of a chance.
I'm afraid I don't know the inside story of the strip's creative changes, so I can only say that Larry Doyle was the first creator to jump ship in February 1991, but not whether he got a better offer elsewhere or just simply got tired of hearing all the carping. Neal Sternecky then took over the writing duties for another year before he too bailed out. Then it was up to Peter and Carolyn Kelly, both children of Walt, to carry the torch. They gave up the Sunday in favor of reprints of the original strip (with a few exceptions, see below), but continued the daily. Then in mid-1993 Peter Kelly also dropped out and Michael Lewis wrote for awhile before Carolyn took over all the duties. Finally the foundering strip was put out of its misery in November 1993.
Here are the credits as near as I can figure them out. This list is an adaptation of a rather confusing rundown that appeared in the Kelly fan publication The Fort Mudge Most:
Neal Sternecky 1/8/89 - 3/22/92
Walt Kelly reprints 3/29/92 - 11/15/92
Carolyn Kelly 11/22/92 - 12/27/92
Walt Kelly reprints 1/3/93 - 6/27/93
Carolyn Kelly 7/4/93 - 10/10/93
Sternecky reprints 10/17/93 - 11/28/93
Neal Sternecky 1/9/89 - 3/21/92
Carolyn Kelly 3/23/92 - 10/2/93
Sternecky reprints 10/4/93 - 11/27/93
Larry Doyle 1/8/89 - 2/24/91
Neal Sternecky 3/3/91 - 3/22/92
Walt Kelly reprints 3/29/92 - 11/15/92
Peter Kelly 11/22/92 - 12/27/92
Walt Kelly reprints 1/3/93 - 6/27/93
Peter Kelly 7/4/93 - 7/18/93
Michael Lewis 7/25/93 - 10/3/93
Carolyn Kelly 10/10/93
Doyle reprints 10/17/93 - 10/31/93
Sternecky reprints 11/7/93 - 11/28/93
Larry Doyle 1/9/89 - 2/23/91
Neal Sternecky 2/25/91 - 3/21/92
Peter Kelly 3/23/92 - 9/11/93
Michael Lewis 9/13/93 - 9/18/93
Peter Kelly 9/20/93 - 10/2/93
Sternecky reprints 10/4/93 - 11/27/93
What a shame that Doyle and Sternecky were haunted by the ghost of Walt Kelly. There was more than enough creative horsepower in this fine team to create a modern classic. But they were doomed from the start to live in the shadow of a master. Rather than castigate them for failing to fill the shoes of a giant perhaps we should better ask why they were foolish enough to take on the impossible task in the first place.
NOTE: although the paper that printed the samples above was giving credit to Doyle and Sternecky, the strip by this time was Sternecky's alone.
Ger - See Cole Johnson's comment -- I heard no end of this criticism when the series was running.
Cole - are you saying the strip was horrible or today's essay was horrible???
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
Obscurity of the Day: Nature Notes
Joseph Parrish's career began in Tennessee where he worked as editorial cartoonist for the Nashville Banner and then the Tennessean. In 1936 he was called up to the majors when he was offered a job at the Chicago Tribune. Parrish would provide conservative, somewould say reactionary political cartoons to that paper until the early 70s. One of the few cartoonists to proudly support Senator McCarthy's commie witchhunts of the 50s, his work in those years was popular with the political far right.
Parrish often had a place of honor on the front page of the Trib, where editorial cartoons were run in color -- one of the few papers ever to do that on a regular basis. On Mondays, though, Parrish eschewed politics and produced a panel called Nature Notes, a feature that offered factoids about the natural world. The Nature Notes panel debuted in January 1964.
Parrish retired from editorial cartooning in 1970 or '72 (sources disagree) but he continued to produce his weekly Nature Notes panel until August 22 1982. In the 70s the panel was moved from the Monday front page to the Sunday comics section.
Monday, December 08, 2008
Stripper's Guide Bookshelf - Alex Raymond: His Life and Art
Alex Raymond - His Life and Art
by Tom Roberts
Adventure House, 2007
312 pages, hardcover, 12.75" x 9.5", $49.95
The warning bells started going off not long after I opened this eagerly anticipated book. On page four the author tells us that the Buck Rogers strip was syndicated by NEA. Then a few pages later he tells us that When Mother Was a Girl was the topper to Blondie and that Dumb Dora was Chic Young's first syndicated strip. These errors aren't exactly earthshaking I suppose, but such details, all of which could have easily been fact-checked, don't speak well for the quality of the research that went into this book.
I soldiered on, though, and found that Tom Roberts is certainly an expert on all things Raymond. Only when his story has to touch on other creators and comics does his expertise take a serious fall. In fact Roberts is such a Raymond fanatic that his devotion to the subject ends up being the real source of the project's undoing. The book is chock full of rare Raymond artwork, but that material is presented in lieu of long loving looks at Flash Gordon, Secret Agent X-9 and Rip Kirby art, the sort of material that this reader presumed would be given more play in a Raymond bio. We do get some material from all those strips, of course, but the book is chock full of all manner of oddball Raymond work -- movie poster designs, pulp illustrations, ad campaigns, etc. It comes across as if the author is trying to impress us with the breadth of his Raymond collection which, don't get me wrong, is indeed astounding. The sense that the book was put together by a Raymond collecting wonk is highlighted when the author occasionally switches to first-person commentary explaining just how rare such-and-such an item is and how many eyeteeth collectors would gladly trade for it. Nowhere is that wonkish attitude more vividly apparent than with an utterly pointless two page sidebar detailing how an auction house approached the author to authenticate an unsigned painting as being the work of Raymond.
Some of Raymond's rare artwork could just as well have stayed under wraps, too. For instance, we get fourteen pages of art from the juvenile book Scuttle Watch, and another ten from an insurance ad campaign. In neither case did Raymond produce particularly distinguished work (at least by his lofty standard), so I would have much rather seen a few representative images from those venues and allotted some of that space for more of Raymond's best works. Roberts has the collector's myopia -- his devotion to Raymond leads him to focus more on minutiae than on what made Raymond famous.
And speaking of minutiae, a fifty page chapter detailing Raymond's service in World War II is enough to test the patience of even the most devoted reader. Raymond served on the U.S.S. Gilbert Islands, an aircraft carrier that I now know in such intimate detail that if I materialized on its deck I think I could find the mess hall blindfolded. I dutifully read the whole chapter, a feat few will or should attempt, and got treated to a detailing of that ship's activities that might be fine military history but goes ridiculously far afield from telling the story of Raymond's life. Here's a taste: "The Gilbert Islands was an escort carrier of the CVE 105 Commencement Bay class. With a displacement of 23,200 tons, she carried a 28-foot draft. Not as big as her sister carriers of the Essex class, the Commencement Bay class had a flight deck spanning 500 feet..." etc., etc., ad infinitum. Look, If I wanted an exhaustive history of the Gilbert Islands I'd buy one. Any competent editor would have slashed this chapter by 30 pages without losing anything of Raymond's story.
It's hard to imagine that a book so lovingly produced, about one of the greatest cartoonist/illustrators of the twentieth century, could fall so far short of what it could and should have been. And yet, even though the book is flawed in a whole variety of ways, I still have to give it a pass. Even a cocktail napkin doodle by Raymond is worth a look, and so a whole book chock full of his art, despite the questionable choices made in the selection, is a joy to behold. And since this is the most complete biography we're ever likely to have of the great penman it's a book that, flaws and all, deserves a place on any fan's bookshelf.
PS -- for those keeping score, Buck Rogers was syndicated by John Dille, When Mother Was a Girl was the topper of Dumb Dora, and Chic Young's first syndicated comic strip was The Affairs of Jane.
I worked for an eBay store in Alabama an actually witnessed this being auctioned. I believe it went for somewhere in the neighborhood of $12,000. Though at one point during the 7 day listing I would have given my right arm to own this framed strip. -Steve
Sunday, December 07, 2008
Jim Ivey's Sunday Comics
Jim Ivey's new book, Graphic Shorthand, is available from Lulu.com for $19.95 plus shipping, or you can order direct from Ivey for $25 postpaid. Jim Ivey teaches the fundamentals of cartooning in his own inimitable style. The book is 128 pages, coil-bound. Send your order to:
5840 Dahlia Dr. #7
Orlando FL 32807
Also still available, Jim Ivey's career retrospective Cartoons I Liked, available on Lulu.com or direct from Jim Ivey for $20 postpaid. When ordered from Ivey direct, either book will include an original Ivey sketch.
Labels: Jim Ivey's Sunday Comics