Wednesday, August 03, 2016
Obscurity of the Day: Champion the Chimpanzee
W.O. Wilson was definitely a cut above the average newspaper cartoonist for his day. While practically everyone else in the 1900s was doing simple-minded slapstick, Wilson could and did plumb more thoughtful wells of humor.
In Champion the Chimpanzee, which ran on an inside page of the New York Herald Sunday comics from July 9 to October 8 1905, Wilson started off his tale of an urbanized missing link with a pretty standard raucous gag (see top sample), but then found his footing and produced material of the quality of the bottom two cartoons, of which the middle is especially sublime. Rather than frenetic action, Wilson slows everything way down and insists that the reader take their time and drink in the situation at a leisurely pace. He resists the urge of those early cartoonists to explain themselves to death, and lets the pictures, beautifully composed, and the exquisitely honed dialogue, do the job.
How odd that this strip is so similar in content and tone to William Overgard's Rudy! Did Mr. Overgard possibly come upon this forgotten obscurity and conceive to resurrect the fabulous character of Champion, in the new guise of an old Vaudeville performer?
I'd credit Mr. Overgard for conceiving Rudy on his own. The old vaudevillian or ham actor was a stock character for decades. It's not much of leap to offer a chimp as an old-time showbiz survivor, especially as trained animal acts were even then viewed as variety show relics (and variety shows were almost extinct as well).
I found the book on a clearance table decades ago in a small bookstore (remember those?. At time wondered if it ever saw newsprint. It was odd to see the artist of two-fisted Steve Roper shifting to comedy, but the semi-realistic style is perfect for the material.