Thursday, May 23, 2019


Heritage Auction Items from my Collection

Last week Heritage almost literally gave away some of my art collection. I'm still stifling sobs. Hopefully some folks will bid this week with something more than the contents of their change purse. This week Heritage has another batch of beautiful and interesting items, all of which can be seen at the Heritage site by clicking here.

This lot of six originals all thrown together makes my heart heavy, but if there are discerning comics lovers out there, hopefully it won't all crash and burn. First we have a wonderful funny piece by E.A. Bushnell, an accomplished editorial cartoonist who sometimes jumped over into the realm of humor. This 1919 piece chronicles the hard life of the travelling salesman.

Next is a special drawing of Uncle Eph by Oscar Hitt. What is amazing about this piece is that it was done for the fabled Wheeler-Nicholson Syndicate in 1926 during their brief existence. Only piece of Wheeler-Nicholson art I think I've ever seen. Yep, this is the Major Nicholson who went on to found DC Comics.

Next is a beautiful piece by Magnus Kettner, a real tear-jerker that almost certainly was done for either Editor & Publisher or The Fourth Estate and pays homage to the editor of a small-town paper. Very displayable if you are a newspaper lover.

Next we have a rare surviving example of Paul Robinson (famed for Etta Kett) during his very very brief time on Embarrassing Moments, the King Features panel in which many elite cartoonists toiled -- George Herriman, Billy DeBeck, Jay Irving and more. Earliest Paul Robinson you're ever likely to find.

Next we have an early and obscure comic strip rarity from 1912-- Amos Roach by Andy Hettinger. The history on this strip is hard to pin down, but it definitely ran in the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 1913.

Finally we have a real jewel ... if you're from Indiana. A rare original of Roger Bean by Indiana's favorite son, Chic Jackson, complete with all the major characters. If you're outside of Indiana you probably won't care, and if you're from Indiana, I need say no more.

What am I bid for this series of treasures? A whopping $12 as of Wednesday. Shoot me now.

These Heritage people are killing me. Selling one lot with both an Otho Cushing and a Kemp Starrett original? This one really slays me, especially when I watch people on Heritage bidding hundreds of dollars for a 'slabbed' copy of Marvel Two-In-One number who-gives-a-crap or for an X-rated convention sketch of Aunt May. 'Tis a strange world.

Anyway, if you don't know who Kemp Starrett and Otho Cushing are, well, just look at the art. There is literally not a single bid on this lot as of Wednesday, and so obviously the world has gone mad.

Okay, I.m not going to freak out about this lot of art by Ralph Dunagin. Yes, it includes two nice  space exploration editorial pieces, and yes, if you're into murderers, then the courtroom sketch of the Black Satin Killer (complete with tattooed words on his fingers), are pretty freaking cool. But surely not worth more than a buck, which is the current bid.

Obviously the main attraction in this lot is the lovely Barbara Shermund color piece, and that's just as it should be, but don't ignore the Franklin Folger The Girls panel, showcasing some brilliant zipatone work along with sensitive portraits of his husband and wife subjects. The sleeper here is a fun piece by Bill Thomas, who was an artist with the San Francisco Examiner at the time. Ostensibly his drawing is a headpiece for a ladies fashion column, but you can rest assured this never made it into the paper, what with that conspicuously bulbous bare ass. No, this was a gag piece that he gave to Jim Ivey back in the early 60s when both were in the bullpen there. The drawing, though, is of amazingly high quality considering it was just made to break up the monotony in the art department.

Here are a set of four promotional posters put out by the Louisville Courier-Journal to advertise their comic strips. They are odd posters, I admit. They're black and white and they have a lot of small print. When I bought these the seller claimed thy were meant for those overhead advertising spaces on buses, but I just don't think I buy it. Any guesses as to the intended use of these impressive though curiously bargain-basement class posters? If you're a fan of Freddy, Smidgens, The Neighbors or The Country Parson, and who doesn't fall into one of those camps (he said with a snicker), you just can't live without these.


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Wednesday, May 22, 2019


News of Yore 1905: Winsor McCay on the Creation of "Dream of the Rarebit Fiend"

[When a book of Winsor McCay's "Dream of the Rarebit Fiend" was published a publicity article was sent out to newspapers nationwide. Many newspapers edited it for length, but I think I worked from a pretty complete version for this reprinting. I worked primarily from the version that ran in the Minneapolis Tribune on October 9 1905]

 How The Rarebit Fiend Happened

by "Silas" (Winsor McCay)

Author of "The Dream of the Rarebit Fiend"


 How did the Rarebit Fiend happen?

What can I say about him?

Well, as author of "Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend," I have been asked to tell about my work in connection with this "justly celebrated" comic series.
How the Rarebit Fiend came into existence is about as easily explained as it is to tell how a Patagonian field became full of Scotch thistles. I fear I cannot tell the whole story in the space that this paper will permit unless it should decide to run it as a serial for a couple of years. But it will not, and I don't blame the editor -- much. So I will be brief, merely hitting the high places in presenting the sad tale.

In the first place, I am not a funny man. I am not a humorist. I am a plain, ordinary newspaper artist, and that is distinctly a sad affair.

I woke up about ten years ago from a dream which lasted -- well, as long as I can remember. It was a dream that I was to be a "master" whose works would hang on the line a dozen centuries or so hence. My mother used to tell me I was a clown. She knew me better than I did, I guess, for I have since discovered it to be only too true.

I love the serious side, and have done considerable work along that line. No! No! Nothing worth mentioning, but just enough to acquaint myself with the fact that I never was or never will be a "master." I would rather picture a man falling in battle than one falling down stairs. They are both falling, but there is that funny something about the man falling down stairs that I can't keep out of the battle scene.

I once painted an oil of a man dying of thirst in Death valley, and almost every one that visited the exhibition turned away from my sad picture with a smile. I asked an old critic what caused the merriment, and he replied: "Because it's funny: the dying man looks like he is kidding."

From that on I have been drawing a salary as a comic artist.

I feel so flustered and fidgety about receiving the great honor of telling I came to draw "Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend" that I hardly know how to start. I can now realize how other "great" authors and artists felt when called upon to tell their troubles, too. However, about a year ago, when nothing disturbed the calm morning air except the noise in the street, the machinery in the building and the yells of the other employees going to and fro in the halls, my brain gave birth to a tiny idea. I blew in its face and it opened its little eyes, and it blinked at me. Swathed in flannels, I tucked it away and began a system of coddling and caresses that threatened my health. After one week's nursing, he was able to go and see the editor.

If that gentleman had used that word that causes so much pain in this world, and which has given me so many pains, that cruel word "unavailable," this great universe would have never known of this great Rarebit Fiend. Although on wobbly legs and covered with pin feathers, he made quite a showing, and the next day readers knew that he had been born.

At first his bed was in my card case, then in a stamp drawer. He soon grew so that from a shoe box filled with cotton he required a soap box filled with saw dust under my desk. I fed him regularly, groomed and petted him fondly and exhibited him semi-weekly, while he kept on growing until today he reaches from coast to coast both ways.

I have partaken of Welsh rarebit (I know the preferred spelling is rabbit, but artists could never spell any more than great men can write, so let it go as it happened to begin) on several occasions with hospitable friends, but not often enough fortunately, to become addicted to the habit. It was not their magnanimity that inspired the birth of this monster now prowling throughout the land, but the tales my friends told of the dreams they had had after retiring that made him a possible quantity.

About the time that my pet was shedding his baby teeth and his mouth looked like an unfinished subway entrance, I inserted a note inviting the public to send in their dreams, as you may remember. In telling this I not only modestly confess my utter inability to furnish food to him, but also that the public assisted me by sending in thousands of good ideas in nourishing my child up to the proportions he has now assumed. For which I am so thankful that to express it would require pages.

As I said before, I am an illustrator. One newspaper artist is sent to a big fire, another to a banquet, another to a railroad wreck or murder. I am assigned to illustrate the rarebit dream of some unfortunate in Hoboken, N.J.; Kokomo, Ind., or Oshkosh, Wis. If the dream is funny, that is not my affair. It is the public who is responsible and not I. I merely tell the story, like any other newsgatherer or reporter.

I come to work in the morning and on opening my mail read of some woman in Albany dreaming of taking a bath in hot tar to beautify her complexion. It might upset me for a minute, but I soon am at work putting it in news shape that readers may know what is going on up state.

Some people take those dreams seriously.

They all should. A dream is no joke. It is a condition in the mind of a sleeping man which, if it existed when he was awake, would land him in the psychopathic ward. The most dignified person will, while innocently slumbering, pass through an apparent and lifelike experience that he awakes weeping, perhaps; perhaps shrieking or laughing over some incident of his dream.

A man comes home early from church, perhaps and without malice aforethought partakes of a luscious rarebit and retires for the night. Three or four hours later he is fighting like a demon with hundreds of hungry Igorrotes who seek him for the succulent rib roasts, steaks, chops and broilers which comprise his general makeup. Not until he bumps his head or barks his shins on some nearby furniture does he awake and breathe a sigh of relief. Then I come along looking for an item for my paper.

All is not rosy, though, with me. I have been unmercifully condemned by some for, as they declare, driving people away from rarebit emporiums. Other say, "Rarebits do not make one dream." My only reply is that I am in the hands of the public.

Mrs. ------ surely would not deliberately lie to me when she writes that after eating a rarebit she dreamed that her husband used her biscuits for paperweights down at his office, and that he had a trained wart hog to do his short hand work.

The dream of the young man who could not keep from laughing, try as he might, when his mother-in-law was being hanged, brought down on me the wrath of one Mr. -----, to whom I can only say, "I did the best I could with that dream."

While I prefer to stick to the facts, in this case, for the old lady's sake, I treated the subject tamely compared to what my correspondent reported.

The real situation was the old lady had twelve married daughters and their twelve husbands formed a lynching bee and -- well, it was cruel to draw. But do you know, I have had that "dream" pronounced at least twenty-five times by married men -- who, however, were particularly confidential in their manner of expressing their appreciation -- as being the best dream I ever drew.

I could say volumes about the odd letters I get. The queer dreams and comments on dreams that come in daily have convinced me that the people like and look for the "Rarebit Fiend." It is a very remarkable news sections of the paper. I try to put the facts just as I receive them. I shall stick to the truth. The "Dream of the Rarebit Fiend" is no joke, satire or burlesque; it is a plain, ordinary every night occurrence in our daily life illustrated and published for the public good.

I go at my work as seriously as my co-worker down the hall who is writing the obituary  notice of some great political organization. I might occasionally be deceived; some one might send in a dream -- a hair raiser -- who, instead of eating a rarebit the night before, had eaten sauerkraut dumplings. In that case I innocently do the rarebits a wrong.

I have enough letters stacked away to pad a carpet for the state of Texas telling me I spell the word wrong; that it should be "rabbit." I wish people would be a little more considerate of my young life. Poor spelling is an artist's prerogative.

I may as well say a few words as to how I feel during the time I am at work on a dream. I am first overcome with a strange bearing down on my shoulders. A something seems to push me to my desk. I may be gazing out of the window, but my mind is far away. I resist gently at first as the desire to gaze possesses me, but presently I find myself struggling with the something with no small effort, when my boss will appear on the scene and say, "Get busy." I then sink into my chair with a somewhat pained expression and mechanically reach for my pencil and go to work.

Yes, I do feel my work. I put my heart into my drawings and act them in imagination as an actor might. Thus when I am illustrating a man having his skeleton pulled out through his mouth by a dentist you can imagine the terrible sufferings I endure.

When I draw a man frantically dodging some monster green baboon every muscle in my body is in full tension. If I am making a man laugh, I grin like a pet fox; if he scowls, I scowl also. The result is I am as busy as a man with eczema counting money. My face looks as though I had St. Vitus dance, my hands working like a shuttlecock and my feet doing a sand jig.

Yes, occasionally I laugh at my own work, but it's more hysteria than mirth. When I have finished I am blue in the face. I am then taken in charge by my trainer, who, with bottle and sponge, quickly revives me. I am placed in the sun to bleach out.

My book, "Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend," which is now on the market, promises to add to my millions considerably, as I expect every man, woman and child to buy one if they have the price handy. I am almost tempted to believe a man would steal enough money to purchase one of these books. Libraries throughout the country will do well if they send in their orders early, thereby avoiding any panic which might occur at their doors. Mr. Carnegie, I am told, expects to throw in a carload with every new library. I hope so.

In conclusion, I will say for the rarebit it is a great game. The lady who can make good rarebit might have to chain her husband down when sleep comes to him, but, like glue, he will stick to her through thick and thin.


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Tuesday, May 21, 2019


Obscurity of the Day: Slagg Diggins, Millionaire Miner

There is nothing in the history of newspaper comics that can compare to the art and coloring of the major New York City Sunday sections of the 1890s. As with many new technologies, especially in printing, in the early years they haven't yet learned how to cheapen the process, speed it up, cut corners. Those early practitioners of color printing on high-speed presses were trying to perfect a very cumbersome technology, and each Sunday they pointed with pride at what they accomplished. Readers responded to the quality by buying papers in quantities never even dreamed before then.

I don't know if these full-page panels of Slagg Diggins, Millionaire Miner are impressive to you, but my breath is taken away by the combination of J. Campbell Cory's intricately crosshatched art and the colorist's masterful performance to bring the images to life. If the artwork isn't enough of a treat, then the history-minded comic strip fan can also get a good chuckle out of this New York World series, which is a pretty obvious dig at W.R. Hearst's papa, who was very much  a real life version of Mr. Diggins. William Randolph probably had a fit over these obvious taunts. Too bad Cory didn't take it one step further and highlight Mr. Diggins' son to bring the insult even closer to home.

Slagg Diggins, Millionaire Miner ran on the cover of the Pulitzer newspapers from March 19 to April 30 1899.

Thanks to Cole Johnson for the scans, especially since he must not have done those obviously frail tearsheets any favors getting them onto the scanner.


You say "the Major New York City Sunday sections", but one might be puzzled that these are from a St.Louie sheet. Obviously the Pulitzer parent paper was the New York World, and with but a masthead change, this is the same section that would appear in both towns. Do you think they printed these in NY at the same time for both papers?
If Diggins was a takeoff on WRH's father, might we infer that's young WRH leering at a mannequin's bust? One wonders if the Diggins heir was featured in other pages.
I seem to recall that the P-D had their own 4-color press pretty early in the game, but would they not have received their color separations from New York?

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Monday, May 20, 2019


Mystery Strips: Pepless Pete

Here is a mystery strip from the collection of Cole Johnson. This tearsheet of Pepless Pete ran on October 5 1919 in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. Cole told me he had no idea if it was a series, but that he'd never seen another. As far as I know, the G-D is not available digitally, so unless someone happens to have more material in their collection, someone needs to go old-school and get to a library that has the paper on microfilm if we're going to solve this mystery.

Although the strip is signed, it is obscured by a combination of flaky newsprint and archival tape. To me it looks like "K. Jay B-----". Anyone?


There is a microfilm run of the Globe-Democrat. Cole would borrow reels via interlibrary loan, while trying to complete his Philadelphia Inquirer project. (the G-D was a reliable client for years, and sometimes ran the Inky's fifth page that they themselves didn't.) He stopped bothering with them when the microfilmers perversely stopped capturing the comics, though they were evidently in the volumes used. That obtained for the final years of the Inquirer's full section offerings, about 1914-5. At that time, The G-D switched to a NY Herald section and maybe 1917 or 1918 started knocking out a page so they could feature their own home made stuff, like ol' Pepless here.
If anyone wants to give it a shot, by this time, they may have started to include the comics again in the microfiles.
About the condition of the page: This was once the property of the St.Louis Public Library. There, in the late 1930's, A new idea in unneeded, useless make-work projects was launched by the WPA; do something with the hundreds of years of newspapers in big volumes in public library stacks. What they proceeded to do was disbind the runs of the Post-Dispatch and the Globe-Democrat, the two leading papers of that day. They then covered each page, front and back, with a weird, very thin white gauzey fabric, pasted on. It left them opaque, and presumably useless, though a strip of new paper was glued to the edge, presumably for a re-binding project later.
But that never happened, perhaps they realized just how nuts the whole fiasco was, or the taxpayer's money was suddenly spent sensibly. But this fiasco left behind hundreds upon hundreds of large boxes of these strangely done pages, filed away in some kind of madman's obsessive order; 32 pages of second sports pages from 1909, 77 pages of magazine section back covers, 1921, 46 third want ad pages, 1917, 10 pages of page 9, 1901, etc.
They were all just warehoused until the 1970's, when Cole and I had a look. Some comics, here and there could be found, But you'd have to have unlimited amounts of time, body strength and patience to sift through the whole lot. A few pages were extracted, but then the removing of the cruddy covering was sometimes impossible to rub off (and I'm talking half an inch at a time)and it seemed to suck all the moisture out to the paper as well, making them as brittle as the dead sea scrolls, especially at the edges.
Fortunately these paper's runs were preserved in other repositories.Some fun.
An entertaining but very sad story, one of many in the lore of newspaper archives. Thanks Mark.

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