Monday, November 30, 2009
Obscurity of the Day: Alexander
The George Herriman cat strip trilogy is bookended by Zoo Zoo and Krazy Kat, and today's obscurity, Alexander, occupies the middle position. The first two really have little in common with the third -- they live in worlds much farther apart than the one-letter difference between cat and kat might imply.
In fact Alexander is almost identical in plot and characters to the earlier Zoo Zoo, the big difference really only in the venue. While Zoo Zoo is an obscurity of the first order, running for less than two weeks in the Los Angeles Examiner of December 1906, Alexander was the headliner strip for World Color Printing's Sunday section in late 1909. Herriman had contributed to the WCP section on and off since 1904, but had been mostly absent from their pages since he got his gig at the Examiner.
During his three years at Hearst's LA Examiner, a minor paper in the chain, he seems to have been trying diligently to worm his way back into the bigtime of syndication. The Hearst organization occasionally took something but for the most part he was being ignored. His latest effort, Alexander, would likely have been submitted to Hearst, but apparently drew no interest. Intent on getting some national exposure again he sent it off to World Color Printing in St. Louis. WCP, always on the verge of not having enough material to fill its weekly four pages, would have been delighted to get a new submission from Herriman. His strips for WCP in 1904-1906 (like Major Ozone, Bud Smith and others) had been some of their most popular headliners, and most had been continued by lesser hands after Herriman stopped submitting them.
Herriman was probably at least a little depressed to be going back to his old haunts at WCP. His career seemed to be going nowhere fast. What he wouldn't have known at the time is that 1909 would end on a major up-note.
Alexander first appeared in the World Color Printing section on November 7 1909, which means he had probably submitted the material in August or earlier. However, it was in this same period that New York finally took notice, accepting and syndicating his new weekday strip, Baron Mooch. Earlier in the year they had taken the weekday strip Mary's Home From College, but had used it sparingly. Baron Mooch, on the other hand, seems to have awakened a serious interest in the California cartoonist and he finally succeeded in staking out a regular position in the pages of the Hearst papers nationwide.
Herriman's spiking career arc meant that Alexander would be quickly wiped from his radar. The strip ran in the World Color Printing section under his signature only until January 9 1910, a total of ten strips. While this seems like a lot of Sunday pages to be in Herriman's original submission, perhaps WCP had placed an order for that amount earlier in the year. In any case, that was it for Herriman's stint with his second cat star.
World Color must have cursed their bad luck at having recaptured one of their old star cartoonists only to have him spirited away again, so they responded as they had in earlier days. Believing that Herriman had the Midas touch, they continued the strip. First to take over was "Bart" (a credit that pops up in World Color sections fairly regularly in the 1900s, but who has not been definitely identified except that it is definitely not Charles Bartholomew, and it is most likely not Donald Bartholomew), who drew the strip from February 6 to March 6 1910, and then WCP stalwart Clarence Rigby took over, continuing the strip from March 13 1910 until April 2 1911.
Thanks to Cole Johnson for the lovely samples above. The Mobile Register evidently bought the strips in black and white format, which affords us a good look at Herriman's linework.
I loved seeing these "Alexander" pages. I guess you've been busy on your new book lately, I've missed your posts. Thanks again for the link to my website.