Saturday, May 22, 2010

 

Herriman Saturday

Tuesday, November 12 1907 -- Angels manager Hen Berry returns from another trip east, this time hauling in a few good prospects for next season.

The really interesting part of this cartoon, though, is the gentleman shaking Berry's hand in the middle vignette. Am I crazy or is this fellow the very image of another character who will be making his debut a mere three days hence up the coast a bit in Frisco?

Thursday, November 14 1907 -- A sports fan writes to the Examiner asking whether one of his heroes would make a good President. Herriman himself takes the question to boxing legend James Jeffries who expounds on the wisdom of that fan. Jeffries feels that the qualities that make for a star in sports are also appropriate for the Commander in Chief. I'm sure Jesse Ventura would heartily agree.

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Friday, May 21, 2010

 

Obscurity of the Day: Jed Cooper, American Scout

Alright, I'm just going to have to admit it. I can't figure out if Rick Fletcher and Richard/Dick Fletcher are the same guy. They both worked at the Chicago Tribune, they both worked on historical strips in the 50s (the former on The Old Glory Story) and I can't find any bio material on either that sets me straight. Can anyone help?

In any case, today's obscurity is Jed Cooper, American Scout by writer Lloyd Wendt and artist Dick Fletcher. You'll find an article describing the strip and the creators in this News of Yore posting. Eye-pleasing Frank Robbins-esque art on the strip belied a pretty humdrum Colonial-era story of adventuring. The strip was hobbled by running as a third-page Sunday-only feature, so the story moved along at a very slow pace.

Jed Cooper was just one of a pretty long list of ChiTrib adventure strips of the 40s and 50s that just never seemed to be able to attract a newspaper clientele. Nevertheless, the Trib and partner NY Daily News kept some of these strips going for years despite the lack of interest. This one made it over a decade, starting on November 13 1949 and ending March 26 1961.

PS: It has since been established beyond all doubt that Rick and Richard Fletcher are indeed two different people, just an odd coincidence that they were both drawing for the ChiTrib. 

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Not perhaps the most convincing sources, but the "Jed Cooper" artist is Richard Martin Fletcher (according to Lambiek's Comiclopedia and "The funnies: 100 years of American comic strips" by Ron Goulart), and the Dick Tracy one is Richard E Fletcher (according to an obituary in El Tiempo, and according to "Dick Tracy and American culture: morality and mythology, text and context" by Garyn Roberts.
 
So which Fletcher did "Surgeon Stone"? The few originals I've found online--I've never seen the strip itself--aren't nearly as well-drawn as this one.
 
Smurfswacker --
The Fletcher who did Jed Cooper is also credited with Surgeon Stone.

--Allan
 
The "Old Glory Story" strip was by the "Dick Tracy" Rick Fletcher.
 
Probably, someone already has passed this information to you, anyway here it is: but the series started, in fact, an half-standard Sunday and ended as an half-Tabloide. Probably, most of its existence it was a third-standard page.
 
Hi,
Richard M. Fletcher and Dick Fletcher is the same person. He is the creator of Jed Cooper and Surgeon Stone, and I know this because he is my grandpa.
 
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Thursday, May 20, 2010

 

Obscurity of the Day: Cynthianna Blythe

The New York Herald occasionally ran magazine cover 'comic strip' series long before the other papers and syndicates seemed to catch on to the idea. In the Herald's case, though, their features are so high-falutin' that the term comic strip seems at least a slight misnomer.

Cynthianna Blythe, the tale of a young beauty and the beaus who pursue her, ran on the back cover of the Herald's magazine section from at least October 1909 to February 1910 (probably longer at both ends, I haven't found a paper on microfilm that has the complete series - anyone have correct running dates?).

The feature sports art by Wallace Morgan and verses by Harry Grant Dart. While I realize that Morgan was the more celebrated illustrator in his time, I sure wish they'd traded places -- I just love Dart's draftsmanship and page layouts.

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Simply breathtaking. When you look at art like this which was the norm at the time, and you look at newspaper artwork today, there is unmistakably no comparison whatsoever. These pieces belong in a museum of illustration or coffee table book. Do major city newspapers even hire local artists anymore? I don't mean small neighborhood freebie papers.
 
Cynthianna Blythe was a fashion cutout doll that the Herald had as early as August 1909, and new sets of her with new clothes were sold by mail as late in as May 1910.
 
Thanks Grizedo, had no idea these pages were all part of a marketing package!

--Allan
 
Wow! I always thought of Morgan as more of a magazine illustrator...this is beautiful work.

I agree that Dart did great drawings, too. I especially liked the science-fictiony "future glimpses" he did for Judge.
 
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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

 

Obscurity of the Day: Little Umjiji

On Monday we looked at a pretty strong bit of racism from the pen of Syd B. Griffin, so let's try to rehabilitate him a bit today. Although Little Umjiji features a little African tyke, I would have to say that there is no racist intent here whatsoever. We simply have a series of low-key pantomime (if you don't count the extraneous text used with the first sample) adventures featuring a little boy and African animals. If the strip weren't pantomime would Umjiji speak that mushmouth dialect so much a part of the stereotype? Oh, probably, but let's give Griffin the benefit of the doubt.

Little Umjiji was created by the great Ferd Long for the New York World comics section on November 4 1900, but he failed to follow up after that single episode. Griffin picked up the title and produced episodes between February 24 and May 19 1901.

Thanks to Cole Johnson for the scans!

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Nowadays, we really don't have "cute" strips like this except possible for MUTTS and perhaps others I am not aware of. Everyone has a sarcastic sense of humor nowadays in the funnies.
 
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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

 

Obscurity of the Day: Joe of the Musical Habit

Since we covered a feature yesterday that is pretty representative of the worst in racism against blacks in newspaper comics, for balance today let's look at Joe of the Musical Habit. In my opinion it is racist only in its depiction of Joe, who gets the standard black face of the day. Beyond that Joe could just as easily been a white guy, which is, I think, a fair yardstick for whether a feature is or isn't racist.

Joe's inconvenient habit is that whenever he hears music he gets the urge to dance. In the sure hands of cartoonist Ed Carey this leads to predictably boisterous and hilarious action. While the joke is, of course, repetitive, the humor is in how the wild action is depicted. I particularly enjoy this example, where Joe's habit seems to be contagious and the hoity-toity assembly joins right in.

Joe of the Musical Habit was a feature of McClure's top-of-the-line version of their Sunday comics section from July 30 to October 1 1905, too short a run if you ask me.It only got full page color billing a couple of times, usually relegated to half-page interior appearances instead.

A tip of the hat and a little soft-shoe to Cole Johnson who provided the sample. Thanks Cole!

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Monday, May 17, 2010

 

Obscurity of the Day: Four Comical Coons

Turn of the century comic section editors never met a racist stereotype they didn't like and this feature, penned by Syd B. Griffin, touches some especially sensitive bases. The four kids that give the feature its sometime name, Four Comical Coons, were really just Katzies turned black, but the props and situations leaned heavily toward archetypical racist symbols -- a laundry-toting mammy, stealing chickens, and of course the obligatory watermelons.

The series appeared in the New York World comics section from August 12 to December 9 1900, and when the standard title wasn't used the number of kids was sometimes cut back to just two or three.

Thanks to Cole Johnson for the samples.

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***SIGHHHH*** I miss the Good Old Days!
 
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Symbols are a form of shorthand, but they stop short of meaning one thing. Where does a 'racist symbol' start and stop being racist? I do laundry and eat watermelons, if I drew a black person doing these things, would it then be viewed as racist intent from everyone's perspective? I'm wondering because I just read an interview with Picasso where he says that when he drew a hammer and a sickle together, he didn't do it thinking of communism, but of the objects themselves. Separately, when Picasso drew a bull, he agreed it symbolized brutality and darkness, but refused to agree with the interviewer that it equaled fascism.

Now, these cartoons are ultimately cowardly, and racist as hell, presuming a philosophy and message that go beyond cartooning, now that we view all art as being an explicitly drawn message. At the time, they might've believed or laughed off those images in a more thoughtless way, but they did their share of harm. Now of course, the comics themselves say way more about those attitudes than any newspaper article.

Did the artist want to draw cartoon blacks, feeling impelled to script them toward these stock characters, or vice-versa?

If you believed we were worse off for having this record, you could easily not have posted it, so I suspect there's your message is that artists must be politically and socially conscious? When we ask the type of visual artists who are 'only an eye' to broaden their range, will they still have a drawing ability? Sorry for sounding so goddamn ponderous, but it's almost like there's another issue at work here besides racism, the 'tunnel vision' of many artists.
 
I think somehow today, we read words and images as working more 'hand-in-hand' more often than they did then. I suspect the pictures would have meant everything to artist and the words would've meant next to nothing. Kind of the opposite of how people see the stars next to a film review and misread the writing.

I'm not excusing the artist's intent or the harmful effect on black people, I assume he found this funny, but like Robert Crumb, I doubt if he could pinpoint where his intent lied. Authors may write when they make a judgment, but I don't see artists working in the same way. They tend to draw when they find something, even if it isn't 'the truth' and may have a lot in common with prevailing attitudes.
 
Hi sharpyoungbull --
Please keep in mind that people come to this blog in many different ways, oftentimes for reasons having nothing to do with an interest in comic strip history. I feel it is important to point out on any blog post that deals in racist imagery that I don't condone or celebrate the content but present the material because it is historically interesting and arguably important.

If someone arrived at this post because they were, say, Googling for racist websites, I want it to be clear that they haven't found a place where these outmoded, unfunny and frankly repugnant views are shared by the proprietor. Ok?

As to the cartoonist's actual intent, my vote is laziness, as it usually is with stereotypical comics. Notice that there is no real attempt at being funny in these cartoons -- Griffin merely trots out the tired old chicken-snatching and other material as if it is all just so inherently hilarious that there no need for any injection of any original humor. I consider it rather pathetic frankly. Same goes for Zim, who was notorious for this kind of garbage. E.W. Kemble, on the other hand, dealt in what we call racist imagery, but I've always felt that a case could be made that his cartoons were sometimes (not always) a cut above this sort of trash.

--Allan
 
Hello, Allan, and everyone -----The Stripper's guide is the place for an honest warts-and-all REAL history of the American comic strip, not a selection. Allan Holtz is just who you want as a historian, as he doesn't shackle himself to a "speech code" to filter the controversial aspects away. Racist stuff like the COMIC COONS were definitely part of the story, indeed part of the story of the world in general of it's time. It's important to know that Mr. Griffin and others in 1900 did not have hate in their hearts, just an easy, even lazy, as Allan says, set of quickly identified stereotypes and the shtick expected of them. Stereotypes of many others were also to be found, of course. (Italians, Germans, Orientals, etc.) It's a very basic form of humor -- everyone got made fun of. It was just breathing the American air. One thing that I learned from Griffin's comic was to always check the melons carefully when I'm at the A & P!------Cole Johnson.
 
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Sunday, May 16, 2010

 

Jim Ivey's Sunday Comics

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Okay, that seals the deal. I've been wanting to get over and take Jim to breakfast. I've got to get over and see him with the longer hair and beard.
 
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