Saturday, December 10, 2016


Herriman Saturday

December 24 1908 -- The color line is soon to be broken in championship boxing, with a bout between Tommy Burns and Jack Johnson in Australia. Herriman offers up this cartoon, and writes some provocative paragraphs taunting other white fighters to join the fray:

Dark clouds hover over the house of Fistiana and the very fact that they hover has a few lily white scrappers framing up all sorts of excuses as to exactly why they are timid of things that are dark and of stormy tendency. They seek protection across the color line.

Tommy Burns has howled his color line pretext from every point of the compass. He has sought every hole, every closet, every nook, niche and cranny to hide and yell through a crack his color line discord. Whenever something black hovered near his horizon he made all possible haste to skip to the rim of the opposite horizon, turning to give a breathless color line reason for being there.

Now we find Thomas, champion Thomas Burns sedately, serenely and with suspicious complacency awaiting in that most opposite spot of land the very black he so long evaded, to grind him (perhaps)  in its ebony mangles with not even a ghost of a whisper as to the color line.
Has it been pride, the pride of a champion, a monarch, that kept him from putting in jeopardy the title of titles? If so, would not that pride still hold? Does Tommy feel so sure that the black man is unable to wrest the crown from him? Langford and Johnson -- surely the pugilistic sky threatens to be totally enveloped in darkness, unless Burns proves himself a champion in reality.


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Friday, December 09, 2016


Wish You Were Here, From E.B. Kemble

Here's an undated postcard (divided back puts it 1907 or later), published by the Gibson Art Company "of Cincinnatti and New York". It is marked on the front as #603. This fellow E.B. Kemble was a passable cartoonist, but I know him only from a small number of postcards he drew, most of which feature these big-headed, doe-eyed people. I wonder if the name is a pseudonym, designed to trade on the fame of E.W. Kemble?

E.W. Kemble has a son referred to as Edward B., according to this online note
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Thursday, December 08, 2016


Obscurity of the Day: Biddie and Bert

Bob Donovan spent thirty-some years of his cartooning career as assistant to Fred Lasswell on Barney Google & Snuffy Smith, but he did get nationally syndicated on his own once. His feature Biddie and Bert, a strip about a retiree couple, was distributed by the Hall Syndicate from June 25 1962 to January 15 1966.

Interesting thing about this strip is that though it may seem like it is mining a standard genre today, in 1962 it heralded the arrival of an entirely new class of human -- the active retiree. Between Social Security, company pensions, longer lifespans and modern medicine, the days had finally come when the end of our work lives was not generally very close to the same date as the end of our lifespan itself. And those lucky enough to experience some years of  retirement were now often healthy and independent enough not to spend that time whiling away the hours in a rocking chair.

Although the pioneering Biddie and Bert probably should have sold better, perhaps newspaper editors thought then the same way they did later on. According to one syndicate man of my acquaintance, there's no need for strips about  retirees, because they are a captive market -- they will buy the paper every day no matter what. Why bother catering to them?


Back in the late 50s, early 60s I visited Fred Lasswell's studio in Tampa, Florida. I met Fred and also Bob Donovan who was working on the then new, unsold strip, Biddie and Burt.

I was a teenager then and a neighbor of mine took me up there to meet Fred and show him my portfolio. He was very nice and encouraging.

I remember seeing Fred a few more times over the next year or so to get his input on ideas. --Beacham Owen

In the early 1970s I was in high school. I lived on Davis Island in Tampa. Bob Donovan and wife lived in the house behind ours. He had a home studio and I got to see the cartoonist at work. Fascinating. Very nice guy, too.
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Wednesday, December 07, 2016


Toppers: Hall of Fame of the Air

In 1935, as King Features was expanding their Sunday line-up, they plugged a big hole in their genre coverage with an aviation strip. Kids were airplane-happy in the 1930s, and King needed to be in that market. And as was the Hearst way, they jumped in with both feet. Helming the project were two famed names in aviation; famous World War I air ace Captain Eddie Rickenbacker to write, and premier aviation illustrator Clayton Knight to draw.

Ace Drummond was a Sunday-only strip, and its slam-bang aerial action was tempered with a very sober-minded but attractive topper, Hall of Fame of the Air. The topper offered capsule biographies of famous aviators and allowed Clayton Knight to show off his illustration skills on material he preferred -- drawing real planes in loving detail.

Knight's story-telling skills, on the other hand, were a tad underdeveloped. The Ace Drummond strip certainly had no shortage of action and derring-do, but Knight seemed unable to match the written excitement in his drawings. Perhaps it was because he was uncomfortable with 'mere cartooning', or maybe he wasn't able to work fast enough. In 1937 the strip's art transitioned away from Knight, and eventually, after a lot of unsigned Sundays, Royal King Cole took over for good, changing the strip to a more cartoony look. In an unusual turn of events for a Sunday comic strip, though, Knight continued producing the topper -- not often you'll see two artists sharing the same Sunday page.

Hall of Fame of the Air ran for the entire span of the Ace Drummond Sunday strip, from February 3 1935 to July 2 1939.


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Tuesday, December 06, 2016


Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: Al Posen

1919 Passport Photo

Alvah “Al” Posen was born New York, New York, on October 2, 1894, according to his World War I draft card and 1919 passport application. A naturalization record said Posen’s father, a Russian emigrant, was “Isaak Posin”. The New York, New York, Marriage Index, at, said “Isaac Posin” married Rachel Sheiner on January 7, 1892 in Manhattan, New York City. The New York, New York, Death Index said “Isaac Posen” passed away September 23, 1897 in Brooklyn.

Posen has not yet been found in the 1900 U.S. Federal Census. The 1910 census recorded Posen in his mother’s household which included his older sister Minnie and younger brother Samuel. Their mother was a dealer at a store. The quartet resided in Manhattan at 1493–1495 Madison Avenue.

The 1915 New York state census said the family resided in Brooklyn at 717 Eastern Parkway. Posen’s occupation was cartoonist. Information about Posen’s art training has not been found. Posen illustrated Jo Swerling’s book, Typo Tales, which was advertised in The American Printer, May 1915 and The Printing Art, June 1915.

The New York University Catalogue 1915–1916 listed Posen as a freshman in the School of Commerce, Accounts and Finance.

On June 5, 1917, Posen signed his World War I draft card. Posen’s address was the same and film broker was his occupation. He was described as medium height and build with blue eyes and brown hair. A 1917 New York City directory said Posen worked for the Strand Film Company.

Posen applied for a passport April 18, 1919. A memo said Posen had been a sergeant with the Chemical Warfare Service at 19 West 44th Street, New York City. The application said Posen was a business secretary who was to accompany Wolcott H. Pitkin of the New York Orient Mines Company, 14 Wall Street, New York City. Posen was to travel throughout Europe and parts of Asia.

Posen has not yet been found in the 1920 census because he may have been overseas.

In 1921, Posen was the producer of the lost Marx Brothers’ film Humor Risk which is discussed here and here.

American Newspaper Comics (2012) said Posen’s first strip was Them Days Is Gone Forever which ran from February 13, 1922 to April 4, 1925. Years later it was one of the toppers to Sweeney and Son which had a long run from October 1, 1933 to August 21, 1960. Other Sweeney toppers were Jinglet and Rhymin’ Time, both of them began as dailies. Jinglet’s second appearance was a topper to Ella and Her Fella, which began May 21 and ended September 10, 1933. Two other early Posen series were The Jingles Belles (1924) and Call for Mr. Bingo (1925).

Posen’s home, in the 1930 census, was Brooklyn at 156 West End Avenue. The newspaper cartoonist was the head of the household which included his mother and a lodger. 

Posen’s address was 720 West End Avenue, Manhattan, in the 1940 census and on his World War II draft card which he signed April 27, 1942. The cartoonist said he worked for the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate.

In 1946, Posen was a charter member of the National Cartoonists Society.

Posen passed away June 10, 1960, in New York City, according to the New York Times which reported his death two days later. The cause of death was cancer.

—Alex Jay


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Monday, December 05, 2016


Obscurity of the Day: Them Days is Gone Forever

Here's a joke for you:

Ned the newspaper cartoonist dies after a long hard life. The next thing he knows he's standing in front of a grand old bearded fellow in flowing white robes. Ned thinks to himself that he finally caught a break. What a relief that he's gone to Heaven and not the other place.

The grand gentleman in the robes welcomed him to the kingdom and asked him how he'd like to spend eternity. Ned doesn't need to put much thought into his answer. In life he'd always had to beat the bushes for every little bit of work as a cartoonist, and his passion for cartooning had in many ways been a curse.

Ned replies, "Cartooning is what makes me happy. I would be happy to do it for all eternity. If it's not too much to ask, I'd like to write and draw a popular daily comic strip that would be read throughout your kingdom."

The grand fellow thought for a moment, and then said, "I shall grant your wish, Ned. Our daily paper here sure could use a little levity, and I'm sure you could give all of our billions of souls here a much needed daily laugh." As he said this, his flowing white beard was slowly but surely turning red, and flames started to lick up from below. The robes were consumed in the flames, and Satan's tail began to flick back and forth, as he flashed a mischievous grin.

"Just one little thing, Ned. I think we'll need to make one minor requirement of your comic strip. For all eternity, you shall have to end the strip with the very same punchline. And you don't want to know what'll happen if you don't make me crack a smile every day when I read it. Good luck!"

It seems to me that having to do a daily comic strip with the same punchline every day is the very definition of hell for a cartoonist. Yet Al Posen started a comic strip with exactly that gimmick, and of his own free will! In Them Days Is Gone Forever, which debuted with the then tiny United Feature Syndicate on February 13 1922, not only does Posen tell a gag in rhyme every day, but he ends the rhyme with the exact same punchline. Al Posen must have had a masochistic streak a mile wide.

Posen's self-imposed hell did not end quickly. Though United Feature at that time was basically a hole-in-the-wall syndicate, they did manage to sell Posen's strip to a decent number of papers, making it one of their flagship titles. Once they had a decent number of strips in the can, they also resold the strip to rural papers, presumably on the cheap.

By 1924, though, Posen had to be on the brink of losing his mind, and he finally waved the white flag. On April 21 he renamed the strip to The Jingle Belles, and brought in Josie and Jessie Jingle, a couple of cute dancers as his star attraction. Though he continued the rhyming theme, he no longer had to end each strip with the same line. That must have been a huge relief. Only problem was, it didn't seem to take. Whether it was by Posen's choice or his syndicate insisted, The Jingle Belles was scrapped and Them Days Is Gone Forever was brought back on November 3 of that year. Well, not exactly -- the English was partially corrected -- it was now Them Days Are Gone Forever.

Whatever magic there was in the strip seems to have dissipated, though. Clients weren't nearly as plentiful anymore. As a last ditch attempt to save the strip, in March 1925 the writing of the musical jingles (not the rhymes, but the actual music symbols that ran along the top of the strip) was credited to famed bandleader Vincent Lopez. Whether Mr. Lopez actually wrote any of the strip's musical accompaniment seems far-fetched, but it really didn't matter as the ploy seemed to do nothing to attract clients back to the fold. The strip was cancelled on April 4 1925, and from then on was sold strictly in reprints, which I've seen appearing as laste as 1928.

An odd postscript to the story of this strip is that Mr. Posen gave final proof of his madness a decade later. Having sold a strip to the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate called Sweeney and Son, he resurrected Them Days is Gone Forever as a topper to the Sunday strip. Well, at least he only had to face writing one new rhyme each week as opposed to every day!


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