Friday, October 09, 2009
Obscurity of the Day: The Beelzebub Boys and Uncle Tom
The Beelzebub Boys and Uncle Tom ran from June 22 to August 10 1902 in the Philadelphia North American. A quick glance reveals it to be yet another Katzies wanna-be, but look at that first example above. This sort of playing with the form was a rarity in the early days, and this one is masterfully done -- a minor classic. Also notice that the cartoonist played with the form in a subtle way, too. All the lettering in the word balloons is slightly bulged out, as if these were actual balloons hanging in the air. Delightful!
What a shame that the cartoonist who produced this excellent, and occasionally extraordinary, series chose to hide his identity behind the pseudonym "Bow Wow". Could it be Art Bowen perhaps?
Thanks to Cole Johnson for the scans!
Wednesday, October 07, 2009
Obscurity of the Day: Bringing Up Baby
Here's a rather bizarre item from the crumbly depths of Cole Johnson's collection. Bringing Up Baby illustrates odd behavioral tics of babies, supposedly submitted by readers. The panels seem to read like the start of an advice column, where someone tells momma how to deal with the problem -- except there's no column; this is it. Is a baby who can't roll off his back supposed to be funny? Heck, I'd be thinking rickets. As if having a baby that looks like Nikita Krushchev isn't bad enough...
The feature was, I guess, self-syndicated by this R.G. Miller fellow who appears on the copyright slug. And apparently Miller needed to farm out the art to a "professional" who very wisely goes only by his initials, "J.W.", when he bothers to sign at all.
Believe it or not, this feature did actually appear in a few papers and not just in a farm weekly owned by some doting relative of Mr. Miller. My running dates, January 30 1922 to August 12 1922, are based on the run in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Tuesday, October 06, 2009
News of Yore 1950: Rube Rides Again
New Goldberg Machines Tie In With News
By Jane McMaster (E&P 7/22/50)
One day nearly half a century ago, mining engineering students at the University of California
had the privilege of viewing the operation of a barodik—a complicated machine for weighing the earth. And looking on glumly was Student Reuben Lucius Goldberg of San Francisco, who didn't take as he should to test tubes, density of air, chemical combustion. He was in private revolt against the marvelous apparatus. "I kept thinking, "hell, I don't care how much the earth weighs,'" he recalls.
But some years later, Rube Goldberg was cashing in on hypothetical barodiks and his own personal observation that most people seem to do things the hard way. As syndicated cartoonist with the New York Evening Mail and later the Journal, he drew machines that would perform in amazingly complicated ways such simple feats as cleaning a straw hat or pulling a cork out of a bottle. The mythical inventor was Professor Lucifer Gorganzola Butts.
His machine production, despite the popularity, came to a virtual standstill—except in ads—about 15 years ago and Mr. Goldberg had meanwhile moved into other fields: he was comic strip cartoonist of the highly popular "Boob McNutt" before 1934 when he quit cartooning for magazine writing. In 1938 he became editorial cartoonist—the more serious part of the trade—for the New York Sun and won a Pulitzer Prize in 1948.
But the name "Rube Goldberg" has remained synonymous with funny looking gadgets. And on July 15, the cartoon burlesquer of the machine age was back. Hearst Newspapers in New York, Chicago .and Los Angeles began a new weekly feature: "Rube Goldberg Views the News for His Latest Invention." Readers saw a revolving disc with a mechanical arm able to set off a rocket which hit a dice box. And a pulley arrangement managed to fix it so a poor old taxpayer lost his shirt.
It was Rube Goldberg, all right, with a wild type of humor based on incongruity (and, he insists, cold logic). But it wasn't a mere revival of an old favorite. Professor L. G. Butts was out, and peopling the six-column cartoon instead were leaders in the news. (From piano-playing Truman to Joe DiMaggio). The feature, through Goldberg ropes and levers and pulleys, tied the news together in a way to make readers' eyes pop.
The new weekly feature resulted from, among other things, the sale of the New York Sun to the New York World Telegram early this year. At that time Mr. Goldberg accepted a three-a-week political cartooning post with the New York Journal-American and King Features (down from his five-a-week for the Sun and BELL). It was agreed then that he'd get up a feature too. Its format was later suggested by William R. Hearst, Jr., Journal-American publisher, when Mr. Goldberg objected to a straight revival of his old-timer. The new element of basing it on current news topics and non-partisan politics puts it in the class of something created— not a mere repeater, the cartoonist points out.
That tenet of the 67-year-old cartoonist seems to go all the way back to his childhood. A brother was the accepted comedian in the family circle but "while they were laughing at so-called funny jokes and songs, I was finding a face I thought was funny in its own right. I wanted to create something original instead of just retelling. . . ."
Later, a one-man rebellion against the commonplace brought cheers from newspaper readers. Working late once at the Mail to fill his entire allotted page ("You don't have the stage now you had then," he says) he encountered an associate who asked, "You still here?" Rube replied without hesitation: "No, I'm up in a balloon shoeing a horse."
He converted the incident into a panel, titled "Foolish Question" to help fill up the lower half of the page (his sports cartoon took up half the page). "The public happened to be ready for that," says Mr. Goldberg, who firmly believes "You must come along at a time when the trend is in your direction." (Another of the "Foolish Question" series: "Did you hurt yourself?" put to a man who had just fallen out of the Flatiron Bldg.).
Mr. Goldberg has kindly crinkles around his eyes; two sons who use a different last name so they won't be trading on their father's fame; and great enthusiasm for the new feature. While humor within bounds is possible for editorial cartooning, he'll have range for a broader type in the "inventions."
And on a second level, some may find his zany correlation of the news representative of the state of the union. "People are sort of balled up in their minds," observes Mr. Goldberg. "We don't know what it's all about but we know we're in it up to our necks." Another trend may be in Mr. Goldberg's direction.
Labels: News of Yore
Monday, October 05, 2009
Obscurity of the Day: Deems
The Al Smith Service was a small syndicate that produced material for weekly papers. Smith, better known for his many years of work on Mutt & Jeff, ran the company as a sideline. He got into the syndicate business in 1951 and managed to keep it going after practically all the other weekly syndicates had long ago bit the dust.
Syndicates that produced material for weekly newspapers were never a particularly lucrative business. Small papers paid small rates, often under $10 per week for a whole menu of features. Worse yet, the weeklies had a well-deserved reputation for not even paying those small bills, so syndicate owners were just as busy in collections as producing material.
Al Smith offered an entire weekly page of material, including upwards of a half-dozen comic strips. At rates of $5-10 per client you can imagine how even with a large subscriber base the contributors were paid a pittance. Smith, however, managed to put together a stable of excellent cartoonists that made the offerings of other weekly services look pretty dismal.
One of those fine features was Deems by Tom Okamoto, a Japanese-American cartoonist who went by the name Tom Oka on this strip. Okamoto was an animator with Disney before World War II, then was put into a relocation camp for the duration. I don't know if he continued in animation after the war, but I presume he did (animation buffs, a little help?).
Okamoto opted to do the strip in pantomime, a genre that most cartoonists consider the hardest type of feature to produce on an ongoing basis. Okamoto, though, seemed to have a wonderful knack for it. His pantomime gags rarely seem stale or trite, and he came across with a lot of real winners (I particularly like the last sample above where he adds a delightful twist to the old 'painted into a corner' gag).
How hard is pantomime? Jim Ivey once told me that he had a long-standing order from a well-known cartoonist responsible for such a feature. He begged Jim to gather every pantomime strips he could find, no matter what feature or what subject, and send everything to him with bills for whatever he felt was fair. The cartoonist was that desperate for pantomime gags that he could mine for his feature.
Anyhow, back to Deems. The strip was a charter member of Al Smith's syndicated weekly page in 1951 (and after all these years I'm still trying to determine the exact start date of the offering). Deems was such a standout that Smith also tried to sell it as a daily, something he very rarely tried. The daily offering went on until 1955, but I've only found one paper that ran it daily, the Pasadena Independent, and then apparently only for a short stretch in 1952.
Deems was a part of the Al Smith weekly offering until 1980, a run of thirty years. Quite a few of Smith's strips were in re-runs by the 1970s, and I don't know if Okamoto's strip was one of those. However, if Okamoto did actually produce the strip for daily frequency from 1951-55, the backlog for the weekly would have been enough to keep it going with new material even if Okamoto never put pen to Bristol board again after that year.
"Soon to make its bow in newspapers across the nation is a new cartoon strip by a 39-year-old El Monte artist, Tom Okamoto.
The strip was deemed best of 480 ideas submitted during a recent contest sponsored by United Features Syndicate. UF liked the series so well it rewarded Tom with a$5000 cash prize and signed the artist to a five-year contract. Tom says he'll use the money to build a house on a lot which he already owns in Pasadena.
A former Disney artist, Tom now free-lances as an advertising designer in Los Angeles. He's married and has two sons.
The strip idea has to do with American Indians, whom he got to know during his service with the Army.
Thanks for the info, I guess Okamoto didn't go back into animation.
By the way, the strip referred to in your quote is "Little Brave".
Sunday, October 04, 2009
Jim Ivey's Sunday Comics
Two books by Jim Ivey are available at Lulu.com or direct from the author:
Graphic Shorthand: Jim Ivey teaches the fundamentals of cartooning in his own inimitable style. 128 pages, coil-bound. Lulu $19.95 plus shipping, direct $25 postpaid.
Cartoons I Liked,Jim Ivey's career retrospective; he picks his own favorite cartoons from a 40-year editorial cartooning career. Lulu $11.95, direct $20 postpaid.
Send your order to:
5840 Dahlia Dr. #7
Orlando FL 32807
When ordered direct, either book will include an original Ivey sketch.
Labels: Jim Ivey's Sunday Comics