Wednesday, December 16, 2015
Obscurity of the Day: D.C. Bartholomew's Weekday Comic Strip
So let's say you're a cartoonist, and you've landed your first big gig at a newspaper (obviously we aren't talking today, when that scenario is laughably improbable). You must decide on how you are going to sign yourself, for the accolades are surely going to come your way, and you want them to properly spell your name in so doing. You could just sign your work Joe Smith (assuming that's your name), or you might want to be a little more colorful. If you are saddled with a weird name like Elzie Crisler Segar, you might opt to go with your initials, or if you are boring old Harry Fisher, you might choose to go by the more colorful 'Bud' instead.
One thing you sure as shootin' don't want to do is use the name OF ANOTHER MORE FAMOUS CARTOONIST! If your name inconveniently matches up to, say, George McManus, take a deep breath, swallow your family pride, and work out a nome de plume. Howzabout George Mack?
As good a cartoonist as Donald Crassous Bartholomew eventually became, it is really a shame that he stupidly decided to sign himself simply "Bart", when there was already a pretty darn famous "Bart" doing editorial cartoons in Minneapolis, and reprinted in newspapers all over the country. D.C. Bartholomew's obscurity stems not only from his work appearing only in Boston during most his career, but by presumably being mistaken for the more famous Minneapolis "Bart" whenever he did get any recognition. (Granted, the two Bart's styles are widely divergent, but people aren't generally too quick on the uptake in that regard). I would have boldly signed myself "Crassous" -- now there's a unique moniker!
Anyhow, as I said, D.C. Bartholomew worked mostly for Boston papers, and in his early years I have to say he didn't show all that much promise (see The Extraordinary Adventures of Joseph, James and John, for instance). However, practice certainly had the right effect on him, and by the time he got his final series, an untitled almost-daily strip for the New York Globe, syndicated through Associated Newspapers, his writing was sharply hilarious and his cartooning was a joy to behold.
The D.C. Bartholomew Weekday Comic Strip (it carried no running title, so this is how I have ever so colorfully dubbed it) ran for about one year, appearing in the Chicago Daily News regularly from January 22 1912 to January 18 1913. The New York Globe itself used the cartoons less often, where the running dates are January 8 - November 1 1912, but apparently they had Bart produce strips for the syndicate even when they chose not to run them. So let's call the running dates a semi-official January 8 1912 to January 18 1913.
As you can see in the samples above, the strip resembled in format and tone Rube Goldberg's comic strip, which was in the competing New York Evening Mail. Bart's loopy wackiness is closely patterned on Goldberg's lead, but he really seemed to have his own gift for it -- it's not just a carbon copy of Goldberg. And the cartooning! Wow, it certainly isn't that semi-professional stuff of a decade earlier. D.C.'s work on this strip reminds me quite a bit of the great British cartoonist Fougasse, whose clean-lined minimalism brought him well-deserved fame. (Just between you and me, I think D.C. enhances that style by spotting his blacks, though, which Fougasse eschewed for some reason.)
Sadly, D.C. Bartholomew, who by this time was a cartoonist and writer of true greatness, didn't get any more time to practice his craft. His last year on this earth was apparently spent in trying to write a play, and he died of pneumonia in December 1913.
Thanks to Cole Johnson for the sample scans.