Saturday, October 14, 2006
Stripper's Guide Bookshelf: Great Cartoonists and their Art
Great Cartoonists and their Art, by Art Wood, Pelican Publishing, 1987 (ISBN 0-88289-476-5). Out of print but available from various sellers on ABE Books website.
This book sat unread on my bookshelf for years. A friend of mine who will remain nameless has nothing but bad things to say about the author, Art Wood, and this book, so I didn't bother to read it until just recently.
Beyond my friend's personal dislike of Wood, he poo-poos the book as being rife with errors. And on that count he does have a point. To cite a few examples, Wood talks about Windsor McCay, and says Li'l Abner ended in 1967.
But Wood makes no argument that he is a cartooning scholar. He is rather an unabashed fan of cartooning, and has been since he was a kid. This book is really about his various sojourns to visit with and collect art from his heroes.
Wood started collecting original cartoons when he was 12, and thanks to an indulgent father who encouraged and abetted him, got to visit many cartooning greats. Art would first make contact with cartoonists by mail, asking if he might visit them, and when positive responses were received, dad would take Art on road trips to New York, Washington and elsewhere to make good on the invitations.
Art was not a bit bashful about asking for originals, and the art reproduced in this book, mostly bearing inscriptions to him, speaks to his success. But the real treats are Wood's reminiscences of his visits with these legendary cartoonists. Wood's stories are unvarnished - some cartoonists were kind and friendly to a fault, others were gruff, even belligerent. Some are terribly sad - his visits with Bud Fisher and Richard 'Moco' Yardley are painful to read.
So if you yearn to know a little bit more about the people behind the pretty pictures, this book is definitely for you. If you take the history lessons with a pinch of salt you'll find the book endlessly entertaining.
Friday, October 13, 2006
Obscurity of the Day: Gordon Fife
Gordon Fife was one of the first products of the Watkins Syndicate. For years I thought Watkins was the syndication division of the Brooklyn Eagle because the Eagle ran much of their material, and both Maurice Horn and Ron Goulart claimed there was a connection. I just recently learned that assumption could be wrong. According to the E&P Syndicate Directory of 1939, Watkins was based in Philadelphia, not New York. So at this point I don't know whether Watkins was associated with some paper or not. I do know that I haven't seen their material running in any Philadelphia papers, but that could easily be explained by gaps in my research or collection. What I really need to do is cross-reference the syndicate's address (2214 Chestnut Street) with the addresses of Philadelphia newspapers to see if I come up with a match. So if anyone has information on Watkins I'd love to hear from you. Watkins is a very interesting syndicate not only for the material I have found, but even more so for the interesting strips I haven't. In 1939 Watkins advertised a whole batch of interesting titles in the E&P Syndicate Directory - Air Sub DX, Fantom of the Fair, Masked Marvel, Skyrocket Steele, etc. Comic book fans will recognize these names as characters from the Centaur comic book company. What's the connection? I dunno. Anyway, back to Gordon Fife. The strip started as a daily titled Gordon Fife, Soldier of Fortune. Horn says it was alternatively titled Gordon Fife and the Boy King - this must have been very early on because it was changed by February 1936, from which my earliest examples. The strip was written by Bob Moore and initially drawn by Jim Hales. Carl Pfeufer took over the art duties in December 1936. Pfeufer had a sketchy style that showed a lot of Alex Raymond influence (okay, swipes). To really enjoy Pfeufer's work it's important to pay attention to the great backgrounds - he loved to draw fanciful art deco buildings and machinery. The sample above includes several neat Pfeufer touches. Gordon Fife was an amateur adventurer, constantly stumbling into intrigue of one sort or another. As the title suggests he started out as a soldier for hire, later on he took on any adventure that fell into his lap, which, of course, they did with stunning regularity. The continuities, though far-fetched, were quite well-written in comparison with many others of this burgeoning genre. The success of Terry and the Pirates and the Captain Easy character in the Wash Tubbs strip seemed to have had everyone jumping on the adventure bandwagon at the time. The daily, which is exceedingly rare, ran until 3/27/1941 in the Brooklyn Eagle according to Jeffrey Lindenblatt. Horn says it lasted until July, apparently citing the same paper as source*. I'd say trust Jeffrey, but his date is a Thursday, so I have to say the matter could use a confirmation one way or the other. A Gordon Fife Sunday was added on August 11 1940, and was soon being sold as a new companion strip to Don Dixon when that strip lost its long-running topper Tad of the Tanbark, which ended in November or December of 1940. According to Maurice Horn, the Gordon Fife Sunday also ended in July 1941, which it did in the Brooklyn Eagle, but actually it ran until January 11 1942, at least in the San Francisco Chronicle.
* UPDATE 10/11/22: Based on the Brooklyn Eagle, now available online, the daily did indeed last until July 12 1941. Thanks AR for pointing that out!
Thursday, October 12, 2006
The New York Evening Graphic was really enamored of photo comics. In addition to Antics of Arabella, here's two that appeared in the paper in 1926. The Hall-Mills case photo-comic went on for a long time, describing in minute detail that sensational case. You can read the lurid details of the case on Wikipedia here. This 'strip', by the way, doesn't qualify for the Stripper's Guide index because I classify it as more of a heavily illustrated news story. In the oughts and teens the big papers got cartoonists to do similar duty, illustrating the details of certain stories in strip format, but to my knowledge the Graphic was the only one that regularly committed their most sensational stories to photo strip form.
The other photo comic is a serial summarization of the then new movie The Return of Peter Grimm (imdb link). These photo comics were supplied by the movie studios, and it's an advertising gimmick that was used sporadically right through the 40s at least. They seem to pop up in fits and starts; there doesn't seem to have ever been a standing order at any studio for films to be serialized in this way.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Will Gould's Asparagus Tipps
Those of us who were acquainted with Will Gould, popular sports cartoonist on
the Graphic in its early days, were never able to understand why he abandoned
the drawing board, after achieving considerable success at it, to disappear in
Hollywood. He had shown promise of becoming one of the greatest artists in the
business and had a tremendous following.
Gould left the Graphic to join King Features. There he drew a daily sports
panel and a detective comic strip serial called Red Barry, which were widely
distributed. Then suddenly he chucked it all.
"I got bored too easily," was his recent explanation, "especially when
I discovered California and that delightful narcotic known as golf." He now
works for TV and radio.
One of the first jumps in Graphic circulation came when he introduced
Asparagus Tipps, a racing strip that suggested winners. With beginner's luck he
hit six straight long shots in one week. This phenomena had track circles agog.
Asparagus Tipps was extensively promoted on the sides of trucks and billboards,
in front page headlines, and in racing journals. The circulation department said
it had added 35,000 readers.
Asparagus Tipps became the subject of wide discussion and many track
followers ignored the statistics and advice of racing forms to put their money
on the horses it recommended. The story of this popular feature of the times is
told here by Gould:
"I created the strip because Gauvreau asked me, urged, cajoled and did
everything but threaten. I had at first refused, the reason being because I
thought it would be an infringement of Ken Kling's Joe and Asbestos running in
the Mirror, although I knew that Bud Fisher, in creating Mutt and Jeff, first
started them as track picking winners. When Gauvreau finally told me that he was
doing a column which was an imitation of Brisbane's Today and asked why I should
be so squeamish I left his office and came back in ten minutes with the title
Asparagus Tipps. Months later Jim Jennings of the sports staff returned from the
six day bike races at the Garden and said that Ken Kling was blowing his top
because I had swiped his idea. In those days I really could get redheaded at
what I interpreted as an injustice. With Gauvreau's permission I drew a strip
that would quiet Mr. Kling. Every now and then when I would pick more than one
horse, and didn't do so well, I naturally blamed it on Asparagus. Felix O'Fan,
another character in the strip, would give him a lecture on being swell-headed
and over-confident. In this particular strip Felix said: 'After all, even being a comic-strip character who picks the winners of horse races isn't new. Bud Fisher originated that 35 years ago.'
"Once Kling and I had the same horse, the same day. It was called
Canter. Because of our touting, it was backed down to 5 to 1. It broke Frank
Erickson's Jersey book. Then it came to pass that all the horses I tipped in the
strip were being scratched, the owners figuring they couldn't get much of a
price if the whole town went in on it. Finally we suspected a leak at the
engraving plant that was making our cuts. It was decided that I leave the name
of the horse out and then have it set up in type just before we went to press.
That worked for a while and then the scratches started all over again. I got
tired and dropped it. Years later it shrunk to a single panel and finally was
Little things used to make big doings on the Graphic in Gould's time.
He tells of one incident concerned with the fighting game that had temperament
flying all over the place and which resulted in his departure from the
"My righteous indignation," said Gould, "exploded one Friday night
when I returned from the fights at Madison Square Garden and found the following
note in my typewriter: 'Dear Gould ... In the future please do not devote so
much space to unknowns as Sully Montgomery.' It was signed by Gauvreau.
"Being a nonconformist to the nth degree, a rebel at any type of
regimentation, I resented any type of inter-office memo. Besides I had three
offers for my services, two from King Features and one from Payne, Managing
Editor of the Mirror. I told Jennings, who happened to be around, that if
Gauvreau had anything to say he could say it to me in person. At that time I had
a mental picture of Gauvreau in tears, pacing the floor, and pleading with me to
turn down the offers on the ground that Hearst was trying to break up the
Graphic. I went looking for Gauvreau while Jennings tried to reason with me.
When I found him I let go with the blast: 'The guy who wrote that note doesn't
know prize-fighting from hemstitching and I've got a good mind to blow this
sheet once and for all.' Gauvreau listened intently as I proceeded to prove that
Sully Montgomery was first in line for a shot at the heavyweight title. I could
have done the same with any bantamweight. Here's how heavyweight contenders are
made, Gould style, I told him. Take a bantamweight. Somewhere along the line
he's licked a guy who became a featherweight, the featherweight later licked a
guy who later licked a middleweight, etc., and in the end you have a 118 pounder
with some type of 'moral victory' over a 220 pounder who is now the leading
contender for the world heavyweight crown. With Montgomery this wasn't that much
involved but I am sure I had Gauvreau thoroughly confused. In the end I finally
ran out of steam and was looking for an exit-line. It came. Being sharp and
nimble with the ad lib I managed to wind up my tirade with one word 'Nuts' and
fairly flew out of the office before he could figure it all out.
"Actually the real reason for using Sully Montgomery in a feature
cartoon was because I'd kidded around all day and had less than half an hour to
make the deadline. So I used an old 'head' of Sully, pasted it on a fresh sheet
of bristol board, drew a few comic figures around it and sent it to the
engravers. The following morning some remorse set in over my tirade and so I
went down to the Graphic and asked my friend Lester Cohen if Gauvreau was sore
after I had left. Cohen happened to be present during my flare-up. Deadpanned,
he asked if I'd really like to know. With some trepidation I said yes. His reply
was 'Gauvreau said there goes one helluva good sports writer.' And being a boy
then all I could do was gulp."
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Obscurity of the Day: Hilo Hank
Local panel Hilo Hank appeared only in the Hilo (Hawaii) Tribune-Herald. Wish I could claim that my researches extended to such far-flung papers, but actually I found this feature only through the little pamphlet shown above.
According to the introduction, reporter Ron Bennett produced this weekly panel cartoon as a sideline to his regular duties on the paper. The booklet is copyrighted 1949, and is mute concerning the length of time the panel had run thus far. Any blog readers out there in the Aloha State able to tell us more about Bennett or his delightful little feature?
Monday, October 09, 2006
Obscurity of the Day: Asparagus Tipps
What a great title! This little horse racing tip panel was syndicated by the Graphic Syndicate, and was variously attributed to Irv Papp and someone who preferred to be known only as 'Tony'.
The panel had limited interest outside New York so it is rarely, if ever, seen outside the Evening Graphic. Its main reason for being was to give plungers a hot tip of the day for a New York area track. To garner interest outisde New York, a lucky number was also included (for those whose gambling obsession ran to the numbers games). Unfortunately, the creators didn't take into account that numbers games were played mostly in the black community, so the racist depiction of the panel's star didn't exactly endear the feature to black readers.
Asparagus Tipps started sometime in 1926, and lasted until at least 1929.
Sunday, October 08, 2006
Obscurity of the Day: Things To Come
The American fascination with technology came to the comics not just through Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. There were also more down-to-earth features that sought to emulate the style of such magazines as Popular Science. Things To Come, perhaps the first feature to regularly concentrate on speculative technology, was later joined by the more outlandish Closer Than We Think (blogged here) and the very successful Our New Age.
Things To Come, named after the H.G. Wells book The Shape of Things to Come (which you can read in its entirety here) , was an Associated Press Sunday feature that started in 1941 or '42. It was written and drawn by Hank Barrow, whose masterful work deserved a far larger audience than it received. Barrow left the feature in 1949 or 1950 and it was taken over by Jim Bresnan, whose style, shown here in our sample, was bold and appealing.
For reasons unknown the AP Sundays were never good sellers, and Things To Come was no exception. It really is a shame that this excellent feature was never exposed to a wider audience. The feature ended on January 30 1955.