Tuesday, January 08, 2013


Obscurity of the Day: Boggs the Optimist and Archie the Amateur

Here's another series from the wild, whacked-out pen of Walter Bradford, one of my favorite cartoonists. This series debuted on November 24 1901, just three weeks after the Chicago Tribune inaugurated their color comics section.

Originally this was actually two separate series. One starred Archie the Amateur, who always wanted to learn about some new activity and invariably all hell broke loose. The other was about Boggs the Optimist, whose signature modus operandi was less specific, but the results were the same -- pandemonium. After a short while in which Bradford ran the two series separately, he evidently decided that he may as well band his numskulls together as a team -- two idiots coming together apparently making more than the sum of their parts.

The combo series, which rarely had the room to run under its full name of Boggs the Optimist and Archie the Amateur, ran sporadically until January 4 1903, when Brad left the Chicago Tribune.

Of special interest is sample #4 above, for two reasons. First, notice that Bradford has worked closely with the Tribune's engravers in order to show the 'preliminary sketch'  artwork in panel 3 with no enclosing lines (unfortunately this is rather hard to make out at screen resolution -- sorry) -- this is the sort of love of craft that all but disappeared from the funnies not many years hence. Second, you may be thinking that the portrait with the facial features all out of whack is one of those tiresome hackneyed slams of Picasso, but recall that Picasso's surreal faces wouldn't become a feature of his work for several years yet. I don't think that any modern art of that type had really surfaced in the public consciousness by January 1902, when this strip was printed. Bradford, the first surrealist?

Thanks to Cole Johnson, who supplied all the wonderful samples!


The difference is, that in 1902, before we were educated to "Modern Art", such artwork would be seen for what it is, viz a viz, ugly, worthless rubbish.
VERY unlikely the cartoonist would have known any fine art that looked anything like his "bad" sketch. The closest thing at that time would have been, I suppose, Gauguin or Van Gogh, and both of them were more or less totally unknown in the US until the Armory Show in 1913, and neither were that abstract. I'd chalk it up to prophetic coincidence.
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