Saturday, February 03, 2018
June 13 1909 -- Evidently Herriman is referring to some talk about Battling Nelson retiring and getting married, but he wouldn't actual retire until 1917, and he married cartoonist Fay King in 1913. So I guess we should all bellow "FAKE NEWS" and take this as a sign that mainstream journalism has failed us.
Labels: Herriman's LA Examiner Cartoons
Friday, February 02, 2018
Wish You Were Here, from Albert Carmichael
Here's another Carmichael card, this one from the 1909 "Your Fortune" series, which is Taylor Pratt & Co. Series 621. These cards must not have done well on the spinner rack, because they seem to be scarcer than other Carmichael series cards.
Wait ... did they have spinner racks in 1909?
Labels: Wish You Were Here
Thursday, February 01, 2018
King News by Moses Koenigsberg: Chapter 16 Part 2
King News by Moses KoenigsbergPublished by F.A. Stokes Company, 1941
Genius Rides the Lone Wolf (part 2)link to previous installment link to next installment
A policy cutting off a large part of the patronage open to the consolidated syndicates was iterated in oral and written statements from Hearst. Boiled down to a single instruction, the effect was: “Don’t want to fortify our competitors in any city with any features or any material of any kind, except routine news service. This regulation applies to everything prepared or supplied directly or indirectly.”
The time came when that restriction excluded these seventeen centers from the general market for Hearst features: Albany, Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, New York, Oakland, Pittsburgh, Rochester, San Antonio, San Francisco, Seattle, Syracuse, and Washington.
The reasoning behind the sacrifice of revenues from these communities was eventually proved illogical by its abandonment. In the ’30s the bars against sales to non-Hearst publications were let down. Again expedience had supplanted logic. A definite need for more income set aside a reluctance “to fortify competitors.”
The promptness with which top records were set by King Features Syndicate outsped my brightest hopes. The roster of clients soon represented a circulation surpassing that of any competitor. A whimsical estimation of this success was linked with a memorable encounter. It was my first meeting with Eamon de Valera. That was in 1919. De Valera had escaped from an English prison only a few weeks before. Twenty months earlier, an amnesty had saved him from the execution of a death sentence. Now, as President of the Irish Republic, he had come to the United States to organize the sale of bonds for his government.
In the rotunda of the Auditorium Theatre, the Chicago home of grand opera, I had passed Clarence Darrow, absorbed in conversation with a man leaning against one of the marble pillars. There was nothing about the appearance of Darrow’s companion to arrest my attention. A quick glance had set him down as an embodiment of moderate averages. A sallowish complexion, a careless posture and an attire almost as negligent as Clarence’s Bohemian outfit, confirmed a first impression of unimportance. Darrow called me back. His insistence on presenting me to his friend was puzzling. It became irksome when Clarence’s tongue seemed to twist the pronunciation of a commonplace name.
“Develin” was a good West Side moniker. It fitted this owner. Why try to make it sound classy, like something that wouldn’t become him? Darrow was plainly miffed over the perfunctoriness with which I acknowledged the introduction. That only quickened my desire to get away. As I turned to leave, Herbert Kaufman entered the theatre lobby. He stopped me. Holding my arm, he spoke in mock reproof to Darrow and the man beside him.
“What do you mean by letting Koenigsberg get away from you?” he demanded. “You need him in your business. Do you know that he is responsible for more printed words every day than pass through the hands of any other individual?” Two facts flashed from what Kaufman evidently intended as friendly humor. First, the “business” of Darrow’s companion was something about which an alert journalist should know. Second, my work had reached a responsibility of sobering proportions.
|Eamon de Valera|
De Valera’s sympathy eased my embarrassment over a seeming snub to a distinguished visitor. The utter simplicity of his manner is unforgettable. It set him in a special niche in my gallery of recollections of men who guided national destinies. Of the six presidents of the United States beside whom I have been privileged to sit, before or during their occupancy of the White House, one alone matched the simple ways of Ireland’s chief magistrate. He was Calvin Coolidge. But he amazed me with traits at complete variance with the prevailing conception of his directness and taciturnity.
President Coolidge sat for the greater part of an hour in the East Room of the executive mansion at Washington, one leg over a sliding shelf of his desk, talking to me without interruption save for three questions that I asked. And less than a minute was consumed in the propounding of each of those queries. One related to Prohibition, at the time the most critical problem confronting the country. At the end of thirty-eight minutes, when the interview ended, the President had not answered any of my inquiries. Nor had he expressed a definite opinion on any serious topic. It should be emphasized, however, that there had not been the slightest intimation that Mr. Coolidge would make a statement of any sort. He exceeded my expectations. He gave me a rare demonstration. It showed that a master of reticence may also be a master of volubility. And there was ample evidence that Calvin Coolidge found considerable enjoyment in furnishing the proof.
Whatever parallel I may have found between Coolidge and De Valera was totally absent from the ponderous dignity of Grover Cleveland, described in earlier pages in the account of my interview with him at breakfast in New Orleans; the motion picture personality of Warren Harding, suggesting at each of our meetings a Roman tribune of the people on vacation from antiquity; the frigid mien of Herbert Hoover, who could not bridge his aloofness even while granting me a favor (which happened to be an authorization to announce a presidential trip); the almost melancholy reserve of William McKinley; or the irresistible aggressiveness of Theodore Roosevelt.
My acquaintance with William McKinley began before his initial term in the White House. The Pittsburgh Times assigned me to interview him. He had just delivered an oration at a Grand Army of the Republic reunion. It included an apostrophe to Lincoln as “the pillar of a people, the center of a world’s desire.” McKinley seemed touched for a moment by my rhapsodic appreciation. Then, in gentle reproof, he said, “Young man, you must learn to bridle your emotions, or you will squander your devotions.” Outdated as may be the phraseology, it is still good advice.
Theodore Roosevelt, whom I met in successive stages of reportorial and editorial work, filled an important chapter of my syndicate experience. It was a negotiation for his literary services. Incidentally, it exemplified the limitless objectivity of William Randolph Hearst. No man in high station had shown greater hostility to Hearst than Theodore Roosevelt. As president of the United States, Roosevelt directed Secretary of State Elihu Root to speak for him in opposition to Hearst’s candidacy for governor of New York in 1906. Charles E. Hughes was the Republican candidate in that campaign. Root’s speech attained the superlative in vitriolic denunciation. Professing to quote Theodore Roosevelt, Root said that Hearst, arraying labor against capital and capital against labor, poverty against wealth and wealth against poverty, “spreads the spirit, follows the methods and is guided by the selfish motives of a revolutionist.”
The bitterness of the attack provoked countrywide astonishment. It was stressed by the unusual action of a president of the United States in meddling so vigorously in a state election. The normal man in Hearst’s position would have been imbued with an implacable hatred for Roosevelt. But we find Hearst trying at the earliest opportunity to enlist Roosevelt on his staff of writers. The apostle of the strenuous life had not left the White House before Hearst’s emissaries tackled him. First Morrill Goddard was detailed to sign him up. After a time the assignment passed to me.
Roosevelt agreed to discuss the matter with me at the office of the magazine, Outlook. He was winding up a term as contributing editor of that periodical. We were standing together in a doorway at the edge of a mass of more than two hundred persons packed in a room too small for the comfort of half their number. Suddenly, the former president shouted at the top of his lungs.
“Hey, McCarthy!” rang the call. At the same time, Roosevelt’s famous campaign hat was swinging around his head. The former president had just noticed a comrade of his Rough Rider days. The thrill that ran through the crowd left me cold. McCarthy was wedged between several women less than ten feet away. He was close enough to hear what was said if his colonel had spoken in the subdued tones of a private conversation.
There was no hint of a poseur at my next meeting with Theodore Roosevelt. Arriving ahead of schedule at his Oyster Bay estate, I set out to surprise him on the walk he was taking through the woods. The tables were turned. He startled me. Crashing through brush and foliage, the noise of his approach suggested a bear on a honey scent. It was a pleasant relief to hear his greeting.
The former president frankly admitted that the terms I proposed differed so much from the offer in favor of which he had practically decided that “the entire matter would be reopened for further consideration.” When we parted he assured me that “except in the event of an adverse outcome of a pending development,” he would comply with my request. The adverse outcome eventuated. It was the decision of a family conference. Mr. Roosevelt accepted the proposal of the Metropolitan Magazine at a rate of compensation much smaller than the figures I submitted.
It is interesting to scan the staff which narrowly missed the inclusion of Theodore Roosevelt. Eventually, King Features Syndicate, as the central distributing agency, listed these stars: Elinor Glyn (discoverer of “It”), Rita Weiman, W. L. George, Damon Runyon, Gene Fowler, William B. Seabrook, Rex Beach, Maria Jeritza and Lucrezia Bori (who wrote about beauty), Helen Rowland, Helen Wills (world-champion tennis star), Kathleen Norris and Charles Norris, J. P. McEvoy, H. C. Witwer, Ford C. Frick (afterward president of the National Baseball League), Captain Bruce Bairnsfather, Elsie Robinson, Lilian Lauferty (Beatrice Fairfax), Ward Greene, Elenore Meherin, Frazier Hunt, Grand Duke Boris of Russia, Hendrik Willem Van Loon, Norman Hapgood, George Bernard Shaw, Gabriel d’Annunzio, Sir Rabindranath Tagore, Marshal Foch, Guglielmo Ferrero, Maxim Gorky, William Jennings Bryan, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Fannie Hurst, Peter B. Kyne, Cornelius J. Vanderbilt, Jr., Ray Long, Vincent Richards (Olympic tennis champion), B. C. Forbes (noted authority on finance), Ogden Armour, Karl H. von Wiegand, Charles F. Bertelli, Otto Tolischus, Louise Bryant (who, as the widow of John Reed, married W. C. Bullitt), H. R. Knickerbocker, Isaac Don Levine, Duke N. Parry, Edna Lee Booker, Baron George Wrangell, Robert J. Prew, Than V. Ranck, Dr. Charles Fleischer, Sidney S. Lenz, William Phillip Simms, James J. Corbett, Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney.
The list of King Features Syndicate’s 1,200 clients circled the globe. It included publications printed in twenty-seven languages. The syndicate’s greatest success was in the distribution of “funnies.” Its premier comic was George McManus’ Bringing Up Father. The central figure, “Jiggs,” attained popularity as far away as Buenos Aires, Stockholm and Shanghai. In 1928, Bringing Up Father was published in more than six hundred communities, the largest roster of clients ever obtained for a comic.
McManus, however, did not achieve the financial success won by Bud Fisher with Mutt and Jeff. Fisher’s earnings at one time reached $4,000 weekly. As has been told in earlier pages, the character, A. Mutt, may be traced to A. Piker Clerk, the first comic strip printed daily in America. That was the feature drawn, under my direction, by Clare Briggs for the Chicago American, in 1905. Fisher was living in Chicago at the time. He went to San Francisco. Two years later, he created Mutt for the San Francisco Chronicle. The character was a striking likeness of A. Piker Clerk. It is possible that Fisher made no conscious appropriation of the idea delineated by Briggs. But the similarity of Mutt and Piker was pointed out in a copyright suit in New York in 1913.
The popularity gained by Mutt and Jeff became so great that W. R. Hearst lured Fisher away from the San Francisco Chronicle. Fisher came to New York. J. N. Wheeler, one of the ablest managers ever to enter the syndicate field, persuaded Fisher to join him. Copyright history was made in the litigation that ensued. The Hearst case collapsed under weight of counsel—a craft overladen with legal giants. Wheeler afterward became the founder and president of Bell Syndicate, and still later the general manager of the North American Newspaper Alliance.
King Features Syndicate assembled the largest staff of comic artists ever gathered into one newspaper organization. Harry Hershfield, originator of Desperate Desmond and Abie Kabibble, and one of the most talented humorists with whom I have worked, was a member of this little army of laugh-makers. He dubbed the office, “The world’s biggest fun foundry.” Among his fellow workers, beside those mentioned elsewhere in these pages, were: George Herriman, creator of Krazy Kat; Tad (Timothy [sic: Thomas] Aloysius Dorgan), famous for his sports cartoons and his ]udge Rumhouser dog series, and who enriched the English language with more slang words and phrases than were attributed to any of his contemporaries; Hype Igoe, whose comments on sports shared popularity with his cartoons; Billy DeBeck, originator of Barney Google; Russ Westover, discoverer of Tillie the Toiler; E. C. Segar, whose Casper [sic: Castor] and Olive Oyl were reinforced by Popeye the Sailor and Wimpy; Chic Young, the entrepreneur for Blondie; Rube Goldberg, who engineered Foolish Questions in countless numbers; Frederick Burr Opper, sponsor of Happy Hooligan, Maud, and Alphonse and Gaston; Frank Willard, afterward responsible for Moon Mullins; Percy Crosby who made Skippy famous; H. H. Knerr, whose Hans and Fritz have been just as funny under his superintendence as they were in the original Katzenjammer Kids of Rudolph Dirks; Walter C. Hoban, Pat Sullivan, A. C. Fera, Gene [sic: Jean] Knott, Jimmy Swinnerton, Hal Coffman, Tom Powers, Tom McNamara, Zere, Paul Fung, Paul Arnot, C. D. Batchelor, Walter Berndt, Carl E. Schultze (Foxy Grandpa), Darrell McClure, Jo Swerling (Mr. Gallagher and Mr. Shean), Ad Carter, Jimmy Murphy.
One of my greatest cares was occasioned by the prima donna dispositions that fanned the atmosphere in which we worked. The emotional content of a company of divas is probably subject to fewer explosions than the volatilities pent in a staff of syndicate stars. It was my task to tend the vents ripped by these pneumatic energies.
Perhaps the best available index to the temperaments of comic artists was furnished by their major effort at organization in New York. A permanent club was launched. There was no trouble about electing the first president. He was Frederick Burr Opper. His seniority in age was so pronounced as to entitle him to the honor on that ground alone. When the time came for the second annual choice of officers, the society of kindly humorists was disrupted. It crashed into as many fragments as there were members. Each was of the unalterable conviction that he merited the chieftaincy.
A more rational, but not necessarily a more revealing, insight into the minds of the makers of “funnies” may be gleaned from their methods of work. Once I attempted to gather a symposium of their theories of humor. It was the consensus that the comic artist’s supreme passion could be summarized in the phrase, “Anything for a laugh.” Under that title, each of the corps of gentle fun-makers was invited to write an essay. Here are extracts from several of the contributions:
All ideas seem good until they are drawn up. But after they’re all finished, their mirth-provoking possibilities, in my estimation, drop to somewhere below sea level.
Why not give birth to a new one right now? Let’s see-------Ha! Oh, baby! That’s what I call picking one out of the air! The above dashes represent three minutes of good, old, hard thinking. Why not have Rough-House, the cafe owner, talking to Popeye about how punk business is? He’s complaining that customers don’t eat enough.
“Blow me down!” sez Popeye. “I got a exter hot idear. Why don’t ya invent a appretizer wich’ll give folks a appretite? I means sumpin’ that’ll make a man so hungry he’d steal the spinach off’n his own kid’s plate.”
“Great!” exclaims Rough-House. “Let’s go over and talk to Professor Finklesnop about it.”
“Sure,” says the professor, “I can mix up some stuff that’ll make a mosquito eat a horse.”
The next scene shows many bottles of the powerful appetizer on the restaurant counter.
Enter Mister Wimpy—“I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”
If you are acquainted with Wimpy, you’ll know that he is the one man who should not have an appetizer. He’s a pest, always hungry, and always broke. And then he takes a swig out of one of the bottles!
This idea seems good now, and I’ll probably snicker a bit while I am drawing it up, but as soon as it is finished it will be like the others before it just something the cat dragged in.
When one is asked, offhand, “Can you recall your most interesting comic idea? How did it occur to you?” you grope around, lost and a little bewildered, sort of like the man with soap in his eyes, reaching for a towel; or the man in a strange dark room, groping for a bulb which is every place but at his finger tips. At any rate, I will plunge into the subject like a man diving into an icy pool. By thrashing out in every direction I might warm up to the subject.
When my little boy was three, and my little girl seventeen months, they sat with me at breakfast—one on each side. I share the orange juice and occasionally shove a piece of bacon here and there. They always remind me of a pair of little fledglings. The little girl pointed to a three-masted schooner which rests on the table. She said, “Trees, trees!” In a thousand years I never would have thought of trees on a ship; however, it amused me enough to get an idea out of it. It made a strip.
By H. H. Knerr, prompter of The Katzenjammer Kids:
How do you expect a comic artist to tell how he gets up his ideas? That would be giving away his groceries. And besides, half the time he doesn’t know himself.
To my mind, the best ideas are the most ridiculous ones—I mean, without being silly.
For example, I think one of the funniest comics the famous George Herriman ever made was when Krazy Kat runs up to Ignatz Mouse, all of a flutter, and says, “Oh! I have been ettecked by an engry engle woim!” The mouse replies, “Idiot! How were you attacked by an angry angle worm? What did he do to you?”—Kat, “I dun’t know whether he bit me or kicked me!”—Mouse, “What do you mean, you don’t know whether he bit you or kicked you?”—Kat, “Because fore and aft he was so much alike!”
When you analyze this it’s not as silly as it sounds, for who, I ask you, can tell the bow from the stern of an angle worm?
I suppose, to describe the “process of producing” a comic page, one might say that it is much like getting up a play—you have your cast of characters. You try to think up a plot and arrange a series of acts. These acts, or scenes, must have their stage settings, their composition, properties, dialogue and action, with a finale or climax and sometimes a moral. Some people don’t want to be bothered with morals these days. I guess the laugh is the most important thing, if any—and what may appear to be funny to one, may be just a pain in the gizzard to another—so there you are!
Many years ago, W. R. Hearst wanted a good-looking gal in the Barney Google strip. Several weeks slipped by without any beautiful female. The reason: I’d rather take a beating than draw a fancy dame. Finally I turned out the most voluptuous blonde anybody could ask for. Then the fun began. I didn’t know what to call the little lady—Muriel, Jane, Eliza, Annie. None of them seemed to fit the charmer. I was stymied no end.
Finally I hit on “Sweet Mama.” Wow! That started something. Letters poured in. The readers wanted to know where her child was. How could a single gal be a mama? Was Barney the father, etc., etc.? We lost several clients. Brisbane phoned. “Cut out Sweet Mama,” he demanded. “Go back to Spark Plug.” But in two short weeks the expression “Sweet Mama” had swept the country. Songs were written about “Blonde Mamas,” “Red Hot Mamas,” etc. Brisbane phoned again. “Put the Sweet Mama back in the strip,” he said. “Don’t you know when you’ve got sump’n?” After that I started to play on certain expressions like “Heebie Jeebies,” “So I took the $50,000,” “Horse Feathers,” “Puddle Jumper,” etc. Anything for a laugh.
Labels: King News
Wednesday, January 31, 2018
Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: Ray Rohn
The 1900 U.S. Federal Census recorded Rohn, his parents and older brother Glen in Defiance at 419 3rd Street. Rohn’s father was a salesman.
A 1906 Lima, Ohio city directory listed Rohn as a clerk residing at 804 West Wayne. The following year a Cleveland city directory said Rohn was an artist who lived at 1073 East 116th SE. Who’s Who in American Art said Rohn “entered the newspaper field in Cleveland and Cincinnati”.
Rohn was in Cincinnati for a time. American Art News, April 17, 1909, mentioned Rohn as a member of the Cincinnati Art Club.
In the 1910 census, Rohn was a Cleveland resident. The self-employed artist resided at 1954 East 116th Street. One of tenants was Dudley Taplin, a newspaper artist.
The 1911 book, Club Men of Columbus in Caricature, featured the work of Billy Ireland, H.J. Westerman and Rohn.
At some point Rohn moved to New York City.
American Newspaper Comics (2012) said Rohn drew Mrs. R.E. Duce and Her Auntie Stout Antics, from December 7, 1911 to February 11, 1912, for the New York Evening Telegram.
Cartoons Magazine, August 1915, featured the work of Helena Smith Dayton who made portraits of the “Lochinvar Cartoonist Quartette” of Herb Roth, H.T. Webster, R.M. Brinkerhoff and Rohn who was shown in his Gramercy Park studio.
In 1916 and 1917 bachelor Rohn attended the weddings of his friends Webster and Brinkerhoff.
Rohn signed his World War I draft card on June 5, 1917. His address was 12 Gramercy Park in Manhattan, New York City. Rohn’s description was tall, medium build with light brown eyes and black hair. Rohn’s New York military service card said his service began June 13, 1918 and ended December 15, 1918.
American Art News, April 24, 1920, reported that a number artists, including Philadelphia-based Rohn, rented studios at the Hotel Majestic.
American Newspaper Comics said Rohn drew Bedelia’s Beaus for the Ledger Syndicate in 1920. Who’s Who in American Art said Rohn “was with the Art Department of the Philadelphia Public Ledger for about eight years.”
Rohn’s art appeared in many magazines including Judge, The Saturday Evening Post, The Country Gentleman. and The New Yorker.
At Ancestry.com, the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania marriage index said Rohn married Birdsey M Minor in 1921.
American Art Annual, Volume 18 (1921), had an address for Rohn at 514 Walnut St., Philadelphia. The Eastern Edition of Advertising Arts and Crafts (1927) listed Rohn at “518 Walnut, Lom 4477 Philadelphia, Pa. Fiction Story Ill., Cartoons, Decoration, Black and White, Crayon, Dry Brush, Line Drawings, Pencil, Pen and Ink, Wash, Water Color.” The American Art Annual, Volume 24 (1927) had 218 Walnut as the address. The Lithographs of Robert Riggs (1986) said “Riggs was sharing a studio on Washington Square in Philadelphia with Ray Rohn, another illustrator whose works were published by The Saturday Evening Post and Collier’s.”
Rohn’s illustrations appeared in The Lady from Long Acre (1919), Slimtonian Socker (1922) and Wilbur Whaffle, Sloganeer, an Autobiography (1931).
In the 1930 census, self-employed commercial artist Rohn made his home in Philadelphia at 7155 Anderson Street. The household included his wife, two daughters and mother-in-law.
Rohn passed away July 8, 1935, at his home in in Mount Airy, Pennsylvania. He was laid to rest at Arlington Cemetery in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania.
Labels: Ink-Slinger Profiles
Tuesday, January 30, 2018
Obscurity of the Day: Mrs. R.E. Duce and her Auntie Stout Antics
I think of Ray Rohn as sort of the poor man's Gluyas Williams, or Fred Cooper, or Rea Irvin. He had that sort of elegant pared-down clean line style, but his drawing ability wasn't quite up to the level to place him amongst the A-listers of that style. Nevertheless, he got tons of work as a cartoonist/illustrator. He did very few continuing series for newspapers though. In fact, today's obscurity is one of only two series of his I've ever come upon.
Rohn penned Mrs. R.E. Duce and her Auntie Stout Antics for the New York Evening Telegram. It was a weekday strip that ran there from December 7 1911 to February 11 1912. The subject is a plumpish lady who is bound and determined to lose some weight, but despite doing lots of work and exercise, the strip ends each time with the same result/punchline -- instead of losing, she gains weight.
This one hits close to home. My late Mother ran a pitched battle with weight her whole life, and faced the same situation as Mrs. R.E. Duce in real life. I saw my Mom go on incredibly strict diets, follow them religiously, only to find that she either didn't lose weight or even gained a bit. It was very sad to see her struggle so and always fail, and therefore I find the strip depressing, not funny.
Anyhow, back to the subject at hand. The odd thing about this strip is the title. Since there was never a character in it named Auntie Stout that I know of, I can only guess that Rohn was trying to make a pretty lame play on words, and that he substituted "Auntie Stout" for "anti-stout". If that's it, well, that's a long road going nowhere. My sample of the strip above is from the Denver Times, and they apparently couldn't make any sense of the title, so their solution was to make up a new and shorter name -- Mrs. Plumpp.
Monday, January 29, 2018
News of Yore 1948: Gasoline Alley's Frank King Profiled (and an Information Request)
NOTICE: This is a nice article about Frank King, but the real reason I'm running it is to solicit information on the current status of Gasoline Alley. Jeffrey Lindenblatt has notified me that there have been no new Gasoline Alley strips since November 11 2017 (daily) and December 24 2017 (Sunday). Is Jim Scancarelli okay? Has he retired from the strip, or is this just a vacation? Will Gasoline Alley be returning or is it going zombie on us?
He's the King of Gasoline Alley
by Joseph Hearst (originally printed in Chicago Tribune, March 28 1948)
King, who became dean of The Chicago Tribune cartoonists when John T. McCutcheon retired, had no particular plans for a Wallet family when in 1918 he drew the first Gasoline Alley cartoon and included it in a page of panels he called The Rectangle. Within a year the Alley became a daily strip, built around the bachelor Walt and his neighbors and cronies who gathered in Gasoline Alley to tinker with their cars.
“The late Capt. Joe Patterson decided there had to be a baby in the strip,” King recalled. “I pointed out that as Walt was a bachelor it would take quite a little time to bring that about, what with a courtship, marriage, and all. But Capt. Patterson said he was in a hurry to get a baby in the picture so we decided to make Skeezix a doorstep baby.”
With a baby on his ink-stained hands, King decided that it was going to have a normal life, growing year by year, and in that decision he was a pioneer among cartoonists, the first to let his characters take on age. In carrying it out he has moved Skeezix from diapers into grade school, thru high school, into the war, marriage with Nina, parenthood and thru the postwar conversion period into the business of Wallet & Bobble.
“It’s an odd thing that everyone who reads the strip seems to know that Skeezix is a doorstop baby but that many persons are confused about the parentage of Corky and Judy,” King said. “Every week I get letters asking about the two younger children, usually from persons who say they want to settle a bet.
“Corky, you will recall, is the son of Walt and Phyllis, but Judy was left in the Wallet car and adopted by the Wallets. We changed the technique a little in her case and instead of calling her a doorstep baby she was called the “running board baby.”
Reaction expressed by readers in their letters over the years has convinced King that persons are more broadminded or blase now than they were when Corky was “born.”
“That was in 1928,” he continued, “and as the time approached for Corky to take his place in the strip I occasionally indicated that Phyllis was about to become a mother. 1 did it as subtly as I could but even so I received many protests. Letter writers charged that it was immodest and shocking, and not the sort of thing for children to see.
“Well, when Chipper was on the way I made it much plainer in the pictures that Nina was going to become a mother, and there wasn’t a single letter of protest. But I did get some protesting letters later when some of the scenes indicated that Nina was nursing a baby.”
King received a fair volume of mail from the men and women who follow, apparently almost as closely as he does, the Wallet fortunes. Some offer suggestions (seldom taken) free or for cash; others demand that some favorite character not currently figuring in the continuity be returned to action. And if a mistake slips into the drawings it is sure to result in a flood of letters.
“In one scene recently we showed Skeezix getting some bananas out of the refrigerator, and the reaction was immediate,” he said. “I remember that one indignant woman said: ‘putting bananas in an icebox; what a dumb guy.”
King tries to answer all the letters, but he concedes that he is a poor correspondent and that frequently there is a long lapse between receipt of a letter and his answer.
“I have a letter system that works fairly well, altho sometimes it gets me into trouble,” he explained. “First, I let the mail stack up until there is a pile about a foot high. Then, when I get a little time I sort it into three piles. Letters that must be answered go into one pile, letters that should be answered go into another, and letters that can be answered later go into a third.
“Then I take the three neat piles, place them in folders marked “must,” “should,” and “later” and file them neatly away until I have time to attend to them.”
There is one type of letter King has enjoyed getting and to which he replies quickly. After he established Skeezix in business with his repair shop, gas station, and radio repair department he began to receive letters asking for permission to establish actual “Wallet & Bobble” shops.
“Most of them came from former servicemen,” King said.
“In each case where it was an ex-G.I. or a sailor who wanted to use the name I told him to go ahead, and I believe there are about 30 such shops in the country now. But I’ve turned down those who weren’t in the service. Why, one fellow in New York wanted to put the thing on a national basis, and another fellow came from Oklahoma to see me with a proposition.”
King, his assistants, and Mrs. King scan the strips closely for slips and do considerable research to keep them accurate. Mrs. King is the authority on women’s styles and sees to it that her husband keeps the feminine members of the Wallet family attired in the proper fashions.
She also shares with her husband the task of selecting names for new characters, and apparently no fond parent ever exercised more care in naming his offspring than the Kings do with the actors in Gasoline Alley.
“I guess we studied the choice of a name for Nina's baby for two weeks,” King said “We compiled a tentative list from a book of names the infant stores sell to prospective parents, and we added a few of our own choice. Finally we cut the list down to about 30 that we considered likely to strike the public’s fancy and stick in their memories. Chipper was the final choice.”
“The other person I transferred to the cartoon is Bill Gannon, who lives at 1040 Catalpa St., in Chicago, and who is the ‘Bill’ in the Alley,” King said. “But those two were the only real life persons I ever portrayed. Many persons thought they saw themselves as the various characters, but all the others, Phyllis, Rachel, Doc, Avery, and their friends were drawn from imagination.”
King’s assistants are Bill Perry, who has worked with him 22 years and who also draws Ned Handy for The Sunday Tribune, and Val Heinz, a young man he picked out of the Academy of Fine Arts in Chicago two years ago. The three work a regular schedule in King’s studio in his home. They start their day at 9 a. m. and work until 4 p. m. with time out for lunch. They do this five days a week, keeping six weeks ahead on the daily strip and 10 weeks ahead on the Sunday page.
“I stay pretty close to home and so do most of my work here, but there were days in the early stages of the Alley when I used to travel a good deal by car, and I often worked away from the office,” King recalled.
“I sometimes pulled up off the road—they were dirt roads mostly in those days—and worked for a few hours. And many a time I have gotten a room in a hotel and used a dresser drawer for a drawing board. Now about the only work I do away from home is when I go to Chicago.”
If you are a Gasoline Alley fan and hope to meet King, you won’t have much luck tracking him down, for you won’t find him in the telephone book. He has lived without a telephone for 18 years.
“It isn’t that I ever had anything against the telephone,” he explains, “but when we built our home here we couldn’t get one. It seemed inconvenient at first, but after a while we discovered that it was rather nice not to have one in the house. Recently we decided to get a phone, only to discover that, just as 18 years ago, there is none available.”
The Kings live in the heart of some of the best fishing and hunting territory in Florida but they find their hobbies more interesting than seeking the wild turkey, quail, and wild pig to be found on the 250 acres of their farm or on the lands nearby.
“I did considerable hunting and fished the large mouth bass that abound in the lake when we first came down here, but now I find more interest in photografy, clay modeling, weaving, and working in my printshop,” King said.
His liking for the printshop is a throwback to his high school days in Tomah, Wis., where he set type by hand at 50 cents a column in the weekly newspaper shop. Even at that figure he made almost as much as he did in his first days in the art department of newspapers.
“I guess I’ve been drawing one thing or another ever since I was three years old and practiced on the wallpaper at home,” he said. “In high school I used to adorn the edge of my examination papers with little cartoons. I wasn’t trying to show off, but I figured it would distract the teacher’s attention and she wouldn’t check my answers too closely. Worked, too, because I got thru school all right.”
King was still in high school when a traveling salesman saw a sample of his work and helped him land a job on the Minneapolis Times.
“A friend who was working his way thru school asked me to fix up a sign for his boot-black stand at the hotel,” King said. “I drew the sign and ornamented it with some cartoons. That’s what caught the salesman’s eye- He talked to my father about the possibilities of a job in Minneapolis, sent some of my work to the editor, and helped me write a letter applying for a job.”
King was then 18 and had never had an art lesson. In Minneapolis he did layouts, courtroom sketches, and whatever chores the boss thought of. It paid $6 a week at the start and he was making $12 a week when he quit in 1905 to attend the Academy of Fine Arts in Chicago.
"I felt I had done pretty well, doubling my salary,” he smiled. “Moreover, the Times closed down a month after I quit, but I never thought my departure had anything to with its demise.
“One day in Chicago I dropped into the office of the American to see M. Koenigsberg, who had been on the Minneapolis Times,” King continued. “I wasn’t looking for a job but he assumed I was and put me to work helping out in the art department on Saturdays. About a year after I had been at the academy I went over to the Examiner to see an old friend, Walter Curtis, who was head of the art department.
“Curtis had just been replaced by Dom Lavin, who later headed The Tribune’s art department, and like Koenigsberg, he assumed I was looking for a job. He asked me if I’d ever worked on a newspaper and when I told him I had, he told me to take off my coat and get to work. So I went to work at $12 a week and three years later I was earning $25 a week.”
King laughed as he recalled that he left the Examiner because he couldn’t get a raise of $2.50 a week. “I had an offer of $27.50 a week from The Tribune and I wanted to take it mighty bad but I first gave the Examiner an opportunity to meet it,” he said. “I was delighted when they didn’t.”
So in 1909 King began his association with The Tribune and he likes to recall that every Sunday issue since 1910 has carried something from his pen. In 1911 he and his high school sweetheart of Tomah days, Delia Drew, were married at Tomah.
The Kings have one son, Drew King of Chicago.
“I think he would have made a good cartoonist, but he wasn’t interested,” King said. “I guess he saw so much of it as a boy he became bored with it. He used to say it was too bad his father was a cartoonist, because everyone called him Skeezix.”
Labels: News of Yore
from a Tribune Content Agency (tronc) editor.
I got no response.
Tribune has (apparently) said this is what the are getting from the creator, and they will happily forward postal mail. I know the last I heard Jim S did not go online.