Friday, November 25, 2022
Obscurity of the Day: Character Sketches
The great W.E. Hill Sunday page, Among Us Mortals, debuted in 1916 to immediate success. The page offered a group of beautifully drawn cartoon vignettes all about one common subject which changed weekly. While that doesn't sound like an earth-shattering new idea, Hill's page was also a little different in that it was offered for use primarily outside of the Sunday comics section, the impressive drawings looking especially handsome when run in the rotogravure section. Newspaper cartoonists who fancied themselves to be somewhat more artistically advanced than their brethren saw that this could be a showcase to show off their chops. Imitations of Among Us Mortals began to pop up all over the place.
One of those me-too features was Character Sketches, by A. Russell (I've not been able to discover what the A stands for). This feature ran only in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat and started there on January 21 1917, just eight months after Among Us Mortals debuted in the New York Tribune. While I would give Mr. Hill the nod for a greater achievement in art, Russell's version was quite impressively drawn, too. Character Sketches did not get prime placement in the rotogravure section; instead he was afforded a color page in the magazine section. Russell wanted people to focus on his linework, so though the page was run through a 4-colour press, he used it sparingly for spot colour.
As best I can tell Character Sketches was not offered in syndication, so it was enjoyed only by readers of the G-D. They got to enjoy it for a long time, too. The feature ran for just short of a full decade, ending on April 18 1926. On April 6 Russell suffered a stroke, from which the paper said he was expected to recover, but evidence seems to indicate the contrary.
[EDIT: EOCostello has lifted the veil on A. Russell, see comments below.]