By C. Whitney Gilchrist (Cartoons & Collegian Fun, January 1927)
I am delighted to know that CARTOONS & COLLEGIAN FUN is
giving some of its valuable space to an interview with Arthur Racey. Racey
shares the distinction with only a few cartoonists on this continent of having
become a local institution. In the popular estimation, he "hits the nail
on the head" —a more difficult accomplishment than it sounds—very
frequently where serious subjects are concerned. And Montreal gets about one chuckle a week out of
his burlesques, which strikes me as a pretty high average.
As I have said, I am glad your magazine is giving Racey this
recognition. I do not know any man who has worked more honestly and
consistently, or who stands for a better tradition than does he.
E. L Archibald
When Sir Arthur
Meighan came into power in Canada, some time ago, he asked
Arthur G. Racey and another cartoonist to do some propaganda cartoons for the
Conservative Party. The next day Racey sent in forty ideas for cartoons, each
numbered consecutively, and followed this up each day until he had submitted about
two hundred. "Just mark the numbers you want and I'll do the rest," he
Meanwhile, the other cartoonist waited patiently for some
time and finally wrote asking why he was getting no work. He had been waiting
for someone else to suggest ideas for him!
With this in mind, it is not hard to understand why Racey
has done virtually all the cartoons used by the Conservatives in their last
three election campaigns and is regarded as the greatest— certainly the best
beloved— cartoonist in Canada.
For twenty-seven years he has been staff cartoonist on Lord
Atholstan's famous old independent newspaper, The Montreal Daily Star. Before
joining The Star he had been employed on an opposition newspaper, The Witness,
for seven years, making more than a third of a century in the cartooning
Racey was born in Quebec
City in 1871. While attending Quebec High School,
he submitted a cartoon to The Witness. It was not accepted, but the drawing showed
so much talent that the editor wrote encouraging the young artist to persevere.
After high school came St. Francis College and a
B.A. at McGill University, then the position on The Witness.
Besides his permanent newspaper work, Racey has contributed
to Life, Punch, and many other foreign and domestic humorous publications. He
has also done considerable drawing for MacLean's Magazine. His cartoons have
been reprinted wherever the English language is spoken.
Among other things he illustrated Stephen Leacock's
"Sunshine Sketches of a Small
Town." "In this
book," he explained. "I depicted an Anglican canon with spats.
Shortly after it came out I received a letter from Bishop Carmichael, which
read: 'Dear Arthur: I thought you understood that a Church of England clergyman
does not wear gaiters—"I sent the letter on to Leacock and got the
following characteristic reply: 'My Dear Racey: If you and I wish to make a
Church of England clergyman wear gaiters, he's jolly well got to wear
Just to show that cartoonists slip up now and then, just
like other folks, Racey tells this incident:
"Once in a political cartoon I made use of 'Tom O'
Shanter' riding over the Brig O' Doon with the
witches in close pursuit. The following day a redheaded and much riled Scotsman
stamped into the office and bitterly berated me for not studying Burns more
carefully. 'Why’ said I aghast, 'what have I done now?' 'Hoot mon!' he cried in
indignation, holding the cartoon in front of my face, 'dinna ye ken better at
a'? Here ye've made Tam ridin' frae east tae west, when Burns says he rode ower
the Brig' O' Doon frae west tae east!"
On another occasion, Racey drew a sketch of all the
bald-headed Members of Parliament from the press gallery. Shortly afterward he
received a letter of severe reproof from an old French Canadian member who
declared he was not bald.
"I believe he did have ten or fifteen hairs, all
told," Racey remarked with a grin.
"A similar instance,” the cartoonist continued,"
was when, some years ago, the Montreal Star ran a publicity stunt. Every little
girl that would send ten cents and her photograph -could have her picture in
the paper and the money thus taken was turned over to some fund or other. This
happened before the days of modern engraving, and every photo had to be drawn
from the blueprint, blocked and etched by hand. Some job? I'll tell the world.
"And how those photos did pour in; we artists were
swamped with work! One day I had an engagement for golf, when just at the last
moment a batch of eighty came in! However, we divided up and got to work. The
last of my lot was a little Mary Murphy and I'll confess the poor kid got
sketchy treatment. Next day one of my colleagues rushed in and yelled 'Beat it,
Racey, if you value your life, there's a wild, raging mother stamping upstairs
with a club looking for the man 'what drawed Mary Murphy's fice.’ I did beat
Racey was a close friend of the late Sir Sam Hughes. He
tells an incident of their first meeting, in an article in MacLean's Magazine.
During a train journey he had been drawn into conversation with a fellow
passenger. The conversation drifted to a newly published book of cartoons,
"The Englishman in Canada”
Sir Sam launched into a detailed and red-hot criticism of
the book and of the artist himself. Finding his companion responsive and
interested, he "soared to inspired heights of condemnation, tempered now
and then by a bit of praise. Soon the train reached Montreal and, when parting, Sir Sam suggested
that having proven such congenial companions it would not be amiss to become
"I am sorry," he apologized, "but I was so
intent on discussing that rascal Racey that I did not think to introduce
myself. My name is Hughes-—Sir Sam Hughes. And yours—?"
"I am very pleased indeed to make your acquaintance
sir," said the cartoonist, "and sincerely hope we shall meet again.
My name is Racey—A. G. Racey."
With a muttered "Good Lord!" Sir Sam turned on his
heel. They met again, however, and very often; their acquaintance grew into a
Racey is a life member of the Montreal Art Association, having
studied oil and water colors under the late William Brymer, R.C.A., and the
late Mr. Moss of Ottawa.
Racey has a fertile mind and a fund of humor. Above all he
loves a red-hot election battle. During the reciprocity issue of 1911 his
powerful stinging cartoons were reprinted all over Canada and the U. S. After the
elections he received a letter from Robert Borden which read, "Your
cartoons contributed not a little to the successful termination of the eventful
campaign we have just been through."
During the World War, although too old to go to the front,
Racey made a lecture tour with his war cartoons, throwing them on the screen
before wildly enthusiastic audiences in every city and large town all over the
Dominion. This tour netted about $45,960 for the Red Cross and other patriotic
According to Racey there are three things that one who would
succeed in the cartoon game must do: (1) work, (2) study technic and (3) work.
Enroll with a good school, study the principles of
cartooning and then practice, PRACTICE and persevere. Soon you will find that
through your persistent, conscientious endeavor you are steadily climbing the
hill to success.
In the beginning you must help yourself and depend on
yourself only, let your own unconquerable determination surmount all obstacles
and help you over the dark moments. But when at last you have shown your determination
to win you will find hands outstretched on every side ready and willing to give
you a friendly lift. Such is life.
And when at last you have "arrived" you will find
that carping critics, deeply wronged Church of England clergymen, indignant,
redheaded Scots, raging Cockney mothers, and irate M.P.’s jar upon you but
little—other than perhaps a momentary feeling of nervousness.
Labels: News of Yore
This is the Life!
Chapter One -- The First Dozen Years are the Worst (Part 2)
Those were crude, unpolished times when pressed clothing
would have aroused hostility, when a man who had been to Europe or parted his
hair in the middle was a celebrity, and Roger's
were considered High Art; when Birch, Backus and Wambold's Nigger Minstrels
amusement highly enjoyable but, as many persons thought, somewhat indelicate,
and the Black
was mentioned with bated breath.
The atmosphere of godliness pervading middle-class circles
which called a local authoress, Marion Harland
wife of our pastor, to account for her "Ruby's Husband," as
namby-pamby a story as was ever written, but it was a "novel," was,
of course, nothing as compared with the strictness of ante-war days when a
ballet performance would have been instantly raided, but I used to wonder when
everybody seemed to be reprobating the Black Crook in unmeasured terms how the
theater ever paid expenses.
Along with all this genteel goodness the ethics of business
permitted the most flagrant swindles, politics was as rotten and corrupt as is
conceivable, and political meetings, and especially party parades, were scenes
of carnage and often of manslaughter and mayhem that aroused no particular
comment. I have witnessed combats on our streets that were as sanguinary as Bull Run and seen local political bosses lead armed gangs
to combat like any medieval barons; one of these, a famous character, Boss
Stainsby, was for me a synonym for the much discussed Bill Tweed. Smallpox was
epidemic somewhere in town about half the time, bedbugs, ants, fleas and
cockroaches were seemingly inevitable pests, and as everybody of any
consequence possessed a stable back of his residence, house flies were a third
part of the godly atmosphere.
Fighting was a necessary part of schooling. Our Academy
uniform, closely resembling that of the West Point
cadets, was a pregnant source of extreme irritation to every bad, tough boy in
every ward, and one was daily compelled to defend its honor and its neatness as
well, but I do not recall being worried much on that sartorial account. I seem
to have done far more fighting in the school grounds. A family of six boys may
be depended upon to produce one or two effective scrappers, and I began early
to learn that I must be my own defender, but it was only after I had enjoyed
the singular satisfaction of defeating three assailants at once with no other weapon
than a bundle of schoolbooks strapped together that I came to look upon
pugilism as a pleasurable entertainment as well as a duty.
Across the wide Market
Street lived a boy named Jake Haussling
afterward achieved the distinction, several times repeated, of being Mayor of
Newark, and whose father kept a prosperous saloon. Jake was bigger than I, but
I was considered more respectable, of course. One day he insolently grabbed a
top which I was spinning on the pavement, and started homeward with the prize.
I think this was my first real fight. Before it was finished—or interrupted, as
it likely was:—a pleasant time was had by all of the large and enthusiastic
crowd which assembled. Jake was taken home by his mother, and I had the top,
but I was afraid to go home, as fighting was one of the outdoor sports to which
my parents decidedly objected. I knew that I was in for a notable licking and
deferred my homecoming until darkness fell. My sad condition, however, was
immediately apparent, but I had concocted a beautiful alibi to the effect that
the burly, brutal Jake with a band of ten toughs had attacked me and taken my precious
top, subjecting me to terribly rough usage when I defended it. Mother seized my
hand and, wordless, hauled me across the street to the Haussling home.
"See what your brutal son has done to my
littleWalter!" she protested, pointing dramatically to my palpable facial
disfigurement. "He has beaten him black and blue all over, too!"
"Come! See once what your leetle boy has done to my
leetle Jakey alretty!" replied the placid Mrs. Haussling, and she led us
into another room wherein big Jake, with both eyes tightly closed and
beautifully black, purple and green, sat in a bathtub filled with hot water. Mother
took one swift look and departed. I got my licking within ten minutes, but I
never felt it, so consoled was I by the heavenly spectacle I had just
witnessed. Poor Jake was a good fellow, deservedly popular and a competent
executive, yet, possessed by a species of melancholic mania, he committed
suicide several years ago.
In those days of long ago the founder of one of Newark's
wealthiest families used to do odd jobs about the old house, but by industry
and acumen he acquired a large fortune through the sale of fertilizers. His
wife became a town celebrity for her amusing misnomers. She remarked to mother
one day that her daughter had "become so high-toned that she had to have
her fingernails manured every week," and on another occasion, when asked
what she had found most enjoyable during a recent trip to Europe, she affirmed
complacently: "I think I was most impressed in France by the sight of all the
pheasants coming down the mountainside singing the Mayonnaise." All this
is now tradition. Her husband was succeeded in his work by a genuine Indian
named John Teazman, one of the last relics of a vanished tribe once dwelling in
the Pompton region. I was just old enough to get the benefit of the friendship
of this accomplished aborigine who could do everything from beating a rug or
skinning a rabbit to repairing a grand-father's clock in a satisfactory manner.
John was slim, long-haired, dark and taciturn, a genuine Fenimore
Indian, and he loved the toil of pulling weeds, whitewashing fences,
cutting grass or shoveling snow exactly as fondly as I did. I wish I now had at
my disposal the hours we two spent in exploring, from my eighth to my
thirteenth year, the wilds of the Orange
Mountains or the wide
cloud-mottled meadows, and on the river where smelt, perch, shad and even
sturgeon were to be caught or speared.
He taught me to shoot with the bow, to ride, to swim,to
cook, to build a bed of boughs, to trap and skin animals, and a dozen other
arts, and in return I told him about fossils, which were early my passion, and
of pirates and fairies, tales with which he was never satiated. We used to go
away for days at a time on what the boy of today would call a "hike,"
for mother had every confidence in him, and during this time we ate nothing but
what we shot with the bow or caught with hook and line, barring, of course, a
neighborly lifting of green corn or the like when we encountered a farm. To
those sunlit days and the tricks this red man taught me I have owed my
preservation more than once, and also, no doubt, a vigorous frame and muscular
development somewhat above the average.
I have heard him say: "Wash no good! Make man weak—like
squaw! See big fat pig! Plenty dirt, plenty fat!" I believed him but found
it practically almost impossible to live up to this theory with a whole family
opposed to it. However, one blissful week that I spent camping out with him in
the Orange Mountains, several miles from any human habitation, demonstrated the
scientific value of his belief, for I did not wash face or hands for seven days
and I gained four pounds in weight, as I triumphantly proved at the grocer's on
We have killed the woodcock in swamps now covered with tall
structures, rabbits in fields now blocks of buildings, caught pickerel in
brooks buried deep underground today, and shot ducks where miles of factories blacken the
sky with smoke. From him I learned to use the filthy weed, but by his wise
counsel avoided liquor until I became a newspaperman and in constant contact
with corruption and vice.
I have never fully believed that John was purely Indian, as
he never revealed the least bloodthirstiness or savagery whatever. Repeatedly
during our travels through dark Essex County we found opportunities for gory
homicide, even for torture at the stake, but although warmly, even fervently
urged, he manifested a singular reluctance to commit murder that was
discouraging to an ardent devourer of Beadle's Dime Novels
dime, by the way, was a recent innovation, shin-plasters having driven all
silver coins into desuetude. Once in a deep valley we found an old peddler lost
in the huckleberry growth and instead of killing, scalping and despoiling the
God-given prize the Indian conducted him to the turnpike to my intense disgust,
afterward severely reprimanding me because I criticized his lack of aboriginal
ferocity and craft.
Although John had the mentality of a mud turtle, being quite
unable to understand such simple matters as the rotundity of the earth, its
orbit around the sun, the changes of the moon, its effect upon the tides or the
nature of an eclipse, which are taught to school children and which every white
man fully comprehends, of course, he became, under my father's tuition, a
competent taxidermist and in that capacity went to Mexico or some-where and so
I lost my redskin comrade.
I had long been at the Academy when he departed, and missed
him only when my soul revolted from the monotony of drill and uninteresting
lessons. Nobody knows how I learned to read; very likely it was the effect of
absorption, perhaps from alphabet blocks, but at the age of six I was an
omnivorous and untiring borer into books. I remember suffering at times from
severe headaches, which, it seems, attracted no particular attention, for at
that time little was known about eyestrain and its effect upon the other organs
of the human body, and that I was shortsighted neither my parents nor teachers ever
suspected, although at school I had to approach within ten feet of the
blackboard in order to read what was written thereon. It was left for Teddy
Roosevelt to inform me, when about twelve years of age, of my deficiency.
Four or five years at the Academy followed our removal from
the old Market Street home to a modern brick and brownstone residence on
aristocratic High Street, where life began to assume a more serious aspect. Before
the Civil War our family life had been somewhat peripatetic, father painting
portraits in Charleston, S.C., during the winters and in Saratoga in summer,
but now he added a large photograph gallery to his painting studio and settled
down to the humdrum life of a country town. His experiences comprised a
prairie-schooner trip across Indian-infested plains to far-off Minneapolis
and a voyage down the Mississippi to New Orleans, and he was
regarded as something of a Ulysses. His gallery lost him much money, for he was
in no sense a businessman, despising the petty details of moneymaking, although
in his painting no man was ever more finical.
The Military Academy, an institution dating from pre-Colonial
times, provided preparation for college unsurpassed in America, beside
supplying military instruction under an army officer, a Major Hopkins. The students
under military teaching numbered several hundred boys, its combination of
mental and physical activity attracted me and before I was fifteen I had been elected
captain of a company, an honor due less to my ability or size, I am assured,
than to my capacity for making friends.
I hated arithmetic and music, alas; history fascinated me,
geography was merely a diversion, but composition was play. I supplied
compositions to four or five boys, who in return attended to my arithmetical
and Latin labors, but drill, gymnastics and boxing must have taken most of my
time. Greek I was never even introduced to, I imagine.
One day, feeling more than usually loath to endure a Latin
lesson, on a sudden impulse I forged an excuse, copying my mother's writing,
jerky and uneven from rheumatism, and handed it to our Latin instructor,
Professor Davis, a typical ancient Roman with side-whiskers. With the
criminal's usual lack of forethought I continued to hand in similar excuses
until old Davis's personal vanity was wounded and he came to mother to ask why
she did not seem to wish me to learn Latin, bringing with him all the forged
excuses, and at the sight of these my mother's brain reeled. That they were
actually in her own handwriting she had no doubt, but she had no recollection
of having written one of them. She did manage to retain enough self-possession
to acknowledge their authorship, probably from the maternal instinct of
protection, and he subjected her to a long tirade on the value of the dead
languages before departing.
A little later I came home and was confronted with the bale
of forged excuses which Davis
had forgotten, a portentous and disconcerting mass of evidence. I saw the game
was up and promptly confessed. Between her consternation at the enormity of my
crime, the terrifying prospect of others to come, with my ultimate end on the
gallows and the amazingly perfect imitation of her cramped chirography, my poor
mother was completely overcome and flabbergasted. I was too big to be punished
in the ancient customary manner, and in her horror and weakness she fell on her
knees and laid the whole matter before the Almighty.
I have never, even when solemnly reproved by the Supreme
Court of the United States
for caricaturing its eight tobacco-chewing justices in session (which is a story
in itself), had so saddening, mortifying and so utterly reforming an experience
as this. In her presentation of the awful charge and the incidental mention of other
little peccadillos, inconsiderable trifles such as stealing doughnuts and
beating up my little brother, who always deserved all he got, alternated with
heart-rending appeals for my forgiveness and ultimate salvation through the
blood of the Lamb, she was so transcendentally impressive that I sweated and
shivered by turns in the apprehension that the Almighty would attend to m ycase
right then and there. However, nothing happened except that I was saved as by
an unseen miracle. I have never forged a signature since that day, having a
sort of uneasy feeling, when tempted to do so, that I was on probation, and the
nearest I have ever come to it was the imitation of the style of other and, so
to speak, greater artists like Gibson and Kirby, which, after all, is a
compliment and not a crime.
My brother Harry, afterward a clever writer under the nom de plume
of "Harrimac" and
one of the proprietors of the Newark
, about this period of my early adolescence perpetrated a
trick which filled the sleepy old town for some weeks with intense excitement. Across
our street was the Breintnal estate with an extensive lawn, a fine mansion
approached by two rows of stately elms, the very presentment of refined austere
opulence. Off to the left, back of a row of shops, stood a ruinous structure
which had once been Newark's water reservoir, a circular amphitheater about
twenty-five feet in diameter and twelve high, its concrete wall lessening within
by a series of steps toward its top. To the boys of my decade the interior of
this ancient ruin was as unknown as Tibet, but Harry's gang knew it
well. Mounting the tank by a ladder that was drawn up after them, they lowered
a cardboard effigy of a ghostlike figure, one side of which was white and the
other dead black, suspended by a fishpole. This they moved slowly along the
turf to simulate a floating specter.
It was not long before a horrified yell from the distant street
announced that the "High Street Ghost" had been discovered. A crowd
assembled and some venturesome individuals were observed by the operators of
the hoax within the dark circle of the wall to be stealthily approaching. A
string enabled the manager to reverse the figure, when it instantly became
invisible and could be hoisted quickly over the parapet.
Enormous assemblages of men and women used to gather nightly
on our quiet street to witness the spectacle, but it was quite impossible for
the perpetrators of the trick to give nightly performances for the reason that such
curiosity had been excited that at times they could not even approach the tank
from the rear without detection. The structure itself was never under suspicion
nor examined during the whole period of this spectral puppet show. I saw the
apparition three or four times and can testify to its startlingly supernatural
appearance. Its action was precisely what is expected traditionally from a
disembodied spirit; in the faint and flickering light of a few distant street
lamps it seemed to drift gracefully and fitfully across the blank gray wall and
fade into the gloom in an instant. Revolver shots frequently rang out and the
concrete of the wall became scarred with bullet marks that summer. Among the crowds
assembling nightly it was rarely that there appeared individuals courageous
enough to venture far within the gloom of the elms, and even policemen
some-times refused to approach the specter.
The New York
newspapers contained columns concerning the "High Street Ghost" and
yards of spiritualistic discussion were printed, but the secret was not
disclosed. I was forty years old before I learned the names of the perpetrators
of the hoax, three of whom were then highly respected lawyers and one was a
While not strongly moved by religious belief, both of our
parents were strict in opposing certain tendencies just then coming into view.
Card-playing was taboo but kissing games quite unobjectionable; dime novels extremely
pernicious while Petronius
seem to have contained no moral dynamite at all. Father's conscience was most
tender on the matter, a vital one, of staying out late of nights. A man who
remained out after ten at night, he maintained, was out for no good or proper
object. Harry, when an embryo reporter, was the most frequent offender in this
respect; protests and reprimands seemed unavailing.
In the stairway leading to the top floor where Henry slept
in the rear and my brother Frank and myself in the front room, was a board
which, when stepped on, creaked stridently, betraying the careless late arrival
like a village fire-alarm. The very sound indicated a jovial carelessness that
was suspicious, for it was well known that we usually avoided the telltale
plank at such times.
About dawn one summer morn the alarm awakened me and I saw
Harry slip across the hall to his door. Soon a second poignant squeak indicated
the stealthy approach of father. His gray head, which resembled that of William
Cullen Bryant, appeared white against the gloom of the stairway, and as he
peered into Harry's room I saw a start of surprise agitate him and then another
complaining sound from the step announced his retreat. I awakened Frank and
gleefully informed him that things were about to become interesting in our
domicile. The faint daylight strengthened and our patience was being sadly
strained, when, without warning, father appeared in the hall armed with a bed
slat. Then he tiptoed into Harry's room slowly. We slid out of bed instantly
and saw the cause of his strange actions. There on Harry's disheveled couch,
half covered by the bedraggled sheets, sprawled a burly form in seeming stupor,
fully clothed even to hat and shoes, a disgraceful and revolting spectacle. Our
stern and suspicious parent had more than once accused Harry of drinking lager
beer, but here was ocular evidence of gross intoxication, and in my youthful
righteousness I felt not the least pity for the delinquent.
The bed slat was raised aloft, poised and then descended
upon the central rotundity of the besotted wretch with a dull sickening thud. Up flew the boots to the ceiling, the hat flipped wildly
over the headboard, and a motley mass of old clothes, towels and other rubbish
curled and writhed about the bed slat for an instant and then flopped upon a
bed devoid of human occupant. Father took one swift look at the scattered pile
which Harry had so skillfully shaped to resemble his own form, and then we, the
least of his progeny, thought it was time to leave the vicinity. From our
darker room we saw him steal silently to the stairway and vanish. A moment
later Harry emerged quivering with elation and peered down the stairs, then he
hopped into bed.
No mention was ever made of this occurrence, but father
never again opened his mouth about staying out late of nights. He was a man who
was able to develop even the tiniest hint into a practicable and efficient
working model; besides, he had a keen sense of humor and the point of Harry's
joke must have been at once perceptible to him.
I have always cherished the thought that I was a trifle
nearer to my father inasmuch as I was the only one of the boys who painted for
years in his studio, played chess with him, and was as inordinate and insatiate
a reader of every kind of literature. Unlike the modern artist, he despised all
forms of studio decoration, preferring an almost bare apartment, ridiculed the
collection mania which after the Centennial Exposition began to adorn studios
and homes with old armor, weapons, furniture and ceramics. He abhorred everything
that was ancient except the ruins of castles and old trees. He claimed that all
these antiques collected dust, the painter's greatest foe, as well as diverted his
mind from his work, and it seems that most of the painters of his time held the
In our immediate neighborhood lived Henry
,a boy of gentle manners and lively disposition, who became a
distinguished painter; beyond his home dwelt Walter Rankin, a lad of my own
age, afterward head of the Green School of biology at Princeton; another boy,
further away, was Wood Adams, who developed into an artist of much merit, and
on the next block lived Marion Harland, mother of my first love, Christine Terhune,
afterward Mrs. Herrick, as well as of Albert Payson
, who was for many years a confrere of mine on the World
, on his return from his extensive travels in Africa, lived with
the Rankins for a period, bringing with him a young gorilla, the first ever
seen, I believe, in the United
States. The simian escaped and, it was
supposed, perished in the woods west of town, although I remember it being
often jocularly suggested that the animal would turn up in the possession of Barnum's
Menagerie. Du Chaillu was very fond of children and delighted in telling them
of his adventures, but I was most impressed by his account of a period of prolonged
hunger and thirst which he endured somewhere. This was tragedy which I could visualize
and it touched my sympathetic heart. In those early days hunger seemed to me
the climax of all miseries, and the very thought of it was painful, but I came
to think that cold is a far greater evil.
Around the corner lived Wambold
of the famous minstrels,
and to sit at the bottom of the stairs of his high stoop and listen to the
droll sayings and quaint anecdotes of the members of the company on a Sunday night
and feel the subtle difference between these antic unrestrained and jocund
souls and the demure long-faced austerity of those who regarded them as pariahs
was what first led me to analyzing my own impulses and emotions. I felt that I
was somehow akin to them despite their frequent oaths and obscene stories which
compelled me to laughter by their wit, akin to them in their unrestrained
individuality and lack of pretense and desire to amuse, despite the fact that
my religious training assured me that all were traveling along the path leading
to destruction. This was long before I was permitted to view them on their
stage in blackface, and when I repeated at home one of their somewhat equivocal
jokes I always created dismay and consternation, but I never revealed the
source of my material. I have no doubt that I gained a certain facility in the
remembering and telling of good stories that was of value to me in life, from
my contact with these hard-working, sharp-witted and painstaking performers.
About the time of the Chicago
fire and the great comet which hung in the west day after day to the vast
discomfort of the superstitious, there came to the house two doors from us,
occupied by Colonel Edmund Joy, a still greater wonder. This was "Buffalo
Bill," the altogether superhuman hero of a series of thrilling tales in
the New York Ledger
by "Ned Buntline
came almost daily to confer with the famous scout about characters, scenes and
such in the lurid soul-gripping plots he concocted. Every boy in the land was
reading these stories, but very few ever recognized in the tall, long-haired
and slim man of perhaps thirty, with rather pensive eyes, the death-dealing,
hated and feared foe of the red man. I used to snuggle in beside the two in
silence and listen to their discussions, at first with awe and admiration, but gradually
I came to detect the motion and the sound of the machinery of fiction, and my
keen sense of the verities was shocked more than once at the casual addition of
eight or ten redskin victims of the hero's unfailing revolver, as if Indians
were mere vermin, or the insertion of more startling details in an already too
heart-rending episode, events plainly invented at the moment for the sole
purpose of injecting more ginger into the narrative.
Cody's manner was so tame and subdued, almost shy, that I
began to harbor a clammy suspicion that Buffalo Bill's sanguinary reputation
was founded entirely on the clever author's invention and that it was quite
possible that there was no human blood upon his hands at all. He certainly did
not appear a fifth as homicidal as did the man who delivered charcoal at our
house, who killed his wife and was hanged for the crime; there was nothing of
the relentless, panther-like killer about this serene, amiable, quiet person;
why, even Thomas
,who had written what was called a lifelike and snappy book
about a bad boy, had a far more truculent air when once, with Du Chaillu, he
had endeavored to probe two or three of us about our acts and thoughts. I
concluded that Bill was largely a fake, and Buntline's stories gave me a pain
in the neck.
, on the other hand, had all the elemental qualifications of the bad
man, being as hard-boiled and low-browed as any of our Seventh Ward Democrats
or Morris Canallers. I was willing to believe that he had a bad heart without
any proof whatever, but I was keenly disappointed in Bill. He could not look at
one with the dark and murderous glance that chilled the blood, as did Texas
Jack, nor did he exhale that pungent aroma as of a brewery and a distillery on
the same block on a summer night.
These feelings were somewhat modified when one day Buffalo
Bill and his gifted author came riding up to Joy's on spirited steeds from the
livery stable and Bill made his animal do stunts that he didn't know were in him,
by sheer skill in horsemanship. Then I got a glimpse of the real rider and
scout, but it was not until I had seen him in his magnificent, almost
imperially proud entrance at the Wild West Show years later, that I grasped the
full splendor of his being.
I was to meet him, travel with him, and make his newspaper
pictures for twenty years, but of that in its place.
*** END OF CHAPTER ONE ***
Labels: McDougall's This Is The Life
It seems to me that a comic strip creator, if he or she can do nothing else well, ought to at least be able to follow their own self-imposed rules. In other words, if a comic strip creator does a strip about a little girl, they can't just change her into a little boy for a day. Charles Schulz can't have Charlie Brown berate Lucy for snatching away the football, Calvin can't start paying attention in class, Garfield can't purr contentedly in Jon's arms, and Dagwood can't flirt with the gals in the office.
Once you make up the rules of your feature, you've got to stick to them. It's really not that hard. But for Fred Locher
, who had a long career as a newspaper cartoonist, even this basic requirement seems to have been beyond his capabilities. In the short run 1917 strip Barnum Was Right
, the self-imposed rule is perfectly simple. Based on the title, our protagonist must be revealed in each strip to be a sucker, as of the "one born every minute" variety. How hard can that be?
In the top strip above, Locher executes the rule perfectly. The strip not only obeys the rule, but frankly, the message about the treadmill of life is really quite effective and, dare I say it, touching!
But then Locher blows it. In the next two strips, our little mensch is in one case revealed to be uninformed about a train schedule, which is unfortunate to be sure, but certainly doesn't make him a sucker. He would be a sucker if some smart-ass had told him to wait for the bus there. But that's not what happened.
In the last example he has lost his key, which perhaps makes him an idiot. Then he is snagged by a suspicious cop, which makes him very unlucky. But neither of those things makes him a sucker.
There's nothing intrinsically wrong with the gags, though they're about as weak as Gandhi after a long fast. They're just not right for this comic strip. If Locher couldn't abide by his rule, he should have just changed the name of the strip. Howzabout They'll Do It Every Time
or It's a Great Life if You Don't Weaken
. I like the ring to those, and they fit the spirit of the strip.
Locher did this sorry excuse for a strip for Hearst's Newspaper Feature Service for an undetermined amount of time in 1917. I have only seen isolated examples that ran in the Philadelphia Bulletin
in September of that year.