Saturday, July 01, 2006


Obscurity of the Day: The New First Reader

Here's an example of the very first continuing series that the Chicago Daily News used on its daily comics page. As I've mentioned before this paper was an important pioneer in daily comics and syndication.

The New First Reader is a take-off on the rhyming primers used in elementary schools back in those days. You'll surely recognize the type - it's a gag that Mad magazine has been using for half a century, even though this sort of school book was already pretty well extinct by the time that magazine premiered. The Daily News feature began on June 22, 1900, with the first installment drawn by K.E. Garman. Garman signed himself 'Gar' throughout his cartooning career - it took some serious sleuthing to uncover his identity. Starting with the second installment the art was credited to a fellow who signed himself Newman (or something like that - the signature was always really small and tough to decipher).

The New First Reader ran regularly on the comics page, ending on 9/30/1901 after a very respectable run in that era of features that seldom ran more than a dozen times.


You said: "You'll surely recognize the type - it's a gag that Mad magazine has been using for half a century, even though this sort of school book was already pretty well extinct by the time that magazine premiered." Can you substantiate that comment? I am currently writing an article on Mad (and it's imitations and precursors) and would like to use this sample. Frank Jacobs was the writer who usually did these things. Weren't the books they were based on still around?
Well, I confess that I am no expert on primers. All I can say is that as far as I know, the type of rhyming morally instructive primer being imitated was a product of the 19th century, maybe up to the 00s and 10s. Certainly by the 50s, the 'Dick And Jane' type books were the norm in schools. They may have employed rhymes in some versions, but they were no longer the type that sought to teach the child a moral lesson - the newer primers were meant to have at least a modicum of reading appeal to encourage children to want to read, so they told simple stories and dumped the Sunday school sermons. On the other hand, maybe the 'sermon' type were employed in religious schools much later; I wouldn't know about that.

It's more likely that both Garman and Jacobs were satirizing the McGuffey Readers, which were in huge circulation from the mid-1800s until Dick & Jane took over in the late 1950s/early 1960s. The ones they're mocking are the Primer level and the first reader.

You can still buy McGuffey Readers, but as far as I know you can only buy an entire set of them (7 volumes) and it's over $100. Perhaps you can get individual copies via used book websites or eBay.
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Thursday, June 29, 2006


Ryan Walker, Part II

Hello again, comrades! Here is part two of our look at Ryan Walker. Above you'll find another Bill Worker strip from the Daily Worker; below you'll find his obituary and another memorial article, both real heavy on the whole proletariat-bourgeoisie-revolutionary jazz. Not to mention the occasional non sequiturs due to bad editing. Can you imagine anyone reading a daily paper where every single article every single day was written just the same way? It's exhausting, I tell ya!

As mentioned in the obit, Walker was indeed a big wheel for awhile at the St. Louis Republic - he was responsible for much of the content of their locally produced color comics circa 1901. There he created a comic strip title that makes me giggle any time I think of it -- The Automopig Family. The strip itself isn't much to speak of, but I do love that title. I'll have to dig one out sometime to share with you. Y'know, I can't help but think that it might be a good premise today. Big fat porkers driving around in their gas-guzzling Escalades. An idea whose time has come!

Ryan Walker's Life and Work Built Around Struggles of American Labor
Revolutionary Artist Was Known to Thousands of U.S. Workers

Born at Springfield, Ky., on December 26, 1870, Ryan Walker's early life was spent on a hilly, rolling farm. His people were of the early English settler stock, with a dash of Scotch and Irish.

Early Talented
At a very early age Ryan Walker developed the traits which had such a decided influence upon his career. To think for himself and express his own ideas, to read and reach out beyond his narrow environment, to draw pictures on every scrap of paper he could find, and to have a warmth for working folk -- the twenty miles from a railroad in the days before the telephone, radio or automobile.

Ryan's particular delight was to print with a pencil and draw cartoons for a little newspaper, and his mother used to help him print the words. From his mother he acquired that fine sympathy and understanding which made him rebel against the hidebound religious bigotry and rotten injustice, which later found a definite expression in his intensity as a Communist.

Studies Art
Ryan went to Texas with his parents. Later his father died and his mother remarried and went to Kansas City. Ryan attended the public schools in Kansas City and then spent two years studing art in New York.

He sold his first political cartoon to Judge when he was sixteen years old. Upon finishing his art schooling, he returned to Kansas City, where he took his first newspaper job with the Kansas City Star. It was on the Kansas City Times that Ryan's cartoons began to attract national attention and be copied in publications all over the world. The country was at high pitch over the Bryan-McKinley campaign, and Ryan's pictures of McKinley as puppet Napoleon on a hobby-horse and Mark Hanna dressed in a dollarmark checked suit created a great demand and many copies were distributed in the campaign.

Ryan then went to the St. Louis Republic and developed the first color section for that paper. His work by this time was well-known throughout the newspaper world and he began to get offers to come east. About this time he married Maud Davis.

Comes East
Ryan came to New York in 1901, and during the following years contributed work to a large number of newspapers and magazines. Later for three years he was the art director of the New York [Evening] Graphic.

For a number of years he was a regular contributor to the Appeal To Reason, creating the comic strip Henry Dubb which became famous. Henry Dubb was reprinted in booklet form and hundreds of thousands of copies were distributed. He illustrated many tracts and booklets which were sent out by thousands. Ryan developed a series of chalk talks which went over big with thousands of workers and farmers all over the U.S. and Canada. These talks were very popular and rolled up thousands of subscriptions for the Appeal To Reason. Then Ryan devoted his efforts to the New York Call, before the left wing split in 1919.

The Truth Seeker printed many of Ryan's cartoons and he illustrated a booklet for them entitled Funny Bible Stories which was widely circulated.

While Ryan had no children of his own, he was very fond of children. He used to have great fun in mill and mining towns, drawing little Henry Dubb sketches for crowds of children who would gather round him. The frightful condition of children in these towns touched him very deeply, and stirred him to greater activity.

Joins Communist Party
In the autumn of 1930 after several years of isolation from the revolutionary movement, Walker joined the Communist Part of the United States.

Several months previously he had already come to the Daily Worker as one of its staff artists. With characteristic fervor and enthusiasm, he threw himself into his work creating the new character Bill Worker which became known to thousands of miners, farmers and workers in the shops and mills.

Loved By Children
His juvenile characters Red Pepper and Joe Jr. were especially loved by the children, and the Young Pioneers of the country claimed Ryan Walker as their own. At the time, too, his chalk talks again were in great demand among the workers.

Will Be Remembered
Ryan Walker will live in the hearts of the workers and particularly those who knew him. He had a most lovable and charming personality. He was unselfish and a loyal fighter in the ranks of the working class. His visit to the Soviet Union , though being then quite ill, was the crowning adventure of his colorful career. He had travelled 16,000 miles over the U.S.S.R., seeing the great work of Socialism, and glorying in the realization of his dream, the triumph of the workers.

A Co-Worker Writes About Ryan Walker
Jacob Burck, "Daily" Staff Artist, Tells of His Day-to-Day Work With Him

In the rush of daily struggle we do not always stop to think of the qualities of those working with us. The death of a comrade brings home sharply what we have lost. In the last couple of years of acute strife, many of our comrades have fallen on picket lines, in protest demonstrations and on the no-man's land of the coal barons. Ryan Walker would have preferred to have died that way. He was that sort of revolutionist. Instead he daily stuck to his drawing board and sent out his Bill Worker, Red Pepper and John Henry to carry on the fight with those comrades.

Ryan Walker is dead. He died in the Soviet Union, the land where Bill Worker rules. Born on a small Kentucky farm in 1870, he grew up with the labor movement which was beginning to assert itself alongside the rise of big industry. He was still in his 'teens when the Haymarket martyrs went to the scaffold. Thomas Nast was making the Tammany tiger squirm with his savage drawings. Ryan Walker had just begun to draw. There were practically no art schools then; no young artists with false grandiose notions removed from actual life. If there were, the social consciousness and fire in young Walker could not have been drowned out by fallacious teachings. He was Irish-American -- a fighter. His homespun technique expressed exactly what he felt with no frills or trimmings.

Quite naturally he found himself in the company of other American fighters. Mother Jones, Bill Haywood, Mother Bloor [?] and Eugene Debs. There he found his real function. And so Henry Dubb the strip character known to all old revolutionaries was created and lived for years.

The war was over. The socialist party divided into two camps; the red and the yellow. Things were moving fast. The Soviet Union became an established fact. Ryan Walker found himself in a whirlwind of emotions. Old friendships proved disillusioning, old ideas had to give way to new. Ryan Walker had to readjust himself. He stopped drawing until he could see his way clear again.

The big ,crash came -- 1929. The Communist Party organized the big March 6th demonstration against hunger and unemployment. Workers and intellectuals became aware that the Party showed the only way out of this insane, vicious system. The rebellious spirit in Comrade Walker could not be quieted. Almost 60, he decided to cut himself completely off with old friends and strike out on a new revolutionary road continuing where he left off after the war. He joined the...
[microfilm illegible for most of a paragraph]
...of the Daily Worker and was admitted to the Communist Party.

It was then that I met him. The surprise was that this peppy, youthful man with a head that resembled very much that of a curly-headed child, was well past middle age.

Walking to Thompson's for a coffee and hamburger, it was I, less than half his age, who felt the older, hearing him get explosive at seeing a young bootblack chased by a cop, or a young girl slaving away in a restaurant. Like most artists he was extremely emotional, but unlike them he was keenly aware of the sort of world in which he lived. His work showed the same blending of qualities. He was like a mischievous kid running after a person it disliked and taunting him with embarrassing truths. Full-Belly-Hoover, Lord Cut-The-Dole-MacDonald, Hey-Gin-Broon, etc.

His cartoon strips were drawn in his own inimical [sic] manner. They were carefree, full of spirit, untainted by any art snobbery, uninfluenced by any of the stereotyped techniques characterizing most strip artists. They were not 'great' drawings according to the standards of the art critics. But they were genuine; part of the man himself. And what is more, part and parcel of the lives and struggles of thousands of workers. I say that is real art!

We have lost an artist and fighter. The younger artists who are now working in the movement can learn from Ryan Walker what qualities make working-class art.


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Wednesday, June 28, 2006


The Last Hurrah of Ryan Walker

Ryan Walker, the Communist cartoonist, was well known in their circles for his tireless cartooning in service of The Cause. His Henry Dubb character, created in the 1910s, was considered a classic of the genre. His last comic strip offering was The Adventures of Bill Worker, which ran in the Daily Worker 9/8/1930 - 10/21/1931. Submitted here for your perusal, an example from that series.

In my latest work at indexing the Worker I also found Walker's death notice, obituary and an article of remembrance by a friend. The microfilm is almost unbelievably bad, but I've managed to transcribe the material. Here's the death notice; tomorrow I'll post the other material and another Bill Worker cartoon.

A few sites of note; here's one that has Henry Dubb cartoons (long load time; dial-ups beware!), and here's one that reprints an article written about Walker in 1905.

Ryan Walker Is Dead
Revolutionary Artist for 32 Years

Moscow, U.S.S.R., June 23 -- Ryan Walker died yesterday in Rotkinsky hospital of pleuro-pneumonia. He was a staff cartoonist for the Daily Worker and a member of the Communist Party of U.S.A.

Ryan Walker had been active in the revolutionary movement for 32 years. He worked on the New York Call and the old Leader and other Socialist Party dailies. He toured the United States for the Socialist Party giving chalk talks on current political topics.

After the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, Ryan Walker broke with the Socialist Party and gave his support to the Soviet Union and the program of Lenin.

In the autumn of 1930 Ryan Walker joined the Communist Party. He became also an active member of the John Reed Club and gave all his great talent and energy to the revolutionary movement.

In October 1931 Walker went to the Soviet Union, being then quite ill, but determined to see the Worker's Fatherland. After a tour of the U.S.S.R. he contracted pneumonia in Moscow, and was sent to the hospital where four months later he died.


Blah, the link is dead (as is the whole domain), and it's not on; I don't suppose you remember what the original source of the 1905 article was?
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Monday, June 26, 2006


Obscurity of the Day: Noogie Elementary

Chattanooga Times editorial cartoonist Bruce Plante tried his hand at the comic strip genre in the 90s with a strip produced for that paper. Noogie Elementary ran approximately September 1991 to February 1996.

I found a clip of this strip in a pile of miscellany recently. I knew nothing about it, so I sent an email to Plante asking him if he could give me some information on the strip. He responded with the dates given above. I've bemoaned the lack of interest that most cartoonists have in supplying details about their defunct strips here before, so I was pleased as punch that he took the time to respond. Unfortunately, I think he responded mostly because he misunderstood my interest in the strip. He seemed to think that I might be a syndicate or publisher's rep, and that perhaps I had an interest in reviving or reprinting the strip.

I really did nothing to encourage that misunderstanding, but it has me thinking that I may have to try that ruse (intentionally) in the future!


Is it me or does Frank Godwin have the same joke?
On a recent trip back home to Chattanooga I found a comics page from January 1994 among paper packing in boxes in our family attic. "Noogie Elementary" was new to me, too, and it received prime placement at the center top of the comics page, above "Peanuts." I figured the title meant it was a local effort. A quick Internet search led me to this website -- and confirmation. Thanks for the additional info!
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Sunday, June 25, 2006


Frank Godwin - Sports Cartoonist

I was indexing the 1907 Washington Star when I chanced upon this sports cartoon. The signature is of none other than the great Frank Godwin! Turns out on reading his bio in Goulart's Encyclopedia of American Comics that Godwin's first job was at the Star starting in 1906 at the tender age of 16. Godwin father, it says there, was the editor of the Star.

Since I was unaware of Godwin's tenure at the Star when I was indexing, this cartoon may very well not be his first, but it is the first I noticed in my perusal of that paper. I don't pay all that much attention to sports and editorial cartoons, so I may have missed quite a few. Anyway, this one was published on May 2, 1907.

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