Thursday, April 17, 2014


Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: Art Helfant

Arthur “Art” Helfant was born in New York, New York, on August 4, 1898, according to “New York City Births, 1891–1902” at, and his World War I draft card.

In the 1900 U.S. Federal Census, Helfant was the only child of Leo, and Katy. His father was a manufacturing tailor. They resided in Brooklyn at 2982 Fulton.

Ten years later the family of seven resided in Manhattan at 467 Canal Street; the same address was recorded in the 1915 New York State Census. Helfant had six siblings. Specific information about his education and art training has not been found; the 1940 census said he completed two years of high school. His name was listed in the 1916 New York City directory at the Canal Street address and his occupation was artist.

So far, the earliest samples of his newspaper work were found in the 1917 Otsego Tidings (Milford, New York), a weekly newspaper. Helfant’s first series might have been What He Didn’t Want…and…What He Got (at this time, only three samples found).




Otsego Tidings 8/9/1917

Alfred Sun 1917

The Schoharie Republican and County Democrat 1917

On September 11, 1918, Helfant signed his World War I draft card. He lived in Manhattan at 46 West 116 Street and was a cartoonist for A.P. Oakes, 620 Bedell Building, San Antonio, Texas. His description was tall, slender with brown eyes and brunette hair.

According to the 1920 census, the Helfants resided at 35 West 116 Street in Manhattan. Helfant was a cartoonist at a publishing house. Advertising and Selling, November 27, 1920, published this notice:

Art Helfant Locates
Art Helfant, comic advertising cartoonist, on December 1 will move his office from 37 East 28th street to 1133 Broadway, New York.
Helfant contributed to Judge; the March 15, 1924 cartoon is here.

The 1925 New York State Census recorded Helfant in the Bronx at 2474 Davidson Avenue. The cartoonist was married to Jean and had two children. In Advertising Arts and Crafts (1926) was this listing:
Helfant, Art, 110 West 40th, Pen 5675 New York City. Nat’l Adv. Ill., Fiction Story Ill., Cartoons, Figure, Heads, Lettering, Black and White, Line Drawings, Pen and Ink.
The 1927 edition had the same information.

image courtesy of Ron Goulart

American Newspaper Comics said Helfant, in the mid-1920s, had four comics series. The first was Educatin’ Ollie which ran from April 14 to July 12, 1924. Next was Crossword Word Charlie, which debuted December 29, 1924. Number three was Policy Pete with a May 14, 1925 start date. Rounding out the quartet was Fables in Slang, which was written by George Ade. It began October 3, 1927. Letters of George Ade (1973) had correspondence between Ade and publisher John N. Wheeler. A letter, dated September 10, 1927, was about Helfant and Fables.
I think we should remind Mr. [Art] Helfant that we are not going after the kid trade and that he should avoid making his people too low comedy. Make them good comedy characters but don't make them look too much like monkeys or we will fail to please the people who have been interested in the fables.
Ade wrote to Wheeler October 5, 1927.
I am sending you two more strips. I shall be keenly interested to know how Mr. [Art] Helfant feels about this stuff I am sending on. I don't wish to insult his imaginative intelligence by giving him too many directions and in the future I will not indicate anything about the pictures unless he wants some tips. As it is, I have made the suggestions very brief.
It might be a good idea to let the prospective customers know that a good deal of the material contained in the new series will be entirely new. You might get up a sample sheet including new stuff sent in and ask the editors to look at it and note that we are giving a new kind of treatment to the fable material.
Helfant has not been found in the 1930 census. During this decade, he produced Odd-But-True Inventions which ran from December 5, 1932 to April 24, 1933. Rumpus was picked up by the Van Tine Features Syndicate, who held the copyright, and began in 1935.

The Van Tine Features comics were announced, with much fanfare, in the West Seattle Herald, (Washington), June 18, 1936, June 18, 1936, and the Hastings News (New York), January 10, 1936 (below). According to American Newspaper ComicsRumpus ended in 1937.

Printers’ Ink, November 1, 1934, had this to say about Helfant’s business card:
As a rule, the designing of a calling card is about as formal a job as an undertaker’s. Custom dictates the inclusion of certain definite elements and the exclusion of certain others.
For instance, among those elements that are patently taboo, one would ordinarily include any phrase that falls into the category of “wisecracks.” Looking into the original purpose of calling cards, we can see that it would never do to be smart or facetious. Unless, of course, one happens to be in the business of selling humor, as is Art Helfant, cartoonist.
Mr. Helfant’s card has four words at the upper right-hand corner, which act not only as a warning to the recipient who might be inclined to tell his secretary, “Give him the gate,” but also as a droll sample of their author’s stock in trade. The four words are:
A Helfant Never Forgets
Of course, this idea has strict limitations. That it would not work very well for the average salesman is quite apparent. But it is interesting, none the less.
The American Legion Monthly, June 1936, printed this story about Helfant, who was a regular contributor.
It Took A Stroke of Lightning to Make This Man an Artist 
Texas, 1917–18. Regiments of khaki tents.
In one of them, Art Helfant, doughboy.
An electric storm brews—breaks. Lightning picks out Art’s tent.
One flash—and Art Helfant, doughboy, became Art Helfant, disabled veteran.
Hospitalization—enforced leisure—and pretty pretty soon art editors began talking about Helfant the artist. “He’s a find!” they said. “His stuff packs a laugh.”
This magazine takes pride in its early recognition of Art Helfant’s genius. You have every right to share that pride because this is your magazine.
Among Helfant’s advertising projects were, locally, the Tippo series for Jost Laundry Service, from March 19 to October 15, 1937, and, nationally, Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum here and here.

Suffolk County News 6/18/1937

The 1940 census said his address, since 1935, was Sunnyside, Queens, New York on Washington Place. He had re-married to Margaret, a Scottish emigrant. Helfant was a freelance cartoonist.

American Newspaper Comics said Helfant’s last strip was Ambrose which ran from October 20, 1952 to 1954. Some of Helfant’s Humorama cartoons are here. Lists of his comic book credits are here and here. One of his comic book stories can be read here.

Helfant passed away July 2, 1971, in New York, according to the U.S. Veterans Gravesites at His final resting place was Long Island National Cemetery, Farmingdale, New York.

—Alex Jay


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