Wednesday, January 19, 2022


Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: Wood Cowan

Woodson Messick Cowan was born on November 1, 1886, in Algona, Iowa, according to his birth certificate, at, and Who’s Who in American Art, 1976. His parents were James and Rachel Cowan. Cowan was also known as Wood and Woody. 

In the 1888 Iowa state census, Cowan was a year old and the youngest of four siblings. The family of six lived in Algona. 

The 1900 U.S. Federal Census recorded Cowan, his parents and two older siblings in Algona. His father was a brick layer. The 1905 Iowa state census said the Cowan family were still Algona residents. 

Cowan described his early life and career in the Arizona Republican (Phoenix, Arizona), April 10, 1920. 
One day a rash reporter asked Woodie Cowan, the cartoonist and sports writer, to tell him the, story of his life. No more was necessary.

“I’m glad you asked me, old thing,” said the obliging Woodie. “I’ll start at the very beginning and spare neither time nor imagination to make it interesting. To begin with I, was born on Friday at 3:17 a. m. My full name is Woodson Messick Cowan, which you will admit is so full that it staggers. I was a howling, success for six months and then became a democrat. As late as two years I objected to kissing, but I soon learned better. At three, having attained self-consciousness, I turned republican. I showed a fondness for bread and jam in 1896, was dumb at school, but struggled hard and became a bricklayer at 15.

“Work was not in my line, however, so I entered the Chicago Art institute in 1908, where I learned to exist on $2.50 a week. I turned waiter and later sang in cabarets and movies. Then I became proficient in art, and 30 cents sufficed me for a week.

“I first did cartoons for the Chicago Inter-Ocean which is now no more.The rumor that my art was responsible for its demise is false, however. Then I went to the New Orleans Item where I did a humorous column, a court sketch, and a cartoon every day, and slept the other hour. The war found me with the Washington Times. At the opening of the 1916 shearing season, I plunged into Wall street, and am still trying to get even. I am now doing cartoons, comic strips, and articles on sport subjects with a New York syndicate. …
The 1911 Chicago, Illinois city directory listed Cowan at 3021 Vernon Avenue. 

When Cowan was in New Orleans, Variety, December 12, 1913, noted his stage debut. 
New Orleans, Dec. 10. 
Wood Cowan, cartoonist of the New Orleans Item, makes his stage debut next week at the local Orpheum.
Variety’s review of Cowan’s act appeared the following week. 
Local Drawer Debuts.
New Orleans, Dec. 17. 
Wood Cowan, local cartoonist, made his stage debut at the Orpheum Monday. He sings while sketching conventional characters in the conventional way. His act lacks coherency evidencing hasty production. It is hardly pretentious enough for the better grade of vaudeville. Cowan is of the staff of the New Orleans Item.
The 1914 New Orleans, Louisiana city directory listed Cowan at 3712 Pitt Street. 

Cowan was counted in the New York state 1915 census. He was a roomer in New York City at 107 West 47th Street. 

Cowan contributed to Judge including the May 26, 1917, cover

The Scoop, April 3, 1915, said 
Wood Cowan, reporter and cartoonist, who broke into the game on the Journal and afterwards served on the Inter-Ocean and joined Jim Crown’s stellar aggregation down in New Orleans, is doing the heavy cartoon work for the New York Tribune. The Chicago Tribune reproduced one of his cartoons on its editorial page the other day.
Cowan and Charlotte M. Gerbaulet obtained a Manhattan marriage license on March 31, 1916. 

The 1917 New York, New York city directory said Cowan’s address was 615 West 162nd Street. 

The Wheeling Intelligencer (West Virginia), published Cowan’s sports cartoons from 1920 to 1922. 

Editor & Publisher, April 24, 1926, published a photograph of Cowan and C. V. McAdam, vice-president of McNaught Syndicate, at a golf course. 

Cowan made two trips to Europe. He returned to New York on June 22, 1923 from a departure at Cherbourg, France. The passenger list said his address was 48 Charles Street, New York. In 1927 Cowan arrived in New York on April 19 from Cherbourg. His address was 51 West 12th Street, New York.

Cowan and his 26-year-old second wife, Frances Dains Metcalf, visited Havana, Cuba. They arrived in New York on February 11, 1930. Seven weeks later, the 1930 census recorded Cowan and his wife on Newton Turnpike in Weston, Connecticut. Cowan’s house was valued at $15,000. 

American Newspaper Comics (2012) said Cowan continued Loren Taylor’s Mom ’n’ Pop from March 9, 1928 to February 8, 1936. The NEA series was retitled The Newfangles on June 6, 1932. The Waterbury Democrat, June 15, 1934, printed an advertisement for The Newfangles
“Newfangles” Artist Is a Genuine Ruralist
Wood Cowan, who draws “The Newfangles”
Truly rural ... but with a New York accent ...  is Wood Cowan, who draws “The Newfangles.” He lives at the end of the end of the trail ... somewhere in Connecticut ... in an old farmhouse, with oak beams and a flagstone walk. In cold weather, though he becomes a city feller, and moves to a studio apartment in New York. Cowan has a reputation for being one of the finest tellers of tall yarns on the Eastern seaboard ... strong men weep when they hear his imitations of nutmeg Yankees. At 15 he had learned the rudiments of bricklaying ... and three years later entered the Chicago Art Institute. Been a cartoonist ever since. He’s happily married ... has one youngster ... is proud of his home-made wines ... and disapproves of spats ... but wears them.

In 1929, there was a contest to name Mom ’n’ Pop’s cat. A photograph of the winner appeared in the Bismarck Tribune (North Dakota), April 30, 1929. 

The Waterbury Democrat, August 23, 1933, published the syndicated column “In New York” which included the following anecdote. 

O. I. See
One fine old name not in the directory any longer is that of Orbal I. See. Mr. See, who is really Wood Cowan, the comic artist who draws “The Newfangles,” has moved to Connecticut. Some years ago, though, he went into the phone company’s office to apply for service in his town apartment.

“What is your name?” asked a clerk.

“What did you say?” asked the artist.

“I said I must have your name,” replied the clerk, a little impatiently. 

“Oh, I see,” drawled Cowan. 

“And your first name Mr. See?” Inquired the clerk, busily scribbling on a card.

This so amused the applicant that he invented as name on the spot. “Orbal,” he said. And Orbal I. See it was, through four issues of the directory. His friends had heard the story, so they had no difficulty remembering his nom de telephone. 
Cowan’s work appeared in comics books from the late 1930s to mid-1940s. 

According to the 1940 census, Cowan, his wife and two sons were Weston, Connecticut residents. His house was valued at $50,000 and he earned $5,000 in 1939.

On April 27, 1942, Cowan signed his World War II draft card. He lived in Weston–Westport, Connecticut. His employer was the Press Alliance in New York City. His description was five feet nine inches, 180 pounds, with brown hair and eyes. 

Cowan was involved with over a dozen comic series including In Our Office, Sissy, and American Heroes, here and here

Cowan was mentioned in Life magazine, August 8, 1949. 
... The Westport Artists Club, which was formed only four years ago, already has 148 members. The club’s president: Wood Cowan, who once drew the newspaper cartoon Our Boarding House (Major Hoople) and is now semi-retired.
Who’s Who said Cowan was the editorial cartoonist on the Bridgeport Evening Post, from 1949 to 1959; and editorial cartoonist on the New Haven Evening Register, from 1960 to 1969. He wrote and/or illustrated Them Were the Days, (1926); Teen Topics (1948); Popularity Plus (1950); Flying Andy (1955); Famous Figures of the Old West (1962); and Iowa Cracker Barrel (1972). He was a watercolor painter. 

Cowan passed away on June 10, 1977, in Norwalk, Connecticut. His obituary appeared in the Bridgeport Post, June 12, 1977. 
Wood Cowan, 90, Dies; Cartoonist, Ex-Official
Weston—Woodson Cowan, 90, of Godfrey road, a former First Selectman here and a nationally recognized professional cartoonist best known for “Major Hoople,” died Friday in Norwalk hospital.

Mr. Cowan drew “Major Hoople” from 1931 until his retirement in 1956. He also drew political cartoons for the Bridgeport Post-Telegram and the New Haven Register, as well as newspapers in New Orleans, New York and Philadelphia.

He was co-author and illustrator of “Famous Figures of the West,” and the author of “Iowa Cracker Barrel.”

Mr. Cowan was born in Algona, Iowa, the son of a pioneer homesteader in that state, where he lived in a sod hut on the Iowa prairie during his first two years. He came to Weston in 1927 and resided here the rest of his life.

He was the town’s First Selectman foam 1955 to 1957 when a dispute with the Republican town committee led to his retirement from politics. Previously, he had also been elected to three terms in the State House of Representatives on the Republican ticket.

During his tenure as First Selectman, Weston obtained its first post office, its first state trooper and the first town fire department, accomplishments Mr. Cowan pointed to with special pride at an Historical society meeting in October 1974.

But the cartoonist’s chief claim to fame was his “Major Hoople,” the fat major who is the chief character in “Our Boarding House,” which still appears in Bridgeport Telegram and Sunday Post.

“When I drew him,” Mr. Cowan said in a 1974 Bridgeport Sunday Post interview, “Major Hoople would do the most outrageous things, but always with a reason. Like crossing a lightning bug with a bed bug so he could read in bed at night.”

Survivors are his wife, Mrs. Frances Cowan; two sons, Thaddeus Cowan [1934–2012] of Manhattan, Kan., and Conrad Cowan [1931– ] of Santa Monica, Calif.; and five grandchildren.

Memorial services will take place Tuesday at 3 p.m. in the Norfield Congregational church, with the Rev. Evelyn Towle officiating. Burial will be private.

The Lewis funeral home, 210 Post road east, Westport, is in charge of arrangements.

Further Reading and Viewing
Syracuse Library
Heritage Auctions, Corporal Fooie and Mom ’n’ Pop original art


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