Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Ink-Slinger Profiles: Wally Wallgren

Abian Anders "Wally" Wallgren was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on June 4, 1891, according to Find a Grave. The 1900 U.S. Federal Census recorded the Wallgrens in Philadelphia at 1631 Chadwick Street. His birth was recorded as "June 1891" and he was the oldest of three children born to Abian and Hilma, both born in Sweden. His father was a tailor.

The book Swedes in America, 1638-1938 (1969) said, "He entered newspaper work at an early age and was indeed, something of a youthful prodigy in the art department of the old Philadelphia North American, for by the time he was sixteen [1907] he had two Sunday comic strips running; 'Inbad, the Sailor' and 'Ruff and Reddy.' " [Allan's note: the series cited actually began in 1911 and 1910 respectively]

In 1910 the Wallgren family of six remained in Philadelphia, at 1208 52nd Street. He was a newspaper cartoonist. In 1915, for the Philadelphia Record, he produced the strip Sammy and Sue and Slobbery Slam. Find a Grave and Lambiek said he contributed to the Philadelphia Public Ledger and the Washington Post. The U.S. Marine Corps Muster Rolls, 1798-1940 at said he enlisted on April 25, 1917, almost two weeks after the U.S. entered World War I. A muster roll from September 1917 summarized his conduct violations:

SD, Sign Painter. Tried by S.C.M. 7th charged with violation of the 61st and 96th Articles of War. Specifications: AWL from 9:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on 4th; Drunk in Camp about 7:00 p.m. on 4th; Findings: Guilty. Sentence: To perform hard labor for one month and to forfeit two-thirds of his pay for one month. Sentence approved 8th.

Swedes in America covered his early service career.

[Wallgren] was among the first to see service in France as a buck private and regimental sign painter, a post which army logic assigned him on his "professional" record. According to his own account for nine months he painted "Latrine" and "Officers Only" signs up and down France, from St. Nazaire, through Menaucourt, to Damblaine in the Vosges. Private Wallgren's light, however, was being kept under a bushel. His great opportunity came when the Stars and Stripes was started as the official newspaper of the AEF [American Expeditionary Forces], and Wally was placed on the staff as cartoonist. In February, 1918, he was transferred to Paris and drew cartoons for this doughboy newspaper throughout the War, until the final issue in June, 1919.

Robert I. Snajdr, of the Cleveland Plain Dealer (Ohio), wrote a remembrance of Wallgren on March 29, 1948; below, an excerpt about his time on Stars and Stripes:

…Incidentally, Wally's utter indifference to deadlines was a cause of continuous, albeit at times humorous, exasperation to his superiors. As John T. Winterich, another brilliant staff member, put it in his history of the paper, "Squads Write!": "The extraction of a weekly strip from Private Wallgren became one of the more monumental tasks of the war."

Sometimes it was even necessary to assign a detail to the carefree artist to see that he produced a job on time. Once, even, so the story goes, he was confined in a room under watchful eyes of M.P.s with instructions not to let him out until he had completed his weekly stint.

Some of his cartoons can be viewed here. His military career was covered in a Time magazine profile on October 17, 1938. According to a U.S. Marine Corps Muster Roll, Wallgren was on indefinite furlough from July 14, 1919 to January 14, 1920, and was discharged on January 15. He was counted in the 1920 census with his family, now at seven members, at the same 1910 address. His occupation was magazine cartoonist.

In 1930 Wallgren and his wife Florence lived in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania at 837 Concord Avenue. They married when they were 28 years old, which was around 1920. He was a cartoonist. In 1938, Wallgren created the newspaper strip Hoosegow Herman; color samples can be viewed at I Love Comix Archive, [Update: The blog has moved and offers a way to access the archive.] and original art can be viewed at Heritage Auctions.

Sunday page, 12/3/1939, courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Wallgren passed away on March 24, 1948 in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. The Lawton Constitution (Oklahoma) published the Associated Press story the following day.

Wally Wallgren, Cartoonist of First World War, Dies

Philadelphia, March 25.—(AP)—Abian A. (Wally) Wallgren, 56, cartoonist for "Stars and Stripes" during the first World War and later with the American Legion monthly, died yesterday after a long illness.

Wallgren was credited by Gen. John J. Pershing with keeping up the morale of thousands of doughboys with his travesties on officers and his humorous illustrations picturing the difficulties and problems of soldiers.

Among Wallgren's creations were "Inbad the Sailor," "Hoosegow Herman," and "The Saluting Demon."


LoC's American Memory site has the complete first series of “The Stars and Stripes” available online, February 8, 1918, thru June 13, 1919, as published in Paris, France:

I'll be sending a few more details via email...

Leonardo De Sá, over here
This is really beautiful stuff. This guy should be better known. The "Inbad" strips are highly Opper-damaged, but that later one is so refined, almost European in style. I'm impressed.
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