Saturday, June 23, 2012
Wonderful Tile All That is Left of Loyal Friend
"Forty years ago when Hen Berry, then a handsome youth of twenty, and full of that spirit which has since made him a great man, and deprived him of the goodly growth of hair, which was once his make-up, conceived the idea to elevate the social tone of the unpolished West.
"Hen ranked ace high as a maker of hats, and Bradstreets rated him A1, as Bellefontaine's most prosperous and conservative merchant; his two-story Beavers were in use and in great demand by all the well-known bumboat pilots, and no man who claimed the slightest social prestige among the Ohio River Bottom aristocracy was without some specimen of Hen's Au Fait dome garments.
"Bellefontaine society was considered depraved indeed when after a function it could not doff its tile and make merry with the bones or use its profound depths in the enthralling game of four, five, six. To this day Hen's handy work may be recognized in and about Bellefontaine, gracing the conservatories of its most exclusive homes, harboring lace-like ferns or sprigs of scarlet geraniums."
At this juncture Gooseberry Sprig paused and glancing, blase-eyed, around, spotted the waiter lounging within whispering distance, asked Gustave Widgeon what his favorite mixture was and ordered two of the same.
"One day," he continued, "that thriving metropolis woke up to find its leading commercial light a departed actuality. After a long, mournful period it was in part relieved to hear that that, true to his ideals, he had established himself in the woolliest regions of the untamed West, to dispense social elevation in the form of tall beaver hats."
Here the waiter handed out the refreshments, causing Gooseberry Sprig to make a bald-faced attempt to fumble in his pockets very nervous like, but Gustave beat him to it and paid the waiter.
"Strange, old chap, " he murmured, "but I do believe I left my purse on my escritoire, y'know," and doing a nifty bit of legerdemain work juggled half the drink into his system, picked his teeth and resumed his tale.
"Poor Hen, he started out like a jay bird after a June bug, and opened up his hattery with great and effusive demonstrations never equaled in the history of Weeping Wolf.
"The merriment waned after a couple of weeks, then Hen settled back to await the tide of high hat customers, and see his ideal dream, the social elevation of Weeping Wolf in actual progress.
"Husky miners would linger around Hen's elaborate high hat display, then back off across the street, and do a little gun practice, by boring their initials in whatever hat that took their fancy, during which time Hen was behind the steel safe watching the chunks of lead, forty-five size, flattened up against the back wall.
"Hen was more than justifiably peeved when he was one day waited upon by a delegation of the Weeping Wolf Chowder Club, requesting the loan, mind you, the loan, of a few of his choicest dips, as tin cans were not then in use in Weeping Wolf, and the boys had to have something to do a little growler work with at the Chowder.
"Well, the boys got the hats, twelve of them, doing service to the tune of three hundred and ten growlers, before their bottoms dropped out.
"The honest miners returned the remains, and made Hen a member of the Weeping Wolf Chowder Club without dues.
"What with having uncouth miners steadfastly refusing to be socially elevated, and doing other little innocent tricks with his hattery, such as playing shinny with the best in the house, putting bricks under ten dollar beavers to have husky fall guys swat them with number nine hob-nailed boots, and using them to burn Greek fire in celebrative moments when somebody made a strike, 'Hen' grew pettish, and peevish, as Weeping Wolf grew redundant with joy, until one fatal day 'Hen' announced that the hattery and his lone stand for the social elevation of Weeping Wolf were no more, and that everything could wend its way to the dog pound, for all he cared.
"In this moment of his bereavement did Hen come to notice the friendly little weasel which had taken its abode in one of the now many empty hat boxes which adorned the shop. His misery was lightened when the little animal made friendly overtures of acquaintance.
"Hen aged rapidly, his wondrous growth of hair gradually forsook him, taking away his manly beauty, but adding an intellectual halo, as more and more of his classic dome was revealed.
"He became famed as old Hen the bald hat hermit of Weeping Wolf, and was one of the town's Sunday attractions.
"One memorable day the weasel, as fool weasels will do, was inquisitive enough to investigate the hat-making machine, unknowingly it started, with an agonizing cry. Hen shouted warning, but alas, too late; all but his pet weasel's tail hung out of the machine; removing it. Hen found his only friend beautifully molded into as nice a hat as ever was turned out, except that the hat had a tail.
"Cutting off the tail Hen made it into a band and the hat was completely weasel from crown to outermost rim.
"That night a few of Weeping Wolf's late homers saw Hen beating it out of town, with the queerest concoction of a hat every seen in those parts.
"Weeping Wolf's social inclinations were never elevated, and the hat business lost a good man for Hen never returned to it.
"Do you wonder now that when Hen trots out the old hat and some imbecile makes foney cracks about it, that his goat rambles? No, never. Hen has hired me, who can truly feel for him, to trail the monster to his lair, and believe me, thus the good work SHALL go on -- for I am Gooseberry Sprig, the duck detective - and Hen is a pal of mine."
Labels: Herriman's LA Examiner Cartoons
Friday, June 22, 2012
News of Yore 1955: Vern Greene Profiled
Bringing Up Greene
Twenty years ago Vernon Greene was hunched over a drawing board in the offices of King Features Syndicate in New York. In the manner of cartoonists he was scratching his head and groaning as he struggled to think of something funny to draw.
Then he was interrupted by a harried editor who shoved a drawing under his nose. "Draw something to tie in with this quick!"
Greene looked at the sketches. "Now wait a minute," he said. "This is Maggie and Jiggs. You got me mixed up with George McManus. In case you can't tell us apart any other way, look at the paychecks. You pay McManus over $100,000 a year while I get—"
"Save the gags for your strips," retorted the editor. "I know it's Jiggs. There's been a delay in the mails and George's next batch of drawings hasn't got here. We are right on deadline and can't wait any longer. Draw something and draw it quick!"
Greene made a page of drawings to bridge the gap. He was somewhat uneasy about how McManus, who originated the comic strip, would take the idea. But the famous humorist was so pleased when he saw the results that he offered Greene a job as his assistant.
Greene was flattered, but felt that he would do better on his own. However, after 18 years drawing everything from The Shadow to an Army life panel called Charlie Conscript, he came back to a full time job of drawing Jiggs for the famous strip Bringing Up Father, one of the most popular comics in the Sunday comio pages of Pacific Stars and Stripes.
The 47-year-old artist has been drawing seriously for 42 years and got into newspaper work in his teens as a staff artist for the Portland (Ore.) Telegraph. During the 1920s he knocked around the country until he went to work for King Features in 1935.
He left King to do other types of work and became interested in medical photography. During World War II, his hobby became a full time job with the Air Force. But after his discharge as a buck sergeant in 1945, he went back to cartooning.
Shortly after George McManus died in 1954, Greene was visiting friends at the syndicate. Recalling how he had once filled in for McManus 19 years before, they told him that several artists were trying out for the job of continuing the adventures of Greene also submitted some samples. Two weeks later he was told that the job wag his. He now draws the Sunday strip which appears in Stars and Stripes. In addition to several hundred newspapers in the States, Maggie's struggles to make a gentleman out of Jiggs appear in 27 foreign countries.
Although the cartoon is known as Maggie and Jiggs to most readers, its real name is Bringing Up Father.
The name originated before World War I when the cartoon started. At that time they were a newly rich family. Maggie had social ambitions, and the strip revolved around her efforts to bring him up to her level. Over 40 years have passed and she's still trying.
Greene says that the most common question asked about the characters is what is Jiggs' occupation? He has to answer that nobody knows for sure. Jiggs seems to have a lot of friends in the construction business and McManus once told a group: "I've made a million dollars and all I ever had for capital was a retired hod carrier with a love for corn beef and cabbage." All this leads to the suspicion that Jiggs is a retired contractor, but that is only supposition.
Whenever Greene can get a few strips ahead in his work he likes to join Special Services tours to entertain servicemen in overseas bases. In addition to the trip he just completed to the Far East, he has entertained in Alaska, Germany, France and England.
An ardent photographer, Greene has a collection of over 100 cameras. He is rarely seen without three or four hanging around his neck. In between his shows here, he managed to expose several thousand negatives of Japan and Korea. But, despite this enthusiasm for the lens, like all artists he insists that it will never replace the drawing pencil. An incident in Japan definitely proves this.
He and Stu Moldrem, Stars and Stripes sports cartoonist, stopped at a Japanese restaurant to catch up on a breakfast they missed while traveling between bases while accompanying the cartoonist's show. The proprieter couldn't speak a word of English and their combined Japanese vocabulary of a dozen words wasn't equal to the job of ordering a simple plate of ham and eggs. Time was running out. Their train was almost due.
But this was where cartooning turned out to be a most practical art. Greene drew a picture of what they wanted on the wall with chalk.
They got what they wanted, but Greene hopes that nobody will hear about it. You see, he's not supposed to eat ham and eggs. The public for some reason always associates an artist or writer with his characters. And Jiggs, in the public mind, is associated with corn beef and cabbage.
"It's a fine dish. In fact, you can accurately say that it is my meal ticket." Greene said. "But I like an occasional steak, too, you know."
Thursday, June 21, 2012
Ink-Slinger Profiles: Frank L. Fithian
Frank Livingston Fithian was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in November 1865, according to Who Was Who in American Art (1985), and the 1900 U.S. Federal Census. In the 1870 census, he was the only child of Francis and Sarah; his father was a store clerk. They lived in Philadelphia.
In the 1900 census, Fithian, Marianna and their two daughters lived with his parents in Haddon at 240 Washington Avenue. He was an artist and illustrator. Some of his panel cartoons were published in the Philadelphia Sunday Press. The Times said "Mr. Fithian for more than fifteen years painted many of the cover designs of Judge and also drew illustrations for that magazine as well as Puck (click "The Wreck of the Mary Jane", page 25), The Youth's Companion, The Saturday Evening Post, Country Gentleman, Collier's and other publications."
In 1910 the census recorded the Fithians in Haddonfield at 232 Washington Avenue. He was a magazine illustrator. Ten years later, he remained at the same address, where he was an artist and illustrator. He designed a toy that was advertised in the Kalamazoo Gazette (Michigan), November 13, 1920 (below).
Labels: Ink-Slinger Profiles
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Ink-Slinger Profiles: Elmer Wexler
Elmer Wexler was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, August 14, 1918, according to an interview in Alter Ego #36. In the 1920 U.S. Federal Census, he was the only child of Harry and Sarah. (His name was recorded as "Alma" and classified as "daughter".) They lived in Bridgeport at 445 Maplewood Avenue. His father was a merchant in the tailor trade. Wexler said, "…My father came from Lithuania and my mother came from Poland. They got married when they met in the United States…."
They remained in Bridgeport but at a different address, 633 Colorado Avenue, according to the 1930 census. Wexler was the oldest of three children. His father, Morris (Harry was his middle name), was a tailor. Wexler said:
…I went to Pratt Institute and graduated in 1938. [He received a certificate in Pictorial Illustration at the School of Fine and Applied Art, according to the New York Times, June 9, 1938.] It was a three-year course. The first year was general courses: we studied illustrations, advertising layout, copywriting, and architecture….The second year, we had to make a decision about what we were going to specialize in. I was interested in illustration.
I was very lucky that I was knowledgeable about drawing, and I was offered a free night class. The art director was the head of Street & Smith magazines, which were popular at that time….The only students who allowed to take this class were those the director thought would make it. I started illustrating for Street & Smith even before I graduated….
…I was illustrating for pulp magazines when I graduated: Street & Smith, Popular, and Standard. They were the biggest pulp publishers at the time, and I worked for them all. A year later after I got out of Pratt, the bottom fell out of the pulp business because the war started in Europe. Comic books came in to fill the void and I switched to comics….
…In those days, we were getting ten to fifteen dollars an illustration for the pulps. When I worked for the studios, I was charging the same, and that wasn't making me wealthy by any means. I had moved to New York City by then and needed to do better. Borge and I and two other friends were renting a house when I got a call from P.M. magazine, which was a liberal newspaper. A lady there had seen my work in comic books and wanted to know if I'd try my hand at comic strips. I asked who'd do the writing, and she got a guy by the name of Kermit Jaedeker [sic—Jaediker, 1911–1986, Social Security Death Index] and someone else [Charles Zerner according to Ron Goulart, The Funnies (1995)]. The strip was called Vic Jordan and it was fun to do.
Some of his comic book credits are at the Grand Comics Database. Vic Jordan debuted December 1, 1941 (below).
The New York Times, November 10, 1943, reviewed the exhibition, "Marines Under Fire", at the Museum of Modern Art. Wexler's piece, "The Japanese Enemy", was mentioned. His art was included in the show, "The War Against Japan", at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., from May 27 to June 19, 1945. An issue of Editor & Publisher, Volume 98, 1965, said: "…During World War II he served as a combat artist with the U.S. Marine Corps. His drawings at Okinawa, Guadalcanal, Bougainville and other battles were sent back to Washington for publication in newspapers and such magazines as Look and Life…." Harold Helfer's story "The Beautiful Bungalow" was published in The Field Artillery Journal, November-December 1948. He was in the same outfit as Wexler. His story can be read here (scroll down to page 275).
The Trenton Times-Advertiser (New Jersey), August 18, 1946, published this item: "Elmer Wexler, free-lance artist and an illustrator of Houghton, Mifflin Company juveniles, was chosen to record the recent atomic last at Bikini. His vantage point was in front of a television set in New York City. During the war Wexler sketched the Bougainville and Okinawa landings as Marine Corps combat artist." In 1946, he also drew the strip Jon Jason; samples from October 5, 11, 12, 18, 24, and 28.
Wexler said, "…After I got out of the service, I went to work in advertising and illustration and left comics behind. I did a lot of work for Johnstone and Cushing…", a studio that produced comics advertising. He added, "…I started my own studio after Johnstone and Cushing…." In 1967 he was the editor and publisher of Dimensions in Living, a monthly newspaper supplement. Lack of advertising caused the supplement's demise after three issues. He and Mae were granted a divorce January 19, 1972. Later, he remarried to Pauline.
Wexler passed away October 3, 2007 in Norwalk, Connecticut, according to the Social Security Death Index. The Field Guide to Wild American Pulp Artists profiled Wexler. Who's Who of American Comic Books 1928–1999 has an overview of his work.
Labels: Ink-Slinger Profiles
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Obscurity of the Day: Jon Jason
Vic Jordan. Wexler had gotten in barely five months on the feature, which appeared primarily in Newspaper PM, before he entered the Service for World War II.
On his return, Wexler pretty much took up where he left off. Vic Jordan, his old strip, had been cancelled in 1945 after going through a number of creative hands, but Wexler's new strip, Jon Jason, basically read as if Vic Jordan had come back from the war and was now hunting Nazis more as a hobby.
The series only lasted one year, from February 4 1946 to February 8 of the following year. It was daily-only, as were most Newspaper PM strips, and had about as much success as other strips from that newspaper in syndication -- that is, darn little.
As to the content of the strip, well, I'm perhaps not the best informed source. Although I have a substantial number of strips from the series (about 50), they are from scattered dates. From what I can gather, Jon is a Marine pilot back from the war, and his day job is portrait painter and illustrator for the magazine International Woman. Somehow he seems to continually stumble on hidden Nazis and run off to exotic adventures tracking them down. Late in the series he hooks up with a gorgeous lady reporter, who gets him started on his adventures in a more plausible manner. However, according to Ron Goulart in The Funnies, Jason was a private detective, and of that plot device I see no evidence. But that doesn't mean Goulart has it wrong. See, the thing is, the strip's major failing is that there never seems to be any attempt to recap or bring readers up to speed on the story. Woe to the reader who misses seeing the strip for a few days, or the new reader who would like to jump in. I can well believe that Jason was a private dick in addition to a 'cover' job as an illustrator and I just haven't read any episode in which that comes up.
I don't have any overwhelming desire to read the entire continuity of the strip, but I sure would like to see the first week or two. I can't imagine Goulart got it wrong about the premise of the strip, and I'd like confirmation that Jason was indeed set up as a detective of some sort.
Monday, June 18, 2012
I Like Fels-Naptha!
Fels-Naptha really had an appreciative eye for great cartooning. The above 1936 ad campaign for Fels-Naptha's new product, boxed soap chips, sports glorious art by Russell Patterson, E. Simms Campbell, and that pseudonymous fella Paul Arthur (Milton Caniff and Noel Sickles, but I didn't really have to tell you that, right?).
The campaign is a bunch of hot air, of course, but what better reason to cloud the issue with eye-popping art. Why 'experts' would be mystified at the prospect of cutting up a soap bar into soap chips is beyond my comprehension.
I forgive the Fels-Naptha people for treating the public like morons. They are, after all, simply heeding advice from P.T. Barnum in that regard; advice that has proved on target over and over and over.
Labels: Advertising Strips
Sunday, June 17, 2012
Jim Ivey's Sunday Comics
Labels: Jim Ivey's Sunday Comics