Saturday, January 16, 2010

 

Herriman Saturday

Thursday, October 10 1907 -- With the lone exception above, Herriman was frozen out of doing cartoons about the World Series. The Examiner used Tad's sports cartoons from New York to cover the event.

Herriman's cartoon memorializes the second game of the series. The first game ended in a tie (the first World Series game to end thus, and one of only two ever), but in the second game Chicago's reckless running game and superb pitching had the Tigers stymied. During the rest of the Series the Tigers never scored more than one run per game, while Chicago scored almost at will. Even the Tigers' young batting champion, Ty Cobb, could only eke out an anemic .200 average in the series and had not a single RBI or stolen base. In fact the only standout for the Tigers was a fellow named Claude Rossman who batted .400 and accounted for two out of a total of just six RBIs for the Tigers. Rossman, however, only played four full seasons in the majors.

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I notice a sign that says "chop suey" in the street scene at the left. I know that's an American rather than a Chinese dish. I didn't know it existed all the way back in 1907. For some reason, I thought it was a post-WWII product.
 
Isn't that the last year the Cubs ever won a World Series?
 
Chop Suey is first mentioned in an American publication as early as 1888. There is also evidence that the actually originated in China's Guangdong province and was only "refined" in the USA.

And yes, 1907 was indeed the last time Cubs took the Series.
 
No, the Cubs won back-to-back series in 1907 and 1908. Only then did the drought begin.

And chop suey, from what I recall, was 'invented' during the California gold rush in the 1850s. The Chinese cooks would throw whatever they could get hold of into a pot and the prospectors took to calling it chop suey. I have no cite on this, but I know I've read about it in several different histories.

--Allan
 
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Friday, January 15, 2010

 

Strip Teasers: Capsule Book Reviews

An Anthology of Captain and the Kids Comics
Published by CreateSpace
10 x 8 softcover, 50 pages, $14.99
ISBN 978-1449571504

If you troll about on Amazon looking for new strip reprint books you will have noticed in the last few months a burgeoning crop of titles from something called CreateSpace, a print on demand service.

Books published so far include collections of The Captain and the Kids, Bringing Up Father, Krazy Kat, Barney Google and several others. I was a bit leery of these publications just based on the Amazon listings -- the covers are black and white and amateurish in design. The descriptions, usually only a single sentence, also don't bode well. For instance, the description for the reviewed volume begins "An anthology of Captain and the Kids, later named the Katzenjammer Kids ..." So our anonymous editors aren't exactly comics scholars by any stretch.

However, incurable optimist that I am, my curiosity was piqued enough to go ahead and order one volume. I chose this one for no particular reason. Now I can report that the contents are very well-matched to the slapdash cover. What lurks inside are fifty Captain and the Kids Sundays, all either reproduced from microfilm photocopies, or, more likely, from the ProQuest online service.

Reproduction is exactly what you expect from microfilm photocopies. Acres and acres of muddy grey replaces all the color, film scratches mar many pages, and that curious dot-haze that characterizes laser-printed greyscale is spread like an algae bloom over everything. In the spirit of trying to say something nice, I do have to admit that the lettering is surprisingly legible. It's small enough that I need my reading glasses, but you can't expect anything more given the size of the book. There seems to have been absolutely no effort whatsoever made to clean up or restore the images.

Needless to say, I won't be purchasing any additional volumes in this series, and unless you are willing to shell out $15 for a stack of third-rate photocopies I recommend you take a pass, too.

A side note -- there's no editorial matter in this book, no credits and no copyright. Since some of the books in this series would appear to flout, at the very least, trademark laws, and possibly in some cases copyright laws, that's to be expected. However, is the presence of these books on Amazon for months now an indication that the syndicates have completely given up trying to uphold their rights to these characters? Are we now all free to publish old strips at will with no legal consequences? You would think with the state of the newspaper industry that syndicates would be enforcing their rights more jealously than ever, given that their current profit center is eroding away beneath them. In the very near future, character licensing may be the only thing that keeps these companies going. Are they waving the white flag?



Comics Revue #281/282 (October 2009)
Published by Manuscript Press
8" x 10.5" softcover, 128 pages $16.00

Whether you like Comics Revue or not, you've got to admire Rick Norwood for plowing forward with the magazine all these years. I can't imagine all the travails he's gone through with this publication, and despite further recent setbacks he just keeps on marching.

Recently, if I've got the story right, Norwood was threatened with losing his comic book store distribution due to low sales. The easy response probably would have been to thank the distributor for giving him an excuse to put the thing to rest. But not Norwood -- this glutton for punishment figured out that he could perhaps squeak by on the requirements if he reduced the magazine to bimonthly and doubled its size (hence the paired issue numbering).

I don't subscribe to Comics Revue because a great deal of the material reprinted in the magazine is just not my cup of tea. However, I received a review copy recently and so I'll put in my two cents.

The line-up in these new double-sized issues is vast -- featured in this one are Flash Gordon, Rick O'Shay, Buz Sawyer, Tarzan, The Phantom, Mandrake, Secret Agent Corrigan, Little Orphan Annie, Gasoline Alley, Steve Canyon, Alley Oop, Krazy Kat and Modesty Blaise. If your taste is for adventure strips then you've got quite a menu to choose from.

Now I make it no secret that when it comes to adventure strips my bar is sky high. Let's put it this way -- I think Caniff's Terry and the Pirates was over-written, and that the introduction of Captain Easy ruined the great Wash Tubbs strip. Given that, you can feel free to ignore my comments on this material, which in my estimation falls miles short of either of those strips.

The first problem I see with Comics Revue is that much of the material is from the 1950s to 1970s. If there was ever any doubt that the heyday of the adventure strip was over by the end of the 1930s, this magazine provides such definitive proof that I half-expected the final page to end with quod erat demonstrandum. The marquee item in this issue, a Flash Gordon story from 1960 written by the great SF novelist Harry Harrison, is just pathetic. The plot is nonsensical, the pacing is awful, the dialogue trite and characters are flat. If Harrison spent more than a few hours cooking up the whole story I'd be surprised.

Things don't improve thereafter. One bright spot is a cute little Buz Sawyer story, but it isn't complete in the issue. The delightful Alley Oop entry from 1938 goes by too quickly with just three weeks of dailies. Caniff's Steve Canyon was embroiled in an anti-feminist storyline that was embarrassing in its patronizing attitudes. Modesty Blaise had art so bad I couldn't bring myself to read it. Rick O'Shay, never a favorite of mine but usually a pleasant enough read, shows up with a surprisingly weak story that can't even seem to keep its facts consistent from day to day, a sign that the cartoonist disdains his readers and just plain doesn't care what he produces.

I assume Norwood is catering to completists here, those folks who are so in love with a character that they just have to read every strip in their favorite series no matter how bad it got in later years. Surely this can be the only explanation for printing some of this tripe. Where he's missing the boat, I humbly suggest, is that interspersed among these "for completist only" features he should print better material that might appeal to a general audience.

Reproduction is far from ideal on some of the features. While many are crisp and fresh-looking, others are washed out (Little Orphan Annie to a particularly bad degree) and some look like they were reproduced from pretty bad source material (Rick O'Shay and Mandrake).

The worst reproduction problem is on the color pages. The magazine's format is really too small to do justice to Sunday strips (which are often printed two to a page to add insult to injury), and the muddy, blotchy color full of moire patterns certainly doesn't help any. And frankly, there are so few color pages that I really don't see the point anyway. We get four Flash Gordon Sundays, four Tarzans, and a like amount of a few others. I can't imagine anyone buying the magazine specifically because of the color strips, yet I assume they cost an arm and a leg to print, explaining the magazine's lofty price. My advice would be to dump the color and slash the price of the magazine.

I'm sorry to say that this issue of Comics Revue did nothing to inspire me to subscribe. And I truly am disappointed because I take supporting efforts like this seriously as a part of being a good comic strip fan. I love the idea of a magazine that reproduces old comic strips, but there's just so darn little here that I want to read. If you are a big adventure strip fan, though, it could be worth your while to try it out. Me, I'll gladly take another look if the type of material changes -- and here's a few suggestions for adventure strips that would perk up my interest -- Barney Baxter, Oaky Doaks, Adventures of Patsy, The Red Knight, Dickie Dare, The Shadow, Roy Powers, Connie, Miss Fury, Bronc Peeler.

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Wow, Allan, must be extremely hard to please. Your review of the new Comics Revue makes it sound worse than the CreateSpace stuff, and I want to assure your readers that it's not. I think your surprising (at least to me) comments about Terry and the Pirates says a lot about where you are in terms of comic strips, and said view is one I'm sure most of your readers don't share. And unlike you suggest, the adventure strip was just getting off to a good start in the 1930s, not ending.

I'm also sure the Comics Revue line-up is far more of interest to both the serious and mainstream comic strip fan than the strips you mention as those that would perk up your interest (did you mean "pique" your interest?). With the exception of Oaky Doaks and Connie in their heyday, you're talking about unremarkable, throwaway stuff at best! As for source material, I would think you especially would understand, with all of the research you've done, that the availability of good source material to complete a story can sometimes be lacking. And how come when you refer to us Comics Revue readers as completists, it seems to be said with a sneer? As exhaustive as your Stripper's Guide research has been, it would seem as though you are the epitome of a completist, and wouldn't look down on the rest of us for being so.

One bar that I have that's sky-high is one that you have created for me, and that's the high quality of content I've come to expect from your Stripper's Guide blog. This review of Comics Review Presents (as it's now titled) goes so far in the other direction that it's hard for me to believe it comes from the same fair-minded, comic strip supporting author. Your description of the magazine, its content, its editors, its publisher, and its readers is so uncomplimentary, I can't help but wonder if Rick Norwood pushed you down on the playground when you were in elementary school and you never forgave him.

I'd like to add that with its second issue released in December, Comics Revue Presents uses a better cover stock as well as a gloss-finished paper that improves the quality of the Flash Gordon, Phantom, Mandrake, and Tarzan Sunday reprints. Production of the other strips is better overall in the second issue as well.
 
I AM a big adventure strip fan, so this pub is much more to my taste. I too would love to see Barney Baxter and Roy Powers, but getting the rights to reprint is often a pain, and getting good souirce material is also tough. Still, I'd take even poor repros, rather than none.

I have high respect for both you and Rick, but I think you owe him a email of thanks and a follow-up review.
 
Boy, do I ever agree with you about Captain Easy. Wash Tubbs made an excellent adventure character in his own right.
 
I couldn't agree with you more about that magazine. I want to love it, but it just focuses on too much mundane stuff. GreAt blog!
 
Every time I look at a copy of Comic Revue I put it back on the shelf again. Why?
The reproduction is simply awful. Even when they seem to have good source material they print it in what looks like grayscale.
(And I can tell you that reprinted properly Neville Colvin's version of Modesty Blaise looks just gorgeous. In CR it looks like crap.)

For me it seems rather pointless producing a magazine for hardcore comic strip reprint fans, when done without a single thought about reproduction.
 
Rather than Quod Erat Demonstratum, how about De Gustibus Non Disputandum.

But when you attempt to read my mind, you go too far. Not only do you try to read my mind, you profess to read Stan Lynde's mind, too. You're wrong in both cases.

I pick the very best strips I can get, and I get the best reproduction I can from the material I have, most of it from my own collection. Of course I wish syndicate proofs were available, but the syndicates threw away most of their proofs, and the proofs they do have (the Buz Sawyer you liked for example) require a lot of touch-up work. Anyway, I'm glad you enjoyed the Alley Oop.

Best,
Rick Norwood
 
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Thursday, January 14, 2010

 

News of Yore 1925: McManus Receives Extravagant Gift



What Jiggs and Maggie Did for George


Quaint Characters Aroused Enthusiasm of Persian Art Connoisseur to Such a Pitch That He Had Made a Beautiful Rug as Gift for Creator of "Bringing Up Father"

(from Circulation, February 1925)
Not least of the advantages of creating a newspaper feature which achieves world circulation is that princes and potentates in remote parts of the world find out about you—and that now and then one of them signifies his estimate of your work in truly princely fashion.

Among the Yule-tide gifts to reach George McManus, creator of "Bringing Up Father," was a silk rug of gorgeous color and texture sent by Ahmad Khan of Persia, a famous art connoisseur and collector who is the most ardent Jiggs and Maggie fan east of Suez.

The rug is a reproduction of a cover drawn for Circulation of February, 1922, and is one of the most unusual specimens of rug weaving ever made in the Orient. It is of silk, about six feet long by five wide, and was woven at the order of Ahmad Khan by the celebrated Abdul Hamid Keshany whose looms have for thirty years produced the famous Kazan-sha silk rugs which are the envv of collectors of modern Persian rugs in every country.

The Jiggs and Maggie rug was sent to Mr. McManus in token of a friendship between him and its donor which had its origin six years ago through a fugitive copy of the China Press of Shanghai which found its way to Teheran, Persia. The China Press is one of the newspapers of the Far East which has published "Bringing Up Father" for a number of years.

Ahmad Khan saw the newspaper and immediately became enthusiastic. He wrote Mr. McManus a letter, care of the China Press, praising the wit and art of the cartoon and expressing the hope that he and the artist might meet some time. The letter was the beginning of a correspondence which has since ripened into warm friendship.

Ahmad Khan was educated at Oxford and visits London and Paris every few years. In the summer of l922 he and Mr. McManus met in Paris, and Mr. McManus gave him several of his original drawings, among them the panel in colors of which the rug is a reproduction.

Experts who have seen the rug pronounce it a specimen of the highest art known anywhere in rug making today. It is in what is called the 30 x 33 stitch, or a hand weave which requires the tying of 990 knots to the square inch. Two years of continuous work by the most expert weavers have been required for its making. Mr. McManus has been assured that its dyes will hold their colors for centuries and that, if he chooses, he may expose it to the strongest sun-light indefinitely without damaging its unrivalled colors or impairing its changeless lustre.

The picture design of the rug shows Maggie in court dress with a long crimson train, walking in majesty up a flight of steps leading to the garden of a palace. Two girl pages hold her train while Jiggs stands aside in old flannel shirt and trousers gazing in amazement at her entry into the precincts of privilege. The background of the picture is a reflection of the fine taste and knowledge of Mrs. McManus, for it was she who suggested to her husband the scheme of castle, hill, and forest which make up its composition.

In the course of their world travels Mr. and Mrs. McManus have been given many rare art objects by friends in many countries. But of all their trophies, though all are rare and beautiful, none quite measures up in magnificence and personal significance with the resplendent Jiggs and Maggie rug from Keshan in distant Persia.

Nt the least part of Mr. McManus's delight in his gift was occasioned by the complete surprise incident to its arrival; for in all the two years it was on the looms its giver never mentioned it, although he wrote from Persia everv month.

Allan's Note: I recall that this incredible rug came up for sale at a comic memorabilia auction back in the 80s or 90s. Being a McManus enthusiast I naturally coveted it, but the price was well beyond my means. Anyone know its current whereabouts? Not that I can afford it now, either...
I do actually have in my collection Jiggs and Maggie represented in rug form, but that's a story for another day.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

 

Obscurity of the Day: Bonzo












George E. Studdy was a successful British cartoonist whose career began in the first years of the 20th century. His work appeared regularly in high-profile venues like The Sketch and The Tatler long before he created his signature character, a dog named Bonzo. In the 1910s some of his cartoons featured an unnamed dog character, and this pooch caught the eye of The Sketch's editor. The editor suggested that George further develop the dog as the star of a regular series, and a phenomenon was in the offing. Although the series began in 1921, the dog didn't even have a name until late in 1922, when the "Studdy dog" was finally dubbed Bonzo.

Bonzo was heavily merchandised in England and there are still collectors today searching out the innumerable Bonzo postcards, salt and pepper shakers and all sorts of other gewgaws emblazoned with his image. A wonderful website, Bonzo and George Studdy, from which many facts in this post were cribbed, does a great job of covering Studdy's career, Bonzo's print appearances and the merchandising. I highly recommend you go take a promenade through its pages.

Practically before the ink had dried on the first 'official' Bonzo cartoons (that is, the ones in which the dog is actually named) Studdy's character invaded U.S. shores under the command of the Hearst organization. The American Weekly, Hearst's Sunday magazine supplement, began to sporadically feature Bonzo on its covers under the running title A Dog's Life. The first cover so graced was dated December 17 1922. At first the covers were merely reproductions, perhaps slightly reworked, of Studdy's pages for The Sketch. However, in 1926 the artist began supplying original pages for the American Weekly, and these, rather than giant panel cartoons as previously, were now often multi-panel affairs. While not comic strips in the sense of having panels and borders and such, they told stories using a series of artfully placed vignettes and text blocks.

The last A Dog's Life magazine cover appeared on August 14 1932, and according to the aforementioned website, had made about 115 cover appearances in that decade-long run. I'll probably regret butting heads with the experts on this, but I'm going to say that the estimate seems high to me -- there were many other series appearing on those American Weekly covers in the 1920s and I have trouble believing that roughly one out of every five covers featured Bonzo. So few appeared in the middle 1920s that I didn't even recognize that it was one long series until seeing the evidence presented on that website. In the (gulp) published version of my book you'll see A Dog's Life split into two discrete series, so get ready to take a red pen to your copy.

I said everything above only as preamble. Now we finally get to our actual official obscurity of the day, which is the U.S. comic strip version of Bonzo. Although the Studdy collectors are aware of the American Weekly appearances, they seem to be in the dark about this second series (at least it isn't mentioned anywhere on the web that I could find). Starting on May 13 1929, Hearst's King Features Syndicate began distribution of a daily comic strip version of Bonzo. The series was pretty spectacularly unsuccessful here in the U.S. -- very, very few newspapers signed on for it. I can only assume that King Features was having better luck selling the strip abroad because by rights a strip that appeared in so few places shouldn't have run as long as it did. Either that or the folks in charge at King looked at the success of the character in Britain and just assumed that eventually it would catch on here if they just gave it time.

Giving it time certainly didn't do the trick. Neither did adding a conventional Sunday version of the strip. The Sunday Bonzo is, if possible, even rarer than the daily version. It seems to have first been offered in 1932 (probably soon after the end of the American Weekly series), but the only examples I've seen are from 1933.

The daily Bonzo strip finally got the hook on May 6 1933, and presumably the Sunday accompanied it about that time.

Why didn't Bonzo catch on in the U.S. like it did in England? Maybe Studdy didn't put the same care into his U.S. offering that characterized his English material. Maybe American's don't have the affinity for bulldogs that the Brits do. Maybe Studdy wasn't comfortable with the daily strip format. The easy explanation with any imported strip is that the humor was 'too British' -- yet Studdy seemed to do a good job of playing to his American audience (the occasional bagpipe gag notwithstanding).

My guess? That dog was just too darn ugly.

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Also Bonzo was the star of an animated cartoon series in the silent era. He was the inspiration for the 60's British rock group the "Bonzo Dog Dooh Dah band".
 
Hello, Allan---It's amazing how poorly Bonzo fared. The character had a wonderful running srart. Studdy was a talented cartoonist, and produced a reliably funny and clever feature. Bonzo's popularity spilled over to all kinds of advertising and merchandise, the aforementioned cartoon series, toys, etc. He was, indeed, the "British Felix". However, in America, Bonzo made a feeble showing. Was it because we were not likely to embrace anything foreign? It's odd that all the examples shown I took from the British-hating Hearst's Chicago papers-the dailies from the Herald-Examiner, and the Sunday from the Saturday American. Without the "big time" of a U.S. audience behind him, Bonzo just drifted into obscurity, appearing in odd venues like post cards, generally becoming just "famous for being famous". ------Cole Johnson.
 
Hi,
Fascinating information! I collect antique postcards with themes. Over the years,I have collected many great "BONZO" cards and continue to look for them to add to my collection. They are very popular and always go quickly on the postcard sites that i deal with. I Love the little guy!
Right now, I am looking to buy a book by Mr. Studdy.
Thanks for the interesting facts about the author and the cute, little guy!
 
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Monday, January 11, 2010

 

News of Yore 1925: Fay King's Recipe for Success -- Pretty Girls and Eating Onions



Oh, Such a Soft Heart Has Fay King!

Not a Bit "Hard Boiled" Is the Creator of "Girls Will Be Girls," for She Will Not Draw an Ugly Girl—So There!
By Fay King
(reproduced from Circulation, February 1925)

(Illustrated by the Author—or Should the Editor Say, Illustrations Annotated by the Artist?)

No doubt all of us have secret ambitions though we may never voice them or reach them.
I had a secret ambition, but I voiced it and have reached it!

I am doing a comic strip!

Many is the time I sat at my desk turning out my regular daily story and little cartoon, looking with longing and envy at the favored folks who do "the funnies."

What must be their joy working each day in those little squares, following the career of the creatures they have created—imaginary folks that have become very real to everyone!
Surely work like that must be fun!

Well, since starting my own strip, which I call "Girls Will Be Girls," I have found the fun is work all right— but I do enjoy doing it!

Being a girl, I decided that girl topics would be more in my line, and that my strip should have lots of girls, and all kinds of girls, and deal with the ambitions, loves, hopes, disappointments, harmless deceits, and daily changing fashions so dear to the heart of every girl, no matter how young or old she may be!

Working girls, society girls, lazy girls, busy girls, and girls of every variety and walk of life I hope to introduce along with their problems, and I think it is going to be great fun!

Blondes, brunettes, bobbed hair and long, tall girls and short girls, fat girls and lean girls—but all PRETTY girls!

My girls are all pretty, because I have not the heart to make them otherwise when a turn of my pen can make their destiny!

They are good dressers and popular!

Their beaux are all nice looking, too; because even if a man is short, or fat, or bald he can be attractive!

This is truly a day in which "girls will be girls" much as we once said "boys will be boys."
I have long harbored the thought that a strip about Girls done by a Girl might be made quite interesting, and that's why I am so interested in doing "Girls Will Be Girls."

[Note from Allan -- Fay King's Girls Will Be Girls ran in Hearst's tabloid New York Mirror -- if there was a syndication attempt it was a failure. According to Jeffrey Lindenblatt the strip ran there from June 24 1924 to March 19 1925 -- in other words it was canceled only a month after this breathlessly positive article ran in Circulation.]

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I'm ignorant about Fay King, and when I Googled her the internet seemed largely ignorant as well. The art example on Lambiek looks much nicer than these.

I'm most taken by the autobiographical spin they say her strips took. This is a very contemporary idea, I don't know about much "indy comics" stuff happening in the 20s.

But the article sounds positively fannish
 
Hi Smurf --
Fay King gets little coverage mainly because her work straddles two genres. Her cartoon-illustrated column, which she did for many years, was no great work of literature, nor were her cartoons much better than amateur work. However, the combination of the two had an undeniable charm. Her prose was always breathless, like the above, but she was so personable in her writings that I'm sure folks of the day felt a kinship to her. She was also very up front about her personal life. She certainly kept no secrets about her stormy and at times violent relationship with Battling Nelson for instance. That sort of thing certainly kept the housewives fascinated when they sat down to read the Mirror.

--Allan
 
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Sunday, January 10, 2010

 

Jim Ivey's Sunday Comics

Just to clarify, Jim is looking for you to choose your answer for each cartoonist based on what ultimately became their signature genre. Many of these cartoonists worked in all three genres, of course -- kind of the point of the puzzle.
~~~~~~~~~~~

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:

Jim Ivey
5840 Dahlia Dr. #7
Orlando FL 32807

When ordered direct, either book will include an original Ivey sketch.

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